Archives for posts with tag: Writing

I took a leaf out of explorer Ernest Shackleton’s recruitment-writing book the other day. You may recall the famous – and almost certainly mythical – job ad from a century ago:

MEN WANTED

for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honour and recognition in case of success.

Simon Sinek used it as the perfect example in ‘Start With Why’ of how to get people with similar values to yours to follow you for the right reasons.

How does the Endurance expedition from the 20th century connect with my project in 2019? Well, I’ve written a book and I’ve sourced the imagery. It’s not a long book to read, but it is a book of many pages. You might say it’s a coffee table book. I know how I want the book to look. I need a designer to take on the ‘arduous’ task of designing and laying out the words and pictures of a publication which will stand or fall by how it looks. It’s not an easy task and I haven’t much money to bargain with. What I’m hoping for is to spark the interest of someone else who shares my desire to see other people succeed, since that’s what the book – and a lot of what I do in my job – is about.

I can’t offer them a job, but I do need a job doing, if you see the distinction. Hopefully they do too.

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A former boss and mentor of mine recently referred me to an article on self-publishing. It was written by someone who had been published before, using the traditional publishing routes and methods, and now was publishing his own books. The full post is here. It’s a fascinating read, especially so if you are thinking off putting stuff out there.

This post, however, is not so much an advert for self-publishing as it is a comment or two on how technology has changed how we write, and how we consume what’s been written.

Books are changing. They’re not books any more, much of the time at least. Sometimes they’re ebooks, existing on screen but not existing physically. Sometimes they’re printed on demand, one at a time, Sometimes they’re very short, like a pamphlet. Sometimes they’re simply a blog post, like this one.

Publishing something used to be this mammoth, self-contained, one-off project that ending up with something spitting out off the presses. Now we can publish something very short, very quickly, even charge for it too, and get almost instant feedback on what readers thought of it. Web 2.0 baby, what a wonderful thing.

This same technology has also changed the way we read, our reading behaviours. We have an unending wealth of information and diversion at our fingertips. We now skim read, and have a shorter attention span, so unless what we’re reading is a compelling page turner – digitally or physically – shorter is better.

So maybe this is a misleading post title. Maybe books have already changed.

 

Think of the last book you read that was a real page-turner. Got it? Right, was it fiction or non-fiction? I’m betting it was a work of fiction.

A work of fiction is a story. It tells you a story. It brings you along, imbuing you with a gradually deepening sense of the main characters and how they interact, propelling you to the end. A work of non-fiction tends not to do that. Of course it should tell you a story, but often it’s not that easy to do, especially if it’s not a historical account but a business book or something like that.

That’s the difference between fiction and non-fiction: a story to engage you and for you to invest in.

I’ve written a book, as yet unpublished. It’s non-fiction, so it lacks the pulling power and retentive power of a created story. Conscious of my own very short attention span, I’ve written it as a book that’s light on text, heavy on pictures, and, controversially, I’ve made it a page-stopper rather than a page-turner. There is a story in there which has an autobiographical theme, but I’ve designed the book to be ‘coffee-table-putdownable’. It’s easier to finish because it’s easier to pause. It doesn’t overstay its welcome before it offers you a rest.

I think non-fiction books have to work harder to get you to complete them, because there’s no story. Regular signposting and benches help.

When to use farther and when to use further? Tricky one. Farther seems a bit more antiquated to me, with most people deferring to more common, if less logical further.

It turns out that both are fine, though for me you can justify farther when you use it with distance. Saturn is farther from the earth than Jupiter, for example.

I made a quick check of my 600-blog posts, for kicks and giggles, and I use the word farther twice in all of them. A pretty rare occurrence, then, among about 150,000 words. In the one instance I say ‘rippling out your original request in ever farther…’ In the other¬†I’m saying ‘When you’ve got the word ‘have’ in there, it throws it ‘back’ farther to the ‘u’ word.’ Pretty opaque sentences when taken out of context, I know.

Yet both of these are distance-related you could say, rather than the figurative-related, as in ‘I could go further, but I won’t.’

I remember a Far Side cartoon from way back which showed four pictures in order, with each picture showing how technology has progressively shrunk. The first picture was a mainframe computer, the second a desktop computer, and the third was a laptop computer.

The fourth was a notebook and pen…

When you’re in the ideas business – and, let’s face it, that’s most of us – you need to keep a recording device close to you for those flashes of inspiration. A mobile phone is the handiest, perhaps with a dictaphone app. I don’t know how many blog post ideas have come to me in the car, away from my home office or phone, only to disappear into the ether because I had no way to commit them to memory before the next distracting thought dislodged them for good. Dozens I would say.

Sometimes you have the good fortune to be at your desk, or your phone’s on the bedside table, and you can capture your lightbulb moment. Then you hope your computer or phone doesn’t take more than a few seconds to spring into action, or isn’t preoccupied with an update, or the idea risks being lost like an outgoing breath as another thought – invariably one of numbing everyday, humdrum banality – smothers it.

That’s why I always like to rely on the trusty pen and paper, both of which will instantly function nineteen times out of twenty, allowing me to commit my thought to posterity.

That said, if you lose the thought in the time between having it and picking up a pen that’s close by, you have a different set of problems.

I do a lot of work in my home office. Sometimes my offie is very tidy. Sometimes it’s less than tidy, with filing to do and things to put away.

Not all of the work that I do is writing, but when I do write, before I start there’s one rule I try and enforce. I have to declutter before I start writing. I like things off the desk, and I like to see most of the desk, apart from my hardware.

A tidy writing space helps me clear my mind and get into creative mode. A tidy, decluttered writing space minimises the disruption both to the thought processes and the act of getting words down. A tidy writing space echoes the clean sheet of paper or the bank screen. It’s the reset button.

I’m not fanatical about this, it’s not a disguised OCD. Nor is it procrastination on my part either, since the meaningful work – the writing – is the work that must get done. It will get done. But the decluttering has to happen first.

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.

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 Рwithout the guiding structure of a narrative flow Рis 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.