Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Where authors get their inspiration

Every now and then, I get visually inspired. It does not happen often, but it did just now, and I must tell everyone. I used to think I was only inspired by words. Most of my writing came from a line or two I read somewhere, or something somebody said.

I can write whole chapters from a line I find in a magazine, a poem, or even an advert. I don't use the words themselves, but they are what opens the floodgates for thousands of more words to come into my head. No, not even my head... sometimes I feel they are in my fingers, and just get typed out.

Today, a strange thing happened. I saw a picture by Rembrandt called The Philosopher's Meditation. It is one of those rare pictures of that great master's that are not very well known. Most people can conjure a mental picture of his self-portraits, but this one is a rare one. And it immediately gave me a trigger, a flow of words that would just come if I let them. I'll let them presently, after I finish this.

So please, imagine me writing, writing, writing - and have a look at what set it all off. Those stairs - those spiral wooden risers and treads - are so Dutch. One can imagine the tall narrow house in which they serpent upward and downward. It's a mysterious painting, and no doubt the piece I write will try to convey that sense of mystery. The sense of those times when nightfall brought the necessity of lighting one's way. The failing light coming through the window makes the woman on the right stir the fire and soon, she will be lighting yellow candles that smell of tallow and beeswax.

I must stop right there... this is not the right place to put it all down. Watch this space, and I shall tell you if I got anywhere with this visual prompt.

And do let me know what sets you writing. Are you blessed with visual ability, a nice link between your eyes and your creative brain? Or do you need music? Smells and tastes, we know - not only from Proust - are very powerful triggers. What are yours?
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Sunday, February 20, 2011

How to learn from other writers

You get to the point, as a writer, where you feel a bit jaded. You feel you have jumped through so many hoops that it's started to irk. You feel you have seen every version of a sentence... and daily writing starts to feel like a sentence. Of a very imprisoning kind.

ANZauthors website
Then you do something on a pure whim, and you are on a learning curve again. It happened this week. I volunteered to set up a website for the members at ANZauthors, a Yahoo discussion group that has been going strong for many years now. From the minute I dusted off my HTML tools, I started to learn. Not about how to make a website - I do it the easy way, and Yola helps with that. No, no - I started to learn from my writer friends. It was a refresher course in a way: a reminder about versatility, determination, novelty and guts.

Guts? Oh yes - one needs guts to be an author, especially today. My colleagues on ANZauthors showed me better than ever before how there are more than a dozen ways to approach the world of publishing. How one can never stop learning. How it's vital to understand what readers want. How one can never let go of empathy, understanding, generosity and purpose. How small egos matter in the world of big ideas and big money. How technology is a tool rather than an enemy. How family features in what a writer thinks and does.

I think I learned more this week than I had in the whole preceding year, and it's bound to get into my writing. It is bound to affect how I think about the human condition. As I slowly put the site together, I read each individual author's biography, blurbs, and helpful articles for writers, and I picked up tips any jaded writer would do well to read.

I learned how sometimes, being an author is something some people do DESPITE what is happening in their lives, to their families, or to their health. I also learned that some books are written BECAUSE of what some writers have experienced in a first-hand way. It is amazing how much fiction can come from a set of very real circumstances.

All the authors at ANZauthors are very busy people, and between them, they have published a number of great books (yes, and a great number of books). Do visit the new site: ANZauthors and witness, as I did, the incredible creativity that comes from applied determination, talent, and inspiration, which amounts to a lot of very hard work.

Let me know what you think below. What ingredients do you think are invaluable to an author?
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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Publishing with CreateSpace

Publishing is getting easier and easier. Writers everywhere are discovering that the interface between them and their readers is now more direct. It is possible to build a readership without the traditional expedients of agent or publisher.

Even for traditionally published authors, this new directness has a number of benefits and possible uses. Out of print volumes can be resurrected, and short pieces can be published in slim volumes that used to be commercially not feasible.

For these easily-managed books, an author can resort to putting out self-published editions that do surprisingly well for some. Using CreateSpace, which is the self-publishing arm run by, is one option. Having tried it myself for a small volume, I can say that the experience is not unpleasant.

I took a novella, which I had already made available as an eBook, and added four bonus short stories which were compatible in theme, tenor and narrative style. I then spent a lot of time formatting the text and illustrations on MSWord. (I use the 2010 version). Using the page size I chose on CreateSpace, I worked to get each page as close to perfect as I could. I read advice about fonts, margins, using pictures and pagination on various sites I googled. There is a lot of information available, and most of it is useful. I then converted the pages into PDF format using the 'Save As' facility in Word. It worked! Proofing the PDF is essential: I had to do the conversion process three times before I was happy with the result.

Designing the cover was also pleasantly simple. I chose one of the templates at CreateSpace and personalized it using the number of options offered. It took time, because I wanted a cover that would be compatible in colour and character with my other books.

I then let everything rest for a day, for two reasons. One was a raging head cold. The other was the necessity of viewing the manuscript and the cover with a fresh eye. Needless to say, I discovered half a dozen errors I could not have picked with streaming eyes, between sneezes. A pair of tired eyes 'used' to a manuscript will see what they want to see, not what's actually there.

I spent an enormous amount of time reading the benefits and disadvantages of self-publishing with Amazon's CreateSpace. It is not for every author, neither is it for every book. Decisions must be made about pricing, distribution and management of sales - not to mention royalties and taxes - that could be different for each individual book. So what seemed beneficial for me, and the title I was working with at the time, might not apply to my next book, or to another writer with a similar book. Each title must be considered carefully.

That is part of the advice I have that comes from my experience. Authors need to examine the benefits and options available, and apply them to each single and individual title. There are disadvantages tied in with every single choice one makes. Sometimes they are negligible, sometimes considerable. Caution, and reading fine print, are recommended. Just because I chose CreateSpace this time, for this title, does not mean I can do it again without thinking, for another book.

An author needs to ask: What do I want for this book? Who do I think will read it? Is it a book I want to make money from, or is it a potboiler? Does this kind of distribution fit my needs, and access my audience, wherever I think it is? Is tax an issue?

The so-called revolution in publishing is doing a number of things. It is separating the concept we had of 'the book' into at least three streams. Books ain't books any more, just as oils ain't oils. All authors and readers ought to examine what they think they know, and how they think it's all changing, and take each step in the publishing journey as carefully as possible. The mistakes one makes can be written up as experience, because there is a lot to learn.

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