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Thursday, 8 March 2012

The Dangers of Distraction.

English: Description: Social Networking Source...
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Do you do it? You know what I mean; participate in social networking. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Digg, StumbleUpon and Google+ are all sites where you'll find me commenting, posting, bringing items of interest to other people. Then there are the peer review sites; those places where you post a piece of writing and hope for some reviews, but in exchange you have to post reviews of the work of others, which, of course, means reading them. There are even altruistic sites, like Critters, where the emphasis is on the support and nurturing of young talent for no reward other than that of helping out.

All these activities detract from your writing by involving the use of your time. There's so much advice out there on how best to learn to write and how to learn to write well. But one piece of advice stands out from the rest, in my mind at any rate: if you want to write, and write well, ignore everything else, and write. That, of course, is a little sparse and not as comprehensive as it ought to be. If you write without reading, for example, you're doomed to repeat the mistakes of others, doomed to repeat what has already been written, doomed to remain enclosed in your world of delusion where you're a brilliant, if untried and unpublished, writer.

So, to that injunction to write, I must add; read. Read often, read well-written work only, which doesn't necessarily mean best-sellers. I mean, Jeffrey Archer's novels are sometimes described as 'best-sellers', but would you call it good writing? I've read a few of the authors who sell lots of books and discovered that they often write in clichés, clichés of both phrase and idea. Formulaic, superficial writing seems to sell well for reasons I don't understand. But if you're more interested in dollars and pounds than the quality of the work you produce, you know where to find your role models. But be prepared to be forgotten as soon as your book is read. Prepare to be lost to history and the future. It's rare indeed for a best-seller to outlive the era in which the work was published. Oh, there are exceptions; there are always exceptions. They prove the rule, after all.

So, to improve your writing, read extensively from the best you can find. And then, write. Write something new every day, as a priority. Even if you can manage only a few words, even if it's no more than a diary entry, write something, something new, every day. Make it the best you can if it's only a few words. If, on the other hand, you're engaged in the construction of a more beefy piece, a short story, essay, novel or non-fiction tome, then I'd advise you to get the words down first. I know some people are, or feel they are, incapable of moving on until what they've written is the very best they can make it. For most would-be writers that way leads to an eternity of unfinished work. If you get the words down first, you can then revisit and use the editing process to refine and improve.

To return to the beginning: social networking and the like. If you must network, connect, interact - and which of us doesn't do this?- I'd suggest you do it only after you've done your day's writing. If you treat your writing as a profession, treat it as work, you'll be far more able to set and keep to your real priorities. The job of a writer is to write. That's the first priority. Everything else is secondary and should be treated as such.

I speak from experience here.

I've spent most of the past few months engaged in social networking; building that essential writer's platform beloved of agents and publishers. So, I've Tweeted, posted stuff to Facebook, engaged in discussions on LinkedIn, joined groups on Goodreads. It's been productive in terms of contacts and connections. And I've had a great deal of fun in the process; made a great many new friends at various levels of the writing craft from real beginner to accomplished author and every stage between. Met and connected with readers of all sorts. I wouldn't have missed the experience for the world. But, in that time, I've written and submitted too few stories, put down too few words (apart from November last year, when I participated in NaNoWriMo as a way to drive myself back into actually writing, and produced the first draft of a comedy thriller, writing 112,242 words before the time was up). But I have, sitting on my computer, two volumes of an epic fantasy trilogy, and I should have written volume three by now, should have had the books out there in the market place for readers. But no; the networking has taken precedence. So, I know what I'm talking about here.

So, following my own advice, I'm now aiming to produce at least one new story each week, complete the editing and route to publication for my NaNoWriMo novel titled An Avenger Unseen, and begin work on volume three of the epic fantasy. All social networking will take a back seat and be done only when I've completed my writing for that day.

If you want to write, I urge you to write. Leave the distractions, digressions, procrastination for others and you might find there are people out there actually reading the words you've put down. Isn't that something worth aiming for?

A silly question to ponder: If corn oil comes from corn, olive oil from olives, and vegetable oil from vegetables, where does baby oil come from?

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