Handwriting vs Typing

I came across this video this other day, of author Jon Skovron explaining how he hand writes his entire epic fantasy novels.

This made me so weirdly nostalgic, because I used to write exactly like that!  Here are some of the notebooks I filled cover-to-cover writing just one book:

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That Snow White notebook is way too adorable for the gory scenes I wrote in it.

And here is some idea of how ridiculously thick the book is altogether (excluding the notebooks I didn’t fill all the way/couldn’t find for the photograph):

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I don’t hand write nearly as much anymore, because when I was about seventeen someone told me real authors just type their novels straight up.  Typing is faster and cleaner, and MS Word keeps a word count for you instead of you having to count it out yourself and scribble numbers in the margins.  And with netbooks and iPads becoming popular, typing got more portable too, so when I started my next book I got out my laptop and typed it up from draft one.

This makes me kind of sad now.  People still buy me tonnes of notebooks for my birthday, and instead of filling them on a bi-monthly basis, I hoard them at the bottom of my bookshelf.  They all look so forlorn sitting there, waiting for their turn to be loved.  Soon, my pretties, soon.

Maybe someday, I’ll go back to handwriting all my novels.  For now, though, my notebooks will continue to work as quick places for me to scribble ideas/doodles/short scenes I don’t want to forget rather than full-length manuscripts.

Do you hand write your novels/articles/shopping lists before typing them up, or go straight to typing?  Which do you prefer?  Comment and let me know, because I am lonely and need people to talk to. :p

Where did Fifty Shades of Grey come from?

When I first heard of Fifty Shades of Grey, I was baffled.  A women’s erotica novel making it to bestseller was not unbelievable – but it seemed to have popped up from nowhere.  How did E.L. James to go from total obscurity to one of the biggest names in writing overnight?

Whether you like Fifty Shades of Grey or not, its journey to publishing is fascinating – and with the Fifty Shades Darker movie in cinemas this month, I thought it’d be fun to delve into the history of these books.  Prepare for a tale of the most shocking kind of drama: Internet Drama.

To set the scene: it’s the early 2000s.  The last Twilight book has been released, and fans on the Internet are busy writing their own, not-for-profit stories about Edward and Bella – fanfic.

Oh yes, did I mention?  Fifty Shades of Grey originated as Twilight fanfic.

The shock!  The horror!  The … okay, you probably knew that already.

After the last Twilight book, it became in-vogue for fans to write alternate-universe fanfic in which vampires didn’t exist: Edward and Bella were just ordinary humans who fell in love, and had a lot of graphic sex (well, fanfic is rather famous for its erotica).  Writers borrowed ideas from each other, shared stories, and worked together.  If one person wrote a fanfic about Edward having tattoos, then four more tattoo-fanfics would crop up, and that was fine.  It wasn’t copying; it was flattering.  The community was collaborative in a way that’s only really possible when money isn’t involved.

Out of this community appeared a new fanfic: Master of the Universe by Snowqueen’s Icedragon.  AKA, the original Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James.

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Master of the Universe wasn’t an entirely new concept: sexy stories featuring BDSM already existed in the world of Twilight fanfic.  I don’t mean that to be disparaging – as I said, this community often bounced ideas off one another.  It was normal.  But Master of the Universe quickly became the most popular, for the simple reason that E.L. James was a flipping master of marketing.

The website Master of the Universe was displayed on had two key front pages: one that showed the most recently updated fanfic (as fanfic is usually posted online chapter-by-chapter over a series of days or weeks), and one that showed the fanfic that was getting the most comments.

E.L. James wrote short chapters, and posted them frequently.  This meant she was always at the top of the Recently Updated page, which earned her some interest.  Then, since readers could comment on each chapter separately, she also received a multitude of comments and got to the top of the Most Comments page.  This meant Master of the Universe was always visible, and kept attracting more attention and getting more popular.  Ingenious, really!

But now is when the drama kicks in.

Hmm.  I feel that didn’t have enough dramatic tension.

But now is when the ~*~*~*~DRAMA!!!!!!!~*~*~*~ kicks in.

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There we go.

E.L. James admitted to another person in the Twilight fanfic community that she didn’t enjoy being part of it anymore.  They held a charity drive, and although E.L. James took part, she later complained that she hadn’t wanted to.  However, she made more money that any other writer in the charity drive.  And if she could make money doing that …

Bella and Edward became Ana and Christian.  The other characters’ were changed (often to rather similar names: Carlisle became Carrick, for instance), and the chapters were split neatly from one whopping story to an easily-digestible trilogy.  The plot was mostly untouched.  When E.L. James published Master of the Universe under its new title, Fifty Shades of Grey, she already had an army of readers behind her ready to buy it – fanfic readers desperate to support one of their own.

When thousands of people on Amazon.com buy a new book at once, it hops to the top of the bestseller lists for the day.  Which attracts interest from other people, so they buy it.  Which gets it to the top that week.  Which attracts more interest.  And so it snowballs, Fifty Shades of Grey swiftly gaining a reputation for its human interest aspect (it was self published, three cheers for independence and the wonders of the Internet!) and for … well … all the spanking.

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You’d think Twilight fanficcers were E.L. James’s biggest fans to this day, but alas no.  Many of them now say that James betrayed them, taking the collaborative efforts of the community and using it all for her own gain – and topping it off by blocking many of them on social media, in an effort to distance herself from her roots.  In fact, it’s from these ex-fans that I got much of my information for this post.  You will not believe how tough it was to be unbiased when, righteous or not, my sources were overflowing with salt.  Like a good essayist, I’ll pop links to them in the bottom if anyone wants to check them out.

So now you know.  Yes, E.L. James was a fanficcer.  But more than that, she was a clever fanficcer.  She knew how to entice people to read long before she hoped to make money off her work – and then knew how to use her readers to propel her work to the top when she was making money.

What do you think?  Is E.L. James a genius, or a skeevy backstabber?  Is publishing fanfic a good way to become a ‘real’ writer?  Please comment and let me know!

Links to my sources:

Sorry, John Green

Some time ago, I made this post about why I don’t read John Green’s books.  At the time, I tried to be fair and pointed out that my problem was not with John Green himself – only that my taste in books doesn’t align with his writing.

In hindsight, though, I wrote that post from a position of being … well, peeved.  Mightily peeved.  Not at John Green himself, but at select members of his fanbase who really just wouldn’t accept I didn’t like his books (‘Well have you tried X?  And Y?  You must like one of them!)

I wrote the post with the intention of metaphorically beating them with it, screaming, ‘This is why I don’t read his books!  THIS IS WHY!  LEAVE ME IN PEACE!’  But I didn’t aim the post at them – I aimed it at John Green himself, which was totally unfair.

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Look at his lovely smiling face, I feel so meeeeaaaan.

Reading back, I’ve decided to edit the old post and remove my saltier comments.  They were unnecessary, especially considering my frustration wasn’t aimed at John Green himself at all.  John Green is an amazing man, who makes free educational videos with Crash Course, runs enormous charity drives like The Project for Awesome, and works on a variety of wonderful projects that he really doesn’t have to.  He does it out of the goodness of his heart.

Even though I don’t get on with his books (I mean, contemporary teen drama was never going to be My Thing), they encourage a lot of young people to read, and make a lot of people very happy.  Well, except The Fault in Our Stars.  As I understand it, that one makes a lot of people very sad.

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Basically, all this to say: Sorry, Mr Green.  You’re super, and I was grumpy.  Although your books aren’t my taste, I wish you and them all the luck in the world (not, of course, that you need it).

Should you take a writing class?

It’s practically a cliché at this point.  A hopeful youngster meets their favourite author, wide-eyed and excited, and asks them, ‘I want to be a writer too, can you give me advice?’

And the writer, dead-eyed and serious, replies, ‘Don’t take a writing class.’

I’ve seen this scene play out in TV series and films.  I’ve actually had it happen in real life right in front of me, and I couldn’t help laughing – I was halfway through my MA Writing for Children at the time.

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All eyerolls aside, there’s a reason why people throw this advice around like the gospel truth: a writing class cannot buy you talent.  If you go into a writing class expecting to pay X amount and wind up with a book deal, millions of fans and rolling in royalties … you’re going to be disappointed.  A writing class cannot buy you talent, because money cannot buy you talent.

What buys you talent?  A lot of hard work, that’s what.

So what can a writing course do for you?  Are they worth the cost?  (Because wow, my BA Creative Writing and MA Writing for Children combined cost about £16,000 – and if you need me, I’ll be crying about my student debt in the corner.)

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If it weren’t for my BA and MA, I wouldn’t be as good at writing as I am.  My course forced me to improve.  I had to write each day, had to be brave enough to show my writing to other people, thick-skinned enough to accept their criticism, and driven enough to make improvements based on their suggestions.  All of these are things you’ll have to do if you want to be a professional writer.  All good things to practise before you attempt that leap.

On top of that, my writing course surrounded me with fellow writers.  I got to hear their opinions (sometimes in the form of furious debates), and as much as we criticised one another, we also gave glowing reviews.  Nothing improved my confidence like knowing other writers liked my work, and nothing improved my work like knowing exactly what parts they liked, and what I needed to change.

I loved my BA so much I opted to take an MA even though it meant another year away from home, and a whole lot of money.  I wouldn’t go back on my choice to take a writing class for the world.

If I were to amend the cliché, I’d say this: don’t take a writing course unless you’re prepared to put work into it.  Don’t take a writing course expecting to have your book deal handed to you on a silver platter.  Don’t take a writing course because you think piling money into it will automatically grant you talent.

But if you’re willing to work hard, show some humility and listen to your teachers and peers – and if you have the money to spare – by all means, enjoy your writing course.

6 Books That Disappointed Me

I try to be upbeat and positive on this blog, because I think there’s already enough negativity out there.  On the other hand, sometimes I come across a book so infuriatingly disappointing, I just have to scream about it to the world.  Or to my blog, anyway.

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Bear in mind these are not bad books.  I don’t finish bad books, so they never have the chance to disappoint me.  These are books that seemed great when they started, but gradually (or swiftly) failed to live up to the hype.  Insert generic ‘this is all personal opinion,’ etc, etc, ‘please do not skin me,’ and so on and so forth.

Spoilers ahead.  Beware!

 


1: 1984 by George Orwell

I know, you’re all shocked.  (The sarcasm is strong in this post.)

After finishing The Hunger Games, I craved more dystopia.  After rattling through a few YA titles, I grabbed 1984, the big daddy of dystopia … and hated it.

The protagonist was loathsome, the story unbearably depressing, and the plot entirely, 100% predictable from just a couple of chapters in.  Winston attempts to overthrow the government, discovers the rebellion is a trap, is kidnapped, tortured, and becomes a husk of a man.  The entire story is really just window dressing for a thumping great political message, delivered with the subtlety of a brick through the window.  I’ll stop, because I’ve ranted about it before.

Even more infuriating, 1984 has the gall to be a really, seriously important book.  For all that the story is miserable, the book teaches a political message about totalitarianism and media bias that’s really worth learning.  You have to finish it.  Or at least watch the film made in the 1980’s which, while equally miserable, is at least over in an hour and half.

 

2: The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

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Gasp, a book I’ve never talked about before!  Shock!

I read The White Darkness for my secondary school book club.  It’s about a girl named Sym, who’s haunted by the ghost of Captain Titus Oates, hero of the Antarctic.  When Sym’s adopted uncle believes he’s discovered an ancient civilisation buried beneath the ice, he takes Sym (and, of course, Titus) on an adventure to find it.

It sounds absolutely perfect.  My problem with it?  It’s not fantasy at all.  By the end of the book, you learn Sym’s uncle is a total whacko, the civilisation isn’t real, and Titus is simply Sym’s imaginary friend.  In fact, the end of the book implies that, by letting go of her fantasies, Sym has finally learned to grow up.

After expecting a fantasy story, I felt betrayed and patronised.  This book inspired one of my personal pet peeves: ‘cop-out fantasy’.  That is, books that advertise themselves as fantastical to draw readers in, but turn out to be realism (an unnervingly common ploy in teen fiction, at least it was in the early 2000s).

 

3: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

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One of the many books I read for my Gothic Literature class at uni, I wanted nothing more than to throw Wuthering Heights out the window.  (I didn’t, because it was my mum’s fancy vintage copy, and because I lived by a main road, and didn’t want to cause a ten-car-pile-up in the middle of Winchester.)

Wuthering Heights: a story that begins with a ghostly child clawing at the window, calling, ‘Let me in, let me in!’ … and turns out to be an awful romance story about terrible people.  Was the ghost real?  Was it a dream?  Who cares, have 300 pages of angst and death!  I gather it was written to expose how awful and unhealthy many classic romantic stories are, but that doesn’t change the fact it could’ve been an epic ghost story.

I hated just about every character, and the plot moved at an agonising crawl.  Considering how well I got on with the rest of our Gothic Literature texts, this one surprised me because I only very barely managed to finish the damn thing.

 

4: Stolen by Lucy Christopher

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Of all the books I’m whinging about today, this one gets the gold star for Least Terrible. In fact, it barely made it onto the list, and I feel a bit mean including it.  But alas, I am a heartless monster, and must complain a little.

Stolen is the story of Gemma, a sixteen-year-old girl and kidnap victim.  Ty, a young man  obsessed with her for years, steals Gemma away to the Australian Outback, where she can never escape.  The first few chapters of this book are heart-stoppingly tense, some of the dialogue sending shivers down my spine, and implications that Gemma would eventually develop Stockholm Syndrome kept me reading all day.

The trouble is, the the plot wavers after the first chapter, and Ty changes rapidly from terrifying creep to poor, sad woobie.  Gemma only seems to develop feeling for him in the very last pages, after she’s already escaped.  What could’ve been an intense and haunting psychological thriller falls flat, seemingly too cowardly to make real the threats of Chapter One.

 

5: The Pillars of Creation by Terry Goodkind

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I loved The Sword of Truth series at first.  Richard and Kahlan were great characters you could look up to, if a little unrealistic at times, the fantastical world was something I longed to step into, and the villains were so violently, gruesomely evil, that seeing justice dealt was satisfying as watching Joffrey Baratheon choke on that pie.

But, as the books went on, I realised they were a bit … samey.  A new villain, Emporer Jagang, arose … and just sort of stuck around.  Coming up on the seventh book in the series — The Pillars of Creation — I was already tired of the main characters being repeatedly kidnapped, of Richard’s evil relatives popping up (despite the fact he was meant to be the only surviving son of Lord Rahl), and Jagang still not being dead yet.  Regardless, with every book, I hoped the series would get better again.

Aaaand then I read The Pillars of Creation, and my hope died.  I have no idea who that book was written for.  No newbie to the series would start at book seven, but no veteran could possibly stand the level of dramatic irony through this book.  We follow the hopelessly clueless Jennsen, who spends the entire book thinking Richard is a villain.  Even around the time she sleeps with fantasy Satan himself, she’s like ‘Yeah, this is definitely the good guy’.

After crawling through 300+ pages of her idiocy, Jennsen finally meets Richard at the end of the book, and within the space of a single page, is utterly converted.  Facepalm?  Facepalm.

 

6: Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

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I saved the worst (at least by my reckoning) for last.  I often tout this book to my friends as The Worst Book I Ever Finished.  Worse than 1984, although similar to it, in many ways.

Only Ever Yours is a dystopian novel in which women are forced to choose between three careers: to be castrated, and work as a teacher; to be a prostitute; or to become wives — breeding stock — for powerful men.  Our protagonist, Frieda, is determined to become the latter.  But, as graduation approaches, the girls in her class tear each other apart.  And the best of them, Frieda’s friend Isabel, begins to rebel …

… unfortunately, her rebellion goes nowhere.  Supposedly a work of feminism, this book had me loathing women, as every single female character was portrayed as petty, vapid, back-stabbing, and downright nasty.  Hilariously, the only character I liked was a boy.

The story in unrelentingly grim, giving the barest sparks of hope that force you to keep reading.  But those sparks are a lie.  A lie, I tells you!  The feminist message is ham-handed and backward, the characters are loathsome, and the plot manages to simultaneously tempt you with wonderful things that could happen, without ever actually allowing them to happen.

This is, in summary, a YA version of 1984 … but without that whole important political message.  Y’know, 1984‘s only redeeming factor.

 


 

Phew.  That got heated.  I’m going to have a glass of water and a little lie down to save my blood pressure, and later, I’ll talk about the books I expected to hate, that surprised me with their greatness.

In the meantime, tell me what books have disappointed you!  Or, if you love one of these books I’ve shredded, feel free to tell me why I’m wrong and also a horrible person.

The Health Risks of Being a Writer

October 2013, I sat in my first interview with Judy Waite, my tutor for by BA dissertation.  She’d taught me two years previously, and strongly advocated a kind of ‘method writing’.  Basically, don’t just sit around reading books for research–get out and do things.  Take a martial arts class, sing an audition, do the things your characters do.  I was anxious, but also glad to be partnered with Judy, because I knew she’s written a book in exactly the genre I wanted to write.  Grinning nervously, I set my planning form down in front of her.

‘I want to write about a girl in a cult.’

And Judy, looking me dead in the eye, without a hint of irony, said, ‘Amelia, please don’t join a cult.’

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I managed to mumble some horrified form of, ‘I, um …  I wasn’t planning to?’

She nodded.  ‘Good.  Because I did that once, and it was a bad idea.’

And that was the first time, staring at my polite, smiling tutor, who’d straight up joined an honest-to-god cult for research, somehow escaped and faced whatever hellish deprogramming was required to rejoin civilisation, and expected me to do the same, that I thought to myself–holy crap, writing is dangerous.

To Judy, if you ever read this: sorry for telling everyone about your crazy escapades.  Also thanks for helping me get a First Class in that dissertation.  You rock.

To everyone else: writing isn’t a career you imagine as having health risks.  It’s mostly a quiet, sedentary job, with no power tools, boiling oil, or tangles of wires which may or may not be live.  Unless you follow Judy’s ‘method writing’ approach (which I highly recommend, although for the love of god be sensible about it), you’re pretty much going to spend your time typing, or nose-deep in books/the Internet for research.

But take it from the girl with her right hand currently in a splint–you don’t have to join a cult to hurt yourself writing.

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Owies.

So here are some common health risks with writing, and how to avoid them.

1) Repetitive Strain Injury

Well, yeah, no shocker that the woman constantly moaning about her wrist is going to talk about RSI.  But seriously, this hurts.  Shooting pains into your hand prevent you not only from writing, but also eating, picking things up, and basically doing anything.  Unless you want to be forced to teach yourself to be ambidextrous, learn from my mistakes.

You know those soft, squishy things some people have below their keyboards?  They are a godsend.  You don’t have to buy one–a small towel rolled up into a sausage works perfectly.  Rest your arms on it while you type, rather than letting your hands hover over the keyboard.  If you can bear to part with the money, an ergonomic mouse will seriously help you out, too.

Also, it will freak out all your friends.  ‘WHAT IS THIS THING?  HOW DO I EVEN HOLD IT?  AHHHH!’

2) Back Strain

This is definitely another case of Learn From Amelia’s Mistakes.

Both my parents have bad backs.  If they ever caught me sprawled across the floor or curled in a ball on my laptop, they went nuts.  ‘You’ll ruin your back!  Sit at a table!  Rah, rah, rah!’  Because I’m an idiot, I didn’t listen.  For a whole semester at uni, rather than sitting at the scratched-up desk supplied by my landlord, I sat on a beanbag.  Curled over, laptop on my legs.

If I’d known I’d spend hours that summer–months later–lying on a sofa and wailing like a beached whale, I’d have burned that bean bag before I sat down.  Back pain is worse than RSI.  Because your entire nervous system has to run through your spine, when you strain your back, you can’t move anything.

When you sit down for hours of writing, for goodness sake, sit in a chair with your back supported; use cushions to plump you up on the sofa if you have to sit there, but preferably, use a table.  Because having a bad back at the ripe age of 20 sucks.

3) Putting on weight

I mentioned before that writing was sedentary work, as if that makes if safe.  But the 21st Century is really setting out to prove the opposite.  Sitting down all the time is super bad for you.

Even worse, when you sit down to a real write-a-thon, the temptation to snack is hard to resist.  A combination of sitting still and munching through an entire pack of bourbons an hour (yes, I really did that, and not one of those little packs–a family-sized, three-rows dealie) is going to make you pack on the pounds fast.

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Mmmmmmm … sorry, not helping.

Unfortunately, the only way to avoid this is the same way as you always have to avoid putting on weight.  Exercise, eat better, and eat less.  Put away that pack of bourbons and make yourself some carrot sticks instead, or nibble at some grapes.  Get out and go for a daily ramble (this will help your bad back, too), or join a sports club.  If you can’t afford a club and it’s streaming with rain, go for my favourite form of exercise.

GANGNAM STYLE.

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I’m dead serious.  Hop up every couple of hours and dance furiously to the loudest, silliest music you can.  Or do star-jumps, or jog on the spot.  There are excellent movie work-outs around the Internet (do three push-ups every time Wolverine gets his claws out in X-Men), so make good use of them!  And if you’re rubbish at motivation, get someone else to motivate you.  It’s hard to be lazy when your boyfriend/mother/sentient teddy bear leans over every twenty minutes to pester/bribe/bully you.

4) Loneliness

This is one I’d never have believed before I left university.

There’s no water cooler chatter when you’re a writer; no greetings from your coworkers in the morning or goodbyes in the evening; no chance to ask if so-and-so watched that episode of Game of Thrones last night.  Your friends and family, for the most part, won’t really understand how writing a book happens.  To the majority of people, writing is incomprehensible witchcraft–and it happens alone.

If you’re an introvert, days and days spent alone in a quiet house might sound heavenly.  But even introverts need actual human interaction once in a while.  The loneliness of working hard on writing can be oppressive, and depressing.  The odd Facebook chat really doesn’t make up for actual face-to-face conversation.

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The cure is obvious: you have to get out the house and meet people.  Join a club, or organise a weekly meeting with your friends for pub quiz, or pizza, or just a movie night at your house.  If you like, seek out other writers so you can talk about your work–but a full break from writing, just for a few hours, is also healthy.

 

Being a writer is the best.  I’d never write anything if I didn’t love writing.  But it’s also important not to become obsessed, and to take care of your health, whatever your job.  Let me know if I missed anything out, or tell me about the weirdest health hazards in your own job!

The Worst Things You Can Say to a Writer (and What to Say Instead)

Just imagine this: you’re at a swish cocktail party, nibbling olives and little squares of cheese on sticks and sipping delicious champagne, all the more delicious because you didn’t have to pay for it.  Everybody looks sparkly and glamorous, and one way or another you’ve wound up in conversation with a total stranger.

Once you’ve exhausted all other safe avenues of conversation (‘Isn’t the shampers lovely?’  ‘Funny weather we’ve had!’) you’re steered, willing or not, to the dreaded conversation.

‘So what is it you do?’

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One of two things will happen now, depending on the kind of person you are.  Well, technically, one of many things could happen.  The tasteful ice-sculpture swan could turn out not to be an ice sculpture after all, and bite you on the nose.  But because this is my hypothetical swish cocktail party, that’s not going to happen.  Here’s what will happen.

If you are a writer: you must now tell this stranger that you somehow, magically, manage to earn money from stringing words together, like some bizarre alchemist of the English language.  As you do, you dread what they’ll say in response.  It’ll probably be awful.  It’s usually awful.

If you are not a writer: turns out the stranger, instead, is a writer.  When they tell you this, you will be forced to say something in response.  This is like a choose-your-own adventure book, where you have to turn to page four to impress the writer immensely, or turn to page 137 to fail miserably.

So, here’s a guide to the things you absolutely should not say when someone tells you they’re a writer.  (Or, if you are a writer, here’s a humorously relatable list of things people say when you tell them you’re a writer.)

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1) So you’re going to be the next millionaire, like J.K. Rowling?

Or E.L. James, or Dan Brown, or whoever’s flavour of the month.

Honestly, this one doesn’t bother me too much personally.  It’s usually a joke, and it’s pretty flattering.  But remember when you were learning to drive, and everyone said, ‘Heeey, I’ll stay off the roads then, hahahaha!’ and it stopped being funny after about ten minutes?  This is a bit like that.

Since the majority of writers make very little money, this also feels a touch like rubbing salt in the wound.

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2) I want to write a book someday, when I have time.

This one’s annoying because it implies that all writers are people of leisure, with all the time in the world to sit back and sip coffee while they type.  Actually, most writers have another ‘real’ job, too.  So how do writers find the time to write?  They make time.

I write every day.  Every.  Day.  I have to work 9:00AM-7:00PM at the library?  When I get home, head fuzzy, legs wobbly, wanting nothing more than hot chocolate and nap … I still grab my laptop and write.

Not every writer is as crazy as me, but it’s possible for virtually anyone to make time to write.  If you want to write a book, write it!  Take an hour out of every Sunday if that’s all the time you’ve got.  You already have time, so do it!

3) That must be nice, to have a little hobby and call it work!

That one is word-for-word.  I’m usually a pretty chill person, but let me tell you, my blood boiled.

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As I mentioned in the last point, writers spend a lot of time on their work, and they work hard.  Reading a book is a hobby.  But think of the last book you read.  How would you like to start it again, right now?  Maybe you liked it, and you really would read it twice in a row!  How about three times?  How about six?  And each time, you have to underline something new in the text: search with twitching, aching eyes for the tiniest little typos, for any sentences that flow poorly, for each plot hole.  And you have to fix them before you can read it again.

Sound boring?  That’s what editing is.  And editing is just one part of writing.

Please, for heaven’s sake, don’t belittle the hard work of writers.  Writing can be a fun hobby, and no writer would ever put in all that effort if they hated writing.  But it’s still work, and it’s tough.

4) Why don’t you just self publish?  It’s easier, and people make a fortune doing that!

Delivered in the snootiest, most all-knowing tone you can possibly muster.

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First of all, self-publishing is not easier.  Not if you want to actually make a profit.  Physically getting your words on the Internet with a price tag on them is relatively easy, sure.  But there are billions of books out there, and you now have to compete with Penguin, Harper Collins, Bloomsbury, and a hundred other massive publishing houses.  They have buckets of money (at least compared to you).  They have marketing experts, professional cover artists, editors, legal experts, and so many others, all ready to back up their writers.

And you?  You have you.  I hope you’re ready for a lot of work, because you have to single-handedly make up for the loss of a lot of people.

Getting traditionally published is tough, but for some people, it’s the best way.  Alternately …

5) Oh, you’re self published?  So you’re not really published then?

The choice to self or traditionally publish is entirely down to the writer.  Self publishing is real publishing.  It’s just different.

Some people (mystical unicorn people!) actually can handle doing all their own editing, cover art, and marketing–or they can afford to pay people to do it for them without joining an editing house.  And I tip my hat to those people.

Don’t be a publishing snob!

*

So, now you’re standing in front of that stranger at a cocktail party, eyes wide with panic, heart trying to claw its way up your throat, hoping to leap out your mouth and dive out the window to escape the awkwardness of this conversation.

There are so many things not to say.  What CAN you say to this person?

Well, I mean, you can say anything you want.  I’m not the conversation police.  I can’t leap in, sirens screaming, and arrest you with my finger guns.  But I can give you some friendly advice, about the absolute best thing to say when someone says they’re a writer.

It’s very simple.

What do you write?

Showing some simple interest in their writing is the kindest thing you can do for a person.  You’ll give us a chance to practise our wobbly elevator pitches, and opportunity to revitalise our own interest in our writing (because seriously, six drafts in, motivation is hard to come by).

Some of the best conversations I’ve had were with strangers–not when I told them about my writing, but when I let them tell me about theirs.  Their eyes light up.  They smile.  They remember why they wanted to tell this story, write that poem, create that video game.

And if the writer in question turns out to be a total, unapologetic arse, and you end up wishing you’d never asked?  Well, at least now you also know a few things that’ll really, seriously piss ’em off.

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