Coming to Twerms with Twitter

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As a would-be author and freelancer without a limitless supply of spare time, how on earth do I cut through the noise and make the most of Twitter?

tweet-150421_1280I’ll lay my cards on the table; I think Twitter is a monster of epic proportions.

I’ve tried to get to grips with Twitter for the last two or three years. I’ve listened into webinars, I’ve read blogs and I’ve watched videos; I’ve downloaded a dozen pdf e-books claiming things like 5-steps to Twitter Mastery, 10 Ways to Triumph over Twitter and so on; I’ve perused introduction-to’s and how-to’s and papers on the ethics of Twitter, the rules of Twitter and Twitter best practise; I’ve found out how often you’re supposed to Tweet and how many off-topic Tweets you can get away with and how you should thank people who re-Tweet you; and I’ve debated the wisdom of following thousands of people simply so they follow you back – even though nobody, nobody could possibly actually read thousands of people’s Tweets every day.

But I confess, after all this, I still haven’t tamed this yabbering monster in any meaningful way. I haven’t made friends with Twitter, I don’t have time to feed Twitter, and resent the white noise which streams from Twitter, day in and day out.

I know somewhere in there, there are gems and usefuls; links to fascinating blogs, tips and insights, information I’d struggle to access in any other way. I get it! But it’s like sifting a barrel of yellow sand to find a handful of white grains. I lose the will.

I know I’m missing a trick. I know I should do Twitter properly – for two very important reasons:

  1. I’m a writer – and a realist. I know I’m more likely to self-publish than be published in the conventional press. I don’t expect to enjoy the benefits of a corporate publicity engine, so Twitter is supposed to be a great platform for me and I’m supposed to embrace it. I’ve made a start, but it’s a stuttering, lacklustre one.
  2. I’m a professional freelance marketer. So it’s my job to understand Twitter and promote the opportunities it affords my clients to spread their message further and wider. And I do, I do. I know it has much to offer certain types of business. I can set my personal feelings aside and open their eyes to the benefits, even show them how to get started and build their presence. But I’m no advocate; on a personal level I don’t feel the Twitter love.

It’s this dual-personality that’s giving me the most problems. I can’t decide who I am on Twitter, and I think I should probably be two completely separate people. But how do I achieve this? I have a mixed following now, and I’m not sure how to go about splitting myself apart.

A while ago, I decided to commit to using Twitter for Writing Julie only. For a while this worked just fine. I unfollowed a few of the marketing related feeds I’d been tracking. Instead I added agents, publishing houses, writers and bookshops to my follows. I re-Tweeted my writerly blog posts. When other writers followed me I occasionally followed them back – but not always, because that’s how you end up with thousands of followers and follows and I was, and still am, resistant to this approach.

But then Marketing Julie started to creep back in. I began to use Twitter to keep track of feeds for a couple of my clients and, guess what? People I followed, followed me back. Imagine! Not only that, but I’d like to re-Tweet to help build my clients’ profiles and it’s a bit confusing, not to say pointless, to do this to a follower list which is perhaps 75% writerly.

So now I’m stuck and perplexed. I know I need to make some changes, to tame my two-headed beast. If I only felt the slightest love for Twitter, I’d be excited about this. Instead, I’m dragging my heels, big-time.

I think – although I’d appreciate any advice you have on this – I need two Twitter identities, one marketing and one writerly. But how do I separate out my followers and persuade perhaps half of them to migrate? Do I just abandon them and re-follow on another identity, hoping they’ll all jump on-board again? Or is there an easy way to do this? I bet there isn’t!

Then there’s the issue of devising a Twitter strategy, or rather, TWO Twitter strategies. Because I’m a marketer, and strategies is what we do.

I also need to decide whether I follow the few or the many – given that if I follow the many I’ll almost certainly be wilfully ignoring the majority of them. It feels like a nonsensical approach, with little value for anyone. Yet everyone’s doing it, which makes for a crazy, noisy world. So should I go along with it and add to the noise?

I just don’t know.

I’d really like to hear from you about your personal Twitter experiences. I want to love Twitter, so please share any positive stories you have. If you’ve found a workable approach to Twitter, please share that too. If you’ve created two Twitter identities for two aspects of your life, tell us how you make it work. What tools do you use, and how do you use them? If anything amazing or inspiring has come out of your presence on Twitter, inspire us in turn.

I genuinely want to tame this monster and I don’t know where to start.

“Thought Verbs” – Another side of “Show not Tell”

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Thought Verbs Show Not TellAuthor and Journalist Chuck Palahniuk wrote this essay on “Thought Verbs” just over a year ago. It has been reposted many times, but, like me, you may have missed it. I recently came across it via a link which led to another link and another – you know how the internet works. It is excellent advice, for every writer seeking to master the “Show not Tell” challenge.

The link to what I believe is the original article is here, and the full piece is reproduced below, with every credit to the original essayist, Chuck Palahniuk.

In six seconds, you’ll hate me.

But in six months, you’ll be a better writer.

From this point forward – at least for the next half year – you may not use “thought” verbs.  These include:  Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.

The list should also include:  Loves and Hates.

And it should include:  Is and Has, but we’ll get to those, later.

Until some time around Christmas, you can’t write:  Kenny wondered if Monica didn’t like him going out at night…”

Thinking is abstract.  Knowing and believing are intangible.  Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing.  And loving and hating.

Instead, you’ll have to Un-pack that to something like:  “The mornings after Kenny had stayed out, beyond the last bus, until he’d had to bum a ride or pay for a cab and got home to find Monica faking sleep, faking because she never slept that quiet, those mornings, she’d only put her own cup of coffee in the microwave.  Never his.”

Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them.  Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.

Instead of saying:  “Adam knew Gwen liked him.”

You’ll have to say:  “Between classes, Gwen was always leaned on his locker when he’d go to open it.  She’d roll her eyes and shove off with one foot, leaving a black-heel mark on the painted metal, but she also left the smell of her perfume.  The combination lock would still be warm from her ass.  And the next break, Gwen would be leaned there, again.”

In short, no more short-cuts.  Only specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.

Typically, writers use these “thought” verbs at the beginning of a paragraph  (In this form, you can call them “Thesis Statements” and I’ll rail against those, later)  In a way, they state the intention of the paragraph.  And what follows, illustrates them.

For example:

“Brenda knew she’d never make the deadline.  Traffic was backed up from the bridge, past the first eight or nine exits.  Her cell phone battery was dead.  At home, the dogs would need to go out, or there would be a mess to clean up.  Plus, she’d promised to water the plants for her neighbor…”

Do you see how the opening “thesis statement” steals the thunder of what follows?  Don’t do it.

If nothing else, cut the opening sentence and place it after all the others.  Better yet, transplant it and change it to:  Brenda would never make the deadline.

Thinking is abstract.  Knowing and believing are intangible.  Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing.  And loving and hating.

Don’t tell your reader:  “Lisa hated Tom.”

Instead, make your case like a lawyer in court, detail by detail.  Present each piece of evidence.  For example:

“During role call, in the breath after the teacher said Tom’s name, in that moment before he could answer, right then, Lisa would whisper-shout: ‘Butt Wipe,” just as Tom was saying, ‘Here’.”

One of the most-common mistakes that beginning writers make is leaving their characters alone.  Writing, you may be alone.  Reading, your audience may be alone.  But your character should spend very, very little time alone.  Because a solitary character starts thinking or worrying or wondering.

For example:  Waiting for the bus, Mark started to worry about how long the trip would take..”

A better break-down might be:  “The schedule said the bus would come by at noon, but Mark’s watch said it was already 11:57.  You could see all the way down the road, as far as the Mall, and not see a bus.  No doubt, the driver was parked at the turn-around, the far end of the line, taking a nap.  The driver was kicked back, asleep, and Mark was going to be late.  Or worse, the driver was drinking, and he’d pull up drunk and charge Mark seventy-five cents for death in a fiery traffic accident…”

A character alone must lapse into fantasy or memory, but even then you can’t use “thought” verbs or any of their abstract relatives.

Oh, and you can just forget about using the verbs forget and remember.

No more transitions such as:  “Wanda remember how Nelson used to brush her hair.”

Instead:  “Back in their sophomore year, Nelson used to brush her hair with smooth, long strokes of his hand.”

Again, Un-pack.  Don’t take short-cuts.

Better yet, get your character with another character, fast.  Get them together and get the action started.  Let their actions and words show their thoughts.  You — stay out of  their heads.

And while you’re avoiding “thought” verbs, be very wary about using the bland verbs “is” and “have.”

One of the most-common mistakes that beginning writers make is leaving their characters alone.

For example:

“Ann’s eyes are blue.”

“Ann has blue eyes.”

Versus:

“Ann coughed and waved one hand past her face, clearing the cigarette smoke from her eyes, blue eyes, before she smiled…”

Instead of bland “is” and “has” statements, try burying your details of what a character has or is, in actions or gestures.  At its most basic, this is showing your story instead of telling it.

And forever after, once you’ve learned to Un-pack your characters, you’ll hate the lazy writer who settles for:  “Jim sat beside the telephone, wondering why Amanda didn’t call.”

Please.  For now, hate me all you want, but don’t use “thought” verbs.  After Christmas, go crazy, but I’d bet money you won’t.

Author: Chuck Palahniuk (Aug 13)

Farewell to a Summer of Foxes

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I’ve had a wonderful time this summer, watching foxes relax in my garden. But now it’s over.

2014-07-27 10.54.56My flowerbeds bore witness to my garden visitors long before I first saw them. Shrubs starting out on their summer growth flattened; my neat bark overlay was mysteriously pushed off the flowerbed and scattered. At first I assumed an army of local cats were doing what cats need to do – but I was happily wrong.

A trio of reynards have been relaxing in my recreation space for weeks now. At first I photographed them whenever I saw them. I amassed a huge file of iPad/iPhone snaps before I acknowledged their appearance was not rare but commonplace. I looked out for them every day, and – apart from a few days when I had some heavy-duty cutting and pruning done by a local gardening firm – I saw them several times a day. I began to take my vulpine visitors for granted.

They saw me too. They would watch me, watching them. They were happy with my presence, but only as long as there was a door or window between us. They would stand me watching from an open window upstairs – far enough away not to be a threat – but would only tolerate a closed window downstairs. The slightest twitch of my fingers on the door handle would put them to flight. So I kept an eye out for them. I made sure not to open my windows too noisily; I refrained from emptying anything into my dustbin whilst they were around. It was just too lovely to see these beautiful, delicate wild creatures enjoying my space.

2014-06-12 10.46.57But last week, they disappeared.  At first I had no idea why; but I was chatting to my neighbour at the weekend and it turns out that as delighted as I was to welcome my feral friends, so my neighbour was dismayed. The foxes accessed my garden via her own – and where mine had become their sleeping zone, my neighbour’s garden was, yes, you guessed it, their toilet. To be fair, I wouldn’t have been that thrilled either.

My neighbour has apparently blocked all access to her garden and in barricading her fences, has deprived my foxes of their now trusted rest area. I understand why she’s done it, but I’m sad at the thought that I won’t see my foxes again – at least, not until they can figure a way around or under the barricades.

Meantime, I do have a host of photos and for those animal lovers amongst you, I thought I’d share a few of my favourites, and a few seconds of video too, as a Farewell to Summer. Enjoy…

2014-05-06 14.16.492014-05-13 09.45.092014-05-16 17.54.302014-07-27 17.34.45

One thing leads to another – unlocking creativity

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Some people have known all their lives that they wanted to write fiction – I’m not one of them.

2014-05-03 08.15.48I’ve always been comfortable with the written word. It’s probably because I was lucky to benefit from a good education, acquiring a solid grasp of language and grammar at an early age. I was luckier still to be taught at senior school by an enthusiastic trio of English teachers who instilled in me a love of books and a passion for the theatre. Outside the demands of the classroom and homework, I even wrote for pleasure – but not fiction; I became part of the small team who edited and produced the school magazine. Throughout my adolescence I picked up pen-friends around the world and I loved receiving and sending rambling missives about all the things that challenge, delight and perturb teenage girls.

In my working life, I’ve written just about every kind of commercial material you can imagine – marketing letters and email campaigns, RFPs and proposals, fact sheets, newsletters and case studies, white papers and websites, blogs and brochures and much, much more. But, until the last 5 years or so – no fiction. (Okay, careful now, I know some people might regard some marketing material as drifting perilously close to fiction, but let’s not get into that one.)

2012 58 D002 Jan 12After decades of focus on work and commercial concerns, including pushing hard for career changes and then going freelance on the back of a redundancy, my creative brain – if it ever existed – was thoroughly submerged beneath layers of analytical and practical thinking.

But things began to change in 2007. A friend of mine had taken up paper-crafting and was finding it a relaxing and creatively satisfying hobby. At the time, I thought it all seemed a bit inconsequential, although to be fair, that’s probably the point of a hobby. But the cards she produced were mini works of art, utterly beautiful and such a pleasure to receive – I still have every one she has sent me. So one day, I took the plunge and bought myself a basic card kit and at Christmas 2007, I produced a very unremarkable collection of handmade Christmas cards.

I moved forward from my early attempts – licky-sticky card-making. I searched out You Tube videos and watched crafting telly; I bought magazines and strained to see the experts at work at crafting events. Gradually I began to get into the experimental and creative type of card-making my friend so much enjoyed – and I loved it.

C001 Xmas 09 MoiraFor me, it’s an enormous pleasure to design and create a card for someone I care about. I’m not focussed on any one kind of card-making; I enjoy trying different styles and learning new techniques. And I’m a sucker for a seemingly endless selection of supplies – things like paper, inks, tools, dies, paints, foils and miscellaneous accessories.

Until I started playing with inks and paper, I honestly believed I didn’t have a creative bone in my body. Card-making is where I realised I had a creative side to my brain and more than that, it was desperate to be liberated. And if I could apply it to making little works of art for my friends, why couldn’t I apply it to my long-favoured creative environment – the written word?

You don’t know until you try, so in Autumn 2009, I attended my first Arvon Foundation course – called ‘Starting to Write’, and I… started to write.

I began with three short stories, one of which amazingly won Writing Magazine’s monthly prize and was printed in the magazine. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Within a few months of typing my first few words of fiction, I’d received a cheque. Prize money or payment for publication – whatever you call it, I was elated.

And with that £200, the genie was out of the bottle.

When will it ever end

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Last September, I dotted the last ‘i’ and crossed the last ‘t’ on my final final final draft of SINGLED OUT. Or so I thought.

murder your darlingsLast September, I believed I’d taken My First Novel as far as I could in drafting and editing terms. I wrote my synopsis (a traumatic experience) and carved off a chunk of text into a sample document. I took a set of fluorescent markers to my copy of ‘Writers’ & Artists’ Year Book 2014′ and lined up a shortlist of lucky, lucky agents who were to be the priority recipients of my masterpiece.

Then I sat back and waited for the offers to flood in. I waited, I blogged about the wait, and I waited some more. Instead of a flood, there was a trickle, and what trickled in was not overawed, enthusiastic ‘oh my word, this is magnificent, send us your full manuscript and come in and see us at once, and by the way don’t talk to any other agents until we’ve explained what we can do for you’ emails. What trickled in was – yes, right first time – a smattering of polite and kindly worded ‘sorry, not for us’ rejection emails.

I kept going, still fairly selectively. But those rejections kept on coming. The current tally is 17 agent submissions and 13 rejection emails. Of the remaining four, three date back to February/March and can thus be regarded as time-expired, rejections by omission. (Happily, the majority of agents have proved to be more courteous than this.) To date one agent, in theory, still has my novel in review, but as this agent accepted it as a courtesy following a seminar, I’m not holding my breath.

There was the odd flicker of interest. Two agents requested the full manuscript on the back of my submission, prompting palpitations and a wave of misplaced optimism in yours truly. Their rejections followed in due course.

But here’s the thing. Pithy though their feedback was, those two agents made broadly similar observations in their rejection emails. Not only that, but a very welcome latecomer to the beta reader party (you know who you are…) and a much loved and valued writing buddy both offered more detailed critique which, blow me down, highlighted the exact same issues.

I went away for a few days last week with these critiques much on my mind. The original plan had been to spend a few days rereading my manuscript and sharpening up a few lines here and there. But I’d begun to realise the ‘problem’ with my story was more fundamental than scrapping yet more surplus adverbs (though the volume of those infectious little critters you have to steel yourself to eliminate across layers of editing is a revelation in itself).

As I grappled with my folder of curiously comparable critique, I confess I grew frustrated. Having been so close to my novel for four years, I just didn’t get it. Intellectually, I could grasp what they were saying were the shortcomings. But when it came to addressing them, I couldn’t see how without throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Worse still, I couldn’t see why my story seemed to need such fundamental changes. Cue a gnashing of teeth and much grizzling and pouting.

In the still of the night I lay awake, frustrated, fretful. True to form at around 4:00am, my brain at last began to shift into the right gear. I began to get my head around what they’d all been saying. I started to find my way from I can’t towards how can I?

In the morning I got to work, identifying sections which screamed out for more tension and scenes which demanded more mystery; I earmarked pages where the pace dipped, weighted by too much unnecessary detail; I hunted down paragraphs where the language had to be nipped-and-tucked to better fit the character.

I decided two of my main characters will undergo a name change; I’ve finally conceded they have too much of the stereotype about them, and it begins with their names. But that’s mind-bending for me, as I’ve lived with them for upwards of four years. Oh, and talking of characters, I’m introducing a new one.

If this all sounds like a major rewrite, I don’t want to mislead you. This is far more than the tweaking I’d originally planned, but it’s not a rewrite. The story is essentially all there and all the pieces matter. Everything fits together and the plot is – I still believe – strong. What I’m dealing with is tone and pace, adding suspense in places I hadn’t realised it was needed, keeping up the tension instead of allowing it to fade away, injecting moments of uncertainty, deleting yet more extraneous detail – that sort of thing. This means I’m back in murder your darlings territory – not just words and lines, but paragraphs, great chunking paragraphs, sometimes one after another – and it hurts. But I know what I’m doing and at last I can see why it’s needed.

So that’s my job for what remains of the summer – to carry on culling whilst I meld new and modified material seamlessly back into the story. Then the plan is to approach a few more agents in the autumn months. As to what happens after that… Well, without suggesting anything at all about my more grounded expectations for this part of the process, I’m booked into a ‘how to self-publish’ seminar towards the end of the year. So we’ll just have to see.

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow

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acorns-57305_1280I thought this Twitter exchange from teatime yesterday might amuse. It just goes to show that (i) as a writer with unrealised ambitions, it’s all too easy to become twisted and cynical about agents and publishers and (ii) plot ideas can pop up anywhere.

(If you’re on a reader, click here to see the full post.)

By the way, if you’re new to my blog and you don’t know Dylan, check out his blog – and his compelling dystopian political thriller Second Chance here.

Twitter Conversation Dylan and Julie 3

Am I the toiletry industry’s wet dream?

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This morning, I counted up how many different products I apply to myself before I leave the bathroom.

Turtle-neckEarly on in my yet-to-be-published novel, SINGLED OUT, my main character, a woman in her 40’s readies herself for the day. It seems to amuse people that her make-up routine is, shall we say, comprehensive. This has been insightful, as her exact routine used to be my own in the days when appearance was everything and I faced customers and prospects on behalf of one global technology company after another, every working day. Safe to say, as a home-based freelancer, I’ve let myself go a little since those high-pressure days.

And yet… I remain in thrall to the toiletry and cosmetics industries. It seems I cannot rise in the morning without recourse to no less than 23 jollops, unguents, creams, lotions and potions. And that’s before I begin my now significantly curtailed make-up routine.

Impossible, I hear you cry! Well, here it is, this morning’s precise schedule of application:

  1. Toothpaste – a minty-fresh dental drenching
  2. Gum gel – yuk, temporary measure only, I hope
  3. Mouthwash – yes, I do love that minty-fresh feel
  4. Soap – duh
  5. Shampoo – twice, primer and undercoat
  6. Conditioner – topcoat
  7. Shower cream – soap is for the basin, bottled jollop in the shower
  8. Ph-neutral wash – muse no further upon this
  9. Shaving mousse – see, I still have some self-respect left
  10. Deodorant – what did the old advert say… may your armpits be charmpits?
  11. Hair mousse – it’s purple, does it really make my highlights gleam, I wonder?
  12. Anti-ageing serum – meant to sound medical, but off-the-shelf from Boots
  13. Face cream – I think this one actually does a job
  14. Eye cream – a micro-pot of magic with an earth-shattering price tag
  15. Talc – summer… summer
  16. Body lotion – scrummy one infused with tiny flecks of something gold, summer indulgence
  17. Athlete’s foot cream – purely pre-emptive, as I love to swim
  18. Heel balm – ditto above
  19. Lip salve – I keep a half-dozen of these dotted about the place
  20. Hair putty – gravity-defying sticky stuff
  21. Hairspray – I’m an 80’s girl, so shoot me
  22. Hand cream – I go back to this at least 5 times a day, but it pays off
  23. … last but not least, I can’t leave the house without a squirt… Eau de Parfum

As far as make-up goes, my significantly curtailed routine still involves eight products on an at-home day and ten on a going-to-a-meeting day.

You might call me a little OCD – and I would of course protest. But as a woman with a bathroom all to herself – I get all the cupboards, all the shelves, all the drawers, every flat surface, the whole dressing area, all of it – I can give free-rein to my corporal indulgencies. So I do.

Just don’t ask me if I line my jollops up facing forward with exactly, precisely the same space between each one.

Thanks, but no thanks

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I received two more email rejections of my SINGLED OUT submission this week.

thumbs downAs always, both literary agencies let me down gently and politely – but both were clearly standard format replies this time. One gets to tell the difference between the standard thanks but no thanks emails and the ones where someone has taken the trouble to insert a personal line or two. You can’t expect it, but it’s nice – even in a rejection – when someone adds a personal touch.

One of my standard email rejections advised:

“We receive over 300 manuscripts a week and can only take on a handful of new writers every year. The result is that we have to be incredibly selective, so please do not be too disheartened. Another agent may well feel differently.”

Over 300 manuscripts a week!

I think SINGLED OUT is a solid piece of work – it’s an original setting with distinctive characters and, even if I say so myself, a pretty decent plot. It’s gripping and grizzly in parts and laid-back and sunny in other parts. Perhaps that’s a fault, but if it is, no one has yet homed in on it. It’s not perfect, but that’s because it’s my first attempt at a novel. It’s as good as my (lack of) experience can make it, and I imagine I’ll find I can do better with subsequent manuscripts, given how much I’ve learned through writing this one.

The question for me is, is it good enough to rise to the top of a pile of 300 manuscripts in one week, let alone an annual pile of over 15,000 manuscripts. Is SINGLED OUT good enough, original enough, compelling enough, well-written enough… to rise to the top 5 or 6 in a pile of, what… 15,000 on any literary agent’s desk? Even I have to admit, this seems slightly more unlikely than winning the lottery jackpot whilst being simultaneously struck by lightning – and a meteorite.

I’ve blogged before here about whether I should simply chalk it up to experience and bottom-drawer SINGLED OUT before moving on to the next. But with so many other options available to today’s authors, struggling for recognition through traditional publishing avenues, would it be a waste, simply to bury it?

In truth, I’m coming round to the idea of self-publishing…

Corporate Doublethink

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Since when did the definition of the word ‘unlimited’ change?

Endless roadUnlimited = limitless, infinite, boundless, indefinite, unrestricted…. so says just about any dictionary you care to reference.

Why then, do the Validation Certificates for my latest shiny new Ford Fiesta say “Unlimited mileage is to a maximum of 100,000 miles”?

Of course the missing word in this grammatically dubious sentence is… you guessed it, ‘limited’:  Unlimited mileage is… ahem… limited to a maximum of 100,000 miles.

I’m all for language evolving – new words being brought to life, outmoded grammar being laid to rest, but why the doublethink?  Either it’s unlimited, or it’s limited – n’est-ce pas?

In the bowels of corporate headquarters everywhere, there are people working on this repurposing of perfectly adequate language. Data contracts have adopted the same flexible interpretation of the word unlimited, coupling it with what they charmingly call a fair usage policy. That’s to say, ‘We’ll all pretend we’ve given you a totally unlimited download capacity, but you have to go careful now, don’t get too greedy, because you’ll try our patience and then we’ll cut you down just when you need us most’.

Another favourite of mine is that deceptive pairing of the words ‘up to’… as in, “Up to 80% off” (any and every high street furniture sale the length and breadth of the country), or “Up to 80Mbps” (my Broadband contract, which actually delivers about half this speed).  Cleverly deploying a size zero font, the corporate boffs imagine their customers are so stupid they won’t notice those microscopic letters.

When I’m not trying to be a novelist, I work freelance in marketing and copywriting.  So you might  imagine I’d be sympathetic to these attempts linguistic ambiguity.  But I’m not and that’s because I’m a consumer first and a Grumpy Old Woman second – and only then am I a marketer. And I don’t like the idea that the corporate world is out there reinventing language in an attempt to confuse and deceive.

If you have a favourite snippet of corporate doublethink, share it with us.

‘My Writing Process’ Blog Hop

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Creative processThe blogosphere is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? My blogging buddy Dylan Hearn, of Suffolk Scribblings fame (and author of the inspired and intriguing dystopian thriller, Second Chance) has nominated me to take part in My Writing Process Blog Hop. I decided having done two blogging awards, that I wouldn’t do any more. But since three*, not two is the magic number – and since it’s Dylan who nominated me – how could I refuse?

So here we are:

1. What am I currently working on?

Until recently, I would have described myself as ‘between jobs’ (resting?) in writerly terms. I thought I’d finished My First Novel, which I’ve titled SINGLED OUT. I’ve been submitting to agents (17 so far), with a flicker of interest here and there, but no tangible progress. I’ve been trying to work out my next idea, but I’m beginning to think my mind won’t allow me to let go of SINGLED OUT. Now I come to glance through it again after a few months’ absence from its pages, I realise why. I can see things that need work. So I’ve decided to have another pass-through, a few days over the summer teasing out a few improvements, deleting a few more adjectives, tightening a few more sentences. The one agent who has thus far offered a line or two of specific feedback said my minor characters weren’t engaging enough, so I shall look at these characters more critically and see if (a) I agree and (b) I can do anything about it.

As it happens, I’m in the mood for a few days with Singled Out, as it’s set in the heat of summer. My characters are on a singles holiday in Turkey. It’s a psychological story, a kind of fox in the henhouse piece – where henhouse is a deceptively sublime setting. Whilst several characters are not quite who they seem to be (believe me, it’s easy to hide your true self for a week with a bunch of strangers), one character in particular is playing a very nasty game. It’s not a mystery or traditional crime story as the reader realises early on the identity of the fox. But the other holidaymakers don’t and the reader watches them putting themselves in harm’s way. I like the idea that the reader is outside a window, seeing something bad play out, unable to intervene.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

There’s a dark psychological conflict running through the story, but SINGLED OUT is not a thriller, more psychological suspense; a slow-burn with a clash of wits, a mental contest, at its heart. It’s not a whodunit but a whydunit.  SINGLED OUT is emotional but although it’s set on a holiday for single travellers, there’s very little romance – actually none.  It’s commercial, but because of the setting, it’s also more sensory than is typical for a commercial novel.

I’ve been told often that the context of a singles holiday is a unique and great idea. I’m writing from experience as I’ve been on several of them in my time, although none had quite the colour of the entirely fictional one in my story.

3. Why do I write what I write?

I realised early on that I like writing stories about dark, psychologically damaged or maladjusted people. Weirdly, I relish imagining myself into their personalities, their motivations and their views of the world. I’m exorcising a ghost or two here, I’ll confess, but that’s a topic for another day. I’m not sure if this will be the only type of story that I write, but that’s where I am for the moment.

4. How does my writing process work?

All I can say is how it worked this time – my first time. I began with a chapter-by-chapter outline, so I knew how the story would progress and, more importantly, I knew I had sufficient material and ideas to fill the pages of a novel. Each chapter outline was just 5 or 6 lines long, an account of what should take place and from whose point of view. A final single line indicated probably the most important thing – how this episode takes the story forward, or what the reader learns.

One example: X is sleazy, understands his place in the pecking order, acts inappropriately towards women

My outline changed, probably about 40% over the course of writing – I dumped a character, I added a backstory, I changed the ending – but it remained a reliable roadmap and it helped me appreciate my progress.

I wrote for as much time as I could find. I work freelance and my workload varies from week to week. For almost two years whilst writing SINGLED OUT I was outrageously busy with a big contract. During that time I shared a commitment with a writing buddy to produce at least 500 words a week. That’s a staggeringly small amount, but some weeks that was all I managed. On other occasions, 500 words was all I thought I could manage, but once I sat down on a Sunday to push that out in the hours before our agreed deadline, I kept going and eventually produced 2,000 or 3,000 words. That 500-word commitment – so small that I could never say I couldn’t manage it – kept the process going.

Each day before I began writing, I would re-read what I’d written the day before, but do no more with it than tweak the odd word. It was a bit like applying a jump-start to the day’s writing, or doing a run-up.

I had the support of a mentor for several months, which was a great learning experience, but also challenging, as it meant I was reviewing/editing in one section whilst writing another. Like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time.

Eventually I had a first draft, and a year after that I felt I had a draft (6th) in good enough shape to begin the submissions process. Now I’m not so sure…

5. Nominate three other writers

Okay here’s where it gets tough, because I know how most people don’t like the commitment that awards, blog hops and the like demand. So I would say to all three, do it, or don’t do it – it’s up to you. I’m nominating these writers because I think they write a great blogs that deserve to be seen by as many people as possible.

Sweat, Tears and Digital Ink – MG Mason is a fellow freelancer with a writing habit in the sci-fi/horror/fantasy genres. He writes about writing, words and the origin of language too, and has a great Highlights page on his blog (including a personal perspective on writing sex scenes, something which challenges many writers).

Sarah J Carlson, Author – Sarah is an American living in Singapore. As well as her writing, she shares her experiences of living and exploring in South East Asia, and some fabulous photos too.

Blondes Write More – Describing herself as a novice writer starting her journey, this blogger has also just won the Very Inspiring Blogger Award so I’ve learned more about her from her fascinating facts. I hope she won’t mind getting some publicity for her sparky and very engaging blog.

So Dylan, thanks again for your nomination and for continuing to be a brilliant blogging buddy and a generous supporter of budding writers everywhere.

* The Rule of Three dictates that details and objects that are arranged or grouped in threes are more appealing, funny or memorable than even-numbered pairings. In papercrafting (when she’s not up to her neck in edits or traumatised by synopses, this writer diddles with papers, inks and sticky stuff for fun) this means three (flowers, gems, butterflies) not two, and not four (although five is ok on a larger surface). You see the Rule of Three all the time in photography and in display of objects and ornaments; the Japanese do it in some style with Ikebana flower arranging… and so on. Blah.

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