Five Personal Writing Truths

A few months ago after I did a piece on writers block I was surprised by the amount of people who told me they were eager for other writing tips or simply wanted me to somehow give them the ‘secret’ of writing. So if you have looked in for something more topical and have little interest in writing, sorry, this week’s post is mostly for those guys because it is mainly my own loose ideas on the process of trying to get something out of your head and into some semblance of readable and hopefully sellable order. If you are still curious please stick around for a few minutes and read this.

1. Be Choosy – They say we all have a book in us but not Everything deserves to be published. Although there are some strong ego’s out there, I have yet to meet a writer who does not have the capacity to learn, not only from other writers but also from their own mistakes. How often do we hear about how some ‘famous’ writer now regrets some or even most of their earlier published work. Of course in years gone by there was a kind of belt and braces approach to getting your work out there because first and by no means least you had to find either an agent or publisher to accept your work. So then, in a critical world, even if that story now lacks something with the passage of time at least it went out, on paper, edited and presented to as high a standard as the publishing house could meet. Unfortunately (or fortunately as some believe) that completely changed with the arrival of the ebook, which heralded such a revolution in the way writers do business that nothing will ever be quite the same again.

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Photo by goXunuReviews

Nook, Apple and Kobo are now big players in the ebook game but by far the biggest is Kindle. It is hard to believe nowadays but Amazon, who introduced Kindle in 2007, were once heralded as the saviour of traditional publishing. However, that all changed when Amazon introduced the Kindle self publishing service, where anyone, absolutely anyone irrespective of talent or motivation could publish an ebook and sell it, or even just give it away for free on Amazon.

2. Edit, re-edit and read While some established authors do embrace self publishing as an escape from the confines and low royalties of publishing houses and other talented writers finally found a means to get their quality work finally out there, there has also been a massive downside. With a lack of talent, imagination, grammar or integrity no longer a bar to publishing your own work online with the press of a button, cyberspace is now awash in a veritable ocean of, for want of a better word crap. Now someone who spent a few years on a book can find themselves listed alphabetically next to another book that was perhaps written over a drunken weekend by some friends, who didn’t overly concern themselves with structure, spelling or any semblance of a plot or literary narrative.

Reading a lot and reading as a critic can help you develop perhaps one of the most valuable talents a writer can ever have: the ability to self-edit. This can only be done by critically evaluating what works and doesn’t work in the fiction of others. Once you can pull that off, it becomes easier and easier to find flaws and strengths in your own work. So it is vital to develop this skill.

3. Concentrate on nouns and verbs for strong writing. I think that novice writers, or people who don’t write until it’s time to put together an email or letter or report, rely far too much on adjectives and adverbs. That is the primary thing I notice when it comes to spotting the difference between a quick idea simply thrown out there almost naked and a piece of work that someone has taken the time to edit, love and polish as the best they can do. The sad truth is that good writing almost always looks effortless – but to get to that you need to take a long time to get the absolutely right word into the right place. What is better writing: “quickly ran” or “sprinted?” “Large man” or “giant?” You get more done with less when you focus on the best nouns and verbs you can come up with. An adverb, to some, is an easy to find note to rethink that particular phrase — just look for the “ly” ending words and stare at it a while until the right verb comes along. I would never say get rid of all adverbs because sometimes the adverb is the best choice or the only choice. You will absolutely and definitely find adverbs in my writing, but I do try to consider them carefully… most of the time.

writing room

4.  “If you write something for which you were given a check, and that check did not bounce, and you paid the light bill with the money, then I consider you talented.” I recalled this Stephen King quote on the day I finally got paid for writing, and although the cheque didn’t bounce you never quite believe it, even when you see your work at number 9 on a national Bestseller List well on its way to Number 1. Goal-setting through inspiration works, so if you read or hear something that will give you courage or simply give you a push when you are blocked or suffering from that killer of so many promising writers – procrastination, write it down and hang it up somewhere you can see it easily. Just keep going and trust that one day you will get paid for something you wrote (an extremely difficult feat) because when you do there will be no question that you do have talent.

5.  Don’t succumb to procrastination, Finish it! Writing is sometimes like an endurance race. You start off with high hopes but as time goes by, running alone, with few people around to give you encouragement, you can begin to doubt that you can make it to the finish… but you can, you know you can if only you stick with it. Keep going, and don’t worry too much about making mistakes, you only learn by making them and can always come back later and pick them up in your edit. Finish your first draft and always, always, finish your projects. Why? Because you’ll be surprised at what happens by the time your “lost project” is done. You’ll be learning how to write by making mistakes, which you can always go back and fix it later. Maybe the second half of this story will end up being the first half of an even better tale because you were writing background the entire time, gaining momentum for the good stuff. But beware there will also be times when the lure of something new, sparkly and perfect comes along. A concept so amazing you tell yourself you should drop your crappy project immediately and start work on the real thing. You know what to do if this ever happens? You finish what you’re working on first, you finish, you finish, you finish it.


Mars One: Real or Reality TV Blackhole?

Surfing around the net this morning I noticed the type of headline that you don’t expect every day. It declared that Five Britons have just been shortlisted for a controversial mission to Mars to establish a settlement on the ‘red planet’. As soon as I read that the whole thing was launched by Mars One in 2011, I began to wonder if I had perhaps drifted a little too far from the ‘Real’ world, by preferring to spend most of my time in a little fishing village, trying to edit and complete my latest book. How could I not notice something as fundamental as creating a permanent settlement on the red planet, a gig that I soon learned had seen more than 200,000 applicants for the privately-funded one-way missions due to blast off in 2024.

spaceship.jpgPhoto by James Vaughan

The project organiser is the Dutch entrepreneur Bars Lansdorp, who claims the citizen astronauts will grow their own food and be protected from deadly radiation by a “hollow water tank”. The first unmanned rover will be deployed on the planet by 2020 to chose a location where the soil contains water and enough sunlight to power the settlement. Mr Lansdorp said: “The brightest young minds of our planet are being invited to participate in Mars One’s first Mars Lander. We do this to inspire students to believe that anything is possible.”

So far so good, it all sounded very positive – apart from the One-way element of the trip. However, suspicious journalists and other critics believe the mission is nothing more than a publicity stunt to raise revenue for a reality television series by Big Brother producer Endemol. Australian journalist Elmo Keep dug a little deeper and told Sky News this week: “200,000 people did not apply; 2,071 paid the registration fee… According to the dozens of people I interviewed over the course of a year for the story, there is scant-to-no proof Mars One has any capability to make it real.”

So where does the truth lie? Forgive me for thinking it, but won’t any mission to send and sustain life on another planet be astronomically (no pun intended) expensive? Billions and Billions of Euro’s perhaps? Mars One have declared themselves to be a self financing project and a quick look at their website will show you that they have already begun knocking out quite a few overpriced items, which they are happy to exchange for our cash. Indeed, even before you are able to interact as part of their Global Community, you must, as a minimum have at least made a cash donation to the project or dented your credit card in their on-line merchandise shop. Of course something from the same stable as Big Brother won’t pass up a chance to franchise out things like the Astronaut Selection Process TV rights, with a dozen or so other spin-offs to wet the apatite’s of advertisers. A Mars One statement announced earlier that: “Endemol-owned Darlow Smithson Productions (DSP) will exclusively follow the selection and training of the astronauts.” However, a DSP spokesperson announced only last week that they had pulled out of the project after failing to reach agreement on the details of the contract. Perhaps DSP know it will never get off the ground or perhaps more alarmingly, it will go ahead, half thought out and half funded to add further peril to the almost certain early death any successful astronauts will eventually have to face.

notes.jpgPhoto by Images Money

Call me a party pooper if you must, but after reading recent research carried out at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which suggests that a manned mission to Mars would see the crew die within 68 days, I think Mars One really needs to begin thinking of how it can sex up its dire Unique Selling Point (USP) of 15 minutes of fame followed by an almost certain lingering death.

Amazingly there are some who would still go just for the thrill of getting a footnote in our history books… erm before they die. Hannah Earnshaw, a 23-year-old astronomy student at Durham University, is among the Britons on the shortlist and said the trip was really appealing. “My family is pretty thrilled. They’re really happy for me,” she said. “Obviously it’s going to be challenging, leaving Earth and not coming back… I’ve had support from my friends and family and we can still communicate via the internet.” Ms Earnshaw did admit, however that she “wasn’t surprised” there was scepticism about a project which she said was only “feasible”. But International Space Station Commander Chris Hadfield said candidates would be disappointed because: “There’s a great self-defeating optimism in the way this project has been set up… I fear it’s going to be a little disillusioning for people because it’s presented as if it’s going to happen and so all those people are excited.”

So is it just a money making publicity stunt? Challenged over the likelihood of the project getting off the ground, Mr Lansdorp still rejects claims the mission is a stunt. “If you look at the team involved in Mars One, none of us would do this as a hoax.”

It would be interesting to see if Mr Lansdorp eventually puts his money (or should I say our money) where his mouth is and flies off with them… now that really would be something I would watch on my TV.