Another Journey into Writing

In hindsight, deciding to be a writer has been the most daunting endeavor I could have ever been faced with. I know it may be too early to say this, it has been barely a couple months since I started writing as my possible present and future job, but I already feel a lot of changes regarding how I see writing now in comparison to how I saw it back in the day when it was just a hobby. I have been writing on and off during the last seven years, just as a sort of private activity that one day I showed to the world through a blog. During that short adventure I gathered a small group of readers and friends who liked my work and thought it could be published. I did not share their enthusiasm and optimism, and finally due to different reasons abandoned the blog. I kept writing privately and finally, after many professional ups and downs, decided to give professional writing a try. Quite a leap of faith.

It all seems… different. It is no longer the pastime for a rainy day or a sort of reflection after events that pushed my emotions into very defined directions. It is still my greatest pleasure and something I find peace in, but it now has a different focus. I cannot wait for the dark clouds to write some very oppressive prose or for love to compose delightful poetry. So, at first I thought I just needed ideas, inspiration, a direction to walk in and the rest would be creative work, adequate wording and a thorough proofreading. I sure wish it was that easy. But I have learned a thing or two along the way, maybe not the best lessons, maybe not even the right ones. Still, things that have worked for me and may work for others, or, worst case scenario, the things you might want not to do if you ever decide you want to write.

When it came to become a writer I failed terribly at first because I still was in some sort of “hobby mode” and thought I would do well just by putting together a number of my works and trying to publish them as an e-book now that doing so is pretty easy. True enough, that has worked for many people and there is not a single reason it might not work for you, but expecting overnight success is naive at best. So, with a noticeable part of my hopes dashed, I came to the conclusion that if I ever wanted this to work, I would need a way to let the world know what I could do. Hence, the blog. Blogging has never been given much credibility, but it works to create links, grow a reader base and develop a work routine.

Yes, that is right. But, mind you, not the boring “every day is exactly the same” kind of routine. Just a healthy reminder that you need to keep working on your craft on a regular basis. I thought that would be easy, after all, it is something I love to do, but it became really tricky. My work routine usually involved turning on my laptop, opening a word processor and working on whatever idea I had at the time. It was not working well, so I decided to change it a bit and let the internet give me a few ideas to write about. It did gave me ideas, but it was so entertaining that I left all writing aside for several days, which you might recognize as a severe case of slacking around. Wrong approach, so time for new ideas, and back to the blog.

I opened my blog with the clear intention of promoting my existing work, but doing so was impossible without some nice samplers of what my work looked like. So I started to write, setting a very comfortable Monday and Friday update schedule that gave me plenty of time to think and come up with neat stuff. Of course, I quickly realized how easy is to fall off from your planned schedule and fail to update the blog due to whatever reason, but still I tried my best to keep updating two to three times a week. And, surprise, it worked. It provided a comfortable time frame to gather, develop and polish new ideas without losing this feeling of freedom that an independent job gives.

At this point you might say: “well, you set up a schedule, big deal”. And I would say: “yes, it is”; remember this is a job that solely depends on your own determination to work and most of the time people depend on someone telling them what to do, when to do and how to do it. Being your own boss allows you the freedom to slack around without feeling you are doing so, you are just “giving yourself some space” and that space might keep growing until you realize a month has passed and you have not written a single word. Or you might say, “I am searching for inspiration”, but if that search does not have some definite limits, another month may pass and inspiration still eludes you.

I have always been a big fan of fantasy and science fiction, so after a few thoughts on the issue, I decided to write stories within the boundaries of each one of these genres. So I started with a short search for ideas and a couple hours of surfing the web and reading, I came up with a situation, a character and a conflict; just what I needed to start. “Well, you did not actually say anything about how you got those” – and that is absolutely true because I did not follow a set process or several steps, carefully choose works from my favorite authors or found an inspiring quote or website. I tried to look for things related to what I wanted to do (fantasy and sci-fi), but I really just let the ideas come and go, finally settling for one that I thought would be good to develop.

True enough, sometimes inspiration comes as a sudden flash, but you cannot rely on that to write on a regular basis. So you have to wander around a bit to gather new things to ponder about. It may take a while but yields better results in the long run. You do not need to copy or follow any particular style or concept, feel free to take things you like from here and there and then blend them together and see what happens. Try different formulas and then decide which tastes better for you. After all, you have to like your own work. If even the most exhaustive search does not yield the tiniest idea or brings a couple nice mental images of a good story, it would be a good time to reevaluate if you really should be doing this. I will not be the one to tell you what is and what is not possible, but if you have troubles coming up with a few ideas despite what you try as sources of inspiration, well, brace yourself for a very rough road uphill. You were warned.

Some quality assurance (a.k.a. proofreading what you just wrote) also helps to give a professional touch to your work. It increases its quality greatly by virtue of a good use of grammar and spelling. Granted, my own work sounds funny because I eschew contractions and the use of punctuation sometimes is not the best (I am constantly working on this, English is not my first language), but I try my best to make sure there are not any errors that may cause my reader to say “oh God, why?”. You might want to repeat some steps or find better advice in case you want to write something long and intricate as a novel, but it might work perfectly for Flash Fiction. Publish, rinse and repeat.

It might not have the appearance of a job right now. I do not get any income from my writing at the moment and that is perfectly fine, I no longer expect overnight success. I want to develop a reader base, people who simply enjoy a good short story and then decide if I want a partnership with another artist so we can create merchandise or if I want to publish again. You will surely find yourself in the very same place I am now. Just keep going on, write regularly, keep the ideas flowing, promote your work around and never give up.

Sure, I know this column is quite similar to what I expressed in a previous article on a similar topic (this one), but I feel I have made some progress regarding my own views and ideas, enough to warrant another lengthy rant.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Any comments and feedback would be greatly appreciated.

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Writing and Writings in the E-Book Era

As you might know by now, writing is not the kind of easy thing you do in a hurry. It’s not the kind of thing you can just say “of course, in my spare time I’ll write a book or two”, it just doesn’t work that way. But, why writing in the first place? There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people who surely have more time, dedication, inspiration, skill or all of that than you. Why bother trying to write a book that will not be read? Why spend time and effort in a piece of work that will surely go unnoticed?

I was asked these questions not long ago. By the time I published my first ebook (which you can find here), people around me congratulated me on said achievement, but at the same time wondered if it would be worth all the effort I put into it. So, basically, these are my thoughts on the issue, since it works slightly different now that authors can self-publish their works and the electronic formats allow for a more widespread access to your work.

First of all, people ask why bother writing when out there people have much more talent or -insert random attribute you might lack and other people might have- than you. Talent aside, if you think you have something interesting to say, something nice to share, a story waiting to be told, it is worth putting all those ideas into a piece of work meant to be published. The fact that you might lack any natural talent for words and expressions doesn’t mean you won’t be read by anyone on the basis that your writing is automatically lousy. There’s good old effort to fix that. True enough, some people are gifted, but just like any other person, they had to learn their language, its rules and the ways those could be broken in literature. That takes time and effort. If you truly want to publish, it is highly likely you are aware of this and hence, have become quite familiar with how to use language correctly and to good effect for the purpose of telling a story. This by itself, is already a great step ahead. Remember most people will be reluctant to even pick your work if they see one too many signs of inadequate language use.

Then again, people might argue that while you can have a spectacular command of language, your story might be uninspired, unoriginal or just plain boring. Here comes into play the “writing is not an overnight thing” I mentioned earlier on. You are not supposed to come up with a story (be it short or long) in a single session. You need to work on the characters, settings, plot points, hundreds of different details that will make your story a good one. And you are free to work the way you want and gives you better results. If covering your entire wall with post-it notes about your story works, then do it. If you want a wall-sized diagram with the relationships between the major characters, well, go ahead. It’s a matter of putting together all the necessary elements that will give you the freedom to concentrate on telling the story and just not go insane when you realize one-hundred pages into the book that you don’t really know who that character is and what its role in the story will be.

Also, the fact that your story is not completely original doesn’t mean you’re bound to fail. Most stories follow general patterns which are easy to spot once you become familiar with them. Coming up with a new way to develop that pattern is your work, however, in my opinion, it is even more important the HOW you tell that story. Your story might be the classic princess in distress one, but as long as the way you write it is interesting and compelling or even unusual, people will feel like reading it because it’s something new in a way. There are many ways to do this and while many writers have based their entire careers on these and many others use those narrative tricks every now and then, it doesn’t mean they’re out of fashion and you cannot use them anymore because someone else did. Things like switching between different characters as narrators of the story, including an omniscient narrator that then appears as a major character, a jumbled time-line of events across the chapters, those are just the kind of ideas that come to my mind that will positively surprise people who read your story. A careful choice of words will help too and trying lots of combinations and sentence structures until you get the right sound from your text.

Whew! That was a lot of effort, you finally get to your website, upload your masterpiece and weeks pass by without anyone buying it. Why? Were people right all along and all your efforts were in vain? Well, nope. When it comes to ebooks a very important part of the publishing process has been reduced to a few clicks and a very thorough revision of your work, but then again that means that some other parts of the process are more complicated. Namely, marketing. Once your work is roaming the internet it is very likely that your publisher will not do the marketing job for you and you are supposed to give your own book that much needed nudge into success. I will not get into the details, many sites have plenty of ideas and step-by-step guides on how to properly promote your work. But in general terms, you are expected to get in touch with the writing community, hand out some free copies here and there, talk about your book in forums, blogs, social networking sites, etc. All without falling into blatant lies or annoyingly frequent posts promoting your work. You are trying to make it more visible for people to do the rest and help you by sharing the word, not straight shove the links into their faces with a big “read me please, best book ever” billboard. That won’t do.

And then, and only then, you might start experiencing the success your work deserves. Oh, and of course, don’t forget that during all this time you’re supposed to be working on your next masterpiece. If people like your first one, they will expect more; if they provide feedback you can turn it into a better next book. Just don’t feel down if your first try is not a bestseller praised by everyone, or if, for that matter, any of your books don’t make it into the “best books of the year” lists that are so frequent in the net. As long as you try hard to promote your work there will always be someone willing to pay for it and reward all those hours of work. Hopefully that person will also like your work and you’ll be rewarded with positive word of mouth and more potential readers.

It is the kind of work that requires patience and dedication over long periods of time, but it is quite rewarding in the end, so don’t let people dash your hopes to become a writer. Yes, writing involves a lot of magic and wonderful creations, and the only magic you’ll need is the same one you need for anything else to be successful: Lots of hard work.

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I had always wanted to write about this and, while not as inspirational as many other articles I’ve read on the same subject, I hope someone likes my approach on the topic.