Tuesday 26 June 2012

The end of 15 Habits

And so we come to the end of the 15 Habits of Great Writers series that I've been following. This is my final update, and general review of the series.

Day Twelve (Wednesday) was all about provocation, and Jeff's challenge was to "Write something provocative and stand by it. ... Write something bold, something that moves us. Then share it." I decided against that for two reasons. Having spent my academic career studying both art and film, art which is made intentionally provocative often falls flat because it a) devotes more attention to its theme or purpose than it does to its actually construction, and b) it can be so blinkered in its mission to provoke a reaction that it fails to consider viewpoints other than its own. Jeff seemed to think that it would be somehow liberating, both for ourselves and others, to "tell the truth", but I can't help thinking that given truth is entirely subjective, it would be better for me to be true to myself as an artist in order to tell my own truth. One of his ideas was for us to "Pick a fight with something that’s wrong with the world" and this is mine - you cannot go around banging a drum about your own personal annoyances and expect to shake people up to the extent that they come around to your way of thinking. You can shout as loud as you want, but people will become deaf to what you say. Instead, reasoned argument, based on empirical evidence and logic, is more likely to get a result. If I shout at you, you can stop listening, but if I provide a logical, structured set of reasons as to why you might want to change your mind, you're more likely to be persuaded. So no, I will not be writing something to be provocative unless it is important to the piece that it provoke.

Day Thirteen (Thursday) was around the idea of publishing. As always, Jeff recommends we get off our bums and "publish something. Anything, really. Whatever you do, don’t play it safe. Go for broke. Stop hiding and start writing for real". Pretty sure this was his advice earlier in the series and I said the same thing then that I'm going to say now - I am NOT going to put something out there until I'm sure it's ready. At one point he says "That eBook you’ve been stalling to finish? It’s good enough. Put it out there". Er, no. It's advice like this that leads to writers bashing out a novella, getting their partner/mother/dog to proofread it, and then sticking it on Amazon the next day, and wondering why self-publishing gets a bad rap. Work is released when it's excellent, not just "good enough". Jesus, why am I listening to this man?

Day Fourteen (Friday) was all about branding. Choose a name, choose an image, etc. etc. Again, I'm not entirely sure I agree with Jeff when he says that those people who say "Do I have to do marketing?" are actually saying their story is strong enough to stand up without promotion. Most people who shy away from marketing do so not through arrogance, but through a lack of confidence, or through simply not knowing HOW to market. I've seen writers claim they don't like shouting about their books from the rooftops when in actual fact, that's ALL they do on Twitter. Writers are writers, not marketing consultants, but these days, we do need an awareness of how marketing works - no one else is going to sell our work. However, I can't help thinking that branding is something you should start thinking about once you have work to make available...not when you're just starting out. You don't want to get distracted about how to sell your work if there is no work to sell.

Day Fifteen (Monday) was about serving the writing community, with an emphasis being on giving to others, and responding to their needs by giving them something they want or need. Jeff recommended that we do give aways, conduct a survey to find out what people actually want, write about something important and then give it away, or to continue to answer all correspondence. I'm a big fan of availability, and I've been making a concerted effort of late to reply to tweets, to have conversations on Facebook, and to get discussions going on my blog. This isn't all about me - this is about dialogue, and I genuinely enjoy chatting to people. As to responding to the needs of readers, I'm hoping that people read my stuff because they enjoy it, in which case I'm serving their need for entertainment. Is that the case?

Overall, I'm not entirely sure that the series has been overly helpful to me. All it's really done is say "Yes, you're on the right track, keep doing what you're doing." Perhaps it would help newcomers, or those writers just beginning to test their wings, although I'd still urge caution when it comes to sharing work, especially on Amazon etc. Put out a quality product...and you can't really go wrong.


Jen said...

I have to laugh that there's this massive 15 step programme, and you can sum it all up pretty well with "put out a quality product and you can't really go wrong."

I think it was definitely geared at people who are having trouble starting a writing career, rather than you, who already have good habits. I wonder actually, what did you hope to get from the programme?

I'm glad you went through it. I know now that it's probably not for me, either.

And I'm someone who enjoys reading your work for entertainment, because I enjoy it very much, and not just to network.

Icy Sedgwick said...

I'm not really sure what I hoped to get from it...I suppose I was hoping for slightly stricter exercises, and something new. So much of what we find online has been endlessly recycled. Still, it didn't take up much of my time.

Katherine Hajer said...

I'm glad I read your analysis. I admit that I read a lot of writing advice, but I also get annoyed by about 90% of it (Sturgeon's Law?) or wonder why it's "advice" to tell people to do things like proofread.

The points about "write something provocative" were especially interesting. I once got into an argument with a professional art photographer who showed me a photo of a woman nursing (not his photo). He kept banging on about how "shocking" it was. Finally I said, "What if it's not? What if the reaction is, 'huh, nice arty photo of a woman nursing?'" I never did find out what the shocking part actually was for him.

Lastly, I think blogs and the internet in general have made the pressure to publish lessen -- you can put your work out there very quickly and easily, you just won't get paid for it. "Put out quality work, and you can't go wrong" is spot-on.

Certainly your stories are entertaining -- I really look forward to the the Friday Flash work every week.

Thanks again for posting about this.

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