If there were a university course for freelancers

Actually, there are elements of the freelance life in existing courses: I’ve been booked to talk to students about writing for a living. But The Freelancer website’s Danielle Corcione has written a funny, incisive and rather smart prospectus for a proper course. It begins with a module on Self-Care for Emotionally Unstable Writers before it goes into practical issues of money.

Have a read. By the end, you’d sign up for this course if she ever really ran it.

A year in the making: new blogging book for writers

Cover of The Blank Screen: Blogging guide for writers

Buy The Blank Screen: Blogging guide for writers on Amazon

Previously we’ve all faced the blank screen and we’ve filled it with our writing – now it’s time to blog and to blog right. The Blank Screen: Blogging is the writers’ guide to creating a blog, keeping it going and getting an audience. More than that: it’s how to do it all in a way that you’ll enjoy. Because you know this: if you enjoy something you’re writing, that comes through to your readers.

Buy The Blank Screen: Blogging right now on Amazon.

Look me in the eye

Let me guess. Either you keep hearing that you should be writing a blog and you’ve resisted – or you tried one and it was hell. Floundered. You haven’t looked at it in ages and anyway, blogs are dead, Twitter is where it’s at now.

Yes. Twitter is where all the storm of bloggers rushed to and are now happily playing around. Thank goodness. For ages there when blogs where the Next Big Thing, everyone had a blog whether or not they should have. Most were technically perfect with every whizzy web feature you’ve ever heard of and most you’ve never bothered to use. But what they didn’t have is the thing you do.

You’re a writer. By far, by infinitely far the majority of kitten-picture-fan bloggers are not and so, okay, we got some pictures of kittens. We just got nothing else and it was impossible to see blogs as anything but an ego trip for the writer. Certainly they weren’t for the readers.

Cue you. Whatever type of writing you do, however deeply introspective you have to get in order to write it, you are a writer and you write for audiences. That doesn’t just make you qualified to write a blog, it means you will create one that is worth reading.

The reason you keep getting told that you need a blog is that you need your audiences to connect to you but if you write one of those fatuously egotistical blogs, they’ll only come once. I want you to get audiences, I want those audiences to go through your blog to your other writing but I’m also selfish. As much as I’m thinking of you as the writer, I’m thinking of me as a reader: I want to read interesting blogs. I just happen to know that this means I want to read you.

If you’ve already got a blog that you loathed and abandoned, come read my book and you’ll not only revive it, you’ll enjoy reviving it. Honest. If you haven’t done one yet then great, we can start afresh. That does mean starting afresh with the very few technical questions about blogging: there are things you need to know but I want you to know them quickly so that we can get on with the real job and start writing.

The Blank Screen: Blogging has all that technical advice but you will learn that so quickly. It’s really much more about how to create a blog that works for you because it works for your readers. How the blog our editors and commissioners and agents want from us is a fast route to putting off your readers and making you wish you’d got an ordinary job. How exploiting that writer brain of yours is the faster route to a blog you’ll enjoy so much it will take over your writing life.

Okay, we’ll stop it before it gets that good. But only just.

Read how some of the best bloggers walk that line, how some of them have created entire new worlds for themselves with book deals and entire online communities. And read how some of the very finest bloggers write to express and to explore issues that grow them as writers.

Go get the book, okay? There’s a paperback and Kindle edition for the UK right here and the same for the USA over there.

The morning routines of writers

There’s a website called My Morning Routine and it collects people’s accounts of how they start their typical working days. For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on yet tickles me, the site includes more writers than any other profession. Maybe everyone else is getting on with their day instead of writing about it.

But I took a stroll through the collection and found this pull quote from writer Amber Rae. I’ve not heard of her before and I was drawn to her section only by the description that she is a ‘fire starter’. I’m glad I looked now because her account is headed by this, which I do very much recognise:

For many years, my morning routine was a result of how other people expected me to show up. I was overwhelmed and off-center because I was ignoring the messages my body was sending me.
My Morning Routine – Amber Rae, My Morning Routine (25 March 2015)

Read the full piece of hers plus, currently 58 other writers and more ordinary people.

Developer on why you should and how you can write in Evernote

The Evernote blog is always very heavily pushing the use of this software – you’re understand but, still, it could lighten up once in a while – but amongst the sales talk there are good ideas. Here’s one on how this software is great for writers. I’m a writer and I use Evernote extensively. Can’t say it’s my favourite writing tool but the suggestions in this are good and also short.

In the late 1940s, Jack Kerouac wrote his iconic Beat-era novel “On the Road” in a series of notebooks. In 1951, he typed the manuscript out on a continuous 120-foot scroll of paper. It took him three weeks and, as legend has it, a friend’s dog ate the original ending.

More than six decades later, the laptop holds court where the typewriter once reigned. We still carry trusty notebooks, but now we can easily digitize the words within to keep them safe. The tools have evolved, but the need to turn ideas into written words is still vital to work and life.

Evernote is a boon for writers of every stripe. Even a few low-tech Luddites we know use it in tandem with their handwritten words. Here’s how it can support your writerly efforts…

Put it in Writing: Be a Better Writer With Evernote – Kristina Hjelsand, Evernote Blog (14 May 2015)

The first tip also links out to how Neil Gaiman uses Evernote so, okay, they’re not kidding.

Read the full piece.

Ulysses for iPad is here

Cue frustrated Scrivener users switching. Ulysses and Scrivener for Mac are both writing environments – more than word processors, they provide tools for gathering research and using it in books and scripts and stories – but as of today, only one of them is on the iPad.

It’s a big deal and it’s made bigger by the fact that Ulysses for iPad is good. I’m doing a full review for MacNN.com but my impressions after a few days with the beta are all positive. Ulysses for iPad is Ulysses for Mac, on an iPad. It looks the same, works the same and so far all the features I’ve been trying are the same.

In comparison, Scrivener for iPad has been promised for years. There is reason to think it will come soon but it’s proved a longer job than expected. Presumably it’s because it’s a very difficult job: you don’t just want Scrivener or Ulysses on iPad, you need them to work with their Mac counterparts. You want to be able to pick up your iPad and continue writing something you began on your Mac.

That means documents being the same all the time, being synced across the platforms. But with Scrivener, one single document is really a collection of many parts. Keeping everything together and everything mobile has tasked the Scrivener people.

Ulysses has managed it. It’s not really the same thing, the two applications are not really that similar, but the existence of this iPad version is a huge win for Ulysses.

Check it out on the App Store.

How books shape writers in unexpected ways

Quick: who is this?

just finished “Moby-Dick,” which scared me off for a long time due to the hype of its difficulty. I found it to be a beautiful boy’s adventure story and not that difficult to read. Warning: You will learn more about whales than you have ever wished to know. On the other hand, I never wanted it to end. Also, “Love in the Time of Cholera,” by Gabriel García Márquez. It simply touched on so many aspects of human love.

Who is your favorite novelist of all time, and your favorite novelist writing today?

I like the Russians, the Chekhov short stories, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. I never read any of them until the past four years, and found them to be thoroughly psychologically modern. Personal favorites: “The Brothers Karamazov” and, of course, “Anna Karenina.”

Bruce Springsteen: By the Book – (no author listed), New York Times (2 November 2014)

Bugger. The link there gives it away. That’s Bruce Springsteen listing and discussing the books that shaped and stay with him. I just think it’s interesting how the books you remember are the ones that define you. Read the full piece. And also take a look at Brain Pickings, which spotted this, and would now be on my all-time website reading list.

Starting now – Inkspill online writing retreat

Welcome to INKSPILL 2014, here is the programme of what’s coming up over the weekend. Remember you can follow in real time (GMT) or just dip in at your leisure.

If you are currently working on a writing project or preparing for NaNoWriMo, then gather your notes and start by giving yourself some time to write.

INKSPILL 2014 – Programme of Events | awritersfountain

I’m one of the contributors to this and my bits are on this afternoon. But read the whole programme and get writing, okay?

You’re still on your own

Earlier this year I wrote a piece called You’re On Your Own and It’s Necessary. I did it over on my personal blog, Self Distract, but it so belonged here that I nicked it for the book Filling the Blank Screen.

The point of it was that we naturally turn to others when we are hoping to do something new but those others naturally hold us back. It’s a sticky subject and a rocky road but we do make ourselves into the people we are and our friends tend to be ten minutes behind us while our families can be years and years behind us.

What I recommended in the piece was that you seek out people who are doing what you want to do and you ask them about it. They are naturally going to be biased: if it’s worked for them, they will be enthusiastic and if it hasn’t, they’ll be over-enthusiastic to cover that they were wrong. But still right or wrong, genuine or false, real or not, they are speaking from experience.

I keep thinking and thinking about a writer I hired once. This was a very long time ago and what specific details I can remember, I can’t tell you. But let’s say he had a very specific niche he wrote in. That’s what I hired him for and he was fine, I was happy with the piece. We chatted away during the process, though, and he told me that he’d discussed this niche with his wife and they are concluded that he needed to invest in rather a lot of specialised equipment so that he was able to write from authority. I can picture that conversation, I’ve had that conversation, and it scares me.

Here were two smart people discussing something crucial to their futures. And I don’t know, but I had the impression his wife wasn’t a writer and wasn’t in this specialised niche. So her best source of information about it was her husband.

And I thought he was wrong.

This specialised equipment was expensive and it changes a lot, he would be spending a lot of money now and then regularly spending a lot more. I wasn’t sure there was enough interest in this specialism to earn him much money writing about it. He got that article out of me but I never returned to the topic while I was on that magazine.

I just think a lot about this pair discussing and deciding their futures based on a possibly false premise. I think about it a lot. I think about it especially when having potentially similar conversations with my wife, Angela. We discuss everything and I need her, I don’t feel I know something until I’ve got her take on it.

But very many times she will be working from only what I’ve told her. What if I’m wrong?

And I am wrong, of course, I am wrong often. Such as when I started writing this to you and I had an idea that I wanted to explore certain things. It was going to be all about that previous article – it was recently picked up by another site and I’ve had head-jerkingly gorgeous comments on it – and it was going to be about more. I was thinking about how when we write for places we can be deeply embedded there yet we can also be outsiders.

I was going to explore that as a way of baring my soul a bit to you. Making myself uncomfortable about it because I’m working with about ten groups and organisations and eight of them are making me feel terribly important, terribly good. But that leaves two where I am and I feel that I am an outsider.

I was going to examine why this was affecting me when I’m a writer and I am self-employed: I really belong only and solely to my own group, my own company. I was thinking about how you go native and it can colour how you see things.

But instead I went off into this business of whether I am wrong, whether we are wrong, ultimately whether we can ever be right. That cuts closer to me than even this inclusion/exclusion topic that is so on my mind this weekend. And I know that you’re finding it a bit miserable. I can see it in you.

You’re wrong.

Yes, we can end up making our decisions based on faulty or incomplete premises. We can certainly put too much on the shoulders of our partners even as we deny them impartial or better sources of information. But isn’t that life?

And isn’t that actually rather good? Scary, sure, but also alive.

I was with someone today who was going to a music festival specifically to find out what it was like, in fact going in order to have gone. She was planning it like mad, she spoke of finding out the rules when she gets there. I’ve never been to a music festival but it seems to me that the point of it, beyond hopefully enjoying the music, is to dive in without a plan, without all that much thought, and just swim.

It reminded me of a line in Doctor Who where Christopher Eccleston, performing a Russell T Davies script, says to a new companion that:

“The thing is, Adam, time travel is like visiting Paris. You can’t just read the guidebook, you’ve got to throw yourself in. Eat the food, use the wrong verbs, get charged double and end up kissing complete strangers – or is that just me?”

It gets harder. It really gets harder. But without deliberately making bad choices, without deliberately deluding yourself, take the impossibility of predicting the future as an excuse, as a reason, to go make as many futures as you can.

Elmore Leonard’s other rules for writing

So here’s the thing. Elmore Leonard wrote a lot of seemingly very visual novels but he’s somehow been really poorly served by the film and TV dramatisations of his work. Consequently I think he’s underrated but one thing that has made him a star with writers is his famous list of 10 Rules for us.

Here’s that list in the New York Times and if you don’t know it, it’s more interesting that what I’ve got for you now.

But if you do know it, take a look at this. This is a video of actor Timothy Olyphant – star of perhaps the best Leonard dramatisation, the series Justified – reading from the novel Swag. It’s a section about two criminals and includes Elmore Leonard’s rules for being criminals. I think it’s equal parts fascinating and revealing that there is so much crossover in his two lists of rules;

Hat tip to The Atlantic.