Write What You (Don’t) Know

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Actually, writing is not all that complicated. You have a very simple choice when you write:

  • Write what you know.
  • Write what you don’t know.

It’s that simple.

Not easy. Just simple.

 

Write What You Know

You might know a great deal about something – or a little bit about many things. The trick is deciding how you want to combine these knowings into a piece of writing.

The Life and Times of … You!

On any given Wednesday, slightly later than lunch, you might think that you have a truly boring life and an uninspiring existence. But don’t sell yourself short.

Maybe some things are slightly ordinary: making porridge; checking your mail; watering the plants; washing the car.

But twiddle with them and you could have something worth writing about, for instance:

  • Porridge vs Cereal … and the Winner is …
  • What Should Happen With Your Email Account After Your Death?
  • Home-made Mixes to Make Your Violets Blush
  • 7 Shiny Car-washing Rules

Yeah. You get the idea.

And I didn’t even mention the stuff that you did that was actually … to be honest … quite spectacular.  Such as the prize for the biggest zit in school; swimming with dolphins; losing your baby fat/abusive partner/mind.

Lots of stuff to write about. Lots.

 

Friends and Enemies … Lend Me Your Lives!

You are not such a dull person, after all, don’t you agree? And, being a special person, you have intriguing friends and spectacular enemies. And they all have such interesting lives that you could … well, kinda borrow a section or so for a storyline or a blog post. (You will return it, after all!)

Seriously – people you know and love, or people you know and don’t love that much, are a bit like the spices in a great stew. They make it all come together.

Their lives could offer direct inspiration. If a friend did something amazing, or lived through something that could guide or inspire others, think about doing an interview for a blog or an article. Or use what they know as the background for a plot.

If you do a straight interview, let them approve it once it’s done and before it’s published. If you used an experience from their lives, discuss the ways in which you would like to use it so that it doesn’t cause them embarrassment. Be prepared to give it up, if necessary. It wasn’t after all, yours to start with.

Maybe some friends could inspire characters. Be careful, though. They should provide inspiration for a character, not act as a blueprint. A quirk that you could attach to your villain. Or kindness that you could give to your strong male lead character. Maybe just the glint in their eye or the way in which they touch with strength, but also with compassion.

When you are dealing with others, always remember to step carefully.

 

Write What You Don’t Know

However, writing is not only about the five senses or the past, present and future of a life lived.

It’s also about Middle-earth,

the Emerald City

and Hogwarts.

It’s about going Where No Man Has Gone Before.

It’s about Shrek,

Nemo and

living in a Giant Peach.

Come on … if you can dream it … you can write it. (With apologies to Kevin.)

Writing is the most (good, clean, legal) fun you can have with a keyboard. Go for it!

How a Beginner Writer can Create an Online Presence

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The nature of writing has changed quite a bit. In the past, you would write a book, or an article, or short story, or a poem and you would send it off to the relevant publishers. If you were lucky, they published you. And then they told you what they wanted you to do in order to market the book, for instance, attend book signings, a book launch, interviews or some such endeavour.

Straight-forward.

Not so much these days.

To start with, you can decide whether your writing would be best published via a publisher or independently; in print or online.

Your choice.

Whatever you decide, though, still means that you have to do more marketing than you would have in the past. That much has changed, and will not easily be unchanged.

Where to start?

 

You Are a Brand

You are a brand, as much as Coca Cola and Nike and Microsoft and Apple and the loveable coffee shop on the corner is a brand.  That brings power to influence the sale, or the lack of sales, of your writings. And, as Spiderman would say, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

So, what is this branding thing all about?

A brand was used on cattle when a farmer wanted to say: “This cow is mine, not yours.” It is something that you can easily identify and tells you something about the branded.

What does this mean for you as a writer? Well, what is the essence of your brand? Some brands are all about family and home-cooked meals. Others are about sweat and ambition. Still others are offensive, but make people think and talk.

What are you?

Because you can be anything, but beige.  You have to stand out.  Branding is all about being different from the rest. And for that you need fire-engine red.

For writers it is not too difficult. If you can be yourself, and be it well, then you should be different. Don’t try to be someone you are not. You might admire JK Rowling, but don’t try to write like her.

Find your own voice.

And then allow that voice to be seen in images you choose for your website; in words you use in your blog and in the kind of writing you do best of all.

 

What If You Publish “In Print”?

Don’t think that you don’t need to “be digital” if you are going to be writing “in print”.

Things have changed.

Where will people find your books? In your local bookshop? Sure. That is a great place to look for your books. And to find them. And to buy all fifteen of them.

But what about Kalahari or Amazon?

Even if you sell print, you still need to tell people about it. And ignoring your global audience is … well, kinda silly, don’t you think?

You can sell your printed books via online distributors. You can use the same research that you did for your printed article, and write and sell a blog with a different twist. Or create an eBook that you can distribute via Smashwords or Kindle.

 

Don’t Be Afraid of the Unknown

Often writers are simply a bit lost in terms of digital and therefore cut themselves off from all of those possibilities. Yes, you can stay where you feel safe. It is your prerogative.

But there is SO much out there. It would be great if you could join in.

Things have never been better for people who love words. In the past, only the select few could produce something other than manuscripts hidden away in a dusty bottom drawer. These days, it is all about words.

Although it’s true that many online readers skim and make horrid choices in terms of content, the fact of the matter is, that many people are reading (even horrid things). Many more than ever before.

And many are writing.

Yes, from the divine to the totally ridiculous, including horrid writings!

So step out of your comfort zones and try your hand online. And don’t worry about following some crazy, expensive courses. Just surf the Net! Everything you need to learn is out there, and much of the good stuff is even free.

 

Okay … Do You Need a Website?

You want to be able to be found online. The easiest way to do that, is to have a website. There are many free websites, such as Webs, Weebly and Yola.

But maybe start with something simple, like a blog. The best blogs are, IMHO, to be found at WordPress.  (Sincerely hope some WordPress boss sees this and gives me lots of free goodies …)

Start with a blog. It’s easy to do. If you are not sure, look for some videos that can help you through the steps.

Keep it simple. Don’t do too much too soon.

But remember: your website or blog is all about you.

Your brand.

 

And Social Media?

Once you have set up a blog, you can create social media accounts that connect to your blog. That way, if you post something on your blog (in plain English: if you write an online article) then it also appears in those media. For instance:

Facebook Page

Set up a Facebook Page that is separate from your personal Facebook account. Then you can still share silly recipes or funny cat pictures with your friends on your personal account, but you can keep your Page clean and focused on your writing, your articles, blogs or books.

Have a look at this if you are not sure how to set up a Facebook Page.

And look here for hints on how to link your Blog and your Facebook Page.

Twitter

You might like to set up a Twitter account linked to your “writer brand”. It’s a great place to stay in touch with other writers or writing groups.

Again, link your Twitter account and your blog so that your blog entries immediately appear as Tweets.

You could also link it the other way round. If you want your Twitter feed to appear on your WordPress blog, here is how to do just that.

Google +

Because so many people use Google to search for writers, and their writings, it really is a good idea to have a Google+ account.

Google+ works with circles – you place people in different circles and you can post an entry to all your circles, or choose which ones it is aimed at. It makes life really easy. For instance, if you want to tell only your family about this great guy you met, you can post it simply to your “Family” circle. But if you wrote a blog about how to meet a great guy, you can post it to your “Family” and “Writing” circles.

Here is how to set up a Google+ account.

 

The Way Forward

Good luck on getting started! If you get stuck, “help” is your friend, and “Google” your buddy. With YouTube being the favourite aunt. In the (slightly adjusted) words of dear Dumbledore: “Help will always be given to those who ask for it.”

 

Watch Some Videos … It’s Weekend!

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Have a look at some videos on my YouTube channel.   I will add to it from time to time, so feel free to subscribe, or just pop around every so often.

Don’t you just love living in the digital age where we have all this great information and amazing interviews at our fingertips!

Have fun!

Go with the Flow or Plan Ahead – How Do You Write?

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Writers’ conferences are interesting animals. Picture the anxious, eager young writer wielding a notebook/voice recording device. Every word spoken by the sage is truth and golden and pure. Every joke is funny. Every poignant example brings a tear.

And if the sage says: plan, then plan we will, by Shakespeare’s quill!

But SHOULD you? And should YOU?

 

How Detailed the Plan?

Planning depends on:

  • Who you are.
  • What you are writing.

 

Who Are YOU?

In terms of planning, writers can generally be divided into three groups:

  • Those who plan everything to the comma and the caps;
  • Those who plan vaguely and meander along; and
  • Those who swear that planning steals the creative soul.

Let’s see how planning can be managed by the two extremes: the over-planner and the free spirit.

 

Are You an Over-Planner?

If you are an over-planner, then NOT planning would scare the living daylights and the shining moonlight out of you and leave you adrift as a tiger on a boat.

So. If you are a natural planner: do go ahead and plan. (You will do it, regardless of permissions or prohibitions.)

But –

do place a limit on the planning.

Because planners tend to get lost in the very act of planning. Any (rehabilitating) planner will know that the very deed of sitting down and creating schedules, calendars, lists and tasks, makes rainbows and sunshine and happy faces appear.

Tell yourself something cruel, such as: “I will plan the following week’s work on a Friday afternoon for two hours. And that’s it. I will do no further planning. I will not amend the present planning. I will not do anything but think about the writing until such time as I sit down and do the actual writing. I will do the writing, not the planning, until the Friday afternoon planning time slot.” Then you can wear your happy clothes and make a special tea and plan to your heart’s content for two solid hours.

 

Are You a Free Spirit?

As a free spirit, you firmly believe that nothing good comes from planning. But maybe you should give it a try. Do some rough planning. Do some crazy planning. Do some scary planning. But do it, regardless of your convictions, and see if it makes a difference.

If you are writing a novel, go ahead and splurge your story down on paper as if you are trying to convince an agent at a party that you have something worth reading. Don’t think too much, just write as fast as your brain can move and your fingers can keep up.

If you are writing non-fiction, write down all the headings and subheadings. Think of this as giving someone a peep into the table of contents of your completed book. Don’t think too much, just write as fast as your brain can move and your fingers can keep up.

Good.

Now put some spaces in there, create some paragraphs and highlight some important plot twists or main headings.

There.

You have just planned.

 

WHAT Are You Writing?

As a young writer you would have read “how-to-write”-articles and “why-I-am-such-a-great-writer”-interviews. And maybe you would have reached the conclusion that there really is no secret. Sometimes lots of planning works, sometimes it doesn’t. For some people it works, for others not.

 

Should You Plan a Work of Fiction?

Usually planning helps create structure and plot. Characters tend to grow as you nurture them, but you still need to make a note somewhere that the guy’s eyes are blue and not green. Because you might forget it seventeen chapters later and make a silly mistake. Consistency is always a strength.

If you create a basic outline of your plot, then it makes it easier to see where the strengths and weaknesses lie. You can then say: “On this day everything changed” anywhere in this storyline and add a great twist.

Or you can see, quite early on, that you have a great deal of action or deep inner struggles, but you actually have no plot at all. That is an important thing to realise at the start of the book, rather than 50 000 words into the book.

You might want to make your characters more rounded. If the hero is shining too much, add a bit of dirt. If the minor character seems to take over – maybe the hero isn’t the hero at all? Or you might have to “kill your darlings” and put a minor character back into the background.

 

Should You Plan Non-Fiction?

Writing non-fiction without creating some sort of guideline makes for scary writing. Non-fiction, especially online writing, is all about the structure: the headings, the paragraphs, the white spaces, the bullets.

If you write monologues, then maybe you could use some structure? The easiest way is first create the outline and then flesh it out with examples and more detailed content.

You will often find that planning a bit, or a lot, makes for better time management. Once you start writing, you know what you want to say, and the only thing left is the saying of it.

Maybe you have the kind of brain that already thinks in paragraphs and headings. If so, go ahead and write without a structure. But make sure you check and change after you have done that.

 

Remember:

The first draft often is like a sexual encounter: all passion and energy and dripping with sweat.

But thereafter the baby needs time and energy and food in order to grow.  What does this mean? Simple: if you don’t edit, then nothing will be borne.

Are You Writing After Hours?

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John Grisham, PD James, Stephen King … welcome to the famous, infamous and unknown writers who are, or were, writing after hours. You might just be starting off as a writer, or you might be a spot in the distance already, but writing after hours invariably brings its own challenges.

 

Value Your Relationships

Ask after-hours writers what they would really value, and it would probably be more hours in a day. Why, oh why do humans need to sleep? You are welcome to ask the question, but not to shorten your sleeping time … it just doesn’t work.

If you have a family, you have to honour that and make sure that you don’t steal family time to work on your dream. It’s just not fair. Family comes first. But family should also support you in your dream, especially when a deadline looms.

What about the singles? Being single doesn’t mean you don’t have relationships. You have friends, family, maybe a possible loved one. Again, don’t follow your dream and cut yourself off from people. The whole point of writing is being human and experiencing all the complicated relationships that go with being part of a group.

The great African concept of “Ubuntu” captures it well: “A person is a person through people.” As a writer there is no way that you can isolate yourself from people. In fact, if you are solo, you need to make sure that you mingle, because writing is a solo performance, but the content you are creating comes from the crowd.

 

Don’t Cheat Your Boss

It is very tempting to “steal a bit of time” at work to “work on your writing”. More so if you have an office job, but if you work away from a computer, you can still steal time to think about your plot or your next blog.

Don’t do it.

Even if you don’t feel a great love for your boss, cheating him or her has a way of coming back and biting you in the buttocks. Life is funny that way.

That’s not to say that you have to spend your teatimes gossiping about last night’s soapies with colleagues. No – those few minutes can happily be spent on writing, or thinking about writing. And don’t tell me you won’t be able to plot out a next chapter during your lunch hour.

But, just like school, when the bell goes, and you are back in “class” – pay attention.

 

Use Odd Times for Odd Jobs

Think about the time you spend traveling to and from work. Maybe you could catch a bus or a train and rather use the time thinking up a great storyline? Because you cannot do it driving in rush hour traffic, except if you are part of a lift club or have a chauffeur (if so … how can you afford him?).

What about the delightful time you spend waiting in line at the doctor or the bank or your child’s school?

Odd moments such as these are great for taking out the notebook (which writers always have available) and creating an outline, or writing down ideas, or snatches of conversation, or planning an eBook. Whatever takes your fancy. Don’t waste these golden minutes and then steal them from your family or your job.

 

You Really Need a Plan

It is a well-known fact that the world consists of planners and doers … well, well-known in most popular magazines, maybe. Because it is not important if you are not a “planner”. If you want to write after hours and not cause chaos at work or at home, you had better start learning the basic skill of planning your time.

When do you like to write? Are you a lark or a night owl? If you have a family, you might have less of a choice. The evenings are theirs, not yours. This is really important if you have children, but no less so if you have a spouse.

So, even if you are not a “morning person”, you might have little choice but waking up early, drinking a triple espresso, and getting to work before the house wakes up.

Or, you could do this once everyone has gone to bed … but that might not be too great for your love life.

Or you could schedule blocks of time: Monday and Wednesdays are my writing times.

Or: every second weekend I get to spend the whole Saturday writing, and the whole Sunday with my loved ones.

Whatever works for you. But make it a routine, so that everyone knows what to expect. And have trade-offs: If I have to go out to a spouse’s function on one of my “writing evenings”, I get to move it on to the next day.

 

Make Some Hard Choices

If you are serious about “this writing thing”, then it is something your friends and family should know and respect. And if they don’t respect it, well, at least they should know about it.

When you make decisions to write, rather than have fun with them, they should understand why this is so important to you. But you can, on occasion, choose to have fun with them and sacrifice your writing. As long as everyone knows that you are giving up something important to spend time with them and that this is a special occasion, not a regular occurrence.

If you really want to make it as a writer, you will learn pretty soon that boozing the previous evening generally doesn’t make you hyper-excited about writing the next morning. Fitzgerald and Hemingway are great examples to follow in terms of their writing, but not their lifestyles so much.

 

Use a Chunk to Organise

Use one of your chunks of time to organise everything for the following days. When the next chunk of time comes up, you can simply sit down and start writing.

Call it what you will: research time, mindmapping, outlining – but schedule time to do only that, so that you don’t have to do bits and pieces while you could have been simply writing.

See your writing time as something special and make it easier for yourself to start once you sit down to write. Don’t waste time getting things or organising something or making coffee or even waiting for the computer to start up.

For instance, if you like to have a cup of coffee steaming as you crack your knuckles before touchdown on the keyboard, then by all means, set out the coffee things the night before.

Of, if your computer isn’t on all the time, switch it on, make the coffee and come back with the screen ready and the cursor winking happily at you.

Little things.

Because you have little time, the lost minutes spent organising things and setting out things and switching on things and “getting ready” adds up to that horrible point where you are on a roll and you have to stop because everyone is up and about and the porridge is getting cold, dear.

 

Be There

When you write, don’t feel guilty because you are not spending time with your family or friends. When you spend time with your family or friends, don’t feel irritated because you could be writing.

When you are working at your day job, don’t think of writing. When you are writing, don’t think of your day job.

Just plan ahead and enjoy the moment as long as it lasts.

And remember: you are in good company:

 

Silly Prompts and Serious Ideas – Wacky Ways to Warm Up Your Writing Muscle!

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Maybe you want to start a project. Maybe you are working on one, but it seems uninspired. Maybe the white page/screen has become more foe than friend.

Whether you are looking for fresh ideas, or just need a way to get unstuck, the following could help you get going (again):

 

Use Keywords

The idea behind Google Adwords is to help advertisers see which keywords are hot or not. Little did they know that it is a great tool for potential writers as well. Have a look here http://tinyurl.com/27uvznm to see how it works.

Using Google Adwords is a great place to start if you are into writing non-fiction. Simply type in your keyword(s) and do the search. Remember to keep the option “broad” rather than specific if you want to use this as a tool for ideas.

Your search returns will have the word(s) you asked for, but also link the word  to other keywords or show it as part of a phrase – the way that real people looked for something to do with this topic on Google Search. You will also see how often these were searched globally and in the area you choose.

Great ideas for blogs! You can download and save the searches as Excel files. Remember to rename each file by adding the original keyword(s) so that you can easily sort these into groups that might make up different chapters of your new eBook!

 

Use an Online Writing Prompt

Writing prompts are to a writer what warm-up exercises are to an athlete. Some days your writing muscle just seems to be a bit stiff and you stare at the page/screen feeling old and empty. Or you could be stuck with a story and not know how to continue. Use the writing prompt to get the writer’s muscle nice and warm and ready for a sprint, or a marathon.

And do remember to keep what you wrote – later it might actually grow into its own work of fiction, a blog or a book.  You will be able to find many online writing prompts, but here are three websites to get you started:

Creative Writing Prompts (http://creativewritingprompts.com/) has a creative approach: a list of numbers. As you move your cursor over each of the numbers (there are 346), you will get a pop-window with a writing prompt. From the divine to ridiculous – lots of fun!

 Writer’s Digest has a free download called “The Writing Prompt Boot Camp” that you can download here http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-prompts and that will give you a writing prompt for 16 days in a row.

Creative Writing Solutions (http://www.creative-writing-solutions.com/creative-writing-prompts.html) also has some great writing prompts, but some of them, especially the ones dealing with plot development, could actually be more than just mental finger exercises – you might just get a book out of them.

 

Use Online Images

Writers create mental images as they write and readers do the same. So why not use images to get you started?

Find a great image and imagine it as a snapshot taken at some point in someone’s life.  What happened before the time? What was happening at that precise moment when the snapshot was taken? Who are the other characters? Why are they involved? What will happen afterwards? Just keep asking questions and you’ll soon have a strong plot and some interesting characters.

Obviously you can use real photographs, or page through magazines or coffee table books. But online images are simple to find and there are multitudes.

Google Images makes it really easy. Simply do a keyword search using Google’s Images search function. (Look for the word “Images” on the top bar of your browser.). If you searched for the words “lonely man”, you would find all of these: http://tinyurl.com/d8nmzlm. Surely one or two of these would be interesting enough to get you writing?

Pinterest is as great a tool. Look at what the same search for “lonely man” returned on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/search/pins/?q=lonely+man  Again … lots and lots of writing ideas here!

 

Linking Words

For this one you need to draw a table with three columns. Make about ten or so rows. In the left column now start filling in random adjectives. Anything will do – don’t think, just write. In the middle column you do the same, using random nouns. Anything – human, non-human, animal, plant – again, don’t think, just write. And in the last column you add some prepositional phrases, such as “over the hill”, “during lunch”, “at noon”, etc.

Now choose any word from the first column, add any word from the second column and end with any phrase from the third column. Write this down. Do the next one. Do NOT go down the column – choose the words randomly each time. You will end up with a list of weird and wonderful writing prompts such as “green icebergs on Saturday” and “happy dress beyond the horizon”.

Okay … now choose one and start writing. Most of these will be truly silly, but your job here is not to be your own judge and jury – it is simply to get started, to get the creative juices going.

And to prove to yourself that you ARE a writer and you can write about anything! You never know where these wacky prompts could lead you … I mean: “A cat in a hat” or “Green eggs and ham”?

As soon as you feel all happy and creative and positive, leave this silly exercise and pour all of that creativity into your “real” writing.

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