Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Untapped Potential of Blogging


Recently I’ve had a few conversations with people about this subject, and although blogging is something that seems normal to me now, these conversations have made me realise how relatively new the idea of the blogosphere still is. 

I love blogging. I love reading people’s blogs; I love writing my own blog; I love connecting with other people; I love finding out all I can about this industry I want to be a part of. I think the blogosphere is an amazing resource - so many industries have a blogging niche these days. 

However, despite the massive potential the blogosphere holds, it amazes me how little people know about blogging and the benefits it can bring. I’m talking not only about the older generation here, but the younger generation too. 

I’ve repeatedly tried to convince one of my writer friends to start blogging. I’ve told her how much I’ve learned, how beneficial it has been to me, and yet she’s never really caught on. I have no idea why not. To me, it seems crazy when you want to get into a profession – particularly one like writing – not to do your research. She wants to publish in the future, yet it was down to me to explain to her how publishing works, and I could only do that due to the amount of time I’ve spent reading blogs from agents, editors, authors and writers who know the ins and outs of this industry. 

I’m certainly not saying this to criticise my friend. It’s her choice if she doesn’t want to blog, and I’m sure she’ll do her research in the future. But I believe in being prepared. There’s a lot of fun in blogging – I wouldn’t blog if I didn’t enjoy it. But there’s also the potential to create a platform. Writers don’t just write books. They go on book tours, they go to conventions, and they are expected to have some sort of internet presence. A lot more is expected of writers than there used to be. With such an amazing resource as the blogosphere, as well as these growing expectations, I can’t comprehend why you wouldn’t want to get involved in it. 

Blogging is also quite misunderstood. Last week my dad asked me: what is blogging? I think he was under the impression that blogging involved people writing about themselves and their lives. This of course is true. But blogging can be so much more than that. It’s communicating with people around the world; it’s discovering the thoughts and opinions of industry insiders; it’s a way to keep up with specific news. There is a whole other dimension to blogging that people don’t see, and I think that’s a shame. 

Finally, I come to my last example. As I’ve said before, this summer I’m volunteering in my local library, and I was speaking to one of the other volunteers. She is only sixteen, but I was speaking to her about blogging and what a great resource it is when researching potential careers. She admitted she wouldn’t know what to blog about, but like my dad I explained to her that blogging offered so much more than simply speaking about your everyday life. I think it’s important that more people become aware of blogging, particularly as it’s becoming an ever increasingly powerful source in regards to building up careers and discovering information. 

To conclude, the point of this post is to express my incredulity that bloggers are still very much in the minority. It doesn’t seem that way, not when millions of people are connected to sites such as Blogger and Wordpress, alongside paid for domains. I also realise I’m preaching to the choir a little here – if you’re reading this obviously you too are amongst the blogger minority! – but I wanted to share my thoughts on this, and see whether anybody else found this surprising too. I definitely think more people should become involved with blogging. The blogosphere can only get bigger, and I for one am going to do everything I can to see that come true. 

Have you encountered this problem in regards to blogging before? Do you think more people should get involved?

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

What Keeps You Reading?


I’ve seen a lot going around the blogosphere recently about beginnings; what with the Hooker/Hanger Blogfest and some bloggers recently revealing their own personal experiences with writing beginnings, I thought I’d address that issue today.

What is it that keeps us reading? I think there are many reasons, and I would love to hear your thoughts as to what keeps you reading. 

There is something to be said for a powerful first line. A hook. We all want to open a book and straight away be impressed. An author’s job is to get the reader to read. You have a much better chance at that if you begin well. An example of a somewhat unforgettable first line I’ve encountered comes from Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies

‘The early summer sky was the colour of cat vomit’.

It’s unusual. It’s jarring. It’s a little funny. We also get a hint of the protagonist’s emotions – you certainly don’t describe anything as ‘cat vomit’ if you’re in a happy mood, so instantly we’re aware there’s some sort of conflict or issue which might be impacting the protagonist. It’s a little outside the box, but personally I think it works. 

But saying that, I don’t think that the first line is the be-all and end-all. I wouldn’t put down a book just because I didn’t think the first line was good enough. So let’s focus on the first couple of paragraphs. They might give you an insight into setting, character dynamic, conflict. They should more than anything entice you to read more. A good example of this, in my eyes, is the first two paragraphs from Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood which I finished reading last week:

‘In the early morning Toby climbs up to the rooftop to watch the sunrise. She uses a mop handle for balance: the elevator stopped working some time ago and the back stairs are slick with damp, and if she slips and topples there won’t be anyone to pick her up.

As the first heat hits, mist rises from among the swatch of trees between her and the derelict city. The air smells faintly of burning, a smell of caramel and tar and rancid barbeques, and the ashy but greasy smell of a garbage-dump fire after it’s been raining. The abandoned towers in the distance are like the coral of an ancient reef – bleached and colourless, devoid of life’.

We as a reader get so much from these first two paragraphs. We know that Toby is alone in a decaying building. We get a feeling for the setting; Atwood engages are senses; we know that something isn’t right in this world, a world which has already been depicted as ‘devoid of life’. There may not be conflict or action, but we get a sense of this broken world which has yet to be explained to us, and that alone is what keeps me reading. 

Sometimes I’ll make it all the way through the first chapter without making a judgement as to whether I want to continue reading or not. Readers aren’t bought on the first page – they have to be held. There’s nothing to stop a reader putting down a book, no matter how far along they are – I know I’ve put down books when I’ve been a quarter of the way, half way, and even three quarters of the way through. If they stop enticing me, I’m gone. I’ll find something new to read. But if the plot is engaging, if I like the characters, if the conflict is good, if the book is well written, I’ll keep reading. It only takes a couple of these things to be off, and they can lose me as a reader.

So tell me. What keeps you reading? Or conversely, what makes you stop reading a book? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

A Note on Disappointment and Pressing On

I'm posting this from my phone, so apologies for any mistakes! This post is a little anecdotal, but I promise it is somewhat related to writing.

I'm currently on holiday, and it's something I've been looking forward to for quite some time. However, there has been plenty which has gone wrong. The weather has been temperamental to say the least (I am on holiday in Britain after all), and I've managed to come down with an awful illness which has been really getting me down.

It's so disappointing when things don't turn out how you've planned. But this experience is simply a reminder that I can't predict nor guess at what the future will hold. That can apply for simple things, such as what my health will be like when I'm on holiday, or more serious things such as what the future will hold.

I do plan on being a published writer in the future. But there will be a lot of disappointment; a lot of rejection; a lot of things not turning out as planned. I can't say it isn't upsetting or that it never gets me down, because that simply isn't true. I am disappointed that I haven't been able to enjoy my holiday as much as possible because of the weather and being ill. But there isn't much I can do. I can only press on, and hope for the best. And that goes for my writing career too.

Have you had a disappointing, unexpected experience lately? I sincerely hope you haven't, but if you have, you know what they say: misery loves company!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Character Voice


I think getting character voice right is a hard one, particularly when you’re first starting to write a character. 

I’m in the midst of writing my aforementioned new project; it’s YA like most of my stuff and the main character is sixteen. However I’m finding myself questioning whether a sixteen year old would talk the way I’m writing her, and whether she really would be having the kind of thought processes that she is.

Let me explain some of the reasoning behind this self-doubt. My first novel, a YA also, had a protagonist who was sixteen. I was sixteen at the time of writing, so I didn’t really have any doubts about the voice. Then months and months later when I sent my novel off to some people for critiquing after extensive edits, a few people came back to me saying that the voice sounded far too old for a YA. One person even said my protagonist sounded like she was twenty six! Needless to say, that isn’t really ideal when writing for a teenage audience. 

So I’m putting it to you: what do you think? Should I go with my gut and write what I feel is right, or should I think more carefully about it? Also, have any of you ever had a similar problem? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

A Progress Report in Writing and Reading


Yesterday morning I woke up from a dream, and I realised that the dream had an incredible premise. As a result, I found that I desperately had to write about it. This means I’m finally writing again!

It feels good to be writing again. It’s been quite a few months and it’s nice to get back my creativity and lose myself in somebody else’s world for a while. I’ve already written 2500 words and I hope to write more in the days to come. 

I don’t know where this idea will lead. I have no concept of whether this will turn out to be a short story, a novella or even a full blown novel. For some reason, I feel like this will be a stand-alone, which is unusual for me since I don’t usually write stand-alones. Perhaps this idea won’t go anywhere at all. But needless to say, I’m excited for the prospect, and I hope that good things come of it!

Also, I’ve read a few books since my Pure Review. I finished Remains Of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, which I have to say I enjoyed much more than I thought I would. It was a very real and moving novel, and I’m glad I read Remains Of The Day first instead of his more well known novel, Never Let Me Go. Though saying that, I am planning to read Never Let Me Go soon. 

I also read To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, which I mentioned on my last post Changes In Reading. I’m glad I stuck with it, as I enjoyed it more by the end than I had in the beginning. I think it’s one of those books I’m going to have to read twice to fully appreciate, seeing as the first part had far more significance once I read the second and third parts. 

I’m currently reading Catch-22 by Joseph Heller which I picked up from my local library on a whim, and I’m really enjoying it! Hopefully I’ll have read that by the end of the week, and I can get started on The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. 

Have you had any ideas from unexpected places recently? Or, if you haven’t, what are some of your summer reads?

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Changes In Reading


I’ve been thinking about this a lot during the last week or so due to particular events and blog posts, and I thought I’d share my thoughts on the matter. 

I think we as readers have changed massively. Before the internet and television and video games came about, there wasn’t a lot to do in the way of entertainment (at least compared to our standards of entertainment). This changing technology has definitely reflected on us as readers, and thus on writers too. In order to keep up with the changing nature of readers, writers have had to exploit new methods, new ways of writing, to keep us all interested. 

In our technology 24/7 world, we’re used to instant gratification. How can we not be? There are so many sources of entertainment for us, the choice is almost ridiculous. So suffice to say, writers have had to make their writing more instantly gratifying in some ways simply to compete as a source of entertainment for us. 

I want to reference this post on Rachelle Gardener’s blog, by guest blogger Mike Duran. He looks at how reading has changed and how readers are forced to work less compared to books written decades ago; he also discusses how this is still in some respects true with literary fiction. He says: ‘among other things, the electronic age has heightened our expectations of a given media and lowered the requirement of participation’. I think this is completely true. Again, this goes back to the need for instant gratification; we’re so used to it, why would we as readers think any differently? 

Another point to make is how this is impacting on places like libraries and young readers. I’m volunteering at my local library this summer, and I was talking to one of the library staff, who had been working at the library for over thirty years. We ended up speaking about how hard it is to get children reading. This is a challenge enough in itself (I went through a phase of hating reading when I was young), but it’s becoming so much harder now the library has PS3s, Nintendo DS’, the internet and children’s television to compete with. Reading is becoming less and less obvious as a source of entertainment, and children have excuses to read less and less.

I’m currently reading To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. And I have to say, reading this was the biggest influence for me to write this post. Because honestly, I’m finding it a very hard task. There definitely isn’t any instant gratification with this. It’s a novel which focuses purely on the thought tracks and actions of a normal family and their friends on holiday by a lighthouse. By today’s standards, it is quite tedious. I’m determined to get through it, but it’s hard. When you think that To The Lighthouse was written in 1927, and the writing style was seen to be quite radical in the context of the time, you can see a lot has changed. 

Reading has changed remarkably over the last century, and so have we both as readers and writers. We live in a different world compared to the one Virginia Woolf lived in, and that shows in our literature. 

Do you agree that our culture of instant gratification has changed us as readers? Have you had similar difficulties when reading classical novels? 

*

I was awarded me with the Fabulous Blog Ribbon Award, so thank you Bonnee

In order to accept this award you have to:

1. Post the rules on your blog.
2. Name five of your most fabulous moments either in real life or in the blogosphere.
3. Name five things you love.
4. Name five things you hate.
5. Pass the ribbon on to five other bloggers – I can never choose with things like this, so if you want to do the award, feel free!

Five fabulous moments

1.      The moment I finished my first ever novel draft. It was two in the morning and I was crying with pride. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a writer
2.      Waking up to see a large boost in page views. Even if people don’t comment, it’s lovely to see people visiting Between The Grey!
3.      Hopefully a future fabulous moment – receiving my A level grades in August and finding out I’m going to university
4.      Finding out my close friend was a writer too. It’s so nice to be able to go to somebody with my writer qualms, and know they understand
5.      Watching the kids I teach achieve their goals, and knowing that it was me who helped them get there. They continue to make me proud!

Five things I love 

1.      Karate. I’m actually a black belt in karate, and I’ve been doing it for over seven years, so this is definitely on my list!
2.      Writing (obviously)
3.      Reading (perhaps more obviously since I just wrote an entire post about reading)
4.      Sketching, even if I’m not very good by anyone’s standards
5.      Going on holiday. It’s so nice to get away and have a chance to clear your head for a few days 

Five things I hate

1.      I have to agree with Bonnee – spiders are awful!
2.      Writers’ block: the foe of all writers
3.      When I’m looking forward to something and it doesn’t meet my expectations, or if it doesn’t go to plan
4.      Being late. I get so panicked and flustered when I’m late, but thankfully it doesn’t happen often
5.      People being rude or having bad manners. It really grates on my nerves!