Guest Blogger: A Good Writer

Courtesy of Katie:

You will never see the question “What makes a good writer” on any SAT or test of advanced placement exam. There is no formulated response to this question. There's no recipe that one can follow to get 'it right.'

Accomplished writer and 1953 graduate of Princeton, John McPhee answers this question to the best extent that I have ever seen: "Perseverance. You have to stay with it. Great writing doesn't simply happen; it takes time, struggle, and a willingness to accept that sometimes you won't know where you're headed."

Ah, the beauty of not knowing where you’re headed. What a two-edged sword that is. Though it’s a wonderful thing to know that you can go anywhere, and beyond your wildest expectations, it’s also frightening as hell. Especially when you seemingly skew off of the path you believe you should be headed down.

I'm an avid blogger. As long as I can remember, I’ve been coming up with new ideas of things to write about. One day, I sat down, ready to blog, and the unimaginable happened. I couldn’t think of anything to write about. I ran out of ideas. I hit my own form of writer's block. At this point, I did what every right minded person does when they have a question ranging anywhere from “Where to go for great Italian in Philadelphia”, to “What to get my crazy, obsessive Mother-in-Law for her Birthday”… I Googled it. "Idea's for Blogging." I found page after page of ideas; none of which appealed to me. I just can’t write about Politics, Animal Rights, or Life Expectancies of Males VS Females. They just don’t interest me.

Then, I came across an article that featured someone that I had never heard of. They went on to say that they wish they had the problem of having 'no ideas', for they have 'too many' ideas. That, they said, is what makes a good writer. My heart sank. If this guy has too many, then I should have too many. Was I mistaken? Was I just too tired to think of more ideas? Maybe I should give it a few days. After all, the one thing I was sure of was that I wanted to write. I gave it a few days, and no ideas... I was pretty crushed. I was under the assumption that because this 'person' again, whom I've never heard of claimed that a writer has 'too many ideas', and I was struggling to find one, that I wasn't a writer.

I went from blog to article to book for the next few weeks. I sobbed at all of the ideas people had that I could have had…should have had. Maybe I was a writer for a little while. I had done my time, given to society, and now I was done. Since I couldn’t be a writer anymore, I started thinking what else I could do, and dreaded the next passion that would die after my talent exhausted itself.

Weeks passed, and one day…I was in the shower, of all places, and I got an idea. I jumped out, ran to my bedroom and wrote it down. Then, I celebrated. And by celebrated, I mean did the ‘booty dance’ all over my apartment. Jumped on my bed, and then cracked my head on the ceiling. All I could do was laugh. I was all better. I was a writer again.

Truth is, I was never ‘not’ a writer. I was just stuck at a roadblock. An actor is not no longer an actor when he/she is between movies. Writing, just like anything, is not all fun and games. It takes practice, and it will get frustrating, just like anything else. As long as you write, and keep writing about things you enjoy, then this will allow you to go deeper than you ever imagined.

As I said, there is no ‘formula’ for a good writer. The only thing I know for sure, is that a writer is always a writer, even when they’re at a block, or an ‘off time’. The important thing is to realize this, and to stick with it. Don’t give up. It takes a massive amount of dedication and perseverance to be a writer. You have to have a heart of stone, sometimes, to take the rejection, and roadblocks that often come with it.

Remember, you’re a writer. In good times, and in bad; you’re always a writer.

Thank you, Katie!

Guest Blogger: The Delusional Writer

Courtesy of my first guest blogger, Paula:

I am forever grateful that the chick-lit genre became popular just as I became 18 - it was getting a little embarrassing being at uni and still visiting the kid's library every week for my Point Romance and Sweet Dreams hit. Finally I had a more grown-up option.

I always believe that writers tend to ultimately write what they themselves would like to read. As a kid, it would be boarding school stories I would scribble down feverishly in exercise books pilfered from my teacher mother, inspired by Enid Blyton and "The Chalet School". As a teenager, "coming-of-age" fiction in my attempt to recreate a more modern Judy Blume novel. And when I discovered chick-lit, I knew my true calling.

Inspired then by such authors as Helen Fielding, Fiona Walker and Marian Keyes, I started to write a "novel". I used the term loosely as it really wasn't a particularly good novel. I realise that with hindsight. At the time I thought it was awesome. I would waste most of my free time scrawling it down freehand, and at night I would read it to my sister. She loved it. I thought this was a sign of things to come.

The whole plot was a bit crap though. I called the story "Make 'Em And Break 'Em" and christened my heroine Zoe. She was - well, bonkers, to be honest! And a bit of a nympho. She'd slept with about seventy people and at the start of a new year, she resolved to stop being such a slut. Then she continued to be one! And she never ever had trouble pulling men - and they were always hot! I mean, that's completely unrealistic, right?

But my hero . . . Oh my god, he was amazing. His name was Ryan, he was gorgeous, intelligent, and he had that moody quality which is so attractive in imaginary men, but not so much in real life. Still, if I could have brought that guy to life, moods and all, I would have. Yum. I like to think other people would have fallen in love with him too. Probably not though. I had created him to be everything I wanted in a guy. And sometimes I have strange taste . . .

Anyway. So I actually finished my story, even typed the whole thing out in its entirety. "Polished" it, admittedly half-heartedly. With arrogance of youth on my side, I felt like my story was better than most of the stuff on the market already anyway. And it had taken me nearly six months to write (and nearly as long to type out) so I really had to start concentrating on other things (my uni coursework, for example). I started to do my research, forked out some of my limited student allowance to buy a copy of "The Writers and Artists Yearbook". I practically read that book cover to cover, I was so excited at how close I was to being a published author. I imagined how envious everyone would be of me, a mere teen, being on the bestseller list. How delusional I was.

Taking the advice of the manual, I chose an agent, trawling through my favourite chick-lit books to find the mention of who their agents were in the acknowledgements, and finding the one who I felt meshed best with my style. I can't remember for definite, but I have a feeling the literary agency I selected in the end was called "AM Heath & Co". I composed a cover letter and synopsis and sent it off with my first three chapters.

Did anyone even read it? If they did, they probably laughed at the stupidity of the whole thing, at the girl who thought she could stop sleeping with randoms, and the girl who had wrote about her and thought she would be a bestseller. All I know is that several months later, the manuscript was returned with the rejection letter. Unfortunately I hadn't included enough postage so, to add insult to injury, I had to go to the post office to collect it in person and pay for my failure.

I still write these days and one day I do still hope I'll write something that a publisher wants to fork out money to turn into an actual real book. I'm realistic enough to know that rejection is something that virtually every writer goes through at one point, but I'm not quite ready to put myself out there again just yet. For now, blogging, and writing the occasional short story, is quite enough. I don't really have time for much else.

And, even though I chucked out everything to do with "Make 'Em and Break 'Em" - although there is a slight possibility the rejection letter lies somewhere in my parent's attic - I'll always have my memories of the delicious Ryan . . .

Thank you, Paula!

Lots of lovely new books to read!

I have to admit, I put a mammoth order in from Amazon, and now lots and lots of lovely books have arrived (as well as the Wicked Broadway O/S, which I saw last year on the West End, and kept forgetting to buy the soundtrack, which now reminds me, I meant to buy the book - gah! Next order!)!

I also ordered:

* The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson
* The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne
* Dracula - Bram Stoker
* The Constant Princess - Philippa Gregory
* Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
* Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management

which can be classed as more "literary" (apart from good ol' Mrs Beeton, of course!) I think I actually already have a copy of Dracula... somewhere, but it's part of the Penguin Popular Classics series. These have green covers, and more importantly, RRP at £2 (usually £1.60 or £1.80 on Amazon). Fantastically bargainous!

I've also got Twilight by Stephenie Meyer - any good? As for the chick lit books, I've bought a few of the Meg Cabot books I forgot to get when they were first published, and am trying out chick lit writer Carmen Reid for the first time. I think I'm going to like Carmen because of her cute, colourful covers and because she said about aspiring writers:

I think the writers who get published are the stubborn ones who just keep writing and refuse to give up!

I hope she's right! What books are people reading at the moment? Any recommendations for me when I put in my next Amazon order, other than the Wicked books (oh, and I'm going to try the Gossip Girl books too - anyone read these, or should I stick to the TV series?)?

If I don't blog for a while, you know why! I'll be tucked away with all my lovely books! x

Death won't stop the adventures

As Albus Dumbledore said to Harry in the first Harry Potter book:

Death is but the next great adventure

and it seems in the publishing world of late, the next great adventure will occur, despite the death of the author.

Personally, if this is to happen, then I would much rather see a series continued in a fresh approach, than have the original works destroyed for the sake of mad Political Correctness (like with Enid Blyton). But, doesn't it seem weird that characters will live on in new tales, even after their creator's life has ended?

Back in May we had the new James Bond book published, Devil May Care, despite Ian Fleming having died in 1964. It was Sebastian Faulks who wrote the book, as Fleming, and within days it became Penguin UK's fastest selling hardback novel ever. Ker-ching for the Estate!

Now, the sixth book of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy will be released in October 2009, despite Douglas Adam's sad passing away back in 2001 from heart failure. Artemis Fowl author, Eoin Colfer, will be writing "And Another Thing..." instead - approved and encouraged by Adams' widow, Jane Belson.

What do people think to this announcement? Is it just another money-making ploy, or do you think this is a nice gesture done to fulfill Adams' desire to write a sixth book? Should characters be revived after their creator's death?

Where was the passion?

When Team GB came fourth in the Beijing Olympics last month, I was ridiculously proud of my nation. Now as the Paralympics have ended, may I say I am blown away by the medal haul the Blighty team is bringing home. However, one thing I am not proud of is the lack of press coverage the Paralympics received in comparison to the GB Olympic team.

Now I'm not going to bring Political Correctness into this (I hate the concept), but it doesn't seem fair that the same passion was demonstrated by the Paralympic athletes for their sports, yet these achievements were paled in comparison... that their results were somehow diminished in the public consciousness, merely because they weren't as heavily-reported in comparison to the Olympic squad - from pitiful TV coverage (two hours tops daily on BBC2 - the Olympics took over the daily schedule on BBC1 and BBC2), to barely-there press inches and pictures.

Yes, the GB Olympic squad racked up a respectable 19 gold, 13 silver and 15 bronze - placing us 4th overall - but the Paralympic squad came 2nd with 42 gold, 29 silver and 31 bronze medals! They doubled the Olympic haul. I will be watching the home-coming coverage of the Paralympic team, but it wouldn't surprise me if it isn't as heavily-reported as the reception three weeks ago. Sadly, it seems the dreams of success have been painted as being worth less, and that's dreadful.

Passion is passion. Whether it is passion to make a Pipe Dream come true, or enjoying another's passion, to experience passion is a spectacular moment. The tug at the back of your eyeballs - that stab of emotion - when you live through a moment that gives you goosebumps.

The look that says it all - the look that says: I did this. I gave it my all, and this is what I achieved. The curling of the lips, the widening of the eyes, the glow lighting up the face, and the punching of the air. This is so much more pleasurable to see than the nation's flag adorning the winner's body and the blaring out of the national anthem. It's about the athlete, the athlete who gave it their all, the athlete who succeeded. Yes, a nation's triumph is included in this, but the achievement of passion runs much deeper than national pride - there's nothing else quite like it.

I could go on and on and make this more eloquent, but passion isn't about eloquence - it's about letting go and falling into it - it's about being free of inhibitions and worry. There's no need to dress it up because it is what it is. Those who understand passion don't try to control it - it can't be controlled. It's a runaway urge, an all-consuming urge, and that's what makes it everything when it is fulfilled. Exhilarating. Exhausting. Emotional.

So, here's to the medal-winners, but not only to those, here's to every participant of the GB Paralympics team. From those who got the gold, to those who didn't place in the finals. Regardless of your successes or failures, you showed and experienced great passion, and that is a prize in itself no one can ever take away from you. You deserve it.

An old-fashioned reader in a digital world

Technology is fab, don't get me wrong, but sometimes it tries a little too hard. The other week the Sony PRS-500 Reader was finally released in the UK (it has been available in the States since 2006; in Canada since April 2008) - and I don't know why I've stressed finally because for this Pipe Dreamer, I honestly can't see the point of it. Or, as I should correct, for me I can't see the point of it.

Sure, it weighs a friendly-carrying weight of 250g (less than a paperback!! as Sony enthusiastically claims), and it can hold around 160 e-books, but is it a book? No, no it's not. I don't need another device in my life, and I especially don't need the option of 160 titles when I'm on the go. I flick enough through the thousands of songs on my player, books are meant to be read, they are not meant to be flicked through.

But think of all those books you can take on holiday to the beach with you!!

My book beach reads usually get sand in them and soak in some water - trust me, I won't want that to happen to a £199 player + cost of eBooks considering my track record of breaking electronic goods. Oh, and eBooks aren't cheaper than normal books, no sirree. So, you want me to fork out £200 on top of the cost of the physical book... ?! No way José, even if you will give me a free CD with 100 Classical eBooks on them. Do you not realise people often forget their paperbacks on the tube? It could get expensive for them, and I'm not sure if insurance covers "absent-mindedness".

I will give some schnapps* to Sony though (and all those other companies with e-Paper devices on the market). Especially because of its size and the space it saves. I can relate as someone whose jam-packed "main" bookcase currently houses around 550 books (another 800 or so are stored away in the attic) - the Reader is ideal for me to continue my reading frenzy, without the need for an extension on the house. I'm sure some people will adore their Reader.

But me? I love books too much. Actual real books. I can pick up my favourite books and they will instantly transport me, not just to the world the author has created, but to the world I read the book in - whether it was curled up in bed, on a beach in Brazil, or on a train. The locations I read books in can be as important as the book plots when it comes to forming a memory of the book. I just don't think I could get that sense from something electronic, so I'll be sticking to my paperbacks. Sorry Sony.

How about everyone else? Are you addicted to your eBooks, or do you prefer real books?

* Schnapps, meaning give credit to - must be said in a Nordic-German twang, with a drawn out a - in case you were wondering.

Judging a book by its cover

The Man Booker Prize 2008 shortlist was announced today here. The Booker Prize, in case you're wondering, is awarded to the finest full-length novel, published this year, from the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland. The six books up for the Prize are:

  • Aravind Adiga - The White Tiger
  • Sebastian Barry - The Secret Scripture
  • Amitav Ghosh - Sea of Poppies
  • Linda Grant - The Clothes on Their Backs
  • Philip Hensher - The Northern Clemency
  • Steve Toltz - A Fraction of the Whole

  • Now I'd love to be able to claim and say I've read all these to pass comment that way, but I haven't. So, I'm going to judge a book by its cover (the front cover, the title and back blurb to be precise) and decide the winner that way.

    Front cover-wise - Grant's The Clothes on Their Backs wins. Sure, they don't look like very exciting clothes, but this is the Booker Prize, I shouldn't be expecting glitz and glam - I should be expecting:

    ... a strong plot. But also there should be a description of something that most of us don't know anything about.
    I can't comment much about the plot, having never read the book, but not knowing about bad clothes - CHECK - Grant wins the front cover point.

    So, that brings me next to the title. Sea of Poppies sounds the nicest - tranquil, yet different. A point to Ghosh.

    Blurb. Grant wins again with:
    In a red brick mansion block off the Marylebone Road, Vivien, a sensitive, bookish girl grows up sealed off from both past and present by her timid refugee parents. Through Vivien we discover the colourful characters at Benson Court, who play a part in the development of this at first, timid and unworldly young woman. Then, one morning, a glamorous older man appears, dressed in a mohair suit, with a diamond watch on his wrist and a girl in a leopard-skin hat on his arm. He is her Uncle Sándor but why, is he so violently unwelcome in her parents’ home?
    The Booker Prize goes to... Linda Grant. For me, anyway. I better read the book and see if she is deserving of the Prize by letting her words, and not the cover, do all the talking. I wonder whether bookies William Hill used my criteria to give Barry the best odds of a 2/1 to win? And what criteria the Judges really use? Hopefully, they'll have read the books! Their decision will be announced October 14th, 2008.

    Sadly, I find unless you are recommended to read a book by a friend/reviewer, most people do use the cover criteria to choose their reads. I better make sure my book covers are eye-catching then! Do you judge a book by its cover?

    The crazy suggestion to abandon spelling rules

    Imagine my astonishment when reading The Times today when I came across this article here. My mind boggles:

    Children are being held back at school because they are forced to memorise irregular spellings and learn how to use the apostrophe ...

    Wait... ? What's that? Children are being held back because of spelling and apostrophes? I don't think so somehow - I don't believe I was held back because I was made to learn my mother tongue properly; so why is it only the children of today who are suffering from this cruel and barbaric teaching? I could make a really sarcastic remark here... oh wait, I already did.

    English is used in most subjects (from History essays to Biology notes) - it's the foundation of learning - surely having the correct bedrock in place makes all other subjects easier because it allows the child to communicate what they have learnt in writing tasks? Can you imagine being the teacher having to mark twenty-five different essays on the Chewdur/Chooda/Tewda period? - The Tudor period to those of us who don't spell words how we say them. This is what Professor Wells suggests (amazingly, this man has degrees from Cambridge and the University of London... !)

    'Let’s allow people greater freedom to spell logically,' he said. 'It’s time to remove the fetish that says that correct spelling is a principal (principle?) mark of being educated.'

    If there's one thing I've learnt throughout life, people have different ideas of what constitutes logical. It's like saying: "We're holding back those in the driving community who struggle with roundabouts, let's allow them the freedom to tackle roundabouts as they see fit." My example is a little OTT admittedly, but we have structure there for a reason - society would crumble without some regulations in place. This should apply to language-use as well; it would be word-anarchy if not!

    Another point from the article was:

    Text messaging, e-mail and internet chat rooms are showing us the way forward for English.

    Yes, yes they are - the Internet has allowed such wonderful acronyms like WTF!? to penetrate daily language (my initial reaction to this article), but only insofar they show us the way forward for English from the emergence of new words that reflect these technological advancements - these developments should never be at the cost of the fundamental rules of language!

    I'm pleased to report most of the online comments on The Times site find this suggestion as appalling as I do. Yes, let us enrich the English language by extending our lexicon, but please, let's not make it at the expense of the language itself by pandering to crazy notions we should allow our language to become a crazy free-for-all. There's enough chaos going on in the world as it is.


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