Monday, 30 July 2012

Being a good talker?

I’ve never believed that there is a formula for anything in life, people will always prove you and your expectations wrong. When someone talks to me about someone and throws out phrases such as, ‘They are the only person capable of doing that.’, ‘There is no way someone’s capable of doing that.’ or, ‘They’ll never lose.’ I don’t really take notice as I’m convinced most people can do most things if they really want to. Anyway, you get this a fair bit when you talk about writing, someone will say, ‘I wish I could write a book’ or similar and I always feel like trying to convince them that they could at least try, don’t believe you can’t do something until you attempt it. What has been interesting to me is that people’s expectations of me in relation to my personality has changed a bit and I’ve had some surprising comments. One of them I thought I’d talk about here, talking.
                  I go through regular swings in the amount I talk. I can go for weeks being quiet and timid, perhaps seemingly uninterested in conversation or interaction, and then I can become a pain-in-the-backside-chatterbox. I’ve annoyed plenty of people by leaving five-minute voicemails and I’ve also sometimes had absolutely nothing to contribute. Maybe it can be a sign of my mood, how I am feeling about things, for sure that must be the case sometimes, but it has also been a lifelong trait, I can be the life of the party one weekend and retreat into my shell the next. It is probably very common with people but I’m bringing it up here as one of the hardest skills to be good at in writing (my opinion here) is to create believable dialogue and the question I’m asking is, do you need to be a good talker to be a good writer?
                  Nothing is stand alone, which is why I started this piece by saying one off questions that are zero-sum games aren’t realistic, I believe that you also have to be a good listener, have a good imagination, have self-belief, etc. etc. etc. But for the sake of this piece let’s just concentrate on how you speak. I wouldn’t say I have a great vocabulary but then again I do take a bit of time to look up words and if I find one that looks interesting I’ll try and make a mental note of it, generally I forget them and hate myself when it comes up again somewhere and I say, ‘Argh, I know this, wait, wait, it’ll come in sec, no wait, I know it…nope it’s gone.’ But again, that’s pretty common I think. What about being witty? Do you come up with great one-liners when chatting with friends and yet when it comes to putting things down in text it all looks triple layered cheesy nonsense? There’s the challenge, putting yourself into your characters and allowing your characters to put themselves into you without it feeling formulaic, contrived and hackneyed; it sounds rubbish doesn’t it, like when some over the top luvvie actor talks about ‘becoming the character’, or even worse, in an interview they’ll say about someone one of my above mentioned hates, ‘There is no one else in the world that could have played her darling.’ Oh come on. Yes there is. It would have been different and yes, it could have been worse, but maybe it would have been better too? Same with writing, I have an idea, but someone else who has that same idea may take it in a thousand different directions to me. My memory is pretty good, which is a reason I think I find it comfortable to try and put myself in theoretical positions, ‘If I reacted to something in this way, then how would this character react to those same inputs?’ If I ask myself that, and believe my answers then I have faith that if I put that in the mouths of my characters then I’m happy, someone else may disagree and would have done it differently but that’s fine. So memory for me is important, if you can remember those conversations that made you laugh, or cry, if you can recall how the anger or the fury in a person’s voice sounded, if you can recreate the physical appearance of someone talking even if your going back years and still be able to portray it, then that’s great, and you don’t have to be a talker to write convincingly.
                  So back to being witty, I don’t believe you have to be witty in real life to create a character that is witty, you just have to remember those people that are and be able to translate their voice, mannerisms and anything else they have in common and find what works for your character, some of it may work and some of it may not. What about those people you meet who seem to be able to chat about anything, I mean anything, they can keep going over nothing for hours, when you are sweating with frustrated tiredness and are demonstrating as much obvious disinterest as you can, on they go, relentless…we all know them, just because you aren’t like that doesn’t mean you can’t create someone like that, if you have knowledge of something then just put it down on paper and believe in it.  We know what it is to argue, banter, jibe, debate, moan, be silent, curse and all the rest of it. You don’t need to feel intimidated by those who have a strong command of language and have a great calmness about them so as not to go in a rage when in an argument, how many times have you got the killer comeback only for it to be lost in a sea of spittle and waving arms and hands? Or the most common, an hour after the argument the best one liner pops into your head with only the toilet roll to tell it to? That’s the beauty of writing, that hour later is okay, your characters aren’t going anywhere, your story isn’t going anywhere, sure you may be under pressure to finish it and there is always a point where you have to say that’s enough, you can’t forever change or add or edit but until that point, work it through until you believe in them.
Let’s face it, how much of our real life conversation is without deceit of some kind, how often are you fully honest and open, how often do you slightly twist what you really mean because you don’t want to upset the person you are talking to, or annoy them, or create a scene, it’s easier just to say something to avoid a situation? What’s the point of being a good talker then if you are only lying? Well, transfer that to your characters, how much fun is that! You can play with them as much as you want, you can make them say the things you wish you said, you don’t need to be a good talker for that, or inverse it, you can make them a terrible talker and the whole point is the empathy we have for this character that finds it hard to communicate, again you don’t need to be a good talker for that. Whether we talk a lot or talk a little, whether we talk meaningfully or just to fill the void, whether we pepper our conversation with seven syllable words or only repeat, ‘y’kno wat I mean.’, whether we talk honestly or just to please. It doesn’t matter, you can produce what your mind wants and that’s where we become interesting, that’s where we create worlds. People who aren’t stand up comedians can produce hilarious texts, people who can’t express emotion face to face can write beautiful letters, there is no secret to any of it, no rules.
If someone asked me if I am a good talker, I would say ‘sometimes’. I think that goes for pretty much any question I am asked. Sometimes is all you need and hopefully those moments when it works will be what you are looking for.

Hour’s up.

P.S – Come on Great Britain! Enjoy the Olympics everyone!

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Monday, 23 July 2012

6 Month Update on Thinking Plainly

Dear all,

Last week, on Tuesday, I posted a comment thanking everybody who has supported me with the Thinking Plainly venture as it marked six months since I formed the company. I thought I would use my blog this week to give you a brief summary of what has happened over those six months and what I am looking forward to in the next six.
I had the draft of my first short story ‘The Silent Spaces’ finished in January and making the decision to set the company up was the spur to make sure I got it finished. I deliberately told people about it and explained what I was doing so that I couldn’t back out and quit. While I was rewriting I was drafting notes for further stories and making a semi committed series of deadlines for the rest of the year. So, six months later and I can say that ‘The Silent Spaces’ went online on the 2nd February, ‘Collection One’ went online the 3rd of March and my third short story, ‘My father Loves’ went online the 10th of April. Combined, they have had five hundred downloads.
My latest short story I was hoping to have finished in June but it looks like the end of July now and I’ll explain why. Before the first story went up I was spending all my time writing but once it was online all the practical issues of running a business hit me. My ‘product’ is of course writing but a world has opened up to me of promotion, marketing, sales, reviews, communication strategies, deadlines, accounts and so on, I won’t spend time here going on about all that stuff but to put it simply when you are doing everything yourself time takes on a new importance i.e. you don’t have any. So the amount of time spent writing reduced over the following months, but it was great, I am not complaining, it has been a lot of fun, exciting and I’ve learnt a lot.
Here I want to interrupt myself to give some specific thanks. Dan Li ( has been fantastic in designing and developing the Thinking Plainly website and giving me valuable advice and comment on the Thinking Plainly logo and branding. Philip Huxley ( has blown all of my expectations out of the water with his cover art works; he has understood the mood, emotion and feeling of the pieces and has produced images that simply ‘get it’ and mean a lot to me.  Thank you both for reacting so quickly to all the changes that have happened and for your hard work. Thank you to the person who the first story was dedicated to for giving me the inspirational kick up the backside to actually get on with it. Thank you to Paul for his faultless checking of the Kindle layout before it went live and you can pay me for the free copies whenever you feel ready. Thank you to Gerard for the early readings, advice and encouragement. Thank you to Donald for the surprise glass of champagne when the first story went live. Thank you to Sally for supporting me at work and being fantastic through some difficult months.  And thank you to all of my friends who took the time out to comment on drafts, give advice and critique and importantly, support Thinking Plainly as it progressed. Finally, thanks to my mum for giving me the classic returned manuscript with plenty of red ink splashed all over it, I appreciate you spotting those mistakes! And yes, I’m still not sure if ‘admittingly’ is a real word or not.
Right, enough of all that, what else has happened? Well, those early months has seen the rise of the Thinking Plainly website, Facebook page, Twitter account, Shelfari and Goodreads accounts, YouTube channel, Amazon author page, a handful of story reviews, a LinkedIn account, a Google+ account and a weekly Blog. I think it’s fair to say they keep me busy!
Some stats: The website has had 6500 hits, 330 followers on Twitter, 129 people likes on Facebook from 8 different countries and 5 company page likes, with its reach (from posts and viral comments) reaching 22 countries with a weekly average of around 400 people. The Blog has had 500 page views from 15 countries. Lastly, 32 people and companies have me in their Google+ circles.
                  I’m really happy with that so far but as more stories go up and six months leads into a year, I hope to spread the word and increase the number of regular visitors, likes and followers. It’s been great fun meeting so many people from different places, a conversation about blogging with a Mexican, a review of my story from a Russian and blatant jealousy on my part on a writers life in Miami has all meant a lot to me and opened my eyes to the possibilities.
So where now? I don’t want to go into too much detail but I can happily say that aside from the next story I am in early development of another nine and will try my best to get at least half of them out by the end of the year. I am looking into using a company that helps self-published authors get their eBooks out to all eReader platforms so I am hopeful that soon my stories will be available on the Nook, Kobo, Sony, GoogleBooks, Apple and others, not forgetting the amazing Kindle where it all started. I’m not sure how it will all work yet but I’ll keep you posted. Also, I am extremely excited to say that I am working with an author to publish their novel through Thinking Plainly but I’ll keep hush on the details for now…but I’ll be shouting about it soon.
                  As with any venture there is always more marketing to do, more promotion and more work, I’ll be looking to properly connect with reviewers and book bloggers, to increase my presence online, to distribute wider and…well, it goes on and on. Most importantly of all, I’m doing this because I really enjoy writing and I hope that I constantly improve and keep you all entertained.

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Sunday, 15 July 2012

Why I don’t read much anymore but want to.

I’ve brought this topic forward a bit because of something that happened recently. For most of the last year I haven’t been reading any fiction and then last week I was about to take a bath (sorry for the intimacy) which I normally always read in, but I couldn’t face taking any of the normal papers or magazines, I really fancied reading a book, something I haven’t felt like for ages. So I took one from my high ‘to-do’ pile and it happened to be ‘Lucky Jim’ by Kingsley Amis. I settled in and moved the soap (sorry, stop it) and something like twenty minutes later I had read without interruption and was really, really, really enjoying it...then I panicked, threw it away from me and haven’t picked it up since. The reasons why are what I will talk about in this blog.
I’ll start by saying I have always been a reader, since I can remember I have loved books and have gone through the usual progression of genres through my primary and secondary school days, to college, and in my twenties I studied a Literature degree with the Open University so obviously a lot of wide ranging reading there. Not only have I always loved reading but I have always valued it and recommended it, I think it is important to a general education and to keeping people stimulated in adult life, I believe it helps with a lot of skills and the firing of imagination and should be a life long hobby. So I should say that I haven’t stopped loving reading and I haven’t stopped valuing reading. In fact, I am angry at stopping because at the time when I should be reading the most, I’m not! Now that I have started writing, the importance of maintaining and improving my vocabulary is incredibly important, recognizing and manipulating styles, testing my understanding of narrative and voice and so on is vital.
Stopping came out of fear. I had finished my first draft of my first story and I was excited about it, for many years I had been working towards getting to this point of focus and here I was. Then a strange thing happened to me that had never happened before, I started to detest reading. I mean I actually hated it. I couldn’t bear to read anything by anyone else and I think I can explain it now.

Every word I read by someone else I scrutinized for minutes:

Why had they chosen that word? Why had they structured the sentence in that manner? Why had they chosen first or third person? How had they created those characters? How long had they taken to write this? Why was this so famous? Why was this so rated? Did everyone love or hate this?

Then the self-doubt started:

To be able to write like this they must be a genius. I bet they were a naturally gifted writer that could produce ten thousand words of perfect prose every day. They must have such high intelligence to think this up.

Even worse:

I’ll never be able to write like they can. I’m not good enough to be amongst them. Who am I kidding? It would take me years to finish a novel and it would never be as good as this. There’s no point. I can’t think up stuff this complicated. I haven’t anything as interesting as this in my brain. They are too knowledgeable.

And then the fear:

If I read any more of this I’m just going to end up copying it! I’m going to end up sounding exactly like this person. I’m going to copy their style. I’m going to copy their characters. If I like a metaphor they use will I subconsciously use it myself? If I like a description will it creep into my writing? I’m not going to be able to think of anything original. I’m going to be labeled a fraud. Without realizing I’m just going to rewrite their story.

So instead of confronting those issues and working through them I just stopped. Now the thing is, I love reading as I have said and I still believe that being well read is hugely important but I am able now to tell myself that being impressed with something does not mean you are not capable of doing something similar. The same goes for anything doesn’t it, your job, sports, relationships, money, it goes on and on. Anything that other people are successful with seems daunting. It’s always other people that make it…other people start companies not me, other people get married not me, other people have kids not me, other people get the promotion not me, other people have the luck not me, other people win the lottery not me (now that ones universal for sure) but of course we all know that isn’t true.
Bringing it back to reading, how lucky that I can count reading as something enjoyable and educational. How lucky am I that I can sit down for two hours with a book and not just enjoy it for pleasure but it can help me with my own writing, it benefits me, it improves me…how many things like that are there? (Don’t say drinking and smoking!)
There are legitimate fears that you have to be careful with. I need to write and I need to spend a lot of time devoted to writing, so I can’t expect to be able to have the same amount of free time I once had. I can’t go out every night and expect to get my next story finished. And reading takes up a lot of time, so you have to be honest and say that I can’t spend as much time as I would like doing other enjoyable things and one of those is reading, however that is not a reason to give up! I need to get reading again and not have the fears I have described associated with it. I need to accept that there are issues to do with being influenced by others but control that. I have to accept that the beauty of other peoples work can be enjoyed without the insecurity. That’s what happened with Lucky Jim. I loved it from the first page, I associated with it, I wanted to be the person who wrote it…doesn’t everybody! If you have read Midnights Children I hope you will agree with me that it takes a one off individual brilliant mind to be able to write like that. That doesn’t mean no one else has the right to try.
I will finish Lucky Jim at some point. I will make progress on the ever-growing ‘to-do’ pile of books that is near ceiling height. I will enjoy them for what they are and carry on experiencing as much as I can without the fear that I am not worthy to be amongst those people that contribute to the world rather than just take from it.

Hour’s up.


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Monday, 9 July 2012

Putting pressure on yourself.

So Wimbledon’s over, the Grand Prix has finished and the Olympics nearly here. Lifting the trophy, standing on the podium or having a medal placed over your chest…that’s the nice bit. What about the lifetime of hard work and stress that leads up to those few minutes of glory?
                  Let’s be honest and say that very few people will ever have to worry about that. The vast majority (let’s not get into global poverty here…) of us have enough stress and anxiety getting through the week at work, paying the bills and all the other humdrum tasks that make up life. We put enough pressure on ourselves by trying to get that promotion and earn more money, by buying that bigger house, by upgrading the car and so on. Hopefully we have fun as well and get a chance to enjoy ourselves, perhaps by watching Wimbledon, the Grand Prix or the Olympics. 
                  What happens when we try and go outside of our normal lives? What if our work isn’t all we do? What if once all the studying is out of the way, we are comfortable in our jobs, we are comfortable in our family lives…we still want something more? What if we aren’t comfortable in our lives but regardless of marriage, kids, houses, etc. we know we want something else to make us happy? I’ll never take life for granted, and of course it goes without saying that those of us that are fortunate enough to have been born in a place that gives us the opportunity to have comfortable lives should never moan, as the conditions so many people face are more terrible than I could ever describe. However, that fortune has its own guilt for me. I feel sorry for myself a lot, I feel down a lot, and I struggle to be positive a lot. One reason for this I want to talk about now, the need to put pressure on myself.
                  I don’t like the idea of wasting my life. There’s another blog down the line somewhere I’m sure to talk about regrets, but whether you have time for regrets or not, I hope you understand what I mean by saying I don’t want to look back and say that I didn’t try. I don’t care about success and I don’t care about achievement, I care about giving it a go. I can look back on my life so far and say that I’ve done a fair bit, I’ve tried hard in a lot of different areas, I’ve had a lot of hobbies, I’ve had a lot of adventures and I’ve had a lot of experiences and I can honestly say that I’ve worked hard (mostly). I’m sure you will, like me, have had sleepless nights worrying about something you have to do the next day, work, exams, a date, etc. Maybe you have had restless nights anxious that you have bitten off more than you can chew, maybe you have had many nervous hours contemplating how on Earth you have gotten yourself into some ridiculously stressful situation…but I wonder how many of them you look back on and say to yourself, yes it was hard, yes I ground my teeth to dust, yes I cried, yes I hated it…but it was worth it, I learnt from it, it made me a better person? Let’s not include turning up for a meeting with just seconds to spare after only getting out of the nightclub at 5am and waking up naked the other side of town, or losing that powerpoint presentation just as the audience sits down and you have to B.S your way through the next hour…things like that don’t count. I mean when have you really wanted to do something that takes you out of your comfortable existence and tests you.
                  I don’t have to write. I don’t know if I’ll end up being any good and I don’t know if I’ll end up writing a novel and I don’t know if I’ll end up getting a publishing deal and I don’t for one second pretend to myself that I know what the future holds. I don’t have to spend my spare time outside of work sweating away in self-hatred doubting every word I type. I don’t have to spend countless hours writing notes, scribbling ideas and rewriting the same paragraphs twenty times. I don’t have to constantly wonder what the hell I am doing and why I am bothering, telling myself who am I kidding…and on it goes. But I tell myself I have to.
                  Now replace writing with whatever it is that you love and hate in equal measure. Replace it with that passion that is inside you. Maybe you don’t have to spend countless hours practicing for a sports competition, but you do. Perhaps you don’t have to spend all of your weekend in your studio creating art, but you do.  What about staying in when all your friends are out. What about missing that holiday. What about facing criticism. What about opening yourself up. Pressure. Pressure. Pressure.
                  The thing is, I wouldn’t change it. I don’t want to give up on writing because it is what I want to do.  You have to accept that pressure is inevitable and you have to embrace it and fight it simultaneously. That ‘something’ inside you, that feeling, that vocation, that emotion, that need…it requires pressure. You want to be better, you want to try, you want to improve and the reason you give up your free hours when you could be in the pub with your mates, or on a beach, or watching TV or whatever the hell it is…is because you want something more and to say you have tried.  
                  Pretty early on in life you work out that being lucky is one of the main ingredients of success. It’s not jealously to say that there is truth in who you know not what you know. But you also work out early on that aside from luck (and nepotism, inherited wealth, power and contacts too and a few other to boot) you don’t get very far without hard work. No one gives you anything unless you work for it. If you have a story inside you, no one is going to write it for you. If you have a vision of art inside you no one is going to produce it for you. If you have a skill then no one is going to develop it for you. Putting pressure on yourself is how you tear yourself away from your normal world, you may not make it (whatever your individual sense of making it is), you may not get where you want to be but you can look back and say that you tried and who cares if that is more than most could say or not, you aren’t doing it to be better that anyone else, you are doing it because you want it, and that’s enough. So, learn to love pressure. Learn to need pressure. Learn to not hate yourself for feeling pressure.

Hour’s up.


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