Monthly Archives: May 2007

Litblogs in Darren Rowse’s Group Writing Project

Well now. Talk about wasting time. I spent the last 3 days browsing through the writing project lists for good litblogs to link to. Here are most of them (if I missed anyone out just leave a comment and I’ll append):

1. Benjamin Solah’s blog. He calls himself a ‘Marxist Horror Writer’. Apart from the fact that the word ‘Marxist’ conjures up images of Joseph Stalin in my mind’s eye (you don’t say?) I love the things he puts up. Take, for instance, this post, where he talks about writing backstories for characters. Or this one, which expounds on television’s influence on writing.

2. Textual Tangent. I’ll leave you ogling these lovely ladies, who are all completely engrossed in reading.

3. Confident Writing. Joanna Young submitted a piece called Beating Blogger’s Block. And then a quick spin through her posts made me subscribe to her feed – I can’t resist blogs on writing.

4. Reading Is My Superpower. Oh gosh. A green header, lots of book reviews, oodles of reading passion! And a How To Figure Out What To Read Next submission to boot!

5 . Reader Meet Author. Now I know this isn’t strictly a litblog, but Derick’s post on Identifying Bad Listeners was undeniably true. And a little uncomfortable – I could think of several instances where I’ve been more interested in talking rather than listening. Oh, and while you’re at it check out this narration on a stalker dove that’s been harassing him … hilarious, really it is.

6. Trevor’s Writing. Trevor left a comment over at Novelr the other day and I just had to agree with him: writer’s block is a joke when it’s not happening to you. When it does, however …

There. Six litblogs aren’t too bad, considering. I’ve got more content to slurp, and my Netvibes ‘Writing’ tab looks healthier. Long live the love of reading!

Psst: if you’ll excuse me now, ladies and gents, I’ve got Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin to finish. Which I’ve been intending to get for ages. Ohh – ecstasy!

Arguments On Lulu (Sigh)

Nick Cohen recently wrote about Colby Buzzell and blooking in general, and the article’s lit off a firestorm about – strangely enough – Lulu.

The NHS blog doctor asks: ‘Why is the main-stream media so sniffy about Lulu?’, and then gives an answer:

Because they are frightened. They are in the same position as the typewriter industry a generation ago, or as the Roman Catholic Church was when, for a few moments, it took its mind off protecting paedophiles to resist the move to the vernacular. Heaven forbid that the general public should be allowed to make up their own mind about novels and the Bible.

How long will it be before a successful established author decides to cut out the middlemen and takes the next manuscript directly to Lulu? Watch the agents and publishers sweat when that happens.

But really now, Nick Cohen wasn’t all out against Lulu! He merely admits that blooking is, at this moment, a strictly amateur medium. I’ve written about this before, and talked about how we have yet to see any work of significant literary merit make it to the web. Yes, there is hope yet for the medium, but by saying we are teeming with quality right now is a tad ridiculous.

One comment did strike me while I was reading the Guardian Unlimted article:

MichaelBulley writes: Google works, after a fashion, for info: if I want to find info about sackbuts I type “sackbut” and sift through the results to get what I want and it usually works OK, but how am I going to use Google to find a good novel or a good poem that I’m as yet unaware of? The current conventions of established publishing houses may have faults that prevent some good works from seeing the light, but if I type “a good poem” in Google and hit the Enter key, is that going to do me much good?

It hits the nail right on the head: how are new readers going to find new blooks? It is a phenomenon in the publishing industry, yet nobody knows where to find one. I may be highlighting blooks in my Bookmarked! posts, and the Lulu Blooker Prize may be generating buzz, but think about it: none of these blooks are likely to be seen or bought in a bricks and mortar bookstore.

Hush about online shopping and The Long Tail: the majority of books are bought in real world bookstores (and usually on a whim, I must add), not online.

Well, if ‘a successful established author decides to cut out the middlemen and takes the next manuscript directly to Lulu’, we’d see a lot of revolution indeed.

Let’s hope that happens.

Update: I can’t not link to this article. It is brilliant!

Shut Up And Write

hopeI have writer’s block today.

Took a few minutes to get away from the computer; to smell the flowers in my garden, listen to the birds, watch my dog lolloping around. Then a rogue bee came and chased me back inside the house. The stark whiteness of the computer screen is biting at me now.

The writer’s block won’t go away, dammit.

I’ve been writing since I was 7, and I know the feeling well. You want to write something, anything, and yet your fingers freeze. The paper crinkles in your hands; its blankness a testament to your failure. I check back the archives in this blog: I’ve written about how computers don’t help me in being productive, I’ve also written on what I do to overcome writer’s block.

None of it is working now. The paper is laughing at me on my desk.

Top 5 Things To Do When Your Paper Begins To Laugh At You

1. Make a cup of coffee. I find this helps in the most dire of situations – the caffeine will then either: A) inspire you ; B) make the paper laugh louder. In case of B), prepare a bottle of vodka. If vodka doesn’t inspire you I don’t know what will.

2. Read a good book. One that explores themes relating to suffering, obstacles, sex and murder. Note: all these elements can be found in the Bible. I’ve always found it fascinating how Solomon could describe women:

Oh, you are beautiful, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes behind your veil are like doves. Your hair is like a flock of female goats descending from Mount Gilead.
(Song of Songs 4:1)

Don’t ask.

3. Take a nap. And maybe when you wake up the page will be filled with words. You can hope. Pray. Fervently. Or at least dream about ideas descending Mount Gilead like a flock of female goats …

4. Play Desktop Tower Defense. I mean, seriously. This little game is addictive. And making sure the monsters don’t get through is sure a lot better than stressing over some lousy deadline you’re supposed to be working towards, right? Right?

5. The truth. Somedays you just can’t overcome your Writer’s Block, no matter what creative things you do. And when you get one of those days the best solution would be to force yourself to write – be it for a research paper or a blog or a newspaper article – just close everything down, bite your lip and tackle that topic head on!

There. I’ve completed this blog post as part of Darren Rowse‘s group writing project. And my paper is still empty; it is still in front of me. “What are you going to do with me now?” it taunts.

I take up my pencil.

“I’m going to write.”

King Among Blookers (Really?)

My War Killing Time In IraqMeet Colby Buzzell: blogger, author and soldier. He fought the war in Iraq, told a story of pain and bullets and blood. He’s also one of the nominated authors in this years Blooker prize, out on May 14th.

In theory, Buzzell could have kept a diary, gone home and turned it into a book. In practice, he wouldn’t have had the self-confidence. His blog gave him strength because it attracted praise from hundreds of readers in the eight weeks before the authorities stopped him posting from a cyber cafe at the US base in Mosul. Their encouragement made him realise he could make it as an author.

And make it he did.

Shortly before his death Kurt Vonnegut sent him a fan letter. That’s not something anyone can boast about. This was (literally!) a once in a lifetime thing, made only possible with the advent of blogging.

Be proud of Colby. He’s shown us that despite all all the books being churned out every 30 seconds in this world it’s still possible to succeed. Blogging is empowering – who knows how good you are until you actually try?


Bookmarked! May 5th

It’s been quite awhile since my last Bookmarked! post, and I’m glad to say it’s back with a vengeance.

Article 1. I’m going to start off with an article in Design Observer entitled Bandwidth of Books. In it Alice Twemlow quotes Gabriel Zaid’s So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance, where he tells us that we’re all growing exponentially ignorant, being in a day and time where we produce 1 book every 30 seconds.

“If a person read a book a day, he would be neglecting to read 4,000 others and his ignorance would grow 4,000 times faster than his knowledge.”

This sets a backdrop to the rest of the article: how the opening up of new media has freed prited publications to explore ‘increasingly idiosyncratic obsessions — the more quirky, obscure and esoteric, the better’.

Article 2. Darren Rowse recently interviewed Tim Ferris, author of The 4 Hour Workweek. Interestingly enough Tim talks about blogs and the unique position bloggers have when it comes to publishing bestsellers. Big question mark right there – but he goes on to explain what he did to build up hype for his book, as well as to dispel a myth or two bloggers seem to have about publishing.


Scott McKenzie emailed me two weeks ago to tell me about his blook, Rebirth. I was in the middle of writing the Ultimate Blook Guide on Novelr then, so I couldn’t do a Bookmarked! post, what with all the drafts pinned up in WordPress and so on so forth. But I’ve taken a look at it and Scott has done a few pretty unique things – for one he’s got a competition running to name a character in the sequel to Rebirth.

… I am not very good at thinking up names for characters. Those of you who knew me pre-Rebirth will recognise some of the character and place names and I’ve been contacted by an ex-colleague who was ‘pleased’ to find out I’d named a stately home after him.

I chuckled as I read that.

A Reason To Write Badly: The Watcher At The Gate

watcherOn January 9 1977, Gail Godwin published a fascinating article in the New York Times entitled ‘The Watcher At The Gate‘. It was well written, to the point, and absolutely eye opening for me.

The Watcher at the Gate is your inner critic – the one who speaks up as you start to get an influx of ideas, who forces you to go back and revise what you’ve just written a paragraph ago and make little changes … or even rip the entire page out. I do this all the time, especially when I’ve been rusty and haven’t worked on a manuscript in ages.

Are my characters properly expressed? Are the actions snappy enough? Is the pace too slow? Too fast? What is the name of that Scandivanian flower that is so integral to my plot? I can’t possibly continue writing without first finding that out!

Gail talks about how important it is to silence the Watcher and let the words pour out of the Gate in one messy, convoluted pile. Only then should we unleash our Watchers, picking through the debris and correcting this detail here, that detail there …

Put simply: we should write badly. The correction and polishing should be done only after we’ve spat out that furball of ideas and dialogue and themes, to prevent us from limiting our creativity. Need to verify a fact? Do that after you finish the chapter/section/book.

plastic angelsIt’s a lot easier to implement this for manuscripts hidden under stacks of books and bottles of ink, only to be sent off to an agent in a year (or four). But how about blooking? I found myself constantly making corrections as I typed out each chapter of Janus, reading through at least once before hitting the publish button. But I still don’t feel comfortable with the work – most books headed for a traditional publishing house took a year to edit to acheive such a sheen.

So what is the answer?

It depends on the focus of your blook. If you intend to use blooks as a method of writing your next novel it’ll give you the best of both worlds – you silence your Watcher by setting deadlines and posting up chapters in weekly time frames (Shut up, you! There’s no time left!). Editing only comes when you’re about to submit to an agent, which is really wonderful – even if it takes you up to a year to be positively happy with it.

However, if you’re intending to publish a high quality blook for readers to savour things might start to get a tad tricky. You’ll need a buffer of a few chapters in order to do proper editing, and this can be a tough balancing act.

It’ll be interesting, though. A real adventure. Who knows what ‘sunspots’ will pop up in your prose? What weird directions your blook will float into?

And that is, to me, the beauty of this medium.

Conclusion of the Ultimate Blook Guide

Writing the Ultimate Blook Guide has been exhaustive for me, to say the least. Parts of the series, such as the post involving copyright had me up late making sure I got the facts right about Creative Commons and the GNU documentation licenses.

I’m going to conclude this series with a few words on blooking.

Blooking is very, very new. Whether or not we make an impact on the publishing industry is entirely up to us and the works we put up on the web. What blooking as a whole needs is a definitive work – something bold and breathtaking, of an acceptable literary quality, yet fun enough for the average eyeball to absorb. The Blooker Prize is definitely a step in the right direction; all we need to do is to shake off that taint of amatuerism that appears in even the most ambitious of online writing projects.

I won’t say that there aren’t problems with blooking: there are quite a few, actually. Amogst those are the flaws with reading text on a screen, garnering a sizeable following in a society used to splintered content, and getting discovered and published from the web.

Different people write blooks for different reasons: some want to get a book finished in front of readers, others want to hone their craft. Whatever it is just keep writing. You can’t go wrong with persistence.


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Authors: Male vs Female

Sharon Bakar has posted up a fascinating piece she wrote for Chrome magazine in January 2006, which struck me not because of its truth (the publishing industry is well aware of the stigma surrounding female authors) but the quotes from some of her readers.

For the uninitiated, her article is about how men prefer to read male authors, opting out of reading prose written by the fairer sex. Listen to this:

… (a) blogger, Amir, felt that “prose written by a lot of female authors tends to be, how do you say it? Delicate? Detailed? Ditzy?”.

“I don’t think women can write like Marquez, Nabokov or Gunther Grass,” wrote one blogger known as Greenbottle, “to me these guys write as though with p*nis instead of pen, full of masculine animal energy.” He felt that many women writers, on the other hand, tended to produce “saccharine, wimpy or effeminate writing”.

If that was the case I would’ve never read The Age Of Innocence – one of my absolute favourites. Nothing like heart rending, heart stopping dialogue as a warmup.