The Joys of Internet Research

nailsHow did writers manage years ago – research-wise?

I’m a big believer in the powers of the search engine. Ask a question – any question – and someone’s asked it before you. Here’s a case in point. Yesterday, I wanted to describe someone going into a beauty salon. Those of you who do make use of salon services, particularly nail bars, will know there’s a certain very strong, chemical smell associated with them. What is it?

I began to type the words, “what does a nail salon” in. By the time I’d typed “sm”, auto fill had kicked in, and the suggestion “What does a nail salon smell like” appeared.

Dead Cats

The first site I found was on answers yahoo – and funnily enough, was from someone writing about nail salons and wanting to know what that smell is. The answers weren’t terribly helpful. Someone had suggested dead cats, but one or two sites later and I had my answer.

Ethyl acetate.

That’s just one example. For the book I’ve just finished (first draft only), I needed to know if exploding cars happen often, what takes place at a memory clinic, how Alzheimer’s is diagnosed, what happens during a medical termination, when Glasgow Caledonian became a university, if Botox is a brand name or a generic name for face-freezing injections, and the lyrics to a number of songs,* all of which was revelaed with some judicious searching.

Alternative Words

Then there’s the joy of the online thesaurus. You discover you’ve just used the same word three times in the last two paragraph and off you head to the thesaurus to find an alternative.

I have no idea how writers managed before the internet. Did they save up all their queries and then go to the library? Did they have to phone people up? Would the novelist writing about a nail salon 25 years ago have phoned up a salon and asked the question? As a result of the difficulties of research, did writers just write about things they knew a lot about?

Thanks heavens for the internet, hmm?

 

*Those lyrics might need to come out. I’m trying to work out if I would need to pay a fee for them, if I misquote them slightly, or have characters speak the lyrics to each other. There’s more information about using lyrics in your writing here.

The Origins

This week’s Friday flash fiction was inspired by my inbox… tediously full of sales emails this morning.

The Origins

Checking the door was firmly closed, Ardell’s Head of Marketing opened her desk drawer.

She poured herself a hefty slug of bourbon. It had been a stressful few months. Sales at Ardells had suffered and its management team twitched nervously.

“What can we do?” they railed. They lowered prices, they extended opening hours and they employed the pushiest salespeople, incentivising them with impossible targets.

Nothing had worked – and now it was Thanksgiving. She hadn’t even made it home to her family.

Oh well, she might as well put on a sale tomorrow. Call it something.

Black Friday maybe?

 

Friday Flash Fiction – TFI Friday

friday“TFIF this week for sure…”

“What happened then, to make Friday so welcome this week?”

“Oh, you know… clients. Demanding ones. Forgetful ones. I had to re-issue three invoices this week.”

“Last Friday wasn’t a great day.”

“Good point. There are a lot of people who won’t recall Fridays with favour for a while.”

“We should re-claim Fridays of course. Show them we are not afraid.”

“Too right! Fridays are when we kick back aren’t they? We go out and we celebrate with our friends and families. We drink and we eat and we laugh.”

Je suis en terrasse.

 

Pic thanks to Slapix.

 

Clearing the Decks – And Trying Not to Puke

Words, words, words

Words, words, words

Recently, I heard someone opine that the first draft of a novel was basically a ‘word vomit’.*

Ooh, I get what she meant, but as someone who has just written the first draft of her first book, ‘word vomit’ made me want to cry. I must endeavour to toughen up if hearing some other person’s description of the writing process makes me react in such a pathetic way.  It was not a personal comment on my own attempts, for heaven’s sakes!

Having triumphantly typed out ‘The End’ almost 14 days ago, I have ignored The Book ever since. I didn’t dare look at it and, as I had really galloped towards ‘The End’ at the rate of knots, not caring about casualties such as spelling, grammar, credibility or sense, I certainly feared to view it again.

So, adopting my best school prefect voice, I said to self today – “You MUST look at this. You MUST read it again. You MUST change stuff if necessary.” So in between writing bathroom blogs and bugging the editors of air conditioning websites (yes, really), I read Book Part 3.

And, er, it was not quite as bad as I feared… Now, next week’s Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway is reading parts 1 and 2. And perhaps putting chapters up on Readwave and asking for feedback.

Declutter – It’s Good For You

In another bid towards encouraging creativity (or putting off bidding for jobs online – you decide…) I finally got round to clearing out the spare room. I now have the dedicated office I promised myself way back in April. It’s a minimalist space where creative energy will flow, uninterrupted by endless tripping over of piles of washing in various states of dryness and dodging piles of paperwork. That’s the theory!

A women’s magazine I’m rather fond of (Woman & Home) had an article about de-cluttering in its latest edition. The aim, apparently, is to own no more than 100 things if you want to be free. Store all your music, books and pictures on your PC or online, go for a capsule wardrobe and the rest is easy. Idly, I wondered to myself, do ‘toiletries’, ‘skincare’ and ‘make-up’ count as three things, or should one count up the individual items? If the latter is true, I may well have reached the 100-item limit five times over. Woe!

Just to demonstrate that I can do a 100 limit, I did recently write a piece of flash fiction. It was for a competition. I didn’t win, or get mentioned or anything really, but it’s the taking part that counts, don’t you reckon? Here it is:

I’m a Deelan – Oh My Lord!

On Thursday I came home from work, disheartened.

My cat didn’t greet me at the door, but a handsome stranger was waiting in my kitchen. “Bobbee,” he said, “do you recognise me?” I shook my head. “Who has kept you company all these lonely months? Who has slept on your bed every night while you cried yourself to sleep?”

“You are Jazz?!” I exclaimed. “My cat?”

“I’m a deelan,” he said, “a human who can change into a cat and you are one too. Look!”

He clicked his fingers. I changed into a cat.

If any of you have your own examples of flash fiction, I’d love to read them so please feel free to post in the comments.

 

*LinkedIn – the writers and editors group. Very good for brain storming, and asking for advice on the creative and the more prosaic, such as ‘hey, what printer do you use and why?’

Inspiration and Exasperation… Along with Teacups

What has this to do with today's post? Read on...

What has this to do with today’s post? Read on…

I think, I think in blog these days…

Bear with me. I find myself in the kitchen mindlessly drying dishes. My brain – I would say ever alert, but that’s not always the case – flits from subject to subject, hits on a few flights of fancy and goes: “Aha! Light bulb moment! Next blog post coming up!”

And then words sort of start coming, sentences, phrases and some urge to remember them and write them down appears from nowhere.

“Do you know what, insomnia – so interesting!”

“Procrastination – I can spin a tale or two out of that!”

Cakes – there’s TONNES of material in them.”

Dear reader, you are the unfortunate victim of such sorry witterings. I apologise. Good lord, what the internet has unleashed on human kind…

THE NAUGHTY STUFF

What I also do, which is kind of naughty [HUH – you at the back there! Were you hoping for full-blown blue stuff? Not a chance my friend.] I look at everything that goes on around me and I kind of suck it up, [Grr, you at the back – STILL looking for the naughty stuff??] chew it up and use it. So a phrase, a story, a recollection I heard years ago will often resurface in what I write. I keep my fingers crossed that the originator doesn’t recognise the gem they told me that I’m now regurgitating.

Recently, I used two phrases/ideas I’d heard. One was about shoes. I was doing freelance work, writing about Louboutins. I ‘borrowed’ an idea to create an amusing intro for the article, where a woman I once worked alongside used to describe how she visited department stores and talked to the shoes she wanted to buy. “Hey girls, mummy’s going to take you home very soon.” That kind of thing.

Next, I was writing my own book and I’d recently seen this fantastic phrase on Facebook – “Who shat on her cornflakes?” Said lovely wasn’t looking too cheery in a pic. I saw the phrase and said to myself, “I’ve got to use that. It’s sublime.” And I did.

MOUTHS WIDE SHUT

I shouldn’t confess to this. My family and friends may resort to zipping their mouths shut in front of me in fear of their every uttering being sucked out and used up. I promise, dear all, to use only the occasional piece and I will thank you extensively, should I ever be fortunate enough to be in the position of writing ‘Acknowledgements’.

And finally… Lovely Sharon who blogs at sunshineandcelandines ran a competition recently, offering one of her gorgeous creations as first prize. I entered and won! The picture illustrating today’s blog is that prize. Isn’t is absolutely beautiful?

A Top 10 List to Help with Writer’s Block

Oh, oh, oh! I have a deadline to meet dear readers. Once it seemed like many moons away. Now it gallops towards me faster than a…

Stuck for a metaphor here. Faster than my own attempts to neck a glass of red wine come Friday evenings? Faster than the cat comes screeching into the kitchen when he hears the fridge door opening?

Trouble is, it’s a self-imposed deadline and we all know how they work – or don’t work, truth be told. I’m still writing, but The End doesn’t seem quite as nigh as it did the other week when I was flushed with the glory of 8,000 words.

So as I lay in bed last night battling insomnia (again, though my friend Kylie’s good advice to concentrate on saying one word over and over again in your head has proved useful), I came up with a good old Top Ten list in my head and thought to myself: “Aha! I can procrastinate, blogger-stylee, while hopefully helping my fellow writers battle their own bouts of writer’s block/lack of self-discipline.”

  1. Drum roll… Ahem, just write. Set yourself a target of a number of words which you think you can easily achieve. Write that number – and only that number – and bask in feelings of achievement.
  2. Have an imaginary conversation with your lead character. I invited Katie to sit down across the table from me. I asked her how she was and how she would like the book to end up. ‘Happily,’ she said, ‘oh and can I snog one of the big boys from Year 6?’ I tutted, but said I would look into all options.
  3. Write your ending in synopsis form. I’ve actually written plans all the way through writing. The basic structure was always there, but as the book has developed, sometimes I’ve needed to add things in so I would write another detailed plan. It was useful because it included background on characters and why they were doing what they were doing.
  4. Go back over other chapters and tweak. It makes you feel as if you are doing something worthwhile.
  5. Go for a run. Or a walk, or a cycle ride. Basically, just get out in the fresh air and puff and pant a bit. Physical energy often stimulates mental energy.
  6. Think around different options for your book. I’ve been talking to my brother-in-law about an app which would serve as some kind of publicity tool, but thinking in different ways is good for creativity in general.
  7. Join a writers forum/group. I’m part of the LinkedIn writers/editors group and the people on there do have incredibly fascinating conversations. There’s all kinds of help and advice available, even if you just want to get a few people to shout at you online: GET WRITING YOU IDLER! (They wouldn’t; they’re too kind.)
  8. I’ve had a few astonishingly patient people reading my book for me as I go along, and I ask them from time to time if they think a chapter works and if they think a particular storyline is plausible/credible.
  9. Go and read other people’s writing blogs. I follow a few of them (the bottled worder,  Daily (W)rite thebookofalice, writings of a Mrs, Gabriel LocateroFrancis Barann, Sophie Bowns and a few others and it’s heartening reading about other people’s writing methods and practices.
  10. Drum roll… Ahem, just write.

What do you think? If you have any top tips for continued creativity, I’d love to hear them.

Followers? Not Just A Matter Of Chance…

Do I own the only cat in the world who likes cupcakes??

Do I own the only cat in the world who likes cupcakes??

Luvvies – so wonderful to talk to you once more.

[I feel I must now use these kinds of words now that I’m a creative type, albeit a creative type who is yet to make any money and who watches her ever-decreasing bank balance with a slight touch of gnawing anxiety.]

Several weeks into my new life as a freelance writer – ta-dah! – and my happiness knows no bounds…

This benefits not only me, but my beloved (we wed two weeks ago) who is enjoying daily compliments and increased housework effort on my part*, and the cat, whose strenuous efforts to steal food from my plate are now greeted with “Aw, are you hungry Freddie?”, rather than shrieks followed by a quick squirt of the water spray.

I say freelance writer, you’ll note, but not paid freelance writer so all of this happiness is all very well, but it’s no good without the moolah, hmm?

Blogging has been a learning curve. In my pre-married naivety, I imagined I could write a few wee, witty words** about weddings, people would flock to my site in their hundreds of thousands and et voila, a new writing career would emerge.

That’s right friends, I thought the good folks out there would stumble on my blog BY ACCIDENT, sifting through the billion and billions of sites out there and think to themselves, “Goodness me, what a stroke of luck! I like this woman’s witterings so sign me up instantly for regular updates!”

And then I would find myself batting off contacts from companies. “Yes, yes Clinique you are welcome to advertise on my site in return for a year’s supply of your clarifying lotion”, and “Really, Green & Black’s, you will pay me money AND give me a never-ending supply of your fabulous Butterscotch chocolate?”

At which point, I would play tough negotiater and demand that Green & Black involve me in their product development, namely tasting, from now on.

Oh reader, it did not happen… I have been investigating many of the ways one can use to get one’s blog noticed, read and followed. Australian business coach Casey Gollan has plenty of useful advice on unusual ways you can use to get your posts noticed. Tweeting old posts for example, promoting your post on LinkedIn and to your relevant LinkedIn groups and mentioning contacts on Twitter. He also suggests interviewing someone very influential in your field to creating a ‘how to’ video for YouTube.

[I have visions of me, Delia-like in my kitchen, happily laying sugar paste on a cake whilst instructing the viewer on the do’s and don’ts. Said picture might be spoiled by the cat jumping on top of the rolled-out sugar paste and leaving a dirty paw print in it.***]

Casey also recommends file-sharing sites such as SlideShare and Scribd, as these are sites people can go to find answers to questions, or if you have written something that answers a common question – say, how to put sugar paste on a cake – why not share it on Yahoo Answers, making sure that you include your blog URL?

So there’s a lot to learn, but it’s pretty interesting and exciting. Now I need to go and put some of these ideas into practice…

 

*Ladies and gentlemen – ironing was carried out. Red wine stains were banished from the floor. Rubber gloves and a face mask were donned so that maximum strength industrial cleaner could be applied to the oven and three years’ worth of grime removed.

**Hopefully they were witty words chums.

***Reader, this happened… I cut out the offending piece of icing.