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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.

 

 

 

 

In Theory

I am a white, middle-classish, cisgender male living in a western democracy. You could, quite successfully, I think, argue that there is no other more privileged position in regular global society.

I want to be clear that just approaching the subject of this vlog/blog feels like I’m appropriating it. Today’s book, however, did move me on in my understanding of something that can sometimes be hidden from view, something seen as abstract.

I became interested in feminism and identity politics only because I couldn’t figure out any good reason why significant sections of the population appeared to be excluded or segregated from having a regular hassle-free life.

Thus, on my journey to understand I’ve been handed various books. Like you, I take nourishment from the books I read.

A few weeks ago I was handed Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele. This book explores what queer theory is; something I’ve heard other people talk about and figured, wrongly, that it didn’t apply to me.

I’m still no expert, but I’ve learnt a little bit more about what it is to struggle with who you are and how society relates to that. Mainly, I’ve come to understand how queer theory is important to all of us, no matter how sure we are of our identities. I think that’s valuable; I think we can all get behind that.

Find yourself a copy.

Vlog 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.

 

 

 

Food Writing

Reality Hunger was released in February of 2010. I think it’s important to date these kinds of things because in this post-modern culture it’s very easy to forget that there was a time before certain objects, certain phenomena.

Reality Hunger is arranged into numbered sections, most, if not all, are not the words of its author, David Shields.

‘6

I need say nothing, only exhibit.’

For a still forming Creative Writing student at the University Of Gloucestershire, Reality Hunger was important. It was taught almost immediately as part of a transgressive class by Dr Martin Randall. We were encouraged to buy a copy and read it. Many of us came away confused as to what the appropriate reaction should be.

We would talk about it in the pub or the SU, between lectures or walking home from a party. Sometimes it would come up if we stumbled across each other’s paths in town.

’69

There are two sorts of artist, one not being in the least bit superior to the other. One responds to the history of art so far; the other responds to life itself.’

Our gradual consensus centred around Shields’ idea of ‘brickolage’; of forming text or narrative through others’ work. Sampling with a keyboard and words instead of a set of decks and some old soul records.

Myself and a fellow student formed a writing performance group called The Jolly Autocratic Committee and wrote a twelve-minute long performance piece constructed out of found language. I’ll share it with you at some point in the future.

‘204

As a preamble to their performances, traditional storytellers in Majorca would say, “It was and it was not so”.’

At the front of things, however, my writing almost totally dried up for six months. Reality Hunger hit me hard enough to shatter what I thought I should be doing as a writer. I had to rebuild.

It is probably the most important book I own. It was devastating and inspiring. It still is.

‘315

While we tend to conceive the operations of the mind as unified and transparent, they’re actually chaotic and opaque. There’s no invisible boss in the brain, no central meaner , no unitary self in command of our activities and utterances. There’s no internal spectator of a Cartesian theater in our heads to applaud the march of consciousness across its stage’

If you have your own Reality Hunger story to tell, let me know in the comments.

Main Vlog below.

And Now For Something Completely Similar

I have a fascination with machines. My last writing project Autoeclectic was mostly about me seeing whether I could truly carve out a career writing about some of these working, almost living things.

I couldn’t. In the end, the subject didn’t mean enough to the people I wanted to write for; that is to say, you, dear reader.

I do, however intend to write sci-fi in the future and as part of this I tend to alternate my reading between lit-fic and sci-fi.

I’ve been struggling my way through Richard Powers’ Galatea 2.2 for the best part of a couple of months. It’s only been the in the last couple of days, however, that I’ve been able to hold down why.

As always, I want to hear and read your opinions on the featured book, this blog, and anything else you feel is even tenuously linked to this particular subject matter.

Check out the latest vlog below.

Core Memories

In a sentence this long you don’t necessarily remember the details of what you’ve been told but you certainly feel them.

‘Until I was 16 or 17, I had heard practically nothing about the history that preceded 1945. Only when we were 17 were we confronted with a documentary film of the opening of the Belsen camp.’

I’ve read quite a bit about the life and work of W.G. Sebald in the last couple of days, but it seems to me that the above quote taken from a Guardian interview conducted in September of 2001 is right at the centre of his work.

Austerlitz, Sebald’s last book, seems to mumble at you from the dark corner of a rural pub or bed and breakfast. Indeed, the main narrator gains all of his story told through a series of meetings with the book’s main storyteller, Austerlitz.

Austerlitz tells the story of how he discovered that he had not been born and raised in the hills of Wales but had a whole other life he had forgotton, had rediscovered through his love of architecture. I sometimes wonder whether Austerlitz is an imagined character that the narrator has created in order to deal with the revalations of his past

Always, though, we are put in the place of the young Sebald, discovering a past revealed.

It’s no surprise that the first time I read this book it was copy from lecturer, friend, and sometime mentor Dr Martin Randall that it was full of pencilled notes about labyrinths and mazes. The book is somehow a maze that continues to reveal right up until the book’s core, an eleven-page sentence. Here we learn how a rumoured holiday destination became a ghetto, how it later became a death camp, and how each step from rumour to journey, to hell-reality seemed as easy as stepping from one room to the next.

I’ve always said that this sentence is a remarkable achievement for its grammatical accuracy. Now, having read it over and over again for a few days I’m not so sure. What I am totally sure of, though, is that as a device for disorienting and pushing the reader outside and beyond the words on the page it is close to perfect.

In a sentence this long you don’t necessarily remember the details of what you’ve been told but you certainly feel them.