Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Decisions, Indecisions

The results of my recent check up are in, and it's official: there is nothing wrong with me, I'm simply a lazy slacker.

That's disappointing; I was so looking forward to skiving off of work for a few months with Epstein Bar or something. But just because I've been pronounced healthily, don't think I've turned into a bundle of energy. I'm still sleeping too much, and still looking at the long lists of things I need to do and thinking, "Sod it" and going off to have a drink and a cigar. One thing if I enjoyed it, but I keep feeling guilty that I'm not being productive.

My slackerliness (is that a word?) and state of distraction has been highlighted by something uncharacteristically useful I just read in my September issue of Writer's Digest. It was an interview with Cory Doctorow, and in it he said, if you're going to write, then 1) write, 2) finish what you write, and 3) submit what you finish. As he pointed out, if you do those things, you may still never succeed, but if you are not doing all three of them, then you are not a writer, just a person who occasionally does writerly type things.

Write, finish what your write, submit it to an editor; everything else is gravy.

So I guess, at present time, I am not a writer, which is the most likely reason for my malaise. I need to shake off the distractions and get back to basics, which is producing stuff I can submit. Oddly, everything was fine until the book came out, then all of a sudden I'm writing web-posts and marketing material and taking on columns and not producing anything I can submit to a publisher.

So I had to make a choice: unfortunately, at this time in my life, I do not have room for both ventures plus a full-time job, so am I going to continue to attempt to become the Bill Bryson of the South, or take what little writing time I have and dedicate it to stories, novels and articles I can at least submit, if not publish? The answer was obvious. It's not as if I'm making any headway in my bid for fame, so cutting back on the expat shtick in order to get back to producing some serious writing was a no-brainer.

Then BBC calls. Would I like to do an interview on BBC Oxford? So now I'm back doing the "accidental expat" shtick and trying to think of ways to capitalize on this small success.

Here's one: Have a listen – set the time line to 32.


It's only good for a week, so check it out soon.

Monday, August 17, 2009


I've been a bit distracted lately. Not that it's difficult to derail my attention span (oh, that's quite shiny!)

Now where was I? Sorry, I was distracted.

A few weeks ago, lot of things happened all at once and each got me thinking in a different direction. It all came out well the end, but it's been a tangential month.

First, I started getting offers for advertising on my blogs, which made me realize that:
     1) you don't have to be good or popular for people to want you to prostitute yourself, you just have to have been around a while, and
     2) I'm not in this for the money.

That second conclusion took a lot of thought, because it wouldn't have been a much work to pimp out my site and watch the money (pennies, I suspect) roll in, but that's not what I'm about (unless, of course, the price is right—I have principles, but I'm not stupid).

But this led me to thinking about what I was in it for, and I looked around at all the writing I was doing and thought, "Bugger this!" So I consolidated and pulled back and took a breather, hoping the idle time would recharge my batteries and leave me itching to write.

While I was waiting, a few incidents drew my attention to the fact that, although my ramblings are posted to a number of places on the web, I really do not write for the web, or, more specifically, what I do is not “web writing.”

Due to my years of writing for newspapers, my web posts generally run about 800 words, have a beginning, a middle and an end that ties back to the beginning; they are, in short, essays. So I began looking into the art of writing for the web, which means:

     - Short sentences

     - Bullet points

     - Lot's of white space

It’s USA Today style, but leaner. For people with even shorter attention spans. The ultimate expression of this, so far, is Twitter. I don’t want to go down that road. Consequently, I decided writing in “web speak” wasn’t for me.

So I continued waiting for my muse to return from holiday and thought, if I couldn’t write actual web-style prose, maybe I shouldn’t be doing all this web writing in the first place—I got into it mainly to promote my book but it’s getting a little out of hand lately—so maybe it's time to think about getting back to my novel and writing the type of prose I’m actually good at but then my writing magazine arrived in the post and I found yet another distraction: Googling the publishers of those people listed as having "published" a book to see if they had, in fact, self-published it.

This is something I started doing by accident and kept up after it became apparent that fully half of the people receiving congratulations on "publishing their first novel" had paid for it themselves. Congratulating someone for self-publishing a book is like congratulating someone for purchasing a new laptop; you're merely giving yourself an expensive gift.

I was gratified to find that, in this issue at least, each “published” author was, in fact, published.

However, I also found out that a new publishing company, Red Phone Publishing, is holding a contest wherein the winner gets a publishing contract. How exciting! The entry fee is £10 and you send in a description of your book, along with the first 50 pages of the manuscript and they let you know if they can publish it or not. They deserve a huge amount of credit for discovering how to charge unsuspecting writers for sending in a query package. Let’s hope other publishers don’t jump on this bandwagon.

I shouldn’t think they’d have to, as there are many other ways to bilking writers out of their money. UKUnpublished.com comes at the hopeful author with a barrage of “you’re getting a raw deal” hysteria, then tells them there is hope, then tells them how much they’ll have to pay them for it. Basically, they self-publish your book for you; you’re better off doing it yourself. It’s cheaper.

So did my examination of my writing magazine leave me depressed? No, not at all. It proved I could easily see through the machinations of people out to separate me from my money—these were not ads, they were articles about supposed “great deals” for writers—and the absence of self-published “new writers” meant there actually was hope.

But most of all, searching out these newly published authors accidentally provided me with a list of small to medium publishers, most of whom take unagented submissions and who, obviously, are willing to take a chance on an unpublished author.

Now that’s the sort of distraction I like.

Word Count: 800