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The more days that pass into my indie writing adventure, the more it becomes normality. Acclimatising to something is, I think, the beginning of becoming good at that thing. My normal is now typing, as I am now, in my spare time. Sometimes it’s while I’m out at work, waiting for a client to land or eat or meet or simply exit their house. Habits are forming.

A big part of what I do is promote myself. In fact, a few weeks ago, my managing editor told me that up to 80% of what I should be doing is promoting myself, with the remaining time taken up with writing or editing. I’d say, at the moment, that figure is closer to 70%.

I think that there is often a general distaste among ‘serious’ lit-fic writers with regard to platforms like Twitter or Instagram. I think when anyone starts out with an idea of being a writer they often have a romanticised picture in their head of the suffering, lone wolf toiling over a typewriter.

As an indie writer I have to throw off these kinds of ideas. I have to engage with the world; it is essential that I recognise the power of social media. So how am I going about that?

Let’s for a minute ignore the blogging (I’ll tackle that another time), the vlogging (I’ve still got a loooong way to go), Twitter (appears to be just a large amount of people being horrible to each another), Facebook (not convinced of the reach) and concentrate on Instagram.

Like anything we can approach the basic needs and consequent successes are just a set of problems to grind away at. I’m still new, but here’s five tips I think are helping me to break down the social media dark art.

i – Work out when to post.

It’s relatively easy to research the best times to post. Googling ‘best times to post on Instagram (or any other platform, for that matter) will give you the following:

6-8am

11am-1pm

7-9pm

Note that these are times that people tend to get up for the work day, have lunch from the work day and get home from the… you get the picture. Social media isn’t life, it’s a distraction. Build your strategy around that.

 

ii – Do your homework on hashtags that relate to what your posting.

Yesterday, on my to do list I wrote, ‘research hashtags relating to three types of posts’. I then started a notebook for this singular purpose. There’s a picture of it at the header of this post. Here’s a look inside:

Hashtag notebook 1

It’s clear to me that the most successful social media people have a very clear strategy with regard to what types of posts they do. Types? Well let’s break that down into three examples using the three hashtags from my notebook.

#amreading

#amwriting

#vlogger

By using the search function in Instagram you can find people using these tags. Here’s what it looks like on my phone app:

hashtag screenshot

Who are the most popular accounts? What other tags are they using in conjunction with the one you’re researching? As you can see in the screen shot, across the top of the search results page, Instagram will show other tags related to the one you’ve searched. This is super handy. Don’t be afraid to use more than a few. The more you do, the wider the reach of the post.

 

iii – Get Involved

I have now got to a point where I habitually check Instagram. I scroll and ‘like’ the posts that the people I’m following are producing. I don’t, however, ‘like’ all of the posts. It’s exhausting to the critical thinker in all of us to just ‘like’ everything. Don’t be afraid to be discerning. You need to retain as much inner integrity as possible. It’s so important.

 

iv – Don’t drink and post

Just like you, I’m an idiot when I’m drunk. Ever been to a pub where everyone is a few drinks ahead of you? Or even, met someone who’s drunk and you’re stone cold sober? You know it’s rubbish, I know it’s rubbish. Don’t subject drunk you on the world. You’re not as funny as you think you are and despite what you think at the time, it’s not a good idea to do anything online with strangers. In fact, let’s make that a general rule for alcohol: Pissed? Don’t do that thing with a stranger.

 

v – Keep it to yourself

Been out to dinner with someone who can’t stop looking at their phone? Or to the pub? Or trying to have a conversation with someone concurrently managing their Twitter feed? We’ve all been that person, and most of us have been that other person who is distracted by the shiny bright thing in their pocket. Don’t do it. Stop it right now. Find the time to build habit outside of your social life. Remember, the Universe is vast, cold and uncaring. What we have is each other. Let’s make the most of that.

 

Now that wasn’t so bad? Was it? Normal culture bollocks will resume next week. Until then come find me on my Instagram account @puzzlewriter. Give it a like, or a follow, or don’t. Whatever you feel.

 

 

 

 

Idle Worship

Often the incongruity of an event/person/piece of art within a certain context that can help us see them for what they are.

My day job involves shuttling the great and the sometimes not so ‘good’ in large, expensive cars. Suffice to say, when the client is away, the radio is played, sometimes at excessive volume. There is a very real pleasure to driving these types of vehicles, dressed in a tailored three-piece, while listening to grime or punk music. There really should be a German compound-noun for this.

While warping along the M4 with the cruise control set to a clear ten-percent-plus-two, SixMusic DJ Lauren Laverne treated all who would listen to Idles’ track Well Done. I haven’t been able to stop talking about it or listening to it since. I nice little bonus is that they are from the city I call home, Bristol.

It’s sometimes difficult to understand the exact nature of Joe Talbot’s lyrics; he seems to be writing from many different view points, sometimes using different perspectives within one song.

The temptation to hail them for the political left is certainly there, but as with all great punk writing it seems to be more about trying to be heard. I think we can all identify with that.

Mother, notably, implies two different competing voices from either side of the political divide, neither of which feel adequate.

Of course, I could be wrong. Listen for yourself, let me know what you think in the comments.

Both Well Done, and my current favourite,  Mother, are linked below.

 

Written Vision

The Red Virgin And The Vision Of Utopia is graphic, historical novel. Perhaps it’s best to call it a biography, either way you should probably track down a copy.

Set in the Paris Commune of 1871 the book tells the story of Louise Michel, ‘The Red Virgin’, who helped lead an anarchist uprising in the wake of the French Republic’s defeat at the hands and arms of Prussia.

It’s easy to say that this book is good. It’s harder to pin point why. Like most graphic novel’s I’ve read I almost couldn’t read it fast enough. With clear, rich art work and an good, solid writing style it’s typical of this ever expanding style of novel.

What really grabbed me, though, as I’ve detailed in the video below was it’s sense of duty to the reader and the public at large. This really is what all great stories are made of.

Find a copy, maybe do some further reading on the protagonist. Mainly, find the hope that Mary and Bryan Talbot so clearly want to give you.

Latest vlog below.

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of These

I think one the greatest difficulties we have as creative individuals, idealists or just people in the world, is the illusion created by publically successful people that thier fortune has come to them only through hard work, that they are just like you and me. I call this the Ethic Of Ease.

We see Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg in a tee-shirt and we think, he’s just like us. Look, he doesn’t look odd or formal or overly disciplined or obsessive at all – he has a tee-shirt on. He’s easy about his success.

The truth is, though, we often forget in the face of corporate PR something that we instinctively know:

these images are an illusion.

We know that getting up in the morning is sometimes hard; that for some of us it is an achievement to make it into work everyday looking presentable, not having made a total mess of ourselves just getting there. We know that if we want to create things to push into the world we often have to hold a job down and spend our spare time (when we should probably be sleeping or interacting with our fellow human beings) creating. It’s my day off today, by the way.

I know this. We know this.

So let’s approach it from a different angle.

Who is your hero? Who is your master? What are you creating today? What are you striving to achieve?

Last week I discovered, got obsessed with, decided I didn’t like, and then came back to Casey Neistat. If you haven’t been introduced, Casey makes a vlog almost daily. It looks great, often has a story structure to it and uses New York City, his studio, even his equipment and the various people in his life as background characters that keep the viewer engaged in a large, living, breathing world.

Now, as you know I’ve been doing a vlog of my own, and boy, oh boy, does it suck. It is, however, always under constant review and improvement. This is how we do things. We create, review, then improve. It’s the best way forward. As part of this review process I’d spent quite a bit of time looking other vloggers up. Here’s an Australian writer/reader, here’s an English, Bristol-based, Cystic Fibrosis sufferer, and here’s Casey.

So let’s go back and see how it went down.

I typed ‘vlog’ into YouTube and Casey appeared right at the top. With seven million subscribers and hundreds of videos this man looked very much like the gold standard of vlogging.

So I started watching. I started here. A vlog entitled The First Day Of Summer. I loved it. Particularly because it states at the end that the whole piece had been created on a smartphone. I was in. I create on a smartphone, using a free editing app that constantly crashes. Seeing this vlog added a bit more strength to keep trying.

I then started watching his daily vlogs. My goodness do they look good. Great editing, a cheeky sense of humour and a good ability to make fun of himself, to appear like you and me. The more I watched the more I felt I too, could create something not a million miles from it.

Then the thinking started. I started to notice just how much effort actually goes into these vlogs. How possessed the man is with his schedule, how tired his wife constantly looks, and vigorous, how abnormally full of energy the man is. In short Casey Neistat is not a normal human being. He is highly capable, hugely energetic and very, very hard working. That illusion of ease came creeping back and I was not happy to see it. A particular underlining of what I was beginning to suspect came in the form of this rather well articulated video essay from the ever excellent NerdWriter.

For a couple of days I began to resent Neistat. Then I went back to the source material. I still enjoyed it, and I still recognised it as a gold standard.

I realised that I’m not going to be able to replicate what he does, but I can learn from it.

We’re often made to feel inadequate in the face of the high achievers and the elite creators of this world. Stop comparing yourself and instead, think about what you can learn from them.

Casey’s take is below.

 

 

 

GradeProof

When Garry Kimovich Kasparov was controversially beaten by the IBM Super Computer Deep Blue, something new entered the culture. Despite claims that Deep Blue may have had some human help, the victory was a symbolic one. The undiscovered country that had been promised by so many writers and fantasised about by so many economists and capitalists may have actually begun.

Today the reality is an economic one. We’ve all sleep walked in to big data, marketing companies that know you better than your parents and ongoing democracy flavoured mechanical issues, but currently stumbling over the horizon is a new type of AI.

We’ll probably complain more about the soon to be unemployed driver’s and operator’s protests than the loss of our driving abilities when our cars, busses and trains become automatic. We may even joke about the disappearance of accountants.

It does seem certain though, to anyone paying the right kind of attention that the industrial economy is about to turn around and mug the working man. What happens next is going to be interesting.

What happen’s though, when we allow AI into our creative lives? There are more than one or two apps out there that claim to improve the writing of the everyday. The New Yorker has already published a piece on the Hemingway App, showing it to be unfavourable to the Nobel Prize winner’s own work. I think I’d prefer it if the app was a guide to where to get drunk and fight.

The app is however, the best part of twenty of my hard-earned. As you’d expect there are free versions. In the best tradition of lazy blogging I picked the first suggested free match, an app called GradeProof.

As is the norm these days when starting the app you are required to sign in. I should probably set up a standalone FB account just for the purposes of apps. (Is this a good idea? Let me know in the comments.)

After signing in, the app takes you through a tutorial process. This is by far and away the best bit of the app. I spend hours wrestling with free picture/video/general editing apps and if I had a penny for every time I’ve wanted to break my phone, break my laptop, break the table my laptop is on and set fire to the house, I’d probably have about £2.36.

The tutorial takes you quickly through the basics of spell checking then asks you about what part of your writing you’d like to improve. Again, this is excellent. Because I’m a writer trying to pick holes in something that I feel might be a threat to me, or my rather marvelous editor I, like The New Yorker writer before me, went straight for the stylistic jugular.

Again, the app is helpful and simple. After finding my way to the ‘Papers’ section it gave me a variety of ways to add a new document. It then showed me step by step how go about this.

Now, here’s where things got clever. After selecting the document it gave me a choice between which type of English I’d like to use. The document I had selected for the app’s delectation was an excerpt from Ian McEwan’s Atonement.

Sleeve’s rolled and fingers clicked I set to asking how the app would reword the passage I’d chosen. Then a snag. Everything had been too good to be true. The app asked me whether I wanted a 7-day free trial. After seven days I’d be eligible to pay £7.99 a month.

Bugger.

Well, in the name of lazy blogging I decided to delve deeper into this fridge full of picnic-type snack ideas.

I went for the free trial.

Here’s the excerpt I chose:

He didn’t owe them explanations. He intended to survive, he had one good reason to survive, and he didn’t care whether they tagged along or not. Both men hung onto their rifles. That was something at least, and Mace was a big man, strong across the shoulders, and with hands that could have spanned one and a half octaves of the pub piano he said he played.

Here’s how GradeProof presented it:

gradeproof 5

 

 

The first sentence passed. No suggestions, no edits. Ian, you’ve done well.

The next sentence, however looked like this:

gradeproof 6

Oh, dear, Mr McEwan.

The next two sections proved to be almost as problematic. And then things got interesting. The changes suggested, for example, weren’t absolutely settled on. Even though I’d chosen to change various words the app would still highlight those words inviting a sense of unease with one’s choices. Sometimes there was only one choice, and sometimes that choice was bat shittingly mad. Take for instance, the suggestion of the ‘non’ instead of ‘not’ at the end of the sentence. Clearly there is still more work to do.  After making things simple and taking the first choice for every edit, I found myself at the tail end of a masterpiece. Possibly.

Here’s a screenshot of the email that shows which choices were made along with the finished passage:

Gradeproof

He didn’t owe them explanations. He intended to live, he had one good ground to live, and he didn’t like whether they tagged on or non. Both manpower hung onto their rifles. That was something at least, and Macer was a big human being, potent across the shoulders, and with men that could make spanned one and a one-half octaves of the saloon forte-piano he said he played.

Yeah.

Brilliantly, because I’ve obviously missed the point of this app (clues in the name) it then offered to search THE WHOLE OF THE INTERNET to see whether I’d plagiarised any part of it.

The result:

gradeproof 7

Quite.

One final thought; in David Shields’ frankly genius book Reality Hunger he suggests to the reader that there could be a new type of writing using samples and ultimately what he refers to as brickolage.

He compares this move to how hip-hop and dance music culture formed out of record collecting sample culture. Perhaps, in a slightly Dada way this app could be the writing equiv of a set of mixing decks.

Maybe.