Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Can you write a good novel in a month?

Is it possible to write a good novel in a month? On Friday I will be commencing my second NaNoWriMo. For those who don't know what the hell I'm talking about NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and it challenges the aspiring writer to finally put down 50,000 words of a novel. Weather or not the 50,000 is the total of your word count is up to you. Completing the gargantuan task will make you a NaNoWriMo winner.

Critics have said that if you are just writing to put down the words you mustn't be putting down the prose necessary to create a good novel. Let alone a great one. Last year I wrote my first novel during the month of November called Twenty Two  and it was good enough to garner entry to a Master of Arts (Writing) program. I spent the first half of this year work shopping Twenty Two and getting it ready to sell on Amazon which I did with a medium level of success.

So the question remains, can you write a good novel in a month? My answer is no. You can write a good first draft but if you enter into the event with the idea that Penguin Random House will come calling on December 1st you will be sorely disappointed. Join in the forums and get involved, buddy up and get a first draft out. I read a lot of blogs by writers who complain about not having finished a novel yet. Find an idea, throw editing to the wind and write without fear. Good luck in November.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Education as Priority

I read an interesting article in The New York Times earlier today. It described, through stories from Amanda Ripley’s new book ‘Smartest Kids in The World’ that Finland, South Korea and Poland have better education systems than America. As someone who has spent a good deal of time within the education system it was intriguing. 
The rigor of the syllabus in Poland was what seemed to be leading to clever graduates. Not that American students aren’t clever but on average they are less clever. What do you think would happen in Australia if a policy was implemented that made school days longer, like in South korea? Or that the work was both more complex and of a higher quantity, like in Poland? What would happen in Australia if getting into an Education degree was harder than getting into medicine, like in Finland?
Of course all of these would cause chaos within parents groups. They would scream for less homework because of stress, even though the South Koreans seem to relish the opportunity. They would complain of higher failure rates, even though the kids in Poland manage to pass what is referred to as the hardest High School Syllabus on Earth. The only issue with Education being a harder course to get into is that the highest ranking high school kids won’t pick it if the pay doesn’t add up to what they could earn in Medicine or Law. 
In Finland teachers are paid extraordinary amounts, because only the very best students can become teachers. The government in Finland promises to invest in Education and then, unlike Australia, actually does.
I know it is a crazy thought, imagine a country that is better at something than Australia. The culture in this country favors sports over education and that leads to a population of under achieving kids that hoped they would make the AFL but didn’t and now don’t have anything to show for it except stories from Junior footy.
If Teaching at University was a 95 ATAR only the best would apply. The best will apply only if the Government would focus on paying teachers what they are worth and not on fixing skills shortages. Making something easy to get in to doesn’t do anything but create a cohort of graduates that aren’t smart enough to do well in High School but because of easy acceptance are smart enough to teach other kids to do what they themselves couldn’t?
How could a kid who gets an ATAR of 60 tell someone effectively how to get an ATAR of 99? They have no idea how to get that score. 
ATAR is not everything though, kids who get into other University courses will have more trouble upon graduation finding a place for themselves in the global economy than kids from South Korea, Finland or Poland would. Because our courses are too easy, high graduation rate means nothing if the average graduate can’t spell ‘necessary’.
Therefore, it is necessary for Australia to stop dropping the ball when it comes to Education, improvement means real investment in teachers and coursework, not giving all the kids an iPad. A smart whiteboard and a projector won’t do as much if you can’t entice the best students to become teachers. Education is the future, every politician has said it, what they need to do now is to make positive steps towards the future and stop investing in new laptops, kids are using them for Facebook guys, it’s a waste of money.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Alice Munro wins Nobel Prize in Literature

Alice Munro recently won the Nobel Prize in Literature and whilst reading about this news I thought of two things. 

1. Alice Munro is a legend already. What a great capstone on a career
2. Why don't I know all of the other Nobel Laureates?

I was embarrassed in myself when I realised that despite dedicating so much time to literature I don't know many people who have won the biggest honor available. I know Hemingway has one, he is my favorite author. I know of Faulkner and Toni Morrison I know of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, William Goulding, Saul Bellow, Mo Yan and Jim Steinbeck. 

I didn't know Pablo Neruda had won in 1971. I didn't know Sartre had won or that Thomas Mann had won. My Brother is a film expert and he could tell you who won and in most cases who was nominated for any of the past 60 Academy Awards in any category. As a reader and writer of literature I felt a little ashamed not knowing who had won so many of the 106 Nobel Prizes in Literature. 

I most likely know more than the average person would but is that enough? Why aren't book buffs as knowledgable about their specialty as film buffs are? Just something to think about. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Don Draper mentality of Men

As a white male I am acutely aware of the lottery I have won during birth. I try my best to understand the difficulties women go through and the difficulties other races go through. Don Draper is the epitome of white male dominance. An executive in a time in which women and people of colour are treated like second class citizens. They get better treatment now but it still isn't perfect. 

He treats women like objects and gets away with it. The behaviour is disgusting but the appeal still exists. When I was 19 I started watching Mad Men and with great excitement I found a fictional character that embodied everything that was great about life, he did whatever he wanted, he drank scotch at work, he wore cool suits and he was creative and in charge. Then the pilot ended and he was cheating on his wife. 

Discovering things about people is hard, sometimes you don't agree with their motives but I chose to ignore the adultery and focus on the things I liked about Don. Now, many years later I feel less connected to him, I am in a committed long term relationship and to think that the things he does in the show would ever be repeated by me is ludicrous. 

Don embodies mens culture and has influenced style and in some cases attitude. I take on Don Draper's attitude when it comes to success and it makes me feel more successful. I do what I want more frequently than before whilst still maintaining control. The point I am trying to make is that even if a character does bad things, or even if a real person does bad things, you can still find positives in them and emulate and learn from the positives rather than focusing on the negatives.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

France legislates against Amazon

A few weeks ago France created legislation that would prevent Amazon from offering free delivery alongside a five percent discount on a book. The move will curtail the increase in book sales amazon has had in the country, a number that has increased exponentially over the past ten years, in 2003 the amount of book sales conducted online was 3.2 percent, in 2011 however it was 13.1. The increase of Amazon's power over the book selling industry has affected brick and mortar stores all over the world, not as heavily though in France.

While most of the western world experiences closures of bookstores France seems culturally immune to ditching the paperback in favor of the e-book. In France there are over 2,500 bookstores spread across a population of around 65 million. That is about 1 book store for every 26,000 people. In Britain the population of around 60 million has only 1,000 bookstores, 1 book store for every 60,000 people.

In France book culture is not just book culture, it is French culture. They do not tread lightly when it comes to matters of literature. Melbourne is one of UNESCO's cities of literature and rightly so, we have a thriving culture, a whole bunch of festivals and some real standout writers. France though is what still comes to my mind when I think of literature. I think of the lost generation, I think of the word 'expatriate' and I, like other authors would love to move to Paris, stroll the left bank and write books that the world will remember forever.

Personally I don't care if readers reach my books from brick and mortar sellers or by Amazon but I like to think that somewhere in paris there is an apartment waiting for me and waiting to be filled with paperbacks of the greatest novels ever written, not just a lone kindle resting on a shelf.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

NRL Grand Final and a built in Audience

With millions of people watching around the country tonight Twitter and Facebook will be inundated with NRL Grand Final posts. Sport is big in Australia and we take Grand Final days very seriously. The amount of tweets tonight will leave no one, especially if you are in NSW or Queensland, any doubt as to how the game is going. If you were away from the TV you would still be able to find out what was happening.

Sport has a such a built in audience that excitement via the internet is impossible to avoid. How do we as writers garner that much excitement? Become a celebrity.

I don't want to audition for Big Brother (Although it would be fun) I would love to be on Survivor (life dream), I would hate to be involved with something like Jersey Shore. Snooki from Jersey Shore has a book out and at times she has struggled speaking the english language. Why would a publisher take a chance on Snooki and not a more serious writer? Built in audience.

Snooki, just like NRL players, AFL players, any kind of celebrity or someone with some built in exposure will have the publishers eye. Although these books won't win prizes they will do what a lot of beginning authors will not, sell large amounts of copies. This is an almost certainty, publishers can rest assured that whatever Snooki or an NRL Grand Final player puts out will sell because they have cross over fans.

If I had become famous for example on the show Survivor (only in my dreams) then I could publish something that might not even relate to the show at all and still gain a contract because people will think of it as 'The book by that guy on Survivor' without the show just like Snooki without Jersey Shore the book will be looked at as 'the book'. See the difference?

The goal isn't to become a celebrity from being stupid like Snooki and then taking advantage of it. If you want to be taken seriously as a writer you still have to produce great work. Snooki's book is, I'm going to go out on a limb here, probably shit.

No one expects any more, the publisher will put out another one though,  because in this business, just as much as quality literature talks, money shouts.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

How to Develop a Writing Habit

I read in The Essentials of Screenwriting by Richard Walters two years ago that it is important to develop a writing habit. As I treat myself like a professional writer I find that having multiple means to write helps me motivate myself to write something new everyday. I can write a little of a novel, I can write an article for Helium, a poem, a short story a blog post on this blog or for my magazine Literati.

I set myself  word counts and I am generally happy to write about 400-500 words a day. For NaNoWriMo I will write much more than that but that is an extraordinary circumstance. Developing my skills day to day makes me feel I am progressing through my work at a good pace and that I never have to dwindle and pull my hair out over one project day in day out. Expand your horizons and start a few projects. Write a little everyday and finished products will pop up after a few weeks from just a little work a day.

The best way to develop a writing habit is to write! No tricks involved, no magic dust that i can sprinkle over you to make you produce like Hemingway did. Write and write and write until you can't write anymore. Start with small goals each day will help you feel the success that your writing could bring you.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Importance of Gaining a Readership

The thing with being a self-published author is that without a loyal readership you put that book you worked so hard on up on Kindle or Smashwords or whatever you want and still get peanuts. That isn't an accurate representation of the work you must have put in to the novel.

Start a blog, write about things you love and people will feel the passion you have for the topic. Gain a readership, these people will be familiar with your work. I write as often as possible. I work on my novels in between writing for this writing tips/personal blog, I write a Travel Blog and I contribute to and edit a Literary Magazine, I also contribute to a Film and Television industry blog with my brother found here.

I have multiple ways for potential readers to connect with me. Blogs and websites are a great marketing tool. You should use them.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Harper Collins signs up for Scrib'd

Harper Collins has come to an agreement with book subscription service Scrib'd which entails including the publishers catalogue in the service. Scrib'd for those of you who don't already know is a digital library not unlike what Netflix is for movies and television. The Chief Executive Trip Adler told The Australian that Scrib'd wants to be the "Netflix of books". They are well on their way, once Harper Collins has their books up Scrib'd will have over 50,000 available.

Harper Collins will however not include new release titles on the service which they have come under fire for. What the audience and members of Scrib'd have to understand is that Netflix doesn't get new release movies from studios either. If you want a library service you can go to a library and get the book for free.

The idea is that if Harper Collins released their new titles on Scrib'd at the same time they hit stores they significantly reduce the impact the Scrib'd members have on brick and mortar sales. You wouldn't pay $24.99 for a new release book if you could borrow it from Scrib'd for nothing more than you already pay per month for the service.

Customers sometimes have the 'Customer is always right' emblazoned so permanently on their brains that they fail to see that business is give and take. The sole purpose of book publishing isn't to provide a customer with a book, it is to sell a customer a book. The sooner consumers realize that the better.
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I'm a Taekwondo and MMA athlete. I also write novels and screenplays.