Searching for inspiration

 

Nothing is too silly to take a photo of. My own motivation to write has been driven by two elements. 1) The writers whose books I have been able to read in my lifetime and 2) the places I have visited.

I am sure many onlookers thought me insane when I was standing around the European countryside taking pictures of corridors, roofs and alcoves whilst they snapped the usual tourist sights. But when I look back at those photo’s now I find the spark that I need to bring life to my writing.

Never delete your old photo’s! Look back to them and bring the memories hidden in the corner of your mind back to the front. There are few better sources of inspiration than the real world.

A week of resources and inspiration for the Writer – Day 5

Books to be returned...

Books to be returned… (Photo credit: Hash Milhan)

For the final post in my week of resources I am going to cover off on the editing process. This is something I am elbows deep in at the moment and an activity that can prove more tiresome and taxing than anything else you will do on your journey to publication.

As I have mentioned before everybody works differently, but quite often I come across a handy tip that I haven’t tried out or considered. Here are the 3 things I have found most useful in editing and proofreading.

1) For your final edit, DON’T edit front to back. Start from a random chapter and keep doing another random chapter until you have finished. Alternatively start at the end and go backwards. When you edit from page one to the last, you will become engrossed in the story, regardless of how hard you try, and will miss things that you will pick up taking a random chapter in hand. Try it, It really works!!

2) Don’t trust your spell check. Regardless of what program you use to write, never think that the spell check function is a substitute for actually reading over every single word you have written. There will be more actual errors than you care to think of regardless of how sophisticated the spell checker is. Errors only a human eye will pick up.

3) Use your beta readers properly. Firstly, try and find those friends or family members that you believe will give you the most honest feedback. If you can find a stranger, that would be even better, but that could be difficult. Once you have managed to convince a few people to proofread your book, don’t allow them to fully dictate the feedback. When asked for feedback, people are inherently lazy and will also forget a lot of things that they have read. To fix this make sure you go into your meeting/discussion with the right questions in hand. Get it all on paper. Then, (and this part is important!) ask every beta reader the exact same questions and compare their answers.

I have a rule. If more than half of the people who have read your book find an issue, change it. If half or less don’t like it, you the author has creative authority and makes the final decision. The questions you ask will determine how useful the feedback you get is. I suggest specific questions such as;

– If you had to change one thing in the book what would it be?

– In which points did you feel a character acted out of character?

– Which names do you not like?

– I need to cut out a scene, which one would you cut?

You need to make sure you are getting good feedback and sometimes you need to prompt for negative feedback. If you leave it up to the beta readers, you will likely get some good stuff, but not all of the feedback that they have stored in their heads.

That wraps up my week of tools and resources. I hope that you were able to find something new, or something that you had forgotten about. Best of luck with all your writing!

A week of resources and inspiration for the Writer – Day 4

Today’s post will, I hope, be of use to those of us who are considering or already engaging in self publishing. The publishing industry is shifting and has in recent years become a living breathing beast, growing in different shapes and sizes on an almost daily basis. I read countless of threads on forums about the pros and cons of self publishing vs the traditional method and I try my best to stay out of the argument. I do not believe either method is perfect. That being said, traditional publishers are shrinking their exposure to print books and expanding into the digital platform. As a result of this, combined with the ease of creating your own eBook these days, more authors are taking things into their own hands. Be it via Lulu or Amazon’s Createspace, or Smashwords for a eBook.

It has never been easier to get your work out there and ready to read. But I believe to do so with success has never been harder. This post will focus on tools that can help you create the cover that will help you sell your work. Your book cover is in my opinion your single most important tool in getting a readers attention. Of course, in the long run the actual content of your book, good reviews and word of mouth will likely prove the defining factor in your success. However without a cover that draws the reader’s attention you will never even have the opportunity to win their loyalty with your writing.

Before a purchaser reads your blurb, be it in a bookstore or online, before they open up a page or check the sample pages to see whether they like your style and story, they skim over countless covers. If you haven’t put a lot of effort into your cover you are setting yourself back and hindering you possible success.

For those who find utilizing a computer for anything other than basic word processing a chore, I suggest investing in a professional cover. Do a Google search and find one of the thousands of artists who do commission work. I would recommend going for a less well known one as they will be more likely to have reasonable costs and want to do a good job to build their own word of mouth.

For those like me who like to have full creative control over their project, I recommend taking the time to create your own cover. This can at first seem a daunting task, but with a bit of practice you will find that it is not as hard as it seems.

The first thing that you need to do is download either photoshop or GIMP. If you are lucky enough to have photoshop, or willing to spend the big bucks on it, then it is a far superior product. I personally elected to go with GIMP, which is a free software package with similar functions. You can find it free to download at http://www.gimp.org/.

Once you have this, if you are like me and are an infant when it comes to digital art, spend some time watching tutorials on youtube. One’s like the one shown below will allow you to learn step by step how to create interesting effects for your own cover. Play around with enough of them and you will begin to get a hang of using the program.

 Credit to tutor4u for the video.

You will be amazed at how quickly you can create some amazing effects that will convert your cover text from something simple to something which every reader will stop and look at. Remember to watch some videos on creating background images for your covers. Most of the time its a simple process that will take you a few minutes and provide you with an end product you didn’t know you could make.

Next you will need pictures for your cover. I highly recommend http://www.deviantart.com/. The works collected on this site are amazing. However for the most part you will need to get in contact with the artists and purchase or seek permission to use their work. It is highly important that you pay attention to the license and copyright issues for anything you are considering using for your cover.

Other options are to purchase images from stock or royalty free websites such as http://www.shutterstock.com/ or http://au.fotolia.com/. You will find a large collection of images to use. Once you have the images you need, and are sure you have the permission to use them, have a look at some tutorials on how to place them into your cover. Once again there are countless GIMP or photoshop videos online.

Hopefully with a little bit of effort you will be able to create that cover that sets you apart from the beginners in the market.

A week of resources and inspiration for the Writer – Day 3

It’s the weekend, in particular it’s Saturday which means that we can put the more serious topics such as grammar, technique and tools aside. Today I will focus on inspiration. Few creative individuals will be fired up at all times. Human beings go through ups and down and will always find points at which they cannot stop their creative juices from flowing, and other times where it is impossible to get something legible onto paper. Personally to find motivation I find I have to change it up between a few different things. I can go watch my favorite movies and flick through my favorite books. Most of the time this will, at the very least, get me thinking about writing again. However to find more meaningful inspiration I have begun to do something else.

This is something I have more recently taken on and was thanks to a suggestion from a writing forum that I am part of. After introducing myself I was given a suggestion by a long standing member of the forum, given I am a Fantasy writer. It was to check out the website http://www.writeaboutdragons.com/. For any Fantasy writers, and even writers of other genres I would highly recommend checking it out. There you will find author Brandon Sanderson’s lectures on creative writing.

Working full time in a bank I unfortunately do not have the time to attend writers workshops. Having the access to these lessons from my computer has been priceless. His thoughts provided me with some insights which instantly effected my work. Once I had watched his videos, listed under ‘learn’ on the website, I then got thinking about my other favorite authors and what they have to say on the topic of writing. So I began to surf the web and in particular youtube for interviews with those authors. Since then I have found countless clips, articles and interviews that have motivated me to continue my writing. I highly recommend anyone struggling to find the motivation to sit down and write, to spend a little time finding videos from the authors who have inspired you to become writers. It may seem like such a simple thing but it is something that I never used to do regularly, and something that I find provides the strongest source of motivation.

If you need more interaction than that I cannot recommend anything more highly than a writers forum. I am now part of the Australian Writers Forum and know that the wealth of knowledge shared on the forum is only ever going to improve my skills. If you have the time, join a writing forum and begin seeing what people of a like mind are doing. You will no doubt learn something new and be able to share you own tips with authors just like you.

A week of resources and inspiration for the Writer – Day 2

For Day 2 I have decided to share some of the more common things that I use throughout my day to day writing. I know that each and every individual will find some things helpful and other things utterly obsolete to their own creative process. I hope that from gaining an insight into my methods you might find something new or be reminded of something you haven’t done in a while.

Building your vocabulary

what are word for?

what are word for? (Photo credit: Darwin Bell)

Most writers I know, whether they write fiction, non fiction or even business writing, use http://thesaurus.com/. I myself always have it open whilst writing and if I don’t have internet access I use a Synonym reference guide that I own. There is nothing worse than getting stuck in the middle of a sentence because you can’t think of the right word, or have it stuck on the tip of your tongue. As with anything we are always learning and improving our skills. If you think that you know everything there is to know on a subject then I believe you still have something to learn, namely the fact that you can always learn more and will never know everything. Additionally you need to keep your knowledge refreshed. Your vocabulary is exactly the same. It is essentially a muscle that needs to be worked out on a regular basis. Here are the things that I use to build my own vocabulary and also help myself out of temporary writers block when struggling for the right word.

1) Read as much as you can. And when you do read, write down the words that you have never heard of, or do not use that often. If you don’t have a pen handy place a memo on your phone or send yourself a text message with the word. Then later, when you have time find out exactly what the word means and what words share similar meanings. Never skip over a word you don’t know and forget about it. The more words at your disposal the more unique your writing can be.

2) Utilize lists that show you descriptive words. Most of us tend to favor certain words, it’s natural human behavior, and we quite often forget to change it up a little. A simple list, like the ones found here or here, may seem arbitrary at first, but stick them up behind your computer screen and watch how often you glance up and find inspiration for your next sentence.

3) Learn more emotions. I have to say something I personally struggle with is how to describe someone as being angry or sad or happy, without using those words too often. I have found keeping a picture up either on my screen or on the wall near my computer gets me thinking about other words to use. When I can picture what my character looks like at that moment in the book, but can’t think of the perfect word to describe it, a table with pictures of various expressions is perfect.

Before finishing today’s post, a key thing that I must stress which I often come across or that my editor tells me, is to not use words just because you found them in a thesaurus. A lot of work that I have read, mainly stuff that has not been highly edited, tends to stand out when they utilize words like antediluvian to simply state something is old. A thesaurus is a guide to help make your work sound better. It is not a tool to add funky, unknown words to your writing. Remember that a reader does not want to have to pull out a dictionary to understand your book.

A week of resources and inspiration for the Writer – Day 1

Every author will have their own techniques, best practices and sources of inspiration. As well as this they will utilize their own tools. In an effort to share the best elements from my own writing journey I have decided to spend a week posting about the tools and resources that I have found to be most useful.

I will aim to cover a mix of the common tools that would be beneficial to all writers and also the more unusual which I have found helpful in writing in the Fantasy genre.

Where better to begin than the most basic of tools – The writing platform.

To begin with, I should mention that when I began to write I utilised microsoft word for all of my physical word processing. For a while it was satisfactory, but as my first novel grew larger I found word to be cumbersome and problematic in terms of its functionality. I then did some research and found Writeway Pro. It had received some pretty good online ratings and was considered an affordable writing program. Being a poor student at the time, I was happy to know that it offered a free demo, which had almost full functionality. Once I began using it I didn’t look back and purchased a full copy. At the low one-off price I consider it one of my best investments to date.

Its strengths lie in keeping all of my writing together in one easy to use program, which performs the majority of things that I need to with simplicity. Writing in itself is not dissimilar to Word. However splitting chapters and sections of your books is easier. Having your character profiles, notes and your research within a buttons reach from your main page is priceless, particularly when you are ‘in the zone’ with your writing.

Even better, exporting your work into a manuscript or draft format is done with one click. For those of you who have struggled with creating a manuscript in Word, this feature is worth the $35 price in itself.

Everything has its issues, and I have to admit that I find the spell checker to be a little basic compared to others in the market. In addition to this there are minor things like limited tab indent sizes that can be an annoyance. But when you are considering the price of the software, you can get over these little things.

If you are looking for something other than Word, which provides a more ‘full suite’ writing solution, for a low price, I recommend you hop on to http://www.writewaypro.com/ and try out the free demo.

Inspiration

We all write because we have a passion for it. Yet at times we all need to find some motivation. Here is a speech by Neil Gaiman that drives me to my keyboard every time I am feeling unmotivated. I thoroughly recommend it to all people with creative minds. I hope you enjoy it and share it with your friends and colleagues.