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The Forced Pen

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In recent months I have discovered several rather unpleasant truths about being a writer. The first, was that writers have alarmingly little time to actually write. I refer here to my own, personal writing, and not the writing I do day to day as (among other things) a Copy Writer. I am having to force myself to get out of bed two hours early, every day, just so that I can sit, bleary eyed at my computer, and get some writing done.

This is not how I like to write.

I like to write as and when inspiration comes. I like to be able to follow the thread of a thought and scribble it down as I think of it, or type it all out in a bit of a free for all as the notion continues to unfold. I find that boxing myself into a two hour space in the day is very constricting, and generally leaves me feeling like whatever I have written is somehow forced.

I do not like to force my stories, I like them to be organic, wilful, and I like them to have a power of their own making.

CHASING AZRAEL COVER FRONT SMALLLately, I have been under the gun. With the launch of my debut novel, Chasing Azrael, only weeks away, the pressure is on to get the final edit to bed, and perfect. Striving for perfection is something I encourage all authors to do, yet it is also something that I caution them is an impossibility. The author who claims their novel is perfect is either lying, delusional, or a narcissist. There is no such thing as the perfect novel, at least not from the perspective of that novel’s author, who will always have those niggling things they never quite got right, the plot hole that was never quite patched, the line of dialogue which, on reflection, is unnatural. All we can do, is work, and work, and work, and do our best to improve with each new draft, each new round of edits, until eventually each piece of work is at a stage where we can say ‘It’s good enough, I’m happy with it’, because if we wait for a stage where we can say ‘There, it’s PERFECT!’, we will be waiting forever. There is also the very real danger that in in striving for that perfect draft, we will actually over edit, and loose what was special about the piece.

In working on the final edit for Chasing Azrael, I have to say, I have been in the position of having to force myself to do it. This is not through lack of love for the novel, or enthusiasm for the project, nor is it due to a lack of desire to spend time on it. If I had it my way I’d spend all my time on it, but this simply isn’t practical, for time, as I mentioned above, is currently short.

I simply have not had the time to work on it that I would like, due in large part to the demands of my day job.

This is also reflected in my infrequent blogging, for which I must apologise. I will strive to be more consistent from now on, but as with my fiction writing, I do not like blog posts to be forced. I do not like them to be posted for the sake of meeting a weekly quota. Yes, I know, this is all wrong! It flies in the face of good writing practice! EVERYBODY knows that writers should post on their blogs regularly. EVERYBODY know that writers should write, daily, or at least as close to daily as possible, to keep those writing muscles in good working order. Keep the old cogs turning.

Writing

 While I’m in complete agreement on the latter point and am, in fact, greatly in favour of all things cog-related, I have to disagree on the former. I have seen too many blog posts of late by authors who are writing them for the sake of having written them. They are writing forced pieces on topics they either don’t know enough about, or don’t have enough on to actually justify a full blog post. I read these things and think to myself ‘Have you mistakenly posed this to your website instead of Facebook/Twitter?’.

On Social Networking Sites, I understand the updates on personal situations, what you’re up to, brief snippets about things you find interesting, or want to know more about. I do not understand people stretching those things out to 500 words plus, just so they can include it on their blog.

It may be the freelancer in me, the fact that in my day job I actually write website content professionally. I do my research for each and every piece. I try to ensure that there is a narrative, as I would in any piece of fiction, and most importantly, I try to ensure that there is a point to the piece, that it isn’t just ‘fluff’ filled with the relevant keywords my client’s SEO specialist has told them it needs to include. SEO may very well be the reason I see so many pointless blog posts.

But does it help? Is SEO truly beneficial to your website and consequently your business? Is it really advantageous to have all this traffic driven towards your site, on the basis of your use of these magical keywords?

I would argue that yes, SEO is great, but like everything else it has its time and place. If people are driven to your site only to arrive and find the piece they are reading is uninteresting, uninformative, and quite clearly nothing more than an attempt to garner more readers, it will do you more harm than good.

Quality writing is what is needed, and at no time is it advantageous to force the pen; blogging for the sake of it is transparent and will not gain you any fans.

If it doesn’t relate to your business, and in the case of authors this means your books, or a point of interest that will appeal to your target audience, it has no place on your website. And even if it DOES relate, unless it is as well written as anything else you would expect a professional writer to produce, IT HAS NO PLACE ON YOUR WEBSITE.

Riddle me this: You are a professional author, either preparing to publish your book, or in the midst of promoting your book(s). Everyone and everything is telling you that one of the best ways to market yourself and your product is to build that magical thing known as a PLATFORM. This usually means a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a website, and a blog, although you may decide to use either Facebook or Twitter, and not both. Now, you decide that the best way to construct this platform is to flood each and every avenue available to you with as much information, as much CONTENT as possible.

90%In theory, this is a great plan. If you can draw people to your various online outlets you need to ensure you then KEEP them there, and to do that you need content. Regular content. However, just as we are all taught the Golden 90/10 Ratio–to ensure that 90% of the content you provide is comprised of things that will be of INTEREST to you readers, and only 10% consists of BMS (‘Buy My Stuff’)–we should also bear in mind a fundamental fact: Your platform is there to enable you to grow a fan base for your WRITING and, ultimately, allow you to sell your books, continue to grow that fan base, and thus continue to sell your books.

This seems to be something that many writers are failing to keep in mind, for the quality of the written content on their Social Media pages and the Blog is substantially LOWER than the quality of their actual writing. By ‘actual’ writing, I mean books they have written, which I have read and enjoyed. Althouugh I hasten to add that this is by no means true of all the author blogs I follow, it is true of enough of them that I am going to tentatively call it a trend with some writers and their online platforms.

These writers seem to distinguish between how they write their books—be they fiction or non-fiction—and how they write for the various aspects of their online PLATFORM. As if one was ‘real’ writing and the other is merely for show: fire off a few Tweets a day to keep people happy, who cares what they’re about, if they’re correctly spelled, well-constructed, and actually contain punctuation. Update your blog twice a week, every week, who cares if the quality of those blog posts isn’t great? You’re keeping the blog ACTIVE, you’re including all these ESSENTIAL keywords, and you’re DRIVING people to your website. This is great, right?

Wrong.

Why will people invest time and money in your books when their experience of your writing is that it is poor? I certainly would not buy something written by a person who couldn’t construct a reasonable sentence, even if that sentence was ‘only’ posted on Facebook or Twitter. In doing this, you are expecting people to PRESUME that you can write, because you’ve written something and are trying to sell it. If you are guilty of doing this, you have things rather backwards.

10%

It is the responsibility of the writer to convince their potential readers that they can write, and write well. It is on YOU to show that you can come up with something that’s a great read, even when it’s only a brief blog about how badly people seem to be blogging of late. It is entirely on your shoulders to demonstrate that your standard of writing is such that it is WORTH their time and money, so that they are encouraged to spend that £5 on your book, or even that £1 on your book, and they take the time to read it.

Less is sometimes more.

If you don’t have the time to write great blog posts regularly you have two options. You can write regular blog posts that are mediocre, or you can adopt the strategy I am currently employing, and ONLY WRITE POSTS WHEN YOU HAVE TIME TO WRITE THEM WELL.

The fact that most business owners don’t have that much time is one of the reasons I have a business: they pay me to write their posts for them. I am employed as part of their business strategy to be the person who takes the time to ensure their blogs are well written, on topic, interesting, and yes even include those all-important key words.

I should hasten to add however that, to date, I have never been hired by a WRITER to write their own posts for them.

So do writers have more time than everyone else?

TimeHardly.

The reason writers pen their own posts is because the platform they are trying to build is (or at least should be) A REPRESENTATION OF THEIR WRITING. Everything should be painstakingly written, BY THEM, so that people become accustomed to their style. Each post should be as lovingly constructed as their pieces of fiction, poetry, or a non-fictional works, because it is only through QUALITY that you will ensure people come back to read more and, ultimately, buy the books that do not come for free in the RSS feed.

This is not the case for other businesses, and often not even for other people. But the important thing to understand here is that it is QUALITY writing that is essential for your Website, Blog, and Social Media outlets, whether you are a writer or not, and NOT QUANTITY.

If you are a writer, you need to find the time to make that content shine, and if this means less frequent posts, so be it. If you’re not a writer, you can choose to take the time to write good content, or pay someone else—a professional—to do it for you. Unlike writers, non-writers are not always in the position of having their audience expect everything to be written by a specific person. This is not always the case—celebrities, motivational speakers etc. being obvious exception—but it is very often true. So, if you’re not a writer but you have been trying to write everything for your business, you might consider employing someone to do it for your, who can ensure it is up to the standard it should be. If you are a writer, and you have not been taking the time to ensure your content is as close to perfect as you so laboriously endeavour to make your books, I have only two more words to say to you:

For shame!

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Published inWritingFreelance Work

2 Comments

  1. I have to agree with you, Hazel. I haven’t written a blog post in months, for the very reason that I don’t have time to write a good one and I can’t bring myself to dash one off without thinking it through carefully first. I do worry that there’s a certain time limit beyond which you NEED to find the time to write a post, or else begin to lose any followers you may have accrued. But as a reader of other people’s blogs, I certainly prefer quality over quantity.

    • You’re quite right, Afe, I think you need to ensure that you post relatively regularly, but ‘regularly’ is not synonymous with ‘frequently’, and I think people get the two confused. I’m quite happy posting every couple of months, when I have something to write about that I think is really worth saying, and I have the time to really sit down and writer it properly. Then again, I sometimes have five ideas at once, and manage to find the time to write them all out properly in one day. At times like that I schedule them to come out at regular intervals, rather than posting them all at once.

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