Author envy, vlogger envy

In my latest vlog, I talk about how sometimes every other author (Hilary Mantel) seems to get all the prizes and awards and shiny things while you’re covered in double baby sick. And how that’s very much like constantly counting your YouTube and web statistics.

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8 March 2013

#75: The blog is dead, long live the podcast

I fly solo this week and have an important announcement to make! I also talks about Chat Broome, my exciting new podcast project, and put the blogging world to rights with what is very close to being a rant or diatribe. Well, it’s not really, but there are some important points to consider if you’re a writer and you’re thinking of setting up your own blog. Oooh, statistics! I also talk statistics. Not many people do that. It’s a big one folks. Get your headphones!

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18 February 2013

Stephen Hackett’s writing setup

The latest edition of my writing setups series comes from Stephen Hackett, writer and founder of the tremendous 512 Pixels blog and podcast, and fellow 70 Decibels gang member. Here he is with a minimal writing machine tale that I can more than relate to.

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21 December 2012

#69: 21 lessons learned from four years of blogging

I fly solo this week to celebrate four years of Write for Your Life by sharing some of the blogging lessons I’ve learned in that time. From taking it seriously to sticking at it, not making money and meeting ace people, there should be plenty in it for bloggers and writers of all shapes and sizes. Headphones on. Get listening.

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16 August 2012

Writing and publishing is all about teamwork

Stephanie Thwaites, children’s agent at Curtis Brown in the UK, published a lovely post about rejection this week on her blog.

It begins:

It’s all about rejection. No, not online dating, but publishing: according to an editor I was chatting to last week, it’s an industry of rejection.

Personally, I’m a little tired of all the negativity around publishing. I think it’s time we all pulled together and tried to do things differently and push things forward. So I confess to letting out a gentle sigh when I read that first paragraph.

But I needn’t have worried, because Stephanie’s post isn’t really about rejection at all. Instead, it’s a great reminder that, for every book that gets published, there is a team of hardcore fans behind it, willing it on and making it happen.

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10 July 2012

The problem with link posts

Redesigning your website provides an opportunity to take stock and think about what you’re doing. You get to look at what works well and what doesn’t, and assess whether your approach is still appropriate.

As you know, I’ve just done all that. And after some highly scientific bonce-bending (thinking), I’ve decided to stop publishing link posts.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like link posts. I think that they’re a smashing way to make people aware of other great articles and writers on the web. By linking to and quoting someone else before adding my own commentary, I believed that for the most part, I was adding to a wider conversation. But alas, not always.

The flip side of link posts is that they can quickly become an easy way to publish regularly, but with little thought. If you don’t have time to consider a subject properly, you can simply post a link to someone else’s work, add a quick sentence or a couple of words of your own, and feel like you’ve gotten away with it.

But I’m not comfortable with that. It feels like a waste of everyone’s time. If I’ve got something to say, I should take the time to say it properly. And if that time isn’t available, I should wait until it is. So that’s what I’m going to do.

No more link posts, only proper articles. Some may be long, some may be short. But they’ll all have substance and that’s what matters.

There’s nothing wrong with short posts that function primarily to send your readers to information or opinions elsewhere. However, if that becomes the bulk of what you do with your website, I think that something may be wrong.

Because while responding to or commenting on other people’s work is great, it’s always better to be the first with something to say.

Happy birthday, merry Christmas and a look forward to 2011

Well here we are – the final post on Write for Your Life for 2010. It just so happens the site also turned two earlier this week, so this episode seems like a good opportunity to stop, say thank you to all you wonderful people and look ahead at what’s in store for next year.

And time permitting, there is plenty to come in 2011. From a unique membership scheme where you can get lovely goodies, help keep the blog going and raise money for charity at the same time, to a new Write for Your Life shop stocked with writerly treats. And then there’s the online conferences, of course.

Whatever happens, I know it’s going to be busy. And I know 2010 has been a blast. Thank you for reading, watching and listening this last 12 months and see you on the other side.

Watch this episode on Vimeo

Love and baubles

Iain

Top blogs for writers that I’m reading right now

The annual top 10 blogs for writers contest is taking place at the moment, which is marvellous, but rather than talk about why you should vote for this blog, I’m going to point you towards three others that I’m currently reading and enjoying tremendously.

As I say in the clip, theses annual awards are extremely handy and usually provide a list of smashing blogs. But everyone’s top ten is different and the truth is, there can never be a definitive list. We all want different things from our writing-related reading material.

But please, please, please don’t think I’m having a go at the awards or that there’s an ulterior motive. As I say in the clip, the 2008 list was really valuable and helped me when I set up Write for Your Life. I guess I just don’t feel very comfortable writing a post specifically to tell you to tell someone else how awesome we are.

The top blogs I’m reading etc…

First up I’d like to point you to Bubblecow. It’s a great blog for writers, particularly fiction folk who want to learn more about the publishing industry and what it takes to get your work noticed. Practical advice. Nice people. Lovely stuff.

Second, Booktwo.org run by James Bridle. James is something of an expert on technology and the publishing industry and speaks at events all over the world. His blog is a treat and hugely interesting, as are the links he provides to articles elsewhere. Go looksee.

Finally, the wonderful First Today, Then Tomorrow by Randy Murray. Not always writing-related, but consistently thought provoking, this is a great blog updated daily. Randy’s writing assignments are fantastic. Hugely recommended.

And that’s it. Of course, I’m reading lots of other blogs at the moment too (many not writing-related actually), but they’re the three I want you to visit and get an eyeful of right now. Watch the episode for more detail!

Watch this episode on Vimeo

11 April 2010

#2: Copywriting versus creative writing

Part one sees us talk about the terrible tussle faced by those writers who try to combine a copywriting career with literary ambition. The two of us agree, then disagree, and then I go through a little unintended writerly therapy. Everything turns out fine in the end.

In part two (18:53) we talk about a couple of posts from other blogs. We reveal our worst writing distractions to follow up on 7 Writing Distractions I’m Kissing Goodbye, which featured on Fuel Your Writing (which I shamefully refer to as Fuel My Writing – sorry!) and was written by Suzannah from Write it Sideways.

We then talk about whether writers should blog every day, following Bubblecow’s assertion that we definitely should.

Finally, in part three (28:40) I talk about the future of Write for Your Life and how you can contribute, either to the podcast or by writing a guest article.

Listen to or download the podcast
Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes

8 January 2010

Why AudioBoo is a terrific tool for writers

AudioBoo has been referred to as an audio version of Twitter. I’d say it’s got quite a long way to go in that regard, but it’s certainly a handy little tool for publishing actual words and sounds with barely any effort at all.

Much like Twitter, I first used AudioBoo not long after it launched and thought, ‘Nah, can’t see it catching on.’ It was only after seeing/listening to someone else use the service well that I changed my mind to, ‘Hmm, that’s got some potential.’

So in this post I’m going to give you a short explanation about what AudioBoo is, get you thinking about how you can use it as a writer and invite you to listen to what I’ve done with it so far.

What is AudioBoo?

AudioBoo’s homepage describes itself as ‘the iPhone audio blogging app’, which is true, but also a little misleading because you don’t need an iPhone to use it. Not any more, anyway.

Not just for iPhone users

The service started out as a way for iPhone users to record short messages through their handset and upload them direct to their AudioBoo page. But it’s no longer quite so exclusive.

Late last year, the AudioBoo team added the ability to record direct through your browser or even upload an existing audio file. So basically, anyone can now use AudioBoo. All you need is some sort of microphone and, well, a computer.

Finding your voice

Much like Twitter, you have your own AudioBoo profile where your ‘boos’ appear in chronological order. The AudioBoo site has an ‘all boos’ stream as well as pages for ‘featured’ and ‘popular’ boos.

When you record and upload your audio file, you can include your location, a feature that fits with the original mobile ethos of AudioBoo. This isn’t essential, but could have it’s uses for writers, like if you were posting from a literary festival or working as a journalist on location.

Say Boo to your friends!

Of course, as is the fashion these days, you can choose to follow other people using AudioBoo and in turn, you can gain followers of your own.

AudioBoo also makes it easy to integrate the other personas that form your online life. You can adjust the settings so that when you post a boo, it automatically posts messages on Twitter and Facebook to let people know.

Same goes for Tumblr, which could be useful if you followed my previous advice to use the ever-growing microblogging platform as an online scrapbook.

Boo on your blog

Finally, you can also post your latest boos on your blog and style them how you want. I think this is quite a handy feature and something I’m looking to incorporate into the upcoming redesign of Write for Your Life.

In a nutshell

I’ve given you a lot of bits and pieces to think about there. Essentially, AudioBoo is a mobile and web service that allows you to record short audio clips and publish them direct to your own dedicated AudioBoo page.

It’s a fledgling service that’s a little rough around the edges, but the creators promise some exciting updates. Even in it’s current state, I can think of plenty of ways that we writers can use AudioBoo to progress and accompany our work.

How can writers use AudioBoo?

Now, I’ve had a quick search of and general peekaboo at the AudioBoo community and to tell you the truth, I can’t see many writers using it. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be doing one or more of the following.

Publish your work

It seems obvious I suppose, but AudioBoo offers a simple, inexpensive way for you to get your writing out there, whether it’s poetry, short scripts or non-fiction. All you need to do is record and upload. AudioBoo does the rest.

Supplement your existing blog or website

This is how I think I’m going to use AudioBoo in the long run. I only post here a few times a month, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have marvellous writerly thoughts on a regular basis (honest!). AudioBoo gives me a way of producing quick, easy to digest advice with little fuss.

Create audio notes for any writing project

I prefer a notepad and pen, but I know a lot of writers who carry a dictaphone and like to voice their thoughts and ideas for later use. AudioBoo is as convenient and searchable place as any to store those sparks of inspiration.

Express your personality

The written word is a wonderful thing and it’s certainly possible to convey your personality accurately through your writing, but it isn’t easy. With AudioBoo, you can offer your readers a glimpse of the real you. Or whatever bits of you you’re happy to reveal. So to speak.

Podcast on the cheap

Plenty of bloggers also podcast and a lot of authors are starting to serialise their work in podcast form. However, it can be an expensive business to get that professional sound and really, it’s the content that matters most, isn’t it? AudioBoo is great because it let’s you connect with your readers/listeners almost instantly.

Listen to me, listen to me!

I recorded my first few boos just before Christmas and found them quite good fun to do. You can listen to them via the audio players in the sidebar here or you can go over to my AudioBoo page and have a scout round there.

My boo titled ‘Should writers help other writers? Why the heck not?!’ even got featured on the AudioBoo featured list, which I think means it was officially brillopads. Well, I was excited anyway, especially considering I recorded it in the kitchen while I was waiting for the kettle to boil.

Here it is:

I’m going to use AudioBoo more often in the coming months and publish regular titbits, including stuff you might find useful and maybe some updates about my own writing. I think you should give it a try too. Just make sure you come back and let us know how you get on.

21 December 2009

Write for Your Life is one year old today!

Well doesn’t time fly, eh?

This time last year I finally got round to launching Write for Your Life. It was something I’d talked about for ages, but always put off because I was worried about how much time I could devote to it.

And actually, that’s proved to be a fairly legitimate concern, as the second half of 2009 has seen me need to concentrate on editing my novel after acquiring a literary agent for it in the summer.

However, that hasn’t stopped people, you very kind people, visiting Write for Your Life, reading posts and being altogether wonderful and supportive.

At the time of writing, this blog has over 600 subscribers and a regular flow of traffic. And while I know that we’re hardly breaking any records, those figures are far beyond what I expected 365 days ago.

So thank you. Thank you for taking an interest in this blog and leaving your comments. Thank you for all the tweets and retweets. I genuinely appreciate all the support.

Got any highlights?

Well thank you for asking, yes I do actually. I’ve picked out three posts that I think have helped set Write for Your Life apart a little and that sum up what the blog is about.

1. Writers, abandon your muses – they’re a work of fiction!
This was my first journey into the blogosphere and remains one of the blog’s most commented on and most visited posts. It wasn’t written to court controversy, but it seemed people were a little more attached to their muses than perhaps I bargained for!

2. How CCTV can help improve your productivity
This post seemed a bit silly when I first came up with the idea. But actually, it turned out to be a real (if slightly off the wall) productivity trick. And it was, I think, a realtively unique writing tip.

3. Ignore anyone who tells you to write, write, write!
Tired of reading all the posts and tweets that told me I couldn’t call myself a writer unless I spent every ounce of energy writing, I put together a few thoughts on the subject. The following day this post appeared on the front page of Delicious and I was left rather agog.

Of course, I must also thank those people who kindly provided guest posts when I was even more up against it with my novel than I am now! Especially as Sophie Johnson’s post on story structure continues to pick up ‘best of’ mentions!

So what now?

Well there’s actually a lot going on behind the scenes at Write for Your Life towers. The blog is being redesigned and looks absolutely gorgeous. I’m also about to start writing the much-promised e-book explaining my post-it note system for planning and editing my novel.

There’s other stuff too, but I’ll reveal more in the new year. For now, feel free to raise a glass and help me celebrate a year in the blogosphere. Here’s to an exciting, writerly 2010!

22 November 2009

Jean Hannah Edelstein (part two): traditional media and marketing a book online

Back in May, Write for Your Life spoke to Jean Hannah Edelstein, author of Himglish and Femalese: Why Women Don’t Get Why Men Don’t Get Them, published by Preface, about the research process and putting a book proposal together.

Read the first part of the interview here.

This second interview was carried out a couple of weeks ago. While it’s not entirely intentional to post the second part so long after the first, it’s actually quite interesting to find out what’s happened in the intervening months.

Enjoy…

So Himglish and Femalese has been out a few months now – how’s it going?

It’s going well, I think, but of course ‘well’ is quite relative. What I’ve found quite interesting is that everyone asks me how many copies I’ve sold, which is kind of a veiled way of saying, ‘how much money have you made?’

Hilarious. While it’s not on the bestseller list, I’ve gotten very warm feedback from many readers, developed a good blog following and had some good press, including internationally.

So overall, while I have not yet achieved my dream of retiring to a Mauritian beach village, I think this has been a very good experience for a first book.

How have you found the process of ‘marketing’ your work?

The marketing process has been interesting – to a large extent it’s been very personality-driven, and I think that’s interesting – the extent to which authors now have to be personable and approachable and selling themselves as well as the book, so to speak.

It all feels very personal, which I don’t mind because I’m quite extroverted, but I think it must be quite a challenge and a frustration for writers who aren’t.

Have your efforts to publicise the book generally been web-based?

My personal efforts have been very much web-based, particularly with my blog and Twitter, but also in terms of answering interviews via email (ha ha!) and direct emailing.

And of course my brilliant book trailers – we’re going to make another one for the paperback release and I am very excited to work with the actors and director again.

And traditional marketing?

Traditional marketing has also been important, particularly coverage in print and broadcast media.

The great thing about the internet, of course, is that people who read about the book in, say, the Sunday Times or heard me on the radio could promptly Google the title and order it on Amazon.

I imagine that in days of yore before this was possible, good intentions to buy a book might have fallen astray in the time between someone hearing about it through traditional media and then actually getting to a bookshop.

Basically, traditional media is still very important but it may well have met its match in the digital world.

Tell us more about what you’ve done to market your book online.

I think the thing that I have found most interesting has been establishing a web presence.

My book absolutely is targeted towards people who are heavy web users (e.g. women between the ages of 18 and 35, approximately) so it was very important to put myself out there.

It’s been trial and error as well, of course. One thing that I’ve found interesting is that my personal blog remains more popular than my Himglish and Femalese blog.

I think that this may be because it is a bit more natural and off-the-cuff and to whatever extent my readers are interested in finding out about me as a person, they get it there.

So though I temporarily shut that blog down when I launched the Himglish and Femalese one I think that was actually a mistake (which happily I quickly rectified).

What’s next for Himglish and Femalese?

Well, first of all I think it’s important to note what an excellent gift it makes for Christmas. And then the mass-market paperback edition will come out in early February, just in time for Valentine’s Day – which is handy, of course, because there’s no time like Valentine’s Day to highlight confusion between the sexes.

Hopefully we will be mounting a suitably romantic event to tie in with the launch of that edition – keep your eye on www.himglishandfemalese.com for details.

5 October 2009

Ignore anyone who tells you to write, write, write!

In my relatively short time in the blogosphere, I’ve come to understand a couple of things.

First, most people who blog about writing are passionate about it and, in my experience, very nice cyber-people indeed. Second, things work in cycles.

The truth is there are only so many things you can write about and so many angles you can take on a specific subject. It’s inevitable that some repetition creeps in and we all end up saying similar things.

And I’ve no problem with that because the blog format isn’t exactly kind to new readers and there’s every chance they won’t find old content. Some recycling of previous topics is fine.

However, there are some subjects, some pieces of advice that get thrown around like confetti, which a) I don’t agree with, and b) are said as if they are a given, to be taken as read, absolute certainties.

Well they’re not. Absolutely not.

Write – for goodness sake write!

The concept that’s particularly tickled my irritable bone this past month is the one that says in order to be considered ‘a writer’, we must write, write and continue writing until we can simply write no more.

It’s the idea that when we’re struggling to find the words or finding some part of our work particularly tricky, we must plough on regardless. Because that’s what writers do.

It’s nonsense. Writers are not machines. We are people. Life (and writing) is rarely that simple.

An analogy about a plumber, some piping problems and a biscuit

Here’s a rubbish analogy for you. If a plumber cuts his or her hand on a pipe and it’s bleeding all over your nice new carpet, you don’t say ‘Carry on plumbing! Plumb man (or woman). Plumb like you’ve never plumbed before!’

Instead you say, ‘Goodness me, you’ve made a mess of that haven’t you? Here, sit down. Let me make you a cup of tea and get you a biscuit. Perhaps when we’ve got that blood cleaned up and you’ve had a chance to think about what’s happened, you can crack on again. Tell me, do you charge by the hour?’

Here’s my point…

Don’t write for the sake of writing

There is no use in writing continuously, relentlessly, if you’re only doing it because you think that’s what you should be doing. If you’re only doing it because, you know, that’s what you do. Because you’re a writer.

What will you have gained, and I mean really gained, by ploughing on when you’re entirely lacking inspiration? 500 words of useless content? 1000 words? More?

Writers do a hell of a lot more than just write. We are not in any way defined by the number of hours we sit in front of our computer screens. There are other things that you can be doing when the going gets tough.

I advocate all of the following as preferable alternatives to the write, write, write claptrap I’ve seen spouted so often in the online writing community:

  • whatever you’re working on – read the flippin’ thing
  • write something else – anything
  • use a pencil and paper to make a suitable plan
  • use a pencil and paper to draw an entirely unrelated picture of an animal holding some fruit
  • speak to a friend or family member (not about writing)
  • eat something brown and sticky, preferably chocolate
  • invent a new game with elastic bands and fluff (any fluff)
  • have a bath and work out which toe fits best in one of the taps
  • read a cor-blimey-blinkin’-book for crying out loud!

Whatever it takes

What I’m saying is that I don’t care what you do, just don’t think that to ‘be a writer’ you have to grind yourself into the ground, because you don’t. You have to work hard, yes. But you don’t have to spend every waking hour trying to do what some blogo-nitwit on the internet (including me) says you should be doing.

And if someone questions your commitment because you chose to watch X Factor or American Idol rather than attempt to beat your writer’s block with an hour and a half’s worth of horrible, depressing, turgid, ultimately unusable writing, please tell them to shove their judgemental claptrap right up their bum.

Writing for the sake of writing is a waste of time.

A writer does whatever he or she needs to do to produce their best work. And sometimes it’s really, really tough. But there are many ways of approaching your writing. You have alternatives. There is no prescribed method.

Jerry’s My final thought

My advice is this:

Ignore anyone who tells you that you must or must not do something, anything, for you to legitimately call yourself a writer, and that includes the act of writing itself. It isn’t always the answer and it’s definitely not the qualifying criteria.

Instead, do whatever you want. Do whatever it takes. Do what’s best for you.

Amen to that, sister. I’m off to have a bath.

Share your thoughts

I’d be very interested to know what you think about this one. Are there certain subjects that get bandied around the blogosphere that you don’t agree with? Are you fed up of being told what you should and should not be doing for you to call yourself a writer? Got an interesting fluff-and-elastic-based structure to show us? Help yourself in the comments section below.

1 July 2009

Why bloggers should perform their writing

Reading your writing out loud is generally a good thing to do, whatever the medium, genre or format. It helps you understand the rhythm of your writing and, more often than not, it helps you discover punctuation and grammar glitches that you might not otherwise have noticed.

Spoken word events are popular the world over with aspiring poets and budding prose writers. And I know that a lot of people who read this blog have their roots in creative writing and may well have read their work at open-mic nights.

But what about you (us) bloggers? In fact, what about journalists, non-fiction writers and all the other wordsmithery that goes on away from the literary world?

Well, I’m here to tell you all to stop being shy and get out there with your work. From my experience of performing at and organising spoken word events, so long as your writing is able to hold an audience, it doesn’t matter what medium it’s in.

Good writing is good writing and that’s all an open-mic crowd wants to hear.

But what’s in it for me?

Good point. But then really, what’s in it for creative writers either? I’m set to see a literary agent or publisher offer someone representation or a book deal on the back of a reading. In fact, I’m yet to see a literary agent or a publisher attend a spoken word night that wasn’t part of a major festival (though I’m sure it happens).

The truth is, creative writers perform their work because it helps them guage an audience’s reponse. It also forces them to think about the structure of their work; the natural, or otherwise, ebbs and flows of their writing.

I honestly believe that reading your work to a live audience can tell you as much about a piece of writing as several days, even weeks, of internalising and deliberation.

What if it all goes wrong?

Well, that’s very pessimistic of you. But yes, you could fall flat on your face. You might get an audience of literary snobs who, when it comes down to it, don’t know their over-writerly arses from their over-writerly elbows. And they might turn their noses up. But who cares? You’ve had the gumption to get up and do your thang and if they don’t like it, that’s their problem.

Over the last couple of months I’ve been to a couple of spoken word nights and twice read posts taken directly from this blog. On one of those occasions I also read the first chapter of my novel, but the other time I was just a blogger with a thing or two to say about the writing process.

And I found it useful. If I went back and wrote those posts again, I might change a few things. But perhaps as important, I got just the same buzz out of performing as I do when I read my fiction. Plus the audience seemed to dig it.

I’m still here. Nothing terrible happened. You should give it a try.

8 June 2009

Time management and prioritising your priorities

Prioritise your priorities. Not my words, but the words of Rachelle Gardner over at her blog about her life as a literary agent. But they could be my words, because that’s pretty much what I do when it comes to my writing.

As you may already know, I’ve had to do some writerly juggling over the past few years. I’ve written a novel (as part of a Masters course) while working full-time as a copywriter, with lots of side projects in between (you’re reading one now). And there have been times when it’s felt like I’ve had rather a lot on my plate.

But somehow, I’ve always got things done. And that’s because, over time, I’ve learnt to prioritise my priorities.

What not to do

Rachelle’s post really struck me. In particular, it was the line about the big secret to her time management being  the list of things she doesn’t do. Sounds odd doesn’t it? But it makes sense, when you think about it.

In case you don’t want to head over and read the full article (and you should), here’s what she says:

I’ve dispensed with a lot of non-necessary things in life… things I’d like to do if I could! But the path I’ve chosen means I’ve had to let go of some things.

Now, she goes on to list ‘things’ like keeping a scrapbook and growing a garden. Personally, I’d like to hang on to those parts of my life if possible (the courgettes are looking particularly good this summer), but in terms of my writing and related projects, there are things I’m prepared to let go.

For example, when I decided to set up Write for Your Life, I knew that I would probably have to give up Words Aloud, a project I’d been tied to and loved to bits for two years. I hadn’t the time for both, so one of them had to go.

Similarly, when it came to the crunch for completing my novel, I realised the only way was to pass up the chance of editing a second edition of Matter, a literary magazine I was involved with at the time.

And now, I find myself in the same position again.

After some exciting and Summer-changing news, I’m spending the next couple of months returning to my novel for a little editing and plenty of graft. And that means I have to prioritise my priorities and draw up a new list of things that I don’t do.

And why? Because when it comes down to it, my novel and my creative writing is what means the most to me. That’s my number one priority. Everyone should have one.

Panic ye not

Of course, you might be wondering if this is the end of Write for Your Life. Well, I’m pleased to say that no, it’s certainly not! I’ve enjoyed my blogging experience so far and have really, really appreciated all your kind thoughts and feedback.

No, instead there will be a new strategy in place to keep the blog going with plenty of new posts (possibly more!) being published while I’m beavering away. It’s going to be great, so don’t go anywhere!

More on that at a later date, but for now I implore you to read Rachelle’s post and have a think about your own writing priorities. And don’t just think about what you do do (feel free to snigger), but also the things that you don’t. Or the things that you’re prepared to give up when the time comes.

21 May 2009

Tumblr as an online scrapbook for writers

Ideas come in all shapes and sizes and can be generated or inspired by almost anything.

As writers, we’re encouraged to read, read, read, but our imaginations are just as likely ignited by the things we watch, the things we listen to and the people we hang around with.

All of which brings me neatly on to Tumblr.

What is Tumblr?

Tumblr is what’s techtastically known as a microblogging platform. For me, it sits somewhere between WordPress, a full fat blogging experience, and Twitter, with its 140 character’s worth of tiny talk.

Tumblr’s ‘About’ page says it’s the “easiest way to express yourself”.

It also says this:

Tumblr lets you effortlessly share anything. Post text, photos, quotes, links, music, and videos, from your browser, phone, desktop, email, or wherever you happen to be.

Of course, all of that is true, but the same more or less applies to every other blogging platform out there, doesn’t it? And having used it for almost exactly a year now, I know that Tumblr offers so much more.

So what is different about Tumblr and how can you use it as a scrapbook?

What makes Tumblr so special?

I have a Facebook account and I use Twitter. I also have a last.fm profile, a Vimeo page and a LinkedIn profile too. But the only social media platform I return to on a daily basis is Tumblr. Here’s why:

It really is easy to use

To post something to your blog, or ‘Tumblelog’ as they’re known, you simply choose from seven different post types: Text, Photo, Quote, Link, Chat, Audio and Video. And because each post type is pre-styled, you don’t have to worry about what it will look like. It means you can crack on with finding and adding content, which is great.

It’s how social should be

Arguably the best thing about Tumblr is its social aspect. I know that there are various communities and groups of people who regularly communicate through services like Twitter, but it’s not the same, I promise.

As a platform, Tumblr is growing and growing, but it still seems to retain a certain ethos that I love. Essentially, you interact with people by reposting their material and saying, ‘Yeah, I like that. Other people should see it too.’

Imagine Twitter as a major record label. Tumblr is the indie that’s not only cooler, but always has its heart in the right place.

It’s the perfect online scrapbook for writers

Like most other social-type platforms, Tumblr comes with its own little bookmarklet that sits in your browser toolbar and allows you to post to your Tumblelog without actually going to your Tumblr dashboard.

Effectively, that means that when you see something you like, whether it’s a blog post, an image or a video (see full list above), within seconds you can have it appear on your Tumblelog. It will also appear in the dashboard of anyone who’s ‘following’ you.

Nothing revolutionary there, but with Tumblr it’s all so visual. You’re not farming links, you’re assembling a collection of media that inspires you, flexes your brain-box and makes you laugh.

And everyone else is doing the same, so you’re not building a scrapbook for your writing on your own, there’s a community (with plenty of writers, actually) there to help you out. Plus it’s all so effortless and quick.

So, what now?

Well, first of all you can head over to Tumblr and have an account set up in no time at all. This post is just a very brief overview and there really is no explanation that can do the job better than simply getting stuck in.

Have a scout round, post a few things and then find a couple of people to follow. Ahem.

If you take to Tumblr, you’ll no doubt use it however best suits your needs. But I’d encourage you to approach it with the scrapbook notion in mind. Be creative and don’t restrict yourself.

Remember, your Tumblelog is not your novel, freelance work or ‘proper’ blog. It’s a playground of ideas. If it looks like fun, have a go on the slide.

31 March 2009

How to write about your life (without upsetting friends and family)

Whether you’re a poet or problogger, you will, at times, have an instinct to write autobiographically.

As writers, we regularly follow the common piece of writing advice, to ‘write about what you know’. It’s in our nature to draw on personal experience and, in one way or another, write about our lives.

But of course, it’s almost impossible to write about our lives on a regular basis or in any depth without referring to the people around us – our friends and family.

And this can sometimes lead to problems.

Decisions, decisions

You novelists and scriptwriters will understand the difficult decisions you have to make when a character starts to resemble someone you know.

Do you plough on regardless or do you stop and think about whether what you’re writing will have any repercussions in real life?

And what about you bloggers and journalists? What you write is effectively a permanent archive of material that can be accessed at any time by pretty much anyone. That’s a lot of responsibility.

Do you stick with a good story or article no matter what, or do you run it past the people it might affect to make sure that your work won’t bring heartache later on?

Writing about your life can be a tricky business, but there are a few things you can do to make sure you don’t get yourself in an emotional tangle.

They can handle the truth

Once you’ve made the decision to write about your life in a way that might affect someone you know, be open and honest about it. More importantly, ask permission.

There’s no harm in telling that person that you’re writing about them, or that you’ve been inspired by something they’ve said or done. Most people will take it as a compliment and maybe even help you out with any research that you might need to do.

But it’s vital that you’re up front with them from the get-go. Otherwise, what you write may just cause upset later on. And by that time, it’ll be too late to do anything about it.

Be inspired don’t imitate

Another alternative is to simply use a snapshot of a person or event.

You don’t always need to go the whole hog and base an entire character on one person, or relay exact events that reflect their life and actions.

When I began writing my novel, I had no intention of using any part of my life as inspiration. But inevitably, it happened.

My lead character’s father shares many similarities with my own father, including his job, dialect and some of the phrases he uses. But he’s also a borderline alcoholic who may or may not have had an affair with his daughter-in-law’s mother.*

My character, that is. Not my Dad.

The point is, I’m never going to write a story, poem or blog article based entirely on someone I know personally. But they can still inspire me, and I can use that inspiration in a way that won’t compromise the relationship.

Write anonymously

Here are some practical examples for when you really have to write about a friend or family member, but need to protect their anonymity:

  • If you’re writing fiction, give someone a different name. Make one up. It’s obvious, I know, but worth saying.
  • If you’re writing fiction, give someone a different name that doesn’t sound very similar to their real name or have the same initial. Don’t laugh. It happens all the time.
  • If you’re writing non-fiction, reduce the name to an initial, so Sally becomes ‘S’ and Bob becomes ‘B’.
  • If you’re writing non-fiction, use a different name and include a disclaimer that indicates what you’ve done.

Put yourself in their shoes

Another way of looking at it is to try and put yourself in their shoes.

Read your work again. Would you like to have the article or story that you’re writing written about you? Would it hurt your feelings or jeopardise a relationship?

The old saying, ‘treat others how you would want to be treated yourself,’ is a pertinent message for writers.

With the power of words comes responsibility. Think about how your words might affect you if the shoe was on the other foot. I know that’s way too many shoe/foot analogies, but the point is a good one.

Do the write thing (sorry)

Finally, what I think is probably my most important piece of advice. If you think there might be any chance that what you’re writing will affect someone you care about, don’t do it.

It’s just not worth it.

The written word is our passion. For many of us, it’s our occupation too. But it will never be more important than the people we love.

When your work starts to have a negative impact on the people around you – your friends and family – it’s time to find a new subject and move on to the next idea.

* It’s less complicated than it sounds, I promise.

25 January 2009

10 turn-offs for restless writers and pen-shy procrastinators

Writers don’t get it easy. Most of us spend our working lives sat at a computer screen. The very thing that’s supposed to help us write efficiently bombards us with distractions.

But of course, it’s not just technology that keeps us from our hectic writing schedules. We’re surrounded by all manner of things that can’t wait to help us procrastinate.

Below is my list of top turn-offs for writers. Feel free to use the comments section to share your own.

(Mostly techno-) time drains for writers

Okay, so the first part of this list contains some pretty obvious turn-offs. However, they’re worth mentioning, because I’m sure we all fall into their inviting little traps from time to time. Some you may not have thought about before and the final two are, well, a little more personal and much harder to switch off. Onwards…

  1. Email
    Some people receive just a few emails a day, others get dozens. At work, I’m in the latter category and it can be a real distraction. I’ve recently taken to simply closing my email client. It’s been a revelation. Try it. You can always load it up again at lunchtime or after an hour’s worth of uninterrupted graft.
  2. Instant messaging and Twitter
    It’s good to talk. Well, it is unless you’re up against a deadline or you’re struggling to write the final scene of your script. I write in short bursts and save my Twittering for 10 minute breaks or when I’m not busy. Come on, I know it’s addictive, but turn if off!
  3. Mobile phone
    Obviously, if your wife’s eight months and three weeks pregnant, or you’re waiting for an urgent call from your literary agent, don’t turn off your mobile phone. However, if you’re not expecting anything drastic to happen, and you want a little uninterrupted time alone, just you and your keyboard, get it switched off.
  4. Music
    A lot of people write to music and swear by its ability to relax and inspire. Indeed, I will often have my headphones on when I’m doing more run of the mill sort of work. You know, head down, churn-it-out stuff. But if it’s anything that requires a little more brain power, I turn off my iTunes and concentrate. If your music is any way distracting, turn it off.
  5. Television
    Come on, we’ve all done it. You’ve been meaning to write all day and are determined to get that last couple of paragraphs down, but flaming squirrels if it isn’t your favourite programme about to start on the tellybox. Here’s the truth: you can’t write and watch television at the same time. Admit defeat and put your laptop down. Or better still, turn off the TV.
  6. Spell checker
    Who uses a word processing programme that very kindly points out all your typos and misspelt words within nanoseconds of you committing such terrible deeds? I do and it can be a real pain in the doo-dars. If you’re sick of being pushed around by squiggly red and green lines, turn them off. Go on, they don’t fight back. When you’ve finished writing (in peace), turn them back on and let them do their job. On your terms.
  7. Statistics
    This is a blogger-specific entry. Goodness me, it’s tempting to refresh your blog statistics every 20 minutes, isn’t it? And no good ever comes of it, you know. Whether you’ve had an extra 10 or 10,000 page views, it makes very little difference and you could quite easily get the same information an hour later, instead of when you’re supposed be writing. Turn off your stats. Get some work done.
  8. Your computer, as in the whole thing
    These days, many writers work straight to screen. Personally, I like to make a few notes on paper (preferably) and then head for the computer. I find it quicker to type than write by hand. However, if you’re struggling for inspiration or getting distracted (see 1-5), why not reverse the process? Print out whatever you’ve done, find a dark corner and scribble your notes in the margin. Oh, and remember to take a highlighter pen – an essential tool for writers.
  9. Friends and family
    We all have responsibilities and you can’t write every second of every day, but if you need to tell everyone to shove off for a couple of hours, do it. Generally speaking, writing is a fairly solitary process. It’s not your fault. That’s just the way it is. Turn them off. Even if you can’t find the switches.
  10. Your inhibitions
    Many people argue that the only way to beat writer’s block is to just write. Write anything. Hopefully, you’ll scramble your way out of whatever mental hole you’re in and everything will be a-okay. But what about those people who procrastinate because they’re scared that what they’ll write won’t be good enough? I’ve done it. I’ve sat at my computer completely petrified to the point of, frankly, not doing anything. There really is only one thing you can do. Turn off your inhibitions – all those negative thoughts – and write. Write, write, write!

Get involved

We all have our different distractions and things we really should avoid when we’re writing. What are your turn-offs? How do you protect yourself from the ever-present lure of procrastination?

10 January 2009

Embrace your writing community, but don’t be scared to say ‘no’!

Writing can feel like a solitary pursuit at times.

As scribes, we often hole ourselves up for hours on end with just our imaginations and computer screens for company. It can all seem terribly unhealthy.

But it doesn’t have to be, not these days.

The internet has given writers the chance to communicate quickly and easily with other writers. Connect with real people who go through the same creative process and share the same hopes and fears.

Through blogs, groups and forums, we can log on and find comfort in the experience and knowledge of others. We are lucky.

You scratch my blog, I’ll scratch yours

Of course, I’m new to most of this. My background is in creative writing and copywriting. I’ve been part of a number of wonderful writing communities, but blogging is something different. Or so I thought.

Joanna Young, over at Confident Writing, this week asked ‘What advice would you give to new Bloggers?‘.

I was interested to see that much of the discussion focused on the idea of building communities and showing a willingness to contribute. You know, be helpful to others and they’ll be helpful right back.

The conversation was extremely helpful, but one thing struck me: blogging is just like being part of every other writing community I’ve ever known.

It’s a simple formula. You surround yourself with other writers. They read your work and give you feedback. Then you read their work and give them feedback.

The process is invaluable. It’s rewarding. It works.

But, and I’m sorry to say this, there comes a point when all writers have to say ‘No.’

Take responsibility for your writing

I don’t think I would ever have completed my novel without the help of specific people giving up their time to advise me. But that’s all they could do.

The truth is, when it comes down to it, it’s your writing that matters. Writing communities and social networks can provide a fantastic service, but they won’t write your blog, poem or press release for you.

Being part of a community is a two-way process. You can’t expect someone to proofread several pages of work for you and then tell them you’re too busy whenever they ask you to return the favour. That’s just not cricket.

However, your writing is your responsibility. It doesn’t matter how helpful you want to be, if by helping others you are jeopardising your own work, you need to use the magic word.

When is it time to say no?

All writers will have a different breaking point.

You might be a time-management machine and have the ability to juggle your various projects easily. Or, like I used to be, you might be a time-management mess who barely knows what day it is.

It doesn’t matter. There will come a time when someone asks you a favour, and you simply have to decline.

Please don’t feel bad about it.

Your writing is your passion. Your dream. Your income, maybe. It takes time and consideration to provide good quality feedback on someone’s writing. You’re allowed to say no.

For me, it’s time to say no when:

  • you’re struggling to meet deadlines
  • the quality of your writing is suffering
  • your workload is affecting your real-life relationships.

If any of these things are happening to you as a result of too much time spent helping others, you need to start saying no and focus on your own writing.

Exceptions to the rule

There are, as with most things in life, exceptions to the rule.

If your eight-year old daughter wanders into your office and asks you to help her with her homework, don’t slam the door in her face.

If your boss tells you the company may go under and asks you to work late to help out, don’t blow a raspberry and skip your way through the fire exit.

Of course, I’m not advising you to be rude to people or abandon your writing community, whether it’s on or offline. They are wonderful places filled with wonderful people, as I’m currently finding out all over again.

Sometimes, though, it pays to be selfish.

No, that’s the wrong word. It’s not selfish of you to put your writing first. In fact, it’s an occasional necessity. Always feel free to say no.

Get involved

Have you got the give-take balance right in your writing community? Has your writing ever been compromised by your desire to help others? Do you have the ability to say no?