A STAB IN THE DARK

I did something weird today. Don’t worry it’s not illegal, immoral or in poor taste (you could argue the last point I suppose). In my defence earlier in the day I had been to a meeting about my son’s schooling with members of the local authority etc etc. It went well but I’m always left feeling a little energised by them.

So when I got home and started doing the ‘normal’ writery things, I suddenly had an urge to return to the days when my online writing was new. So I typed ‘writing blogs’ into the search engine and had a look at what came up.

As I did it I had a feeling that my lack of clarity plus the idiosyncrasies of search algorithms may not produce what I was looking for. Then I realised I didn’t really have an idea of what I was looking for anyway. The whole thing was a whim. Did I want blogs about writing? Did I want advice about how to write a blog about anything? Did anyone bother about advice on blogs anymore? I am told, by whom it is not clear but the comments are everywhere, that the blog is going the way of the online forum, pushed out by shorter, faster, more vapid means of social media. So was I going to get anything?

I did.

What I remain amazed at is the way the internet proliferates layers of obfuscation help over any subject. We’ve generally moved away from the advertising that takes the Google search term you entered and offers to sell it to you right here right now. It used to be unnerving to be offered Stalin or Hitler for sale, although I was never tempted to follow up so I cannot say how accurate these offers were. But we still retain the aggregation sites that collect your search term and do another search on their own system and try and get you to click on it to follow up, presumably to monetise a click through system for their efforts. They aren’t as prevalent as they once were, but I did hit a few with my search. Far more prevalent is a (slightly) more sophisticated version which offers you the ‘Best 10/12/25/50/100 writing blogs on the web’. There are also lots of self publishing houses trying to get you to cough up cash to see your book in print. If that’s the aim carry on, but it’s largely vanity publishing and the problem with that is the marketing and how much it is going to cost to see your name on a spine. If you want a book on a shelf with your name on it that’s fine, but otherwise you are going to end up out of pocket, with one book on the shelf and a few hundred in the attic/garage/spare room.

The on demand publishers miss out the ‘where to store the damn things’ problem, but aren’t likely to shift a lot more. Online publishing is okay and I have done it quite profitably myself. It takes a lot of time and effort in the self publicising stakes. If you aren’t naturally like that it’s harder still and if you don’t want to surrender all your personal details to dubious internet entrepreneurs who will end up making far more out of your efforts than you ever will it can be a little emotionally wearing.

So what did I learn from my stab in the dark search that I had forgotten? Didn’t know already? Well writing is hard apparently. I never found writing hard. Writing well is another matter. Completing stuff is another game entirely.

Creative ideas can be a problem as well I see. Honestly, if your head isn’t brimming over with ideas and things you want to tell people and see more widely disseminated, why would you even think of being a writer? What is writing but a compulsion to fill other people with your ideas, tell them stories and entertain them? If you aren’t full of those ideas, stories and entertainments yourself already, what is it you are trying to write?

That may sound harsh. It’s not meant to be, at least not to those looking for help about how to write. It is harsh on those who are trying to sell you something about how to overcome those difficulties about writing. They are creating hurdles they claim only they have the knowledge to help you over.

If you want to tell a story, if you feel that urge to tell people something, then do it and don’t worry too much about getting technical tips from people who probably have less ability than you do. There is a proliferation of writing courses, from beginners to Master degrees. Just remember no-one who wrote a classic novel or a bestseller before about 1970 and the UEA course, had ever had any formal training in creative writing. It is arguable how helpful the rise of such courses has been. Has the quality of writing improved dramatically since their inception? It may make publishers and agents jobs appear easier, they have writers who have ‘qualifications’ to concentrate their search on perhaps, but there are a lot of excellent, successful writers who have never paid anyone a penny to learn something they were taught for free at school and polished through reading entertaining fiction books.

The ‘self help’ gurus I particularly love are those who will send you their ‘free’ booklets on how to be the next (insert bookselling sensation of the month) and let you know via the blurb they wrote for the aggregation site of the best X writing blogs, that they are now successful published authors of 2/5/10 bestselling books.

‘Books’ is usually the key to what they are selling. Not novels note, or poetry collections, or screenplays or short story collections but ‘books’. And what are these ‘books’? ‘How to write a million seller!’ ‘Top tips to beat the slush pile!’ ‘Your name in print! I did it, so can you!’ In other words their creative writing skill is selling flummery. Their ‘books’ are not novels etc but ‘how to’ books based on bare faced cheek. The thing skill you will learn from their direct experience is how to  write ‘how to’ books. It’s a pyramid selling scheme for the desperate.

(Please note these book titles are to the best of my knowledge fictional and are not intended to represent any existing book of those or similar names, and if they do – well if the cap fits…)

 

So my advice after a wearing afternoon is:

Don’t waste your time with Google trips down memory lane. Write something instead – or if the muse is at the beach, read something good and learn more from one well written novel/short story/poetry collection than you ever will from paying someone else to tell you something you can easily learn for free while enjoying a good read.

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