Technology and the Writer

We all know that writers need to be aware of the Internet and social media.  Not only are we talking marketing tools, but as writers our craft relies on understanding the social fabric of the communities we live in.

In the four years I’ve seriously been engaging with this side of modern life, things have changed so much.  With every new tool I find, I have to spend considerable time learning how to use it.  And just when I start to feel comfortable, the program changes and I have to discover anew where everything is.

Now, I may not be as IT savvy as some, but I’m not exactly IT illiterate either.  I just find that with a day job as well as this writing gig, when I sit down to my computer it’s often a choice between social media and writing my own work.  When your spare time is split across running a household, socialising and writing a masterpiece, it often feels like none of it is getting done well.

So what’s the answer?  Sometimes I think I’d like to give up the Internet entirely until I’ve finished a major work, but when I connect with the virtual writing space, I find I’m inspired.  Writing is a solitary occupation, and for an extravert, that’s a difficult thing.  But I don’t need to engage with everything.  I can pick one or two tools and have a play, within an allocated timeslot.  As usual, it seems that discipline is the key.

One day, I’d like to find something that requires a total lack of willpower and dedication.  I’m sure I’d excel at that!


A Simple Way to Detect Passive Voice

A good grammar book will tell you what ‘passive voice’ is much better than I, but I’ll give it a go.  Briefly, it’s when the subject is having something done to it (passive), rather than doing something (active).  So what?  I hear you ask.  Well, in order to gain maximum reader engagement, you need maximum reader involvement.  The more action, the more your reader is ‘living’ your story, making it irresistable.

Passive voice describes things in a way that leaves the reader standing outside the story looking in, aware they are watching a scene unfold before them rather than losing themselves in it.  At first, I didn’t think this would make that much difference to me as a reader, but in reading through my own work after I’d put it away for a while, I really noticed the shift in my reading consciousness and level of engagement with the story.

So when I’m rewriting, passive construction is one of the first things I look out for.  I don’t look at every sentence and ask myself if there’s an active subject in it.  While I might have been OK at English at school, I mostly do things by feel.  If it feels right, then it is right.  I’m lucky enough not to have too much of a problem with grammar – cheers to my primary school education, despite moving schools mid way through my primary years!

I look out for any form of the word ‘be’, including ‘was’ and ‘is’.  If it’s with the past participle of a verb, it’s passive voice, but I don’t spend time trying to work that out.  When I spot the ‘be’ words, I just try and find another way of writing the sentence.  And do you know, I get the most amazing work at the end of it?  More action, more excitement, more plot.

Which is kind of ironic, considering all those self-help books I read tell me to stop ‘doing’ and start ‘being’.

Learn Your Craft, But Apply It In Moderation

About ten years ago, I announced to some friends that I wanted to do a writing course.  One person responded ‘but you can’t learn how to write – you either can or you can’t’.

WRONG!  All writers learn their craft, even if they don’t do formal study.  They learn it by reading books about writing, talking to other writers, going to their local writing centre or doing short courses.  Some learn it solely by reading, but they’re very clever people who can analyse a book’s structure and elements while they’re reading it.  Me, I chose a more formal route, because I needed class time and assignment deadlines to instill a writing discipline.

That’s not to say we should apply everything we learn as we write.  While I read about writing all the time, I have to ‘forget’ this while I’m doing my own crafting my first draft.  If I consciously try to write well, it jams me up and I stall.  For example, the other day I noticed I was baulking every time I wanted to write an adverb (-ly word) and I was stopping in my tracks while I was searching for another way of saying what I was trying to say.  These stoppages break my flow of thought and often result in my getting up from my desk.  This is dangerous, as it can lead to some serious procrastination.

So while I encourage all writers to learn their craft, there’s a time and place for everything.  The first draft is not the place for craft.  Nor is the second, if you have to do major revision and restructuring.  Leave it to the third draft, to be done right before you send it off to your critical reader.

The Difference Between Revising and Editing

I had a bit of a light bulb go off today.  I realised that while I had been thinking that revising and editing are the same thing, this is not the case!  They are two separate steps in the writing process.

Revising is when you’ve finished the draft and you’re reading through it for the feel of the story, which might involve dealing with the structure, logic or flow.  You’re testing to see if the characters are strongly enough developed for the storyline you’ve chosen, if the story is grounded enough in setting to feel real and if the plot accelarates at the right pace.  These are all big picture things, like playing with the large shapes of a painting making sure you’re getting the composition right.  You’re looking at the big blobs to see if they balance each other and make you feel easy.  It’s not about detail.

Editing is where you’ve done the big picture work, you feel comfortable the story is balanced right and you’re looking at the finer detail of language and sentence structure, as well as picking up those stray typos we all miss.  This is where you’re getting down to the nitty gritty of ‘is that the right word there?’ or ‘would that character really say that?’, and it can only really be done when the revising has finished.

Now that I’ve figured it out, it seems so obvious!

Taking Action!

Well, 2010 is nearly here, and I have been doing some planning.  I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I do think about what areas of my life I want to focus on during the year ahead.  In the last couple of days, I’ve also written a Writing Action Plan, as suggested in Kelly L Stone‘s book on writing, Time to Write (the link for this doesn’t seem to want to work – check it out at 

This is a plan that articulates my overall writing goal for 2010 (to get my manuscript to a publisher) and identifies the actions and timeframes needed to achieve it.  I’m planning to keep track of my progress (or lack thereof) on a regular basis throughout the year and will adjust timeframes accordingly to ensure things are achievable but not too easy.  I’m not much of a planner in life generally, so if I don’t get something down on paper, I’ll just drift along and things take twice as long as they need to.

My writing self is certainly a planner, and feels most comfortable knowing where I’m going.  It’s funny how my writing self seems to operate in a totally different way from my life self.  I wonder why that is?  Perhaps my life self could do with a little planning too!

Sorting out Point of View in the Heat

Due to the heat, I took it easy on myself and set an easy task.  I looked at whether the point of view chapters of my book balanced out.  I have written a summary of the chapter/scene on post-it notes, a different colour for each, and have stuck them around the wall.  This is an idea I got from a blog post by an author called Kaye Dacus that flashed up on the WordPress suggested posts thing. 

It’s a very long line!  Quite satisfying.  I’m also a bit awestruck – did all that really come from my head?

Have also discovered a disadvantage to this technique.  Some of the post-it notes keep falling off the wall!  There had to be a drawback, didn’t there?

Coming Up With an Artistic Life Purpose Statement

And I imagine that some people might have tuned out at that point.  A ‘Life Purpose Statement’ sounds so daunting, doesn’t it? 

I’ve been reading ‘Coaching the Artist Within’ by Eric Maisel and checking out a blog called ‘Life Unfolds by artistic coach, Jennifer Lee, and I was intrigued by the idea of coming up with a plan or principle that guides your artistic life.  I was struck with the similarity to coming up with a business goal or plan or vision statement in a business context, and thought why not become more focused in my creative life as well?

I didn’t want to get to the nitty gritty of ‘what strategies will be implemented when’ (a la business planning I’ve been involved with in the past).  I have a number of deadlines spread out for the rest of the year, and don’t want to add any more!  But a guiding principle broad enough not to trap me with failure but specific enough to be taken into account when making artistic decisions might be helpful.

So I have come up with the following goal:  I will support my artistic growth with integrity and positive feeling.

Maybe it needs a little work, but it’s a start.  I’ve already been finding it pops into my mind when I’ve been making decisions about what to writenext.  It makes me check in with how I feel in my gut, if it feels ‘right’ to continue with this plot point, or if I need to redirect.  An interesting exercise.

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