top tips for writers

The Odyssey that is Life


Lőrinc Szabó

Lőrinc Szabó, Hungarian Poet, Author and translator talking to me…

I am getting lost… lost in life…

It moves so fast, time’s curve getting steeper and faster as I get older – do you ever feel that? Weeks rush by. Weekends are a blur. The endless march towards death continues unabated. I don’t mean that in any negative sense, I am just amazed at the pace at which life seems to move. I often think that I am not in control, but there is a hand out there, nudging me forwards, even when I want to sit still and think about life.

I love thinking about life. I enjoy the solace found in contemplation with thoughts meandering on their wayward journey through my head and ending up somewhere completely unexpected – I relish that journey more than anything else. In fact, sometimes so much so that I often feel like I don’t need to travel, as in physically. Why would I want to when I can travel on my mind’s own journey through places and people, frailty and fortitude, often flippant, sometimes frugal, frivolous and forgiving, though most of all frightened?

Frightened, I hear you ask, why frightened?

Well, one could call it awe, perhaps so in awe of life that it is frightening.  I am in awe of life and how it works. How it twists and turns. How it moves in rhythms, undulating towards a certainty. Along the way there are rolling hills, sharp cliffs, sweet waterfalls and everything else in between. So why would I want to travel anywhere if I can go through such a personalized, unplanned, journey inside my own head?

The problem is, though, that the living of life takes too much time. The endless striving for more; the monetary side of life destroys our souls and we spend too much time chasing its mirage-like dream of beauty, riches and similar inconsequential things. Don’t get me wrong, I do the same as any normal person. I set goals, stick to timetables, attend meetings, discuss the Material on a regular basis, look at a dwindling bank balance and do the weekly groceries and (enjoy ironing and wearing a clean shirt). It’s a chore and be seems an imbalance. Even the majority of my writing is for a reason – a roof over my head and food on my plate.

But it is in my thoughts that I break free of the manacles that Life shackles us with at birth. In my thoughts I roam free of strictures imposed by society. Here, in this private place, I work on weekends and enjoy life during the week. I taste the freedom that can only be experienced through imagination, inspiration, ingenuity and imagery borne out of a wandering mind. Here, the 9 to five is banished to purgatory, the fridge is always full and there is an adventure around every corner. It might take me into the life of a passerby, the feelings of a bird in Spring or the dreams of a smiling child, full of the promise and indulgence of the moment.

Please, if you have time, take this journey, your own odyssey into your mind, heart and life. It is the one moment when life truly stands still. The rush suddenly ebbs and the world of living paves way to the world of solace and rumination… Lose yourself in introspection, explore the wonders of the world on the doorstep of your minds for a moment and emerge refreshed, ready and relieved. The journey might take you to dark corners of your mind, or ride a wave of happiness. It may be questioning, or conclusive – it’s your journey and you can do with it what you will. Wander down its own road, or step off into the unknown.  

The point is to take the journey, to find that solace and to close your mind to the machinations all around you… Only then will you be able to complete this odyssey that we call Life.

101st Post! The Elance freak show, unpublished authors & thoughts…


Before you get so engrossed in subject of this blog post, I would like to take the opportunity to thank you all for accompanying me on this journey of words. This is my 100th blog post and I am still here because of your support, your comments, likes and especially your patience.

Two years or so have gone by since this blog was born and in those two years it (he will be angry at being called “it” but never mind) has formed opinions, written poetry, won a flash fiction contest, expressed existential thoughts and like all toddlers, thrown tantrums and sulked.

Nevertheless, it has accompanied me through thick and thin, cold and sun, laughter and sorrow and we both want to express our gratitude to you, friends, followers, commenters and all for being with us on this journey.

So a (huge) THANK YOU from me, and he says thank you too!!!!

And without much further ado…

 

The Elance freak show, unpublished authors & thoughts…

[PUBLIC HEALTH WARNING: If you are an unpublished author, then do not read this as it will make you look at yourself as a wastrel and a complete failure. Alternatively, do read and join the club as you too are not just a writer but an author!]

There is this stigma attached to being an unpublished writer that I find a little offensive and am sorry to say this, but very often I find that it is promoted by writers themselves. Which of you (and I include myself in this) don’t go green with envy every time you read when someone is a “published writer” somewhere in a blog post or a Goodreads email or just about anywhere else these days – as there are badges that abound almost everywhere I look.

Every time I see one of those badges, I feel the sin of envy swelling up inside me… do you ever feel it? I feel my innards going greener than a lush green field of grass just having received a nightful of sprinkling, simply because I haven’t published, in my own name, my writing. Well, I have published bits and bobs here on my blog and what I write for clients has been published under their own names but it seems like cheating if I put a badge on my site “Published as a Ghost Writer.” Hell, it seems like an idiotic thing to write, plus I have signed my writing away to someone else for a bit of cash so I can’t really do that – it would be unfair moreover, I would probably be in breach of contract – another headache I am not willing to undertake, not to mention a downright unprofessional approach to being a writer for hire.

So why do I, and so many others, place such an importance on being a published author, and why do people “listen” to what published authors say so much more than an average joe like me, or you (if you are unpublished)?

One word: Perception.

In more than one word: Sales and marketing and just plain spiel. That’s my (jealous, albeit honest) take on the situation.

 

Writer’s Earnings break records – we can afford a cappuccino now

As if it wasn’t bad enough getting no recognition for not being a published writer, I was looking at the paltry numbers for our trade… our chosen métier, writing. I thought I would look at how I was doing in comparison to my peers, to ease the burden of being unpublished. I came across Brenda Hiatt, who has put it quite succinctly, where she surveyed hundreds of authors anonymously – and yes, there are a handful who say they earned a bucketload but for the main, it seems that a figure somewhere a fair bit below below $13,000 per annum seems about right (and being unpublished just started to look better):

http://brendahiatt.com/show-me-the-money/

And Author Earnings has backed that all up with sales figures from Barnes & Noble and the Goliath of publishing, Amazon, which demonstrate that we writers, unpublished or not, are struggling to pay for the milk in our cappuccinos, let alone earn a decent living from it (I am not counting those that write for publications, websites etc. I am talking about authors alone – the book writing types):

http://authorearnings.com/the-bn-report/

Now, it’s clear that we unpublished authors are aplenty and all struggling in a quagmire of below minimum wage levels while dousing ourselves in schadenfreude and trying to set ourselves on fire with our last match – only to find it being blown out by the wind of potentially fickle readers greedy publishers. So all we actually achieve is smelling like a pre-dry cleaned suit put in for a good soak of petrol in the faint hope of being worn to the ball. The reality is a useless, and perhaps even dangerous sack cloth.

But what of the published ones? Look at links again, please, and you will realize that, in the light of cold hard figures, they seem to struggle under the sheer weight of their $13,000 annual earnings – okay, that is a slight exaggeration, well an itsy bitsy bit (massively) more than a slight one!

 

Am I a Content Manager’s Bitch?

So what’s the solution, what are we to do? Well, you could go on Elance freakshow and become a Content Manager’s bitch. One only has to take a look at some of the writing jobs on Elance to really understand: $1.50 for 500 words anyone? I mean come on, who are you kidding and what sort of crap will be spouted for that amount, honestly, someone at Elance should just get a grip of what they are allowing on their site, it’s akin to a modern workhouse and has to be illegal on so many fronts. (For those of you who don’t know what a workhouse is, click here or on the picture below).

 

Is this what we have to go through?

Is this what we have to go through?

 

To put the Elance, oDesk, Guru, Freelancer et al freak show into perspective, a writer would have to write a novella of 50,000 words for $150 of which Elance would take a mammoth commission and then there would be an escrow payment which means that essentially you would get about $25 per week! No wonder there is so much rubbish on Amazon and the internet as a whole, I mean if you pay peanuts you get monkeys, as the old saying goes, and I know as I have been offered similar amounts for assignments and politely told them to put their offer where the sun doesn’t shine.

 

George Washington was so right!

George Washington was so right!

 

I suppose what I am saying is that there is little or no difference in being a published or unpublished author, unless you are James Patterson, JK Rowling (or JK Rolling-in-it) or a few others. Most of us just struggle on, fighting the good fight (for the sake of a fight I suppose). The jealousy remains because it’s the one thing that keeps us going, in the biblical sense, and reminds us of the struggle to become something we dream of.

So, to all you unpublished and published authors, ignore the initial Health Warning, and go for it. Write what you want to write, sod the money, sod cheap writing contracts, sod the Elances and other freelancing sites, and put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard is also a very good start) and don’t listen to jealous people like me or people like Brenda Hiatt, who will only depress you.

But do listen to this (final) piece of advice:

Write for you, write for your heart and write for the pleasure of telling a good tale.

The rest is just life…

The Lightship First Novel Prize 2014 – don’t enter because you can’t!


I am fuming. Fuming is probably putting it mildly. I am as red in the face, with steam coming out of my ears fuming, as fuming can be.

Lightship Hilary Mantel

For the past two months, I have been polishing my entry for a prize, the Lightship First Novel Prize 2014. A prize aimed at novelists who have not published any work whatsoever and aims to give new novelists a chance to have their work read by experts and the chance of seeing your words on the printed page with a proper cover and an agent to boot. Lightship is a small independent publisher in the UK. They run these prizes and have managed to convince some literary heavyweights including: Sir Andrew Motion, former Poet Laureate and Chairman of the Man Booker Prize 2010, Christopher Reid, Winner of the 2009 Costa Book Of the Year Award, Lindsay Clarke, Winner of the Whitbread Prize, 1989, Hilary Mantel, Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2009 and Cynthia Ozick, finalist in the US National Book Award 1987, to be their patrons. Great list, I am honoured to be entering a prize that has patrons like that and the chance of that all elusive, dream book deal. I probably won’t get past the first round though but I have my dreams like everybody else.

Now why am I so angry you ask?

Well, I have worked day and night to get this far and today is the final date for submission of my novel’s first 10,000 words. My synopsis of 300 words is ready; my entry, the first 10,000 words of my novel, has been edited, proofread, re-edited, formatted and is also ready to submit; My account with Lightship created and personal details entered; My card for payment of the entry fees is ready: all good to go as far as I am concerned.

Here’s the catch (look closely at the picture):

Lightship CLOSED CROPPED

The bloody competition is CLOSED! Now, my first reaction would be to blame myself. In fact, I am sure everybody’s reaction would be “Oh, you blithering idiot!”

Wait. Look at the picture below, the rules of the competition, and if you look at number 6 more closely, it clearly states that “The First Novel Prize will close at midnight on 31st January 2014. Any novels submitted after the deadline will not be eligible for entry.”

LIGHTSHIP RULES CROPPED

Now who’s the idiot? Me? I mean maybe my English is not what it used to be, but it would be safe to assume that “midnight on 31st January 2014” is going to be tonight – right? I mean even if we factor in GMT, there are still several hours to go. And the competition is closed? How, Why and WTF? Or is my English failing me and doubt creeping in: maybe it meant midnight on 30 January being midnight on 31 January? Come on, who am I kidding?

Should I write to them (I already have), should I go to Hull and bang on their door – I mean I like Hull, but… well you know where I am going with that idea. That, in a nutshell, is why I am angry. Angry at two-bob competitions that make you work towards a goal, only to have dreams shattered by not even being able to enter! A scam – that’s what I call it. I mean, I haven’t lost money, no. But I have lost an opportunity that I worked hard for and I feel bad because editors, proofreaders and friends all gave their time to read my “entry” and critique it and now it is not even an “entry” because it can’t be entered into the competition.

And why? Because of the sheer incompetence of someone at Lightship who either:

a) cannot write English themselves (the date issue), or

b) cannot run a simple website (no link to submit your work as well as clearly stating that the competition is closed before the actual closing time).

So Lightship – I find you incompetent and I hope one of your patrons comes across this post (okay, so I do like to dream – sue me) and gives you hell for using their names to promote yourselves by running a competition whose rules are flaunted by you!

And for those of you wondering what the novel is called… I will reveal all in my next post so hang in there and thank you for reading my rant!

An Editor’s Art


I have been meaning to post on this subject for a while, using a short piece of mine that was one of the winners of Oliver Gray‘s  flash fiction writing competition on his (most excellently composed) blog, Literature and Libation. Oliver kindly edited the piece as part of the prize and made it, dare I say it, better.

In fact he made it a lot better as you can see below (please click on it to see his comments as they are, in a word, priceless).

Oliver Gray Editing 1

I have to keep saying this as it is hard for a writer to admit that someone can make his or her writing better. I am sure all of you have, at one time or another, felt what you wrote was perfect. Perfect in composition, perfect in the reading of it; expressing your thoughts, feelings and ideas in exactly as many words as they should be expressed in with no need for changes or the dreaded delete button – thesaurus be damned, dictionary be banished.

And then the Editor begins his craft. He takes your “perfection” and transforms it into delight. Delight for the reader and, if you can bring yourself to admit it, delight for the writer (click on the image below and see how he alters the piece to make it just that little bit better – putting finishing touches that give it a flourish rather than a peremptory wave).

Initially what started as this:

I have a confession to make…

I have committed murder. That’s right… you heard me. I have taken a life. Not just one but countless lives.

I have both prompted murder and I have put the knife in someone’s heart myself, feeling the surprise and pain in their eyes as I thrust it deeper. I have lusted after wives and whores aplenty. Slept with many and paid for more. I have drunk my measure of cheap wine in the company of frostbitten waifs and strays; and exquisite malts with rich and sweaty bankers.

I have eaten meagre meals with wrinkled widows on linoleum tablecloths and feasted on life’s blood. I have abandoned children just to see the look on their faces, and left orphans to rot in the hell of their despair. I have judged others harshly and spoken ill of many. I have been judged and have been found to be wanting, time and time again.

I have perjured to save my soul and I have lied to silence it. I have prayed to God in hell and Lucifer in heaven, desecrating both in the same breath. I have befriended ghosts and forgotten the living.

I have fallen in love. Yes, that too. And made others love me.

I have stolen hearts, and been hurt by the one I love. I have cried my fill of tears and worn them on my sleeve. I have been drunk with the sheer ecstasy of giving and receiving pleasure. I have laughed with friends on a sultry summer evening and walked through the labyrinth of emotions, sometimes wandering and often just wondering.

Do I regret the pain and heartache I have caused? No, I revel in the perversity of it. It is what gives my drinking sustenance.

Am I proud of the happiness I have brought? No, because it is but one side of life.

All these things I have thought in the name of the one thing I love…

Writing.

Barkeep! Another large one…

Oliver Gray Editing 2

Became this:

I have a confession to make.

I have committed murder. That’s right. You heard me. I have taken a life. Countless lives.

I have both prompted murder and have put the knife in someone’s heart myself, feeling the surprise and pain in their eyes as I thrust it deeper. I have lusted after wives and whores aplenty. Slept with many and paid for more. I have drunk my measure of cheap wine in the company of frostbitten waifs and strays; and exquisite malts with rich and sweaty bankers.

I have eaten meagre meals with wrinkled widows on linoleum tablecloths and feasted on life’s follies. I have abandoned children just to see the look on their faces, and left orphans to rot in the hell of their heinous existence. I have judged others harshly and spoken ill of many. I have been judged and have been found to be wanting, time and time again.

I have perjured to save my soul and I have lied to silence it. I have prayed to God in hell and Lucifer in heaven, desecrating both in the same breath. I have befriended ghosts and forgotten the living.

I have fallen in love. Yes, that too. And made others love me.

I have stolen hearts, and been hurt by the one I love. I have cried my fill of tears and worn them on my sleeve; I have laughed with friends on a sultry summer evening and stumbled through the labyrinth of emotions, sometimes wandering and often wondering.

Do I regret the pain and heartache I have caused? No. I revel in the perversity of it.

Am I proud of the happiness I have brought? No.

All these things I have thought in the name of the one thing I love…

Writing.

Barkeep! Another large one…

Oliver made the minutest of changes, kept his eye on the detail  and the writing improved  – well in my opinion it did. What do you think, I would love to hear your comments. And if you need a bit of advice on Peer Editing then here is a post by Oliver that succinctly sums up the “whats” and “hows” of it.