The Moveable Writer

New technology and old comforts for today's writer.


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Data Driven Art?

Recent articles in The New York Times, NPR, and WSJ have reported on ereaders collecting data from readers while they read. The data collected includes noting at what point a reader stops reading a book. It also notes which parts of a book – action scenes, sex scenes, or romantic scenes, for instance – that the reader stays engaged in.

The chief executive of Scribd, a company that sells subscriptions for unlimited ebooks, stated that, “We’re going to be pretty open about sharing this data so people can use it to publish better books.”

But what does this mean for the future of literature? What would writer’s like Hemingway say about altering your writing to suit readers? I think we know what he would say and I am not going to write the profanity that would come out if his mouth in protest of this approach.

First, let me acknowledge that readers are individuals and that one book may appeal to many readers for different reasons. People may fall in love with different aspects of a character, but still love that character. Second, I acknowledge that certain stories and characters that do appeal to many readers have specific qualities that many people will like. These are two contradicting statements. Sort of.

If the data does come up with a certain combination of events that when written are more likely to become best sellers, should we alter our writing to ensure that our books meet that criteria? I must say that I would very much be interested to find out what readers think about my writing. As previously mentioned in this blog, I like the idea of readers being able to give me feedback about how and when my manuscript moves them. Readers matter to me. That being said, I think it is naïve to assume that we, as a group of writers, can “write better books” just by following this data. I agree that there are data that could be helpful, but we should not take over our writing.

Even if in the short term people did buy more books that fit a certain storyline, the market would be saturated by it very quickly. Nobody wants to read the same thing over and over again. Then, the data would see a shifting trend and writers would have to alter their writing to suit the new trend. We would lose the value of literature. One point I want to highlight is that many great books are like time capsules of a day or year or decade and capture a distinct atmosphere. We record this in detail and it is preserved for future generations to experience. Books written about life in our time may not be in trend in our time. What does that mean for future generations?

That is just one example. For me, I want to connect with a reader by telling a story that is meaningful and entertaining whether it makes a reader uncomfortable at times or takes them on an adventure they might not have known they wanted to go on. I believe that writing is telling a story through the unique perspective of the writer and that the truer you can be to human emotion and motivation the better. For this, there is no formula other than perception and practicing your craft. For these reasons I think we can gather data, understand it, and use it, but we should not let it make our writing untrue.

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Technology Friend or Foe? Friend, of course!

You finished polishing your manuscript and it is available on several websites. Now you need to connect with your readers. And not just any readers, how do you connect with the readers that you wrote your manuscript for?

New technology makes the writing process both easier and harder. Laptops, printers, and – although I don’t use it, I hear – writing software programs make recording your ideas easy. However, the fact that technology exists has thrown a wrench in many of the plot choices I sometimes crave. Come on! Not only are we always connected to everyone by multiple devices, but also our characters are always connected! That means that unless you are writing a period piece, it is very hard for your characters to go off the grid. Even planes today have low cost Internet services that keep your characters connected. Not very long ago, a mere twenty years, when you left your house you were untouchable. Crisis could happen and people could be searching for you all day before you got word that anything was amiss. That is tension. Love could be lost from a missed phone call. Ah, the suspense.

That being said, what our characters suffer from enhances our opportunity. We have Twitter, Blogs, Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon, and various outlets to shout out, but what about the good old-fashioned letter. Okay, speaking in techno-lingo, the email. If you are not a famous author, why not write your readers a letter at the end of your eBook, ask them a question, and invite them to email you their thoughts? Why not interact with those who most enjoyed your story? You can learn a lot from these interactions and make your readers excited about having read your book. Why not try to find out about book clubs in your genre. Write book club questions for your book and leave an email. There is nothing better than being able to solve a disagreement about why a character chose to do something than to have access to the author herself. Once your readers find you they will want to share you with others that they know who could like your book also and they can use all of their social media outlets to help you reach more readers.

Will this help? Let’s find out together!


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Keep the Writing Flowing from Scene to Scene

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Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of Seven Gables – Salem, Massachusetts

I get so excited when I am writing and the words are flowing. I get so involved in the characters and the action that by the time I look up several pages have gone by. Ah, that is the sweet stuff.

As every writer knows, this is not always how it goes. Many times writing a single long scene is like giving birth. I can say this because I have given birth to two babies and the process is similar! It is hard to imagine how the finished product will squeeze out fully formed from the small words you are stringing together. It can be daunting – especially between scenes and major sections. When you are giving birth, it is inevitable what the outcome will be. Eventually you will finish. When we are writing a book, there is a chance we will not complete it. We may get overwhelmed or lost in the middle chapters. So, how do we ensure that we complete our novels?

Here are some techniques to try:

  1. Keep writing. I know this sounds naïve and cliché, but the truth is that if you have an hour or two a day to write and you normally can get two to three pages completed in that time, you should sit there and write during that time even if you can only churn out one paragraph. It is forward progress and that is more psychologically satisfying than surfing the Internet in procrastination because you feel blocked.  Logically, even if you have a week of one paragraph only days, it will get you to your next take off point where your words start to flow again. Just consider the alternative.
  2. Set a realistic date for the completion of the first draft of your book and tell everyone you know that you are working on a book and you will finish the first draft by this date. It is harder to stop working when you have publicly stated you will be completed by a specific date. It will motivate you. An added bonus is that people may offer to be first readers on your draft – if you like that sort of thing. I know I do! This leads us to the next technique.
  3. If you don’t already have a close friend (or editor) to read your writing, find someone you trust to be that person. Writers have many preferences when it comes to letting people read their work. However, if you have someone that will take direction about the amount of input, if any, you want to receive, let him or her read your writing chapter by chapter. It is very motivating to know that someone wants to find out what will happen next in your story. Some writing styles don’t work with this technique. If you write out of sequence you may not be able to do this one until you have written several chapters that fit together. Just make sure the person you choose does not discourage you with too many questions or comments during the first draft. You know who your friends are.
  4. Always end your writing when you know what is going to happen next. It makes it easy to get started the next day. This is equivalent to a good warm-up before physical exercise. Our mind also needs to be warmed up sometimes before it produces the melody of the written word. If you know in advance what comes next, your subconscious is working on it (warming up) for hours before you press that first key or sharpen that pencil.
  5. If all else fails, reread a couple of paragraphs that you have set aside from your most beloved authors. Sometimes the rhythm of your favorite writing will both inspire you and school you through that uphill climb.

Be inspired! Write it. Share it.


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We Can All Be Published

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Now is an exciting time for writers and an exciting time for publishing your work. We have been liberated and that means we have options. Gone are the days of the single paved road, of writing a proposal to an agent and waitingfor months to find out if they will try on your behalf to sell your work to a publisher. If you are lucky enough to find an agent it still doesn’t mean that the public will ever see your work. Don’t get me wrong. There is romance in trying to get published in the traditional way and there are so many great agents and publishers. However, it is extremely difficult to publish this way and I will tell you why. There are so many good writers and the agents and the publishers are only human. What I mean to say is that like anyone else with loads of work to get through, they have to take into account what they can spend their time on, it has to appeal to them, and they have to feel confident that they can sell it. Some of you may be grunting right now about the merit of a great novel regardless of whether or not it will sell right now. And I hear you loud and clear. This is why I celebrate our options!

At first I did not want to break from tradition, but now I am an excited fan of publishing manuscripts in the form of an e-book. For one thing it is free to do it. The most important thing is that it will guarantee that you have a chance to reach people who will love your book. I say that you have a chance because with all of the books currently being uploaded, it is hard for fans of your genre to find you. But marketing yourself is a discussion for later. It is progress and it doesn’t mean that you can’t try the traditional route with another manuscript. After all, a writer must write so there will be more manuscripts – sequels if we are lucky! Not only is it free to upload your e-book, but it is also free to make your book print-on-demand with Amazon or Lulu – to name a couple. Amazon currently ranks as the top seller for books so that is not a shabby place to have a print book for sale.

A couple of weeks ago, I navigated the Kindle Direct Publishing and Nook Press sites. I use Amazon for a lot of my shopping needs and so I was eager to publish there first and second on Barnes and Noble Nook Press. I was surprised to find out that the Barnes and Noble interface is so much more intuitive and forgiving than the Kindle Direct interface. This is true for the conversion to e-book formatting and for the reports generated by their systems. The main difference is that at Nook Press you can edit your manuscript directly in its preview mode and make sure that everything will look good to your readers. This includes typing chapter names and changing copy within the manuscript. If you need to make changes in Kindle Direct you need to do it in your document and upload it again, then check it to make sure it is working properly. This can get time consuming and frustrating especially if you are not sure why you are having formatting issues. As for the reporting, Nook Press gathers all of the information you need on one dashboard as opposed to Kindle Direct, which uses separate links to view reports. They both have what you need to maintain your records, but Nook Press is more accessible. I am working on the Lulu system now and will report back how it compares with Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

In this exciting new publishing world, every writer can share their works and reach their core audiences. We are liberated to write and to be published. This being said we still crave the comforts of the traditional writer, that being our creature comforts and habits that enable us to put words to paper, our favorite authors who inspire us to search for the best words, and the right tools with which to proceed. This blog is about all things old and new that will enhance the writing process from beginning to end.

Be inspired. Write it. Share it.