Monday, 22 April 2013

Special K



"I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all." Ecclesiastes 9-11 

So there I was, over at the Strictly Writing blog, inspired to pen something after a brace of rejections. And yes, I went through the familiar cycle of scratching my head, reviewing my submissions and tearing out my hair (and believe me, given what little there is to start with, that's definitely a counter-intuitive move) while wondering what else I can do to get an agent.

And then I swapped some emails with Chloe Banks, who reminded me of the other side to writing. Yes, it's a way of life to those who either write professionally, or aspire to. And yes it's a way of organising and unjumbling the wheelbarrow of ideas we carry around with us. But...it's a choice we make. Hard as it is to admit, no one forces us to write. Indeed, I know of one or two very talented writers who expend a great deal of energy in order not to write.

I can remember the rush of exhilaration when I first completed written version of Covenant (then called The promise of a Rainbow). There was no rush to find an agent or a publisher back then (which, for a first written draft, was frankly a good thing). No, I was thrilled to have a completed story - because that was how I thought of it - in my hands. Something a friend or other interested party could read. Sometimes it's good to recapture that inner goal.

However, I digress. What Chloe and I actually talked about, in part, was the importance of kindness. It's a word that fell out of fashion and is now making a comeback. You see, as a writer, I know what other writers go through, at whatever stage of the process they're at. The highs, lows and bewilderments don't end just because we have a contract in our hands or when we see something of ours in print. Arguably, once you've hit pay-dirt once it all cranks up a notch for the next cycle. Can you do it again? Will people like it as much? Will someone now step in and say, "It's all a fraud and they can't really write!"? (Or, as most people know it these days, Amazon reviews...)

So what does kindness have to do with being a writer? A great deal, I think. Because kindness is about consideration to others, and not just on the printed page. 

Here are some of the ways we can show kindness to writers and readers:

- If you have the time and space, offer your fellow writers honest and constructive feedback. As much as writers might want to hear 'good things' about their work, anyone who plans on developing as a writer benefits hugely from the truth and some signposts.
- Consider retweeting other writers trying to promote their work. I sometimes select people at random, as well as those I interact with regularly. A little goes a long way.
- How about posting a link to someone's blog on your Facebook page? Fifteen seconds of your time might get a writer a new follower and maybe lead the follower into reading from a completely different genre.
- If you have bought a person's work, leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads. If you want to be really kind, contact the author first so they know that something's coming.
- Support local bookshops where and when you can. Everyone's circumstances are different, but remember that a local bookshop might be in a better position to support and promote local authors. And every writer is local to somewhere.
- Attend readings when you can. Booksignings too. I remember co-signing books when we had four people in as many hours. And one of those people picked up The Little Book of Cynics (hey, it's out of print so it's not like I'm plugging it for personal gain), sniffed derisively, and said, "I could probably put something together like this myself." And then walked out empty handed. Nice.
- As a writer, only deliver your best work. And, when you add links, consider adding links to any writing that's available for free. Don't just go for the hard sell. (See Me for Free, coming soon at this blog!
- Consider helping other writers with advice, reference material or agents / publishers that they might want to consider submitting material to. Yes, the writing world can be competitive, but one person's success doesn't necessarily mean another person's failure. Strive to be bigger than that limited world view.

And finally: Let your writing and your reading be an extension of your highest values. There's a lot of mealiness out there with regards to books. Lots of people are quick to condemn bestsellers as sell-outs, and derive more pleasure from picking holes in other people's work than in producing their own.

Kindness doesn't guarantee anything. But you may just make a positive difference to someone else's day, or perhaps just boost their confidence a little. And, when you think about it, that's a pretty amazing thing.

My thanks to Chloe for the initial prompt.


Friday, 12 April 2013

The less said the better

A spelling bee perhaps?
When David French and I wrote The Little Book of Cynics (this is the bit where "Collectors' Item" ought to flash in neon), we were following in a long tradition of encapsulating ideas in as few words as possible. Nowadays we associate such brevity with advertising and corporate branding, but thought-provoking philosophy can also travel well in just a few syllables.

Like most writers I know, I have a talismanic fondness for notebooks. Sometimes, just knowing I have one of those wundabooks close by can often open a channel to the muse. With that in mind, here are some of those condensed thoughtlets relating to writing, that made it past the red pen.

Loose ends in fiction are like unwelcome dinner guests. You didn't ask for them, but you have to entertain them nonetheless.

A good book isn't just a friend for life - it's a friend for generations.

The pen is mightier than the sword, especially when it's a red pen.

First draft is for the author, second draft is for the reader and every other draft is for the industry.

A book's only finished when the author says so.

Fiction is real life - the life in my head.

Behind every successful author is an exasperated muse.

When the going gets tough, it's time for sturdy books.

Do we triumph over adversity, or because of it?

The mark of good fiction is that, even though you know it is fiction, you want it to be true.

And if you enjoy a quote or three, why not visit fellow scribe and blogger Chloe Banks, who has made a regular date with memorable quotes: 
Quotable Friday 6
Quotable Friday 1