I don’t consider myself skilled enough yet to give the impression I actually know what I’m talking about with this writing lark. Ten years ago I had the enjoyable experience of having a new house built and working with an architect to design our dream home. Even before we moved in we saw things we’d have wanted to do differently. When I was talking to a neighbour about this I was told ‘aah, you have build three houses before you get it right.’ And so I think it might be this way with writing.
I’m halfway through my third novel and am beginning to get the feeling that I have a better idea that I’m in some kind of control, but that’s only because (a) I’ve written a lot of words over the past five years and (b) I’ve read quite a lot on the craft of writing. One of the best guides I’ve read is James Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Novel. In fact, I read his How to Write a Damn Good Mystery first because that’s what I was trying to do at the time, but he covers more of the fundamentals in the former and he’s such a good writer it was no heavy labour to read the two.
A few days ago I signed up to Jane Friedman’s newsletter which led me to her excellent video on audience development for writers. Check it out – I wish I had the staying power to follow it through.
Can’t believe it’s so long since I posted anything – where did that time go? I’ve been editing my novel, not as much as I should have been but it’s been perched on my shoulder pecking away at my conscience all the time. Oh, and I went on holiday. Part of my paper draft is marked ‘edited in Bruges’ so that’s a pleasant reminder of sitting in a pavement cafe in the sun with an inevitable Belgian beer.
Earlier I posted about a rejection letter (email actually). Yesterday I had another. It began ‘Dear Author’. Three months to send back a standard email which they couldn’t even bother to personalise. I wrote back, politely, to express my dismay at this rudeness. I started the email ‘Dear agent’!
I’m not surprised by the rejection, especially as I’ve edited deeper and deeper – I’d have rejected the sample chapters myself. I found a massive error in the second chapter, a mind-numbingly stupid one, even though I’d edited several times. The general advice seems to be to have the draft as polished as you can get it before submission and I thought I’d done that. The step I missed, I think, was having someone else read the sample chapters once I thought I was happy with it. I’m lucky enough to be married to someone who is also a writer and we actively critique each other’s work but I didn’t run these past her. She’d have spotted the errors in an instant. I’ll not make that mistake again.
How do you make sure your material is as good as it can be?
We’ve had an explosion of social media opportunities over recent years and as someone who pre-dates these digital connections I watch with a wary eye. I’m not a Luddite, I use the technology every day and I have done for over thirty years, so I don’t think it’s the fear of change which bothers me.
The ability to maintain connections with friends and friends of friends is, without doubt, useful. The fact that I can email or run a blog is fantastic but there are some downsides.
Sometimes, I have to admit, the common abandonment of spelling and grammatical structure causes me concern but I acknowledge that’s perhaps me being a little long in the tooth and still remembering being slapped by teachers when getting it wrong.
The biggest negative, for me, however, is the inability to express an opinion without facing the possibility of catastrophic negative responses. What people used to restrict to shouting at the TV or the newspaper is now fired off in response to a Facebook, or similar, post with, seemingly, as much venom as can be mustered.
Yesterday, a Facebook ‘friend’ posted an item with which I didn’t agree. I was about to respond then spotted the article had over 10,000 ‘likes’ and 4,768 comments so I didn’t bother. Why? Two reasons: firstly, because it seemed a waste of time adding my thoughts to this morass of opinion, anything I might have said had already been addressed 2000 times; secondly, because what had developed was a shit-storm of abuse. No rules of engagement, no manners, no structure, no mediation and, definitely, no conclusion. Something I didn’t want to get involved in.
Shame really. I understand we’ve always had the ‘Angry of Walthamstow’ banging off letters to the papers but this is just so immediate and so widespread. Differences of opinion are inevitable and are crucial in ensuring a balanced society but when this translates into people being afraid to pop their head above the parapet perhaps we all suffer in the end.
Having watched the final of the amateur painting reality show ‘The Big Painting Challenge’ and being a fan of ‘The Great British Bake-off’, I wondered if it was time to have one on writing. Half an hour to compose a poem? 50 word flash fiction piece based on a trigger. A novel by the end of the series? A complete story in six words? Convinced it would be a winner, I started thinking of possible titles. How about ‘It’ll be all write on the night’ or ‘Do it like the prose’.
Any others out there?
So we’re all out here in blogworld trying to communicate, yet there seems to be a chasm between those sites with a stellar audience and those with just a few dedicated followers. I’d be interested to know how you get your stuff out there.
I’ve now read quite a number of on-line articles and they mostly say the same things. Either:
a) pay me lots of money and I’ll build your audience, and/or,
b) write good, interesting content.
But there must be more to it than that. How important is it to ‘follow’ other bloggers? Are there any tricks to setting WordPress tags? Does appearance of the page matter that much – I’d assume that’s more about keeping an audience than finding one in the first place? Are there bits of advice out there that I’ve missed?