Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Friday, October 25, 2013

How to procrastinate [like a successful author]

Career authors are weird creatures. Female or male, young or old, seasoned or relatively new, they have strange habits that are rarely found in the general population. They are so unusual one can find articles in the The Guardian about their habits.

They keep strange hours. They eat peculiar foods. Their personal relationships are often the most curious within any community. Even their taste in music and other arts is a bit off the wall.

When new writers start to court the possibility of turning professional, and taking up writing books as a career, these things begin to gnaw. Will they have to adopt strange and unusual behaviours? Will they alienate family and friends? Will they have to keep their money in a sock? Now let me say right away that being a career author does not necessarily mean that one drops all other occupations. On the contrary - you will find it's necessary to hold on to anything else that provides regular money. A career author can also be a career accountant. Or teacher. Or roof tiler. Or magazine layout artist.

A career author is one who habitually and compulsively argues about writing, thinks about writing, writes about writing, obsesses about writing, and occasionally writes. One of the habits most writers take up is drinking addicting liquids, eating addicting foods, and finding ways to avoid writing.

Yes, I've finally arrived at the P word. Procrastination is one of the weird habits one must adopt if one is to be considered a career writer. Even though there are those among us who shame the rest with a productive stream of publications - startling evidence which is hard to refute - they too go through phases of extreme lethargy when it comes to writing. And extreme energy when it comes to finding pursuits with which to distract themselves. Any and all chores and tasks become attractive. Washing the car, weeding, photographing insects that stray into the house, or sketching wild animals visible from the safe perimeter of their fences, whittling whistles, rearranging the sock drawer ... there is not a writer on earth who will not recognize this behaviour and nod.

Knowing how to procrastinate is the territory, the bailiwick, the province of the writer. There must be some manual somewhere that shows them how. To save you the search, here are just a handful of tips, which will bring you safely and without confusion into the realm of the career author.

1. Make lists of non-urgent household tasks to promote to very urgent the instant you have time to write.
2. Invite, attract, and allow family members into your study at all times of day.
3. Permanently switch off the message-taking or voice-mail function on all your phones.
4. Acquire a fledgling pet that needs intense full-time care, or have a baby.
5. I won't even mention social media. [Oops - does that count?]
6. Grow vegetables and keep chickens.
7. Knit socks.

With these points in mind, it should never be impossible to avoid procrastination again. You will not feel uncomforable telling people you are an author, because your habits will surely confirm you could not possibly be anything else.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

The democratization of publishing

Anyone can busk. I could take a ukelele out to the mall tomorrow, and having paid for my spot, can strum away to my heart's content. But perhaps not to the contentment of the hearts of those who stop to listen ... or hurry quickly away.

Because you see, I can't play the ukelele.

The book world has become a mall in which many are strumming an instrument they cannot yet play. New writers are there practising, and some readers might stop to 'listen', and even throw in a coin as encouragement. Some might not even notice that these newbies can't play, which is fine. It's okay for people to entertain each other at any level.

So what, you ask - is it acceptable for sub-standard writing and amateurish books to flood the market, to be bought by unsuspecting readers? Well - the answer is complicated and far too complex to put inside one of these blog boxes, but the short answer is yes.

Yes! Yes? Yes - when an industry is democratized, anyone can play. Writing and reading do not make much noise, so it's all right to 'busk', even if you still not have achieved 'the' standard, something that used to be decided by gatekeepers before all this democratization began. When something is democratized, it is by definition decided by the people. In this case, the people who read and buy books. The process is known to us - we vote. We also vote with our wallets when we purchase books, and we buy what we want. It's not so hard to find out if a book reaches our standards.

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Democratization reduces something to its most useful level. So the factor, the criterion by which books are regarded now, is UTILITY. If readers feel a book is useful to them, for reasons of entertainment, edification, or education, they buy it. Your book, dear literary busker, is graded, rated and ranked only by this expedient. But ... but this is economics, you cry in disgust.

Very, very basic economics, I'm afraid. Because in addition to not being able to play a ukelele, I cannot do much with economics, maths, or metal work. I am useless at sailing too. But I can write a mean book. I have written and published several, all on my own. I'm an independent author who has been 'busking' for some time. And amazingly, people stay to listen, because by their judgement, and no one else's, they regard my books to be useful to them. Because no one else has decided but me whether the books are 'good', or 'ready to go', it's up to readers to decide whether they want them.

Democracy is probably not perfect, but it's the only system that works well for decisions that involve transactions and interactions between people. It might just work for creating, buying, and selling books. Because you see, it is perfectly possible to walk away.

Tell me what you think about the concept of utility and democratization of industries.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Why a novella?

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Writing a novella is not the same as writing a short story. Nor is it quite like writing a short novel. It's a form that needs special attention, and it can be a bit tricky, especially if - like me - the author is used to writing tidily within one specific form.

I usually write long novels - they are full of references, the research can be intense and time-consuming, and the writing style is very intricate and complex. The characters are well-defined and sculptured, and the locations play an important part. There is also quite a bit of subtlely built-in back story.

I also write short fiction, and in my early days as a writer did cultivate quite a following in that form. I won several prizes and commendations for stories, and had scores published in magazines and journals.

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The novella eluded me, because I did not understand it well. I'm still grappling with its subtle aspects. Level of detail, depth of characters, descriptions of places, atmospheres, and things... hm. It can be quite challenging.

The novel depends on subplots. The short story hardly has any. The novella ...?
The novel depends on back story. The short story merely hints at it. The novella ...?

I had to sit and think about just those two aspects, and I definitely had to read a few novellas. And then I thought I hit on it and wrote Inverted Delusion, a historical novella about the infancy of photography in Belgium, which went through several rewrites and several resurrections, until I got it to the form it's now in, and it enjoys moderate sales.

The Latin Cushion was a sharp and angular departure, both in form and in writing style for me. It's a detective novella which takes place in current-day Perth, my city of residence, which I have never written about before. It's also a genre in which I have little experience. So on all counts this is a new venture for me.

A detective who works in the Perth western suburbs was created in my head when I started looking for a protagonist. He is fully-formed now, but it took quite a while to decide about character, build, attitude, back story, and working style. I also had to think of some sort of weakness or flaw which makes fictional characters human and interesting.

I had Cloud Maslin (and his strange name) in about a week of concentrated scribbling and thinking. And now he - and his first case - are available to read with a brand new cover and a fully-fleshed story of over 20,000 words. I invite you to try this for size, quite literally.

If you are a writer, tell me if you have ever attempted a novella, and if you have, how is it faring in sales and opinions from your readers?

If you are a reader, what do you think of the novella as an entertaining and satisfying form to read?