Tag Archives: blogging

What I write about when I’m not writing fiction

My good news is that I’m getting back to revising my novel. Thank you, good friends, who have enquired about its progress over the last 12 months. My bad news is that the progress has been very slow, and was much delayed for about 9 months. In fact I put the novel back in its drawer again for a while. I just couldn’t work on it at the same time as on the book I have just finished with my two co-authors: The New Age of Ageing.

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Writing fiction and non-fiction

I have tried and failed on several occasions to keep two large writing projects on the go at the same time – one non-fiction and the other a novel or short story. It just doesn’t seem to work. I am wondering why. In part it is because they require conflicting skills.

The New Age of Ageing, and non-fiction writing generally, requires methodical and thorough research, solid arguments, a sequence of writing that reflects the ideas under discussion. Some skills needed are the same as for fiction, such as hooking interest early, clarity and presenting factual information that relates to people’s lives. What I don’t need is to go shooting off after a new narrative idea, or to leave the reader in suspense at the end of a chapter. No, every assumption and connection needs to be considered, verified, scrutinised. Flights of fancy must be followed by reasoned hypothesis.

Structural problems of the two genres are very different. For the novel I have a plot in 23 chapters. I have been challenged by the novel’s structure, deciding on advice to change to alternating chapters having originally written it in alternating pairs. The change resulted in an improved novel but hours of confusion as I had to re-label everything on my computer and on the hard copies. You need to be well organised about peripheral things when writing a novel. Well I do, being a planner rather than a pantser. Zadie Smith referred to micro managers and macro planners in an influential lecture at Columbia University in March 2008. I am happy to quote her descriptions, because I admire her work and recently wrote a post challenging a comment she made about writing and therapy.

You will recognise a Macro Planner from his Post-its, from those Moleskines he insists on buying. A Macro Planner makes notes, organises material, configures a plot and creates a structure—all before he writes the title page. This structural security gives him a great deal of freedom of movement. It’s not uncommon for Macro Planners to start writing their novels in the middle.

I am a Micro Manager. I start at the first sentence of a novel and I finish at the last. It would never occur to me to choose among three different endings because I haven’t the slightest idea of the ending until I get to it, a fact that will surprise no one who has read my novels.

Structure for the book on ageing posed different challenges. Each chapter required a great deal of revision, recasting, editing, removal, filling gaps. It often seemed that I had all the right ideas but in the wrong order. I also had two co-authors to whom reference needed to be made for everything as they are also responsible for the content. Their feedback notes were invaluable, our talk was even better.

I can get very passionate about ageing and the issues and challenges that are not getting enough attention. I loved writing our manifesto for the book, getting clearer and clearer what it was we wanted to say. I loved the process of taking our combined ideas and moving them to a place I could not have gone on my own. So my involvement in writing that book was social as well as requiring some good research and communication skills.

243 New Age cover

Writing my novel is more isolating. To write the novel or the book on ageing I sit for hours in my writing room, looking out occasionally at Dartmoor and its changing weather patterns. Sitting. Tapping. Rearranging papers. An observer would not see the difference. But in the end, the novel has been a very isolated and individual activity.

So they require different skills, but that does not quite explain why I can’t do write fiction and non-fiction at the same time.

Working one project

About 9 months ago I decided to put the novel back in the drawer (yes again). After all we had a contract for our book on ageing and a deadline for completion. And I had two co-writers to answer to. And to be honest I had got to a sticky point in the revisions.

I had found that my fiction writing is not good enough at showing or even telling the reader about the emotional state of the protagonists. I tend to assume it’s obvious. In my best moments I think that is honouring the intelligence of the readers, allowing them to do some work. But when my intelligent readers said that I needed to work on this I can only agree. It has taken me some rumination, reading novels and some guidance from my on-line course to help me see what I must do. That’s what I am working on now.

Blogging

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I can’t concentrate on fiction and non-fiction writing at the same time. However, one genre of writing has proved itself compatible with both fiction and non-fiction – blogging. The Book Word blog has been building slowly but steadily throughout this time, and I have posted every five or six days. In the posts I explore writing issues, review books, continue the series on older women in fiction and am able to look at all things connected with books and writing that take my fancy.

Perhaps I can combine blogging with both fiction and non-fiction because blogging requires some creativity, some research, some care over the communication of the content. And I am my own publisher for the blog. It’s not a commercial undertaking, so if a post bombs there is no consequence except to my pride. The deadlines are close, but I can (and do) alter them to suit my life.

It’s back to the novel

So … I am taking the chapters and looking at the emotional arcs of the characters and hoping that all the reading and writing and thinking I have done will help me see afresh how to communicate the emotional life of my characters.

And I am doing all the other things put on hold while we finished The New Age of Ageing. That’s another post in preparation! What I do when I’m not writing. Watch this space.

Related posts

This was the 6th in a series on revising my novel, following an on-line course back in 2015. Previous posts

My purposes for the on-line course #1 January 2015

Progress On-line course: my learning #2 January 2015

Progress On-line course: post course plans #3 February 2015

On-Line Writing Course #4 Revising Structure and Plot March 2015

On-Line Writing Course #5 Deadlines August 2015

And here’s a post with some excellent ideas: 10 things to do while your MS is resting from Victoria Griffin Fiction blog in July last year.

The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change by Caroline Lodge, Eileen Carnell and Marianne Coleman, to be published by Policy Press in September 2016.

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The Craft of Blogging: #9 Problems and more problems

I love the daily tasks of blogging: having ideas, drafting posts, researching images, making links, replying to comments and so on. I have been heard to say anyone who can access the internet can easily learn to blog. But recently I have come close to being defeated by some problems, and even thinking, shall I stop? I could stop.

Hacked!

A reader contacted me saying there was a rude message on the blog, a couple of months ago. Whatever they saw (“just below the picture of the books”) didn’t appear on my laptop so it was hard to know what they were referring to. I investigated a little but since the problem seemed limited and was invisible to me I first suggested that it was on their pc and then ignored it and hoped it would go away.

But two weeks ago the message appeared on my iPhone (although still not my laptop), and at the same time another reader emailed me to say that there was something strange on the title. This time I could see for myself that it was offensive, unwanted, sexual and very rude, and likely to put some readers off. It was spreading. Action was needed.

185 laptop macbookIt took some time to work out what to do. I am not naturally technical, or methodical. These two things may be related. I tried to find some source of assistance, a help line perhaps, but as I was away from home it seemed very risky to do anything more than tour the behind-the-screen mechanics of the blog.

Once I had returned home I installed more security, which identified the problem as a corruption of the theme (that is the appearance of the website). With much reluctance I changed it and so the blog looks different, but most importantly the rude message has disappeared.nice work badge DSC00129

And then the Analytics disappeared

No sooner had I solved the rude message problem than I had another problem. Google Analytics disappeared. It has been a useful tool (don’t ask me whether it’s a widget, plug-in or add-on) to monitor readership of Bookword. I have used it to see how many people land on the pages, which pages, how long they spend reading them, the proportion of readers who are first time visitors and where they come from. Since I have done a quick statistical analysis every Monday I can see trends and learn more about how Bookword is received.

138 google logo

For example, I know that book reviews are read as much as other posts but that they attract fewer comments. I know which posts are consistently read over months and months, which ones make a brief and popular appearance and then sink without trace, and how the readership is rising or falling.

Without the daily statistics I have to rely on feedback of a different kind: comments on posts, retweets on Twitter and the number of subscribers. These are useful in their way, but the continuous picture of the last eighteen months has been interrupted, and since I can’t seem to fix it, possibly permanently lost.

And then the bitly disappeared

An added irritation is that the short code, bitly, so useful for tweeting, no longer appears on the post. As a result it is harder to tweet from my iphone with a link, although with a little technical tweaking I could probably make it as easy as it from my laptop, frankly I’m fed up with trying to understand the technical language that explains (not) what to do.

And I don’t like the new theme as much

77 ipadI liked and was familiar with all aspects of the previous appearance of the blog and some aspects of this new one are not growing on me: the display of quotations, the presence of the sidebar on the posts, no bitly display. Again I’m fed up with trying to understand the technical language that explains (not) what to do. I may change the theme again in the near future.

I do like the fact that the rude, offensive and intrusive message has gone.

Continue blogging?

Waking early this morning, these problems and this post were doing unproductive loops in my head. I began to consider a break from blogging. I would be shot of all problems and the frustrations of the technicalities.

49 blog writingBut, dear reader, I like blogging and despite the distractions all stemming from the original hack, I will continue for now. Not only do I not like being beaten by the pointless and probably random activities of bot makers but I like blogging.

Any feedback would be welcome. And any advice

 

Some related posts in the Craft of Blogging series

#1 The craft of blogging … the medium

#4 The Liebster Award and the craft of blogging … Why do it?

#5 How I write my blog slowly

#7 Finding readers

 

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The Craft of Blogging (2) … types of posts

I have written over 80 posts and read many other blogs, so I have come across many types of posts. Which form to use? Lists are very common. Have you come across titles like these?

  • 5 ways of selling yourself on-line
  • 10 things every writer needs to know
  • The 12 best book blogs
  • 6 good books about rabbit breeding
  • My 100 most successful world record attempts

This post is an example of the format: a list of types – so I shouldn’t mock. Anyway lists, in particular, have the advantage of inviting the reader in – a hook! What will be on it? Will the reader share the choice, the order?

69 ten moreLists appeal to me (I once made a list of all the lists I had on the go at that moment!) and to many bloggers and readers. But they don’t suit every theme. Form needs to match purpose! A complicated argument does not lend itself to a list. A story is best told as a story.

The form or type also needs to take account of the on-line platform: ie be immediate and accessible, interactive and connective (as discussed in the first post on the craft of blogging).

Here is my list of some possible types of posts, with mainly literary examples of how it might be used.

  1. List

Ten things you never knew about blogging

5 recommended books on blogging.

  1. Story

What happened after I read this book …

A case study81 JA Carpe d

  1. How to …

Practical advice on a writing technique eg before and after editing.

Analysis of some aspect of writing.

  1. Photo or other illustration

The star of the post is an image, as in the Write One Picture exercise, or a daily image such as the Persephone Post, or occasional and interesting images, like Desktop Retreat.

Comparison between images; such as book covers.

81 platform 9

  1. Opinion or Point of View

Your individual ‘take’ on a topic, such as an author.

A topic on which you are passionate, eg libraries.

  1. Controversy

An addition to a debate on a topic – easy if you are a feminist.

Being provocative about a contentious topic. Ditto

  1. Review/Preview

Your response to a specific topic; eg an author, fiction from one country, words as therapy.

  1. Giveaway or Competition

I have no experience of giveaways or comps. Sometimes it’s a lucky dip: we’ll pick one lucky person to receive a copy of my brilliant novel – just leave a comment. It might be something that the blogger will judge: nominate your favourite book by X and we’ll send you Y. Hmmm?

81 boots

  1. Interview or profile or guest post

The subject could be another writer, or reader, or publisher. I have co-written several posts with Eileen on the subject of writing collaboratively.

  1. Prediction

An obvious form in January but also useful to announce or raise interest in forthcoming events, such as prizes, publications.

  1. Round-up

A cross between a review and a list: a collation of articles you’ve read, people you met at an event, talks, etc on a theme.

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  1. Something different

A variation on your most frequently used format: eg including video if you mostly produce static posts; a very short post; a conversation with a colleague; a comment on previous content …

 

(This list is adapted from Robin Houghton’s (2012) Blogging for Creatives, published by ILEX: Lewes Sussex.)

 

And did that work? Was a list the best way to present the information in this post? My own response to my list will be to try some different forms over the next few months.

 

Next post in the series The Craft of Blogging will be in April and will look at a checklist for a post – another list!

 

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The craft of blogging (1) … the medium

Do something 77 times and you expect to gain some insights in the practice. It is true of practicing the scale of C# minor (contrary motion) on the piano; of hill starts in a car; of attaching photos to tweets; how to spell imeadiately immediately; and waking up on New Year’s Day (not that I’ve actually done that 77 times, but you get the idea). I hope I have learned something about how write blog posts. I plan to write a series of posts about the craft of writing for a blog. This is my 77th blogpost!

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Writing to be read on-line

Understanding the medium is the place to start. The writer has to pay attention to being on-line, on pcs, laptops, tablets, smartphones and probably some other things I haven’t heard of yet. Writing on-line means you have to catch the readers’ attention, and keep it. As a writer you can take advantage of the connectivity. And while a post has a short life it can be archived and amended. This makes it different to writing for printed formats.

Catching the attention of readers is a matter of a hook and appearance. The hook can be an outlandish statement, provocative or questioning. For example: How to get readers to look at your blog in 5 steps. Or Preparing to meet our editor. It can also be very straightforward. As I write a blog about things literary, especially books, the title and author are often enough. The title/hook should give just enough information for a reader to know the topic of the post, but entice them to read further.

77 iphoneThe appearance is important too. Your text will acquire an edge from being back-lit  on the screen and enhanced by the addition of relevant images. I use frequently use book covers (which led to a post on book covers and how much I like them). Additionally the page will be scrolled so the screen must not be too crowded. I like clear uncluttered page format, which includes lots of white space. In fact the 30-30-30 principle works well: 30% text, 30% image, 30% white space. Luckily there are some great ready-to-go formats. I use Word Press.

While appearance will bring in readers and keep them there, the content has to be good. To keep readers returning it needs to be reliably good. It pays to work on content (see future blogposts). Some bloggers suggest that 600 words is the maximum length for keeping readers. I find it hard to say what I want to write in less than 1000 usually. I have no idea whether readers give up before they get to the end. You could tell me in the comments box.

Being on-line means you can connect your post to other websites. The roots of blogging were in making connections, the original blogs were simply reports of other sites visited by the blogger. Links to other sites relevant to the content have become an important feature of my posts. I link to other reviews and to relevant on-line material, such as speeches, newspaper articles. Here are a couple of blogs about blogging that have lots to say, set out to be helpful, by including tips, tutorials, or plain advice. ProBlogger has been going since 2004. Successful Blog focuses on building community through blogging. While both sites include stuff about earning money through the blog, they are nevertheless relevant to a not-for-profit blog like mine. And here’s Annie Daylon’s advice to novice bloggers.

Connecting works in the other direction too. You can also get readers from other sites, from their links and blogrolls, which list the blogs they favour. Search engines help with this, key words being the means to do this. One could go for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) if visitor numbers were the key thing (eg for a site selling stuff, or pushing a political message). I’ve done without so far. And then there is twitter, facebook and other social media to promote your blog.

Communication with your readers through the comments facility also sets this writing apart from conventional publishing. I used to write articles for publication in academic journals. The Director of the Institute where I worked said that only 5 people read articles in academic journals. (NB for people who work in HE in the UK: this was pre-RAE and REF.) I loved reading articles and wondered where the other four people were. I never knew what the three people thought who read my article about using photography in educational research. But I do get feedback on my blog posts. People make suggestions, take issue, tell me off, thank me for suggesting a good read, comment on what has been said … A term I have come across for inviting these comments is the call to arms. I think questions do the job very well. How about you?

They can also be edited after publication. You can correct errors, update information and add newly discovered links.

77 ipadI have learned that blog posts have a short life. I have also learned that some posts have shorter lives than others. The two longest running and most popular posts of mine are the review of The Stone Angel by Marguerite Laurence and Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor. These two reviews don’t attract much comment, but they have been in the top ten most read posts since I set up the analytical programme (Google Analytics). Blogposts about writing (like this one) often attract a good readership in the first two weeks of posting but then fall away. They may have short lives, but a blog has its own archive and a search function.

Your blog will be made up of regular readers (often subscribers) and flitters. (Mine is about 30/70 and I have no idea whether this is healthy or not.)

But blogging is no different from other kinds of non-fiction writing – purpose is key. Every blogpost has to have a point, a reason to be written and posted. On this blog I share tips for writers, or survey of a writer’s work, indulge in quirky interest like how people organise their books, or make a political point about how writing and books help people.

A book that I highly recommend: 77 Blogging-coverBlogging for Creatives, by Robin Houghton (Ilex Press).

Here’s the call to arms bit: Bloggers – what have I left out? Tell me what I’ve got wrong! Anyone – please tell me what you think about how well I’m doing. Add a comment in the box below.

The second post in this series will consider selecting the appropriate format.

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Filed under Books, The Craft of Blogging, Writing