Archives for posts with tag: Writing

There is a skill to editing. A different skill to writing I think. Where writing is more creative and subject to emotional highs and lows, editing seems to be on an even keel, more clinical.

Sometimes I prefer writing. The chance to take a blank canvas and turn it into something unique that moves, influences or informs people – possibly – is one that I take up three times a week on this blog.

Other times I like to edit. You can get through more material when you’re editing, especially if the writing is good and it sits within a sound structure and flow. It can be a slog to create something, heavy going, but then I suppose it can be the same when you’re having to do a major edit or, worse still, a re-draft.

Editing your own work is quite a challenge, particularly if it comes right after you’ve finished writing. You’re so close to the content that sometimes you forget you’re copy editing and you get taken along by the narrative. What you should be doing is checking every single word for appropriateness, spelling, typos and punctuation accuracy, as well as the sense and flow of what you’re reading. It’s hard to maintain that dispassionate distance from something you created. It’s easier to do that when it’s someone else’s work.

Copy editing is draining. You need to maintain a very high level of concentration, frequently circling back through what you’re editing to make sure you’re consistent in how you approach every instance of a heading, indentation, number, quotation or other conventions. In contrast, when you’re writing and it’s going well, it can feel like you’re not concentrating at all. The writing is flowing as fast as you can type, and you’re in some kind of zen-inspired zone, a passenger to the words flowing from your head through to your fingertips.

Editing your own work is not ideal. The role should really belong to someone else, unless you can take a big break after the creative phase and approach it as more of a stranger. This is less important when you’re blogging, as you can always go back and make a change after publication. When you’re publishing something final, however, like a brochure or a book, it’s a different story – literally.

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A spent a few enjoyable hours the other day in the company of the excellently apostrophised and excellent Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2018. This weighty tome’s reputation precedes it, as you probably know, and justifiably so. This was my first owned copy and it is indeed an invaluable resource.

It’s true what they say, and it’s repeatedly endorsed by all the published authors who contribute guest articles: everything you need to know about publishing and getting published is in this book.

One thing that struck me though was this: is the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook for young people? You wouldn’t have thought so. In fact, the readership is probably on the older side. All those people who’ve promised themselves to be true to the notion that they’ve a novel in them, now with a little more time on their hands and a still-burning ambition.

My point is this: the book is over 800 pages long and packed with useful information. Packed being the operative word, since…

..the print is tiny, really hard to read, even with reading glasses on. It’s a book for young eyes. I know it’s not simply an option to raising the point size a couple of points and making the book 1,000 or 1,200 pages long, since that might price the book at the point where people are put off. It’s a good job, though, that the information is invaluable since the size of the type is a turn-off.

Also, I have a suggestion for improving this esteemed organ. Why not have a section listing the literary agents by genre? There is a section doing the same with publishers. It should be relatively easy to do, and stops the reader having to wade through every single agent blurb to get to the nub: do they specialise in my area? This might also stop the majority of agents from the lazy, don’t-want-to-miss-the-next-big-thing catch-all of listing that they cater to ‘all’ fiction and non-fiction genres, all of whom I ignored.

Many books have a beginning, a middle and an end. An introduction with an outline, a body and a conclusion. They tell a story. You start at the beginning and you work through the end to follow the narrative flow. This is true for works of fiction and non-fiction, or business books and leisure books.

Occasionally, a book is a collection of self-contained, separate topics that don’t fit into this conventional format where the narrative hangs the content together naturally. I’m coming to the end of the drafting stage of a self-help book I’m writing. It’s more than a hundred different ideas around a very broad topic, loosely arranged into 4 themes. Each idea fits into the typical length of blog post that I’ve been writing for the past few years.

The challenge – without the guiding structure of a narrative flow – is arranging and presenting the ideas in an order that works for the reader. I could present each of the themes in turn, but that might appear uneven. Or I could sprinkle all of the ideas randomly, but that might appear disjointed. Alternatively, I could go for a mixture of the two approaches, but I might not be able to build momentum to get the reader to the end.

I’ll get to the bottom of how the book will hang together, but it’s an interesting challenge.

 

Subject line signposting is the most decent thing we can do as communicators. It’s a pull thing. You pull interested parties to you rather than pushing stuff to them – or rather at them.

We should do it with all our emails, tweets and advertising. I hope I do it with my blog posts.

With a good subject line you pique the interest of your audience while still signposting them to either read on or move away. After all, what’s the point of encouraging an audience with a poor fit through intrigue or duplicity?

Subject line signposting saves everyone’s time, yours and theirs. After all, we don’t want to be labelled time-wasters.

 

When you decide to publish a book, and put it out there for the world to consume, critique or ignore completely – either consciously or unwittingly – you have to decide what author’s name you’re going to use.

At first glance this might be an obvious choice, namely your own name. Then again, you might opt for a nom de plume. So it’s a decision between nom de plume or not de plume, you might say.

When it’s your own name, the not de plume option, there is the advantage of leveraging off and building on the reputation and social media equity you already have. Sounds obvious. But, there is a surprisingly long list of reasons why you might want to go down the nom de plume path. Here’s 9 I can think of off the top of my head:

  • you can distance yourself from your actual name
  • it allows you to forge a new identity that’s different from your ‘real’ one
  • it keeps you safer in the event of adverse reactions, mushrooming fame or notoriety
  • you can stay under the radar
  • your actual name may already be taken
  • your actual name might be not be easy on the eye, tongue or ear
  • your actual name might not be memorable
  • you can make something cool up
  • you can explicitly or esoterically doff your hat to someone you respect and want to acknowledge

Of course, if you go nom de plume then you do have to overcome the advantage of not de plume and build a following out of nothing, which is a lot of work.

I love the definite article, otherwise known as ‘the’. This is not a post about the ’80’s electronic band of the same name as the blog post title, it’s about the importance of the word the.

Some languages do without a definite article, like Russian. What an awful waste of possibilities! Like having one hand tied behind your back.

When I was in my mid-teens and studying ancient Greek, I remember disagreeing with a writer on Greek tragedies. He argued that the ‘the’ was a small, unnecessary word that didn’t deserve to grace some of the greatest plays of all time, like Agamemnon or Persai. They deserved to stand on their own, he said. It’s one of the earliest times I can remember where I displayed to myself a developing critical faculty, that I didn’t simply believe everything I was told or read from learned people.

For me the the was grand, majestic even. ‘The Agamemnon’ sounded so much more substantial than leaving it to its own devices, naked without its accompanying defining word. Agamemnon, meh!

You’ve probably noticed, if you’ve read a few of my posts, that many of them have titles starting with the the. It’s not called a definite article for nothing. ‘The’ defines what you’re talking about, gives it focus. It’s not a something, it’s the something.

What’s your filter when you’re writing, for business or pleasure? As with many things, physical or digital, I find it often helps to put something through a filter to clean it and make it suitable for consumption.

I create a lot of content in the area of business software. Some of it is quite technical and some of the concepts are quite complex. I’m not technical and I sometimes find it hard to fathom technical stuff. I do complex well either, and I always strive for simple if I can. If you haven’t explained software in business terms for a business audience, you haven’t explained it properly.

So the filter I use is me. First of all I have to be sure that I can understand something. Someone has to be able to explain something new to me in a way that helps me understand it, without hiding behind jargons, TLAs or short cuts. If I don’t understand it, I ask a question to get an explanation I understand. If I understand it, then that’s half the battle.

Once I understand, I try to write it in a way that I would understand. I know that sounds silly when you read it that way. Sometimes, however, we can write about something without fully understanding what we’re writing. So I ask myself, ‘could I understand this if I was reading about it as a novice in this area?’

If it’s not understandable to me, I try and re-write it until it is. Of course, I’ll make mistakes and accurately convey a misunderstanding or else inaccurately describe something I understood correctly. But that’s why we do drafts, so we can get feedback and improve them.

My golden rule: if it’s understandable to me, it’s understandable to anyone.

 

 

 

Here’s a pretty obvious thought for you: write about what you know.

It’s the advice that would be novelists always receive, and in fact it applies to anyone in the creative space.

Once in a while you get insights from the really good writers into how this applies to them. I remember Ricky Gervais giving the perfect illustration of this from when he was a budding writer at school, and clearly it has served him well from that moment on.

I recently finished reading an early crime thriller by American author Michael Connelly. It was his first book featuring the detective Harry Bosch. The Bosch series is now at about 20-plus and growing. At the end of the book, Connelly explained how his eponymous character came about, and it was essentially the melding of 3 or 4 important influences on him when he was growing up. As simple as that.

It’s the same for business of course. Write about you know. Otherwise, you’ll be found out. If you don’t know, find out and get the facts, so you do know what you’re talking about.

I find that when I’m researching something that’s new to me, so that I can write compellingly about it, the more people I speak to the better, up to a point. It’s like a reverse onion. With every new person you talk to, you get a new layer, a fresh perspective, a different angle on what you thought you knew, until you have as full a picture as you’re going to get without the decreasing marginal returns of going to more people.

Then you can write, because you know.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know that my blog posts are Monday, Wednesday, Friday things, relatively short and designed to be read in a couple of minutes.

I thought it would be useful to let you know how I write them. I use WordPress as my blog engine by the way.

First, the idea. I either come up with a series of posts based around an involved topic or I get a specific thought which prompts a standalone post. Then I pen the title and scribble some notes in the body. Then I click save draft. About 1 per cent of the time, I click publish by mistake, and since the default time is set to publish immediately, this results in a largely blank post being sent through social media and emailed to be subscribers :-(. Then I have to remove it. But let’s stay with the 99%.

My next task is to schedule the publication for a time in the future. I always set my time window between 7:30 and 8:30 in the morning Irish time, since for Irish and UK readers that’s a good time for them to be checking their social media. I then set the categories for the blog post and think about the tags that are relevant for this post. Then I click save draft.

Now I’m ready to write the post. I compose the post, staying on topic so I don’t mismanage the expectations of the reader and for SEO purposes, though I don’t use sub-headings since my posts are so short. I click save periodically, especially if I’m on the move and my wifi is flaky. I also insert outside links and links to other posts where I think they enhance the post, never for their own sake.

When I’m finished writing, I save the draft, then re-read the post carefully for spelling mistakes, typos, sentences that don’t make sense or that could be improved. I iterate, clicking save draft which each iteration. Then I click Schedule, before reviewing how the post will look to you the reader. I might further refine the post and then follow the same process.

Then I’m done! For a post that runs smoothly, it’s 15 to 20 minutes from start to finish. For a longer post or one that doesn’t flow as it might, it could be an hour. But that’s not an onerous responsibility for 3 times a week, at least in my view.

I’ve decided that writing a book is hard, really hard.

I’ve been working on one for a good while. For a couple of months when I didn’t have too many commitments I made some excellent progress and got at least half of it done. Then I took on more work and also significantly expanded my portfolio of voluntary activities and the book started to gather the electronic equivalent of dust.

It’s not a question of discipline or commitment. I take a disciplined approach to my blogging, but it comes easy because I write about what I see and a lot of it is stream of consciousness. I’m committed to almost everything I do, otherwise there seems little point doing it. With a book, though, you need a plan and you need to write to that plan, and that takes more time. Time to research, time to create.

Time is what I don’t have. Certainly, I could spend less time with the family, I could do without some of the 8 hours sleep I know my body needs on a regular basis, or I could drop some of the other things I’m doing. But I don’t want to do that, because I’m naturally drawn to the portfolio career and a diversity of activities.

Writing a book is essentially a selfish, specialist activity in order to get it done. You need to put yourself first, and sacrifice things that are important to other people, things that they’re relying on you to help with. Generalists find this tough.

That’s why writing is book is hard, really hard.