Investigative journalism and research can help improve your fiction writing.

Taking a page from journalistic writing to help write and edit your novel.

What’s the best thing about journalism that we tend to overlook?

Typically, print investigative journalism is usually condensed, because there is a word count that the writer needs to comply with. A hook. An angle, a balanced discussion, or point of view the author wishes to bring to light. All the relevant information, facts, and references are provided. Regardless of tone and writing style, these aspects are usually always present. So, what is the takeaway for fiction writing?

Focus.

If you break down your writing into scenes – a section of your writing that has its own unique combination of setting, character, dialogue, and sphere of activity – (like a conversation, or a fight, or the first time a character arrives at a destination) you can focus on certain elements to help keep your writing focused, paced well, and if need be, your word count on track.

Granted an article is short prose and has different intentions than a novel, but if you look at each scene in your story and ensure it hits benchmarks of purveying the right emotion and intent, covers the plot points (or facts, or reveals) and has an element that engages the reader… all the hard work is done. Then it’s a matter of ensuring the pacing works for the scene and the prose flows easily. Journalism or Non-fiction can tend to be flat or short in its writing style (apologies for the broad and generally incorrect assumption.) Not a lot of time is spent on world building or on character development. It’s all about supported facts and the intent of the piece.

I think this is especially handy when you are looking at your work and can’t figure out what is wrong with the scene.

What is supposed to happen? What do you intend the reader to get from this scene? Or what (facts) am I meant to show the reader? Is the plot point clear?

See how asking those questions clear away a lot of muddy ground to get right to the heart of the scene. Or if in fact the scene is needed at all.

All of the above points deal with the mechanics of your writing… how it is put together. The other aspect of investigative journalism is research. It should be common sense at this point, but there are still writers out there that begin writing a novel about something that they don’t know much about. Taking the time to build the world, craft characters, look into every little facet that makes your characters compelling and interesting, of the world you are setting your novel in (wondrous, or bleak, or scary…) it’s adding those little touches, brief flecks of complexity that give your writing confidence and nuance. I’ve known authors to spend months researching topics before beginning to write. Some create elaborate topological maps, extensive character profiles. Researching mental illness or medical conditions, collection of colloquial dialogue, or even the fashion and social etiquette of a certain time period. Other writers read scientific journals on forward evolution or potential global impacts of things like pollution, over-population, solar radiation, etc… to get a solid ground behind them before crafting even a single sentence. It boasts sound knowledge of their world, plausibility of the plot, and realistic, complex characters which are a joy to read. The narrative feels solid and realistic no matter the subject.

Things like this can be applied in a developmental edit, but, you can use these tools in the planning phase of writing your novel depending where you sit in the spectrum of Plotter vs. Pantser.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Finding the motivation to write

Pretty much my attitude to writers block or being unmotivated is simply ‘write the damn thing!’

When I am having that spark of creativity and the words flow easily and reading my prose back it feels entertaining, witty and on point… other times it feels dry, stagnant, and uninspired. It’s painful to have to write in those moments. Sometimes I’m lucky to get a paragraph down before I feel like bighting a bullet.

The thing is, editing is much easier. Adding to something feels like a more possible task. So filling the blank page with the mechanics of your story, or article is the hard part. But if you can get it down, then improving your piece becomes infinitely easier. Well, in my process it does.

I cannot ever recall a time where I wrote something straight from my head and it was instantly a masterpiece. I’ve had to edit, improve, embellish everything I’ve ever written. So why do writers have this hang up of writers block.

There is always something for me to do – jump ahead in the timeline and write a scene in a future chapter. Explore my characters motivations in dialogue, write about the world, put on some music to inspire some words, switch to another project altogether, edit, design some marketing activities, read something in a similar genre and take note in the writing style and how that reflects on your own.

Stick to a schedule. Whether it’s every day, or on the weekends, make a set time for your writing and get the thing done. I have to say that has been the most helpful thing to impact my career – forming a habit of writing. I started small, and eventually it grew to a point where I can put in a ten hour day if I needed to. I don’t do that now if I don’t have to. I like to end the day with something to look forward to tomorrow. Like teasing myself with a little cliff-hanger that I need to write. I get to mull it over in my head overnight so the next day I have a semi-formed plan and am excited to get to work.

So most of the time, lack of motivation, or writers block, does not hit me because I’m always inspired. Whenever I get new ideas, I write them down and file them away for later. I have literally so many book and article ideas stored away I couldn’t get them all written in my lifetime. So when my flow for a certain project dries up, and I have exhausted all the ways to move it forward, I can take a few days break to work on something else with ease.

I have a friend who had a massive cork board that they collect ideas, snippets of dialogue, pictures to inspire character profiles, places, mantras, etc as a source of inspiration to write – a board that is constantly changing and evolving so it never runs dry. You just have to find a system that works for you. Mine’s digital, and I like to work on a few projects at the same time. A fellow writer buddy I know can only write one book at a time and in sequential order (a pantser) and when she gets stuck tends to daydream a little with what-if scenarios, flesh out character profiles, go out to shopping centres and cafes and eaves drop on conversations and take note of peoples mannerisms for things that she could use. Or if the block is really bad, she will re-write her chapter and take it in a different direction.

Inspiration can come from anywhere, art, music, reading, movies and television, or simply switching off for a moment. It’s important to refill your well of creativity just as it is to create a habit of writing to offer longevity in your career.

If your sitting at your keyboard and nothing is coming, start asking why? Is the scene you’re currently trying to wright, not right for the overall plot of the novel? Is it a boring topic? Is there another more interesting way to approach the subject matter? Can you switch perspectives or tense? Are you just not into this whole writing thing? Maybe the content is not relevant to you, so you are not connecting with it? Like any job, you have to find ways to get things done. Make writing comfortable, methodical, entertaining and inspiring for you. If you are constantly having to struggle to fill a blank page and you can’t work out what is wrong, maybe writing isn’t for you? Try changing up your process – write the ending first and work your way backwards. Write the key scenes to your story first and then fill in the gaps later. Create mood boards for each scene/chapter to keep the emotion or tone of the writing present in your mind.

The whole thing about writer’s block is that it is all in your head. And we are wired to think, to be creative, so if you are genuinely blocked take a serious look at yourself… is writing really a vocation for you? Writers deal with fact and imagination for entertainment, information, or discussions. Maybe look at how you are delivering your prose and switch up that tone? There is literally thousands of way to re-ignite that passion. You just need to momentarily step back, re-orientate your thoughts, and get back to work.

I’m generally in the field that if I’m ‘blocked’ it’s because the scene or article isn’t working. Something is missing. It’s irrelevant in the bigger picture; so stepping back to get a fresh perspective always illuminates some solution. And if not, there is plenty of other projects to get on with, so I am always writing something.

Do you suffer writers block? What are some of the ways that you have overcome a slump in your writing habits?

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Are you blogging for the right reasons?

When I first started my blog I had visions of writing fun and informative articles, book reviews, and getting to connect with writers across the globe to discuss all things literary… eight years on and I get a little disheartened because while my goal is still the same, I’m not really getting the connection that I imagined.

This topic came about from a combination of Briana’s post on discussion topics for her blog, predictions for 2021, and her 2020 review:  it prompted the thought of what content performs well in the blogosphere opposed to what we actually post… and my heart sunk a little. I don’t want to write click-baity articles, or post content that I’m not genuinely interested in, or superfluous articles regurgitating what many others have already done without corroborating those claims with statistics or real-world experience.

I enjoy blog hopping and starting up conversations on other’s blogs, but it is usually met with a generic thank you, or just a ‘like.’ Yet are these the same people complaining that their blog is not gaining any traction? They want interaction, yet are not taking to time to build a conversation? Just posting content hoping for a like. Is this a social media thing around blogging activity in searching for validation, or do we truly want to discuss books, ideas, and help other writers develop their craft?

Maybe I’m expecting too much from a bunch of strangers on the internet. Maybe successful writers are too busy to run a blog, comment, and interact with fellow bloggers and maintain a writing career?

There is such a mixed bag of content out there around writing, reviewing, and reading. Much of the writing advice I see is fairly general and rarely breaks things down to specifics and provide examples – is it a secret we’re not meant to find out? Many reviews I read are fantastic, insightful, and really attend to the mechanics of story craft; whereas others are maybe a paragraph long, summarize the story, or worse, bullet points, and give an opinion of a thumbs-up or thumbs-down without ever discussing things like character, character development, world building, pacing, writing style, plot… But that’s me viewing this platform through the reasons I blog. Many others may have different uses for the blogosphere.

There’s other types of content that I’m, really interested in, like journal/lifestyle blogs, trend forecasting, tips, design, nature blogs, and science related content: so it does not have to be directly related to writing and satisfies my other interests. But still, blogging feels like a niche juxtaposed. And many are hoping to make a living from their writing and monetise their content. I’m starting to think I’m really out of touch with my community, that I’m looking in the wrong place. Maybe I should start venturing out into other online mediums to connect with likeminded souls?

A blog is meant to perform one, or a combination of three things: to inform, entertain, or discuss, if my introduction to writing, literature, and journalism means anything. I get more of these types of things from writing groups, clubs, and paid subscription services. Is it because the content is ultimately vetted in those places? That its membership is exclusively professionals?

I guess people blog for different reasons, and mine is just another drop in the ocean, floating in the currents yet to find a reef to drop to where I can feel like I can make a home. Has anyone else felt this despondency around blogging? Like it’s not really fulfilling the purpose you wanted it to? That it is not achieving what you want it to?

My main reason for blogging is to share my love of reading, writing and improve how I craft prose, connect with other writers and swap bits of information on the process, editing, marketing, and publishing. I’ve maintained this course since I initially started the blog. I will never class myself as an expert because you can always learn and change as this craft and the market evolves.

I’m genuinely interested in the reasons you write your blog. Comment below and let me also know if you are satisfied with what you are getting out of blogging, and what your expectations are.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Writing a business strategy (for writers)

A guide for beginners – the business of writing doesn’t have to be a drag, it can be an example of adventure.

“For the past couple of years, I’ve been fine-tuning my business strategy as a writer. At a recent writing conference, I discovered that many writers, even those with years of experience, find setting business goals daunting. It isn’t. It’s only frightening because it seems complex. By taking it one step at a time, your business strategy can be made simple and understandable.” – Lynne Lumsden Green

When I think of a business strategy for writing, my mind instantly goes to spreadsheets and budgets, but that is only part of managing your career… and the number crunching part is really a small part. Used as a way to track and monitor progress. An article published in WQ (Jun-Aug 2020) Lynne Lumsden Green discusses this topic which I think helps demystify the task many of us baulk at. She suggests that we start by asking ourselves these questions:

  1. What are your long-term goals? Where do you want to be in five years?
  2. What are your short term goals? What do you want to achieve in the next six months?
  3. What has worked best for you in the past? What hasn’t?
  4. What can you learn from your successes?
  5. What can you learn from your failures?

Upon first reading her article and going through the list of these questions an issue prominently jumped out at me regarding my own career goals. These questions prompt you to not only keep on track with your goals, but highlight what is, and is not working.

The key takeaway for me was the question about what is not working – how long have I been doing the same thing and seen little or no positive growth. It really gave me that ah-huh moment. It’s time I should be trying different methods, tackling different tracks towards my goal. What’s that old saying : doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting different results is the definition of insanity. I’ve gotten too comfortable in my systems and habits that it is now impeding growth.

These questions are all about finding out what works and using those methods to get you to your goals. Ditch what isn’t working.

Lynne Lumsden Green goes on to discuss:

“Let’s look at part of my business strategy as a stepping of point. For 2020, one of my goals is to get more paying gigs. This means I need to write nonfiction articles for magazines, as well as short stories for paying markets. From January, as part of keeping proper records, I’ve been keeping a monthly spreadsheet separate from my nonfiction submission spreadsheets. I started by wanting to sell an article a month, but I am hoping to increase that to one article a week by December. To do this, I need to develop a pitch/query at least once a week. To do that I must develop relationships with the editors of my target markets.”

“Can you see how setting goals leads to implementing a series of logical actions to achieve that goal?”

I love how Lynne explains desire/goal through to a practical application to achieve a result. My writing goals are more based around getting first drafts completed by the end of this year, gearing up for putting out for submission later in 2021. So I have set scenes I have to write each day (notice I didn’t say word count, but story elements of the plot.) In conjunction with this I am researching Publishers who are accepting submissions, what their guidelines are, creating paragraph summaries, tag lines, 1 and 2 page summaries, noting themes, writing up short character profiles… all that lovely marketing material you need for a pitch/submission. Additionally, some publishers (mostly overseas) require that you have a literary agent to represent you, so I have been researching that as well. Again, many are genre specific and have their own guidelines for accepting applications. Another aspect of this goal is researching writing competitions – these can not only put up on the radar of publishers/agents, but if you win, it commonly results in a publishing contract. All of this activity not only makes the whole writing activity real, but gives you a deadline. And each bit of information or step you achieve along the way is ticking off a small task towards your longer term goal.

If you want to get even more technical you could also be tracking the amount of time you spend writing, researching, marketing, so that when you start to earn money through a book advance, sales or royalties, you can estimate how much money you earn an hour. If it’s not high enough for your goals, then you can look at different ways to improve upon your system… and ultimately your earnings.

Writing when inspiration strikes, passively submitting a story here and there one at a time can be a little soul crushing because you are eagerly waiting for a payoff instead of concentrating on a schedule and already moving on to your next target/goal. A business strategy for writing forces you to take in a bigger picture, a career making attitude, and leave you little time to fall into depression from rejection letters and failed submissions.

Lynne Lumsden Green also states “As writing is my business, I try to keep to a schedule. I spend an hour or so every morning on mail, updating my files, and researching new markets. This part of my business strategy won’t be changing any time soon. I then spend an hour every day on social media. I recently had over 400,000 people come through my Steampunk Sunday page on Facebook; a ready-made audience for my writing! You might want to do writing courses or attend more conferences, or join a writing group, so don’t forget to include those in your plan.”

Again this shows by example how much a schedule, consistency, and trying new things are important you your long term success at being a writer. Simply posting to social media blindly does not ensure success, you need to add value, offer a solution to a problem, tap into a niche market. Research your demographic. Try different forms of social media. Reach out to other writers who are having success and mimic their methods for a trial period.

There are a lot of resources out there to tap into. Courses, platforms like SkillShare, YouTube videos, blogs with advice, writing groups, state and government bodies that are running local initiatives to support the publishing industry and writing community, even emailing an author with one or two questions to help you figure things out…

“Don’t forget to be brave. Take risks. Having a business strategy doesn’t mean it has to be boring.”

I hope this discussion helps to change your thinking and provide some inspiration to develop your writing career a little further. Go get ‘em!

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wrapping up 2020…. And good riddance!

Looking back through the year that was, a lot has happened, but a lot did not… It’s kind of a 2020 thing. All my friends are saying the same. My yearly goals have mostly been thrown out the window because of Covid-19 and a cancer diagnosis (again, sigh) but let’s get this wrap up done and put a positive spin on things.

Book worm:

My last catch up was in October leaving my TBR at 423, I didn’t post a November wrap-up because I’d not long started chemotherapy and was focusing on my health and wellbeing, so any work and reading goals felt superfluous. (Plus I was tired and in pain all the time and it was difficult to concentrate.) Though I did read 2 books in November, and completed 8 novels in December, taking the TBR down to 413. I’m still on my buying ban until I get below 400.

I set my reading goal to 52 books for the year, but was really hoping to reach 104… I kept it light with all the financial stresses, health issues, etc… but managed to complete 68 book for the calendar year which I’m happy about.

Thinking back over the year though, I would have to highlight my top five reads:

This Mortal Coil (trilogy) the first two novels were outstanding, it’s action packed and choc full of STEM themes of what the future could look like under heavy influence of genetic manipulation and body modification.

Highway Bodies is a zombie apocalypse with diversity. Highly entertaining and so proud of a fellow Aussie author.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a comedic historical fiction that had me laughing up a storm, really looking forward to completing the series.

I’ll Give You the Sun was a surprise hit out of the park. Bring your tissues for this roller coaster ride.

Reckoning a non-fiction title by Australian darling Magda Szubanski was beautiful melancholic writing that captured a lot of my youth and challenges what it means to not only be an Aussie, but a human being.

Scribe and scribble:

I only managed a paltry 1500 words for the year. With distractions, having to work long hours, being the only one to stay employed through the Covid-19 lockdown for six months, then having to manage doctors’ appointments and chemotherapy, not only did I have little time to write, but my mind simply wasn’t in the right headspace to get creative. It was a depressing year, but I am thankful the worst is behind me.

Levelling Up:

I still haven’t completed my marketing course, it had to put on the back burner in favour of other priorities. But I am still keen to complete it in 2021 and am eyeing off a few other short courses. I love to learn!

Social Butterfly:

My biggest goal for 2020 was to be more social, get out and about more… and well, it goes without saying that it didn’t happen. Lockdown and being immune-compromised has meant I’ve become a bigger homebody than ever. Oh the irony! On the upside, I’ve caught a lot of good television. Australian series ‘Glitch’ has been a big favourite, tv series ‘Insatiable’ had me in belly laughs, ‘Dickinson’ staring Hailey Stansfield was strangely hypnotic, I re-watched the ‘Teen Wolf’ series and making a start on re-watching ‘Supernatural’ now that it is ending; props to ‘Love, Victor’ and ‘Never Have I Ever.’ Fell in love with ‘Little Mix : The Search,’ squee’d over ‘Julie and the Phantoms,’ and like everyone else got a big sci-fi hit with ‘The Mandalorian,’ ‘Star Trek Discovery’ and ‘The Expanse.’

Some movies that brought me joy include: ‘The Invisible Man,’ ‘Underwater,’ ‘Like a Boss,’ ‘We Summon the Darkness,’ ‘My Spy,’ ‘Enola Holmes,’ ‘Love and Monsters,’ ‘Happiest Season,’ ‘Uncle Frank,’ ‘Freaky,’ ‘Godmothered,’ ‘Superintelligence,’ and ‘Monsters of Man.’

Work that body:

I was working out before the Covid-19 shutdown, and was making progress, though it wasn’t until 6 months later that the gym re-opened and I only got in a month before getting diagnosed with cancer and not being able to return. Though as a part of my treatment and recovery I am doing stretches, getting adrenal massages, and anything else the doctors have recommended to increase my chances for a quick recovery. I have lost some weight, my hair has been falling out, I feel a lot of aches and pains and lose my breath easily; but with a prognosis of 100% recovery I know it is all temporary and am looking forward to normalising my health in the new year. Some scary emergency hospital stays knocked my confidence a bit, but the idea of simply being able to take my dogs for a walk around the park keeps me motivated – I mean those soulful eyes would heal anyone!

As much as 2020 has been a dumpster fire, it’s forced me to focus on what is important and plan out my 2021 – it’s going to be a cracker of a year, because I don’t think I could do worse that 2020 anyway. The only way is up!!

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Bring on 2021!

Wishing everyone all the very best for the new year!

Leaving 2020 behind with a thankful smile, 2021 is going to be awesome, I can feel it in my bones. Stay safe over the holidays and look forward to reading all your wonderful content. Comment below what your New Years Goals will be… I’m aiming for health and productivity.

Is the self-publishing industry being held back by hack writers?

I’ve been reading articles and having discussions with my peers and industry professionals regarding the future of self-publishing, and while the outlook is generally positive, the reputation isn’t so bright.

When canvasing readers about self-published titles I generally get a pensive face… and when I push harder, the responses I get revolve around poorly produced cover art, poorly written novels that have not been sufficiently developed or edited; and occasionally, the reader desires a physical copy, only to find the novel is available only in ebook format.

Admittedly this mirrors my own experiences with self-published authors. While it is not the rule of everyone, but it does seem to be a common thread. When I start to push for examples and numbers however, we start to see a slightly different story. And I have to think about that saying of “If you get ten compliments in a day and one person yelling a derogatory comment at you, you are more likely to only remember that one bad comment.” So too, readers tend to remember bad reading experiences more prominently that good ones when it comes to self-publishing… leading to the self-fulfilling prophecy that self-publishing is amateur and rife with a whole lot of sub-par material.

So basically, the self-publishing industry, more often than not, is getting judged by readers on the authors either inept at the publishing and writing process, or doing it for the wrong reason entirely. That’s a pretty harsh and bleak statement to make – and it infuriates me – but the results into my research and discussions with readers support this statement.

Granted, there are self-publishing success stories, and reports of various increments of success across the board. But, it is those poorly produced and written tomes that readers are using to pass a blanket opinion on the industry in many cases.

There are many authors whose body of work can dispel this assumption, and the tide is slowly turning, but what do we have to do to eliminate this attitude completely? The cost of self-publishing is weighted fully on the author, and services like cover art, editing, marketing, and manuscript development services are expensive – they are steps self-published authors shouldn’t be skipping, and it is unfair to ask professionals to offer their services at a discounted rate or for free for self-published authors. Do we start booting off under-cooked material from online stores? That’s censorship. Can we force self-published authors to do a minimal number of steps in the writing development stage before allowing them to publish on a given platform to ensure a certain standard is being represented? It’s hard to start putting regulations like that on a free-form market. There are authors churning out up to ten novels a year (or more) just to earn enough money to live off, but does their content meet the cut?

I read a number of self-published authors personally and I have to say there is a 50/50 split between books that if I didn’t know any better I’d say were traditionally published, and the rest have really obvious mishaps: spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, formatting errors, poorly developed writing style, novels that have been rushed to publication… don’t get me started on some of the cover art. While some are exceptional, others look like clip art from the 1980’s.

When I first started blogging and reviewing I accepted review requests from self-published authors hoping to support those trying to carve out a career in writing, but I found nearly all the manuscripts I received were sadly not up to scratch. I teach English in High School and any of these novels wouldn’t have even received a passing grade. So after that I stopped accepting review copies and focused on a curated selection of novels appeal to my tastes.

Another aspect I found my readers reporting was regarding career authors: not only were many of the self-published authors they listed falling into the ‘rushed to publication’ category because they were trying to get a high volume of work out there to earn a suitable income. But also the readers were inundated with online marketing and blog posts. Spam and junkmail seemed to add to their discomfort with self-published authors. It seemed like some of these authors were not selectively marketing effectively and barraging their subscribers with continual and repetitive content. This kind of strategy quickly turned readers off as they unsubscribe… and subsequently stopped reading the authors books.

I understand the whole self-publishing journey is a learning experience, and your mistakes are going to be out there for everyone to see with a google search, but I guess slow and steady wins the race. Reputation is the biggest commodity for an author to have in their arsenal. That and a solid, professional body of work. The publishing industry as a whole (traditional or self-published) is a slow moving creature. It takes hard work to get a novel published, time for readers to read and review a book. Heck I still have unread novels on my shelves from five years ago that I am still keen to read once I get the time. But after all this, I still ask myself what can I do – all of us do – to help the self-publishing industry? It does have a valid place – not everyone can afford the cost of a physical, traditionally published book, not everyone has access to physical book stores. Traditional publishers set and follow trends and an author’s work may not fit into the current marketing trends, and self-publishing may afford them that niche market they need to reach. Increasingly we are seeing textbooks and manuals reach the self-publishing industry because of the volume of pages in their publications, why try and carry around 2 or 3 books over a thousand pages long, when you have an e-reader? Readers read for a variety of reasons and in a variety of forms, and self-publishing has its place, but I was sad to read the results of the survey of my peers, industry professionals, and readers alike when it comes to the general feel of the self-publishing industry.

Which I find astounding considering the market share e-books have in the economy. Though, that share is dominated with traditionally published authors. The whole situation feels a bit of a quagmire. And don’t get me started on the number of pirated copies of books then self-published by ghost profiles stealing income from popular authors.

I think the reality is, we need some policing on standards for self-publishing, but also a more transparent view of the amount of work – the number or tasks and roles you need to perform above writing the book – for a self-published manuscript of a certain standard. With so many resources online – for free – and courses you can access, I’m still a little bewildered why some authors are not taking advantage of these to give themselves the best possible chance of success for their book launch and their career. Did they just run out of steam? Are they ignorant of what they need to do? Do they just not care? Too harsh? Well, it’s because I get a little heated over some of the attitudes I’ve been reading – and come of the poorly developed work I’ve seen around the self-published industry. I hear people saying “But so-and-so is a successful self-published author, why not use them as an example?” Well. They have put in the work, educated themselves, invested money to get that success, why should another author who’s put in a fraction of that effort ride on their coattails? Don’t they need to put in the hard work too? Again it comes back to reputation – the author who has put in the effort, maintained a quality body of work and found that balance of marketing and a target demographic will thrive in the self-publishing environment over time; those who do not, will falter. I just hope readers stop judging the industry as a whole on those of the latter.

So there is no easy answer, no easy solution. The industry will be swayed by larger platforms and their market share. Newer authors are still going to blunder their way through the digital publishing process and either succeed or buckle under the enormity of the task. Our industry relies on word of mouth and marketing – no matter how good a writer you are – a book does not sell itself. I have heard of online platforms dropping authors and works that do not sell, and algorithms for how your book is listed in search results plays a bit part in that behaviour too. That’s why it’s important to have a marketing plan and cover all your bases. Build a subscriber list. Argh! So many thing for an aspiring author to think about… and try not to spend too much of their own money to achieve it.

What’s your opinion on self-publishing? Are there too many low quality books saturating the market? Do you have any solutions that could help rescue its reputation?

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Creating an atmosphere to write

Music, ambience, views, nature, books… what helps set the scene for you to pen your next great story?

I go through moods with how I like my environment while writing. I see so many of those playlists on the internet, sometimes I feel like I’m missing something, because while I like to have music playing in the background at times, I don’t associate particular songs to a scene in a storyline.

So I have different modes when I write. At times I like complete silence. Which is fine when your home by yourself, but when you’re not, I need to pull out those noise cancelling headphones to get some work done before I succumb to the urge to bludgeon someone with a heavy blunt instrument.

Other moments I love having an ‘80’s playlist in the background. Something about sense memory of a more innocent time when I was growing up helps to free up my inspiration. Like I’m shedding the stresses of adult life and going back to a time when anything was possible. Music from this time period is like that old oversized cardigan, it’s familiar, you know all the lyrics, and you could listen to the soundtrack and never get tired of the melody. Can’t say my housemate particularly love the retro playlist on repeat, but hey, it’s not about them… and I can always listen to it on my headphones. No harm, no foul, let me dwell in my happy place unencumbered.

I also have moments where I love some easy listening or playing Andrea Kirwan in the background. Her voice melts away my headache and puts me in the mood to write a more intimate, emotional scene. Great for love scenes or creating angst. I’m a mood reader and a mood writer. I don’t have to craft a story sequentially, I can jump forward and backward in the storyline and pen a scene if I have a particular feeling I need to currently capture… yes I’m a plantser! (A combination of a plotter and a pantser for those of you who have not heard that term before.)

Visit Andrea’s website at http://www.andreakirwin.com

Dance music: those feverish times when my fingers are flying over the keyboard, like a coffee fuelled writing sprint. The volume is not too loud to pierce the bubble of extreme concentration as I channel from some other creative dimension. This is particularly useful in action scenes, or when my fingers on the keyboard cannot keep up with my overactive brain. While it feels productive and fantastic in the moment, often when I re-read the days work, some of it is embarrassingly discordant… like and actual monkey took over and was banging at the keyboard.

Ambient noise. Rainforest. Café, office, library… Public places also makes me productive. Something about needing to block out your surroundings to write. And the other layer of people watching you sitting there at a laptop makes me want to look like I’m a productive member of society. Knowing you are being watched is a great motivator, or being surrounded by other productive people make you want to pull your socks up and get to work.

But no matter where I’m working, I need a clean and clear workspace. If I’m writing with paper and pen, I need a bright and light area, whether indoor lighting or plenty of sunlight. There are also moments where I like to sneak down to the computer at night time and write in the darkness. It feels sneaky, intimate, like you’re undertaking subterfuge.

I also love a view of nature. Whether I’m sitting on my balcony overlooking the coast line. Seeing the rolling hills meet the sand and a stretch of white-capped waves rolling in from the horizon. Or down in the sunroom amongst rainforest trees, colourful parrots singing a tune, and a natural spring that brings a serenity with its waterlilies and ducks.

I don’t think I could work in the same place every day forever. It would feel stale after a time. The creative beast needs to be fed with sensations, sights, sounds, and stimulated with verse. Reading helps, conversations, observation, even daydreaming. It is the best way for me to stave off writer’s block… well I don’t necessarily get writer’s block because I switch up my environment, habits, what I’m working on so much that it never gets boring. That, and having a routine (whether I follow it or not) are great guides to keep the prose flowing.

And don’t forget to cut yourself a break. Good writing does not explode from you immediately. Writing is a process of inspiration and creativity, reviewing and editing, fine-tuning, and outside feedback. A solo endeavour, but a group experience. Writer, Reader, Reviewer…

There is no set structure for how to write, just many avenues you can try out for yourself and see what works. You’ll find your groove, fall out of it, and find inspiration again. The key is to never give up and never stop trying different methods. I routinely spring clean my office and re-arrange the furniture, pictures, colour scheme, it give the space a different feel and when I sit down to write it feels fresh and new – with no mistakes – and somehow leave me invigorated and ready to tackle the next challenges.

What are your tips for creating an ambience fit for writing? I’d love to get a writing group together, but living remotely, it’s not necessarily an option. Online doesn’t feel the same. Escaping to the university library is the next best thing. I even went and did a few weeks work at an empty desk in a friends office and it really helped get me out of a low productive moment. There’s always a way…

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Measuring Your Success as an Author

Measuring Your Success as an Author 01 by Casey Carlisle

You write, therefore you are.

Before we get into what can be a touchy subject for some, please note the title: I mention success, not commercial success. Which I feel is an important distinction. The latter seems to be the standard in order to gauge whether being a writer is, in fact, a worthwhile profession.

This topic came about from a discussion I was having with a few fellow authors when I had noticed an ex-business acquaintance posting about her award winning novel. How it was ranked #1 on Amazon. Now, from knowing her personally for over 10 years, I know she was never inclined with superb literacy. And upon hearing that I was writing books, and was going to be editing my mothers work (posthumously) to release under her name as a dying wish. It felt like she wanted to become an author to throw it in my face. Like anyone can do it. Like I wasn’t all that special.

Measuring Your Success as an Author 02 by Casey CarlisleTruth be told. Anyone can write a novel. But this woman was coming from a place of negativity. The past aside, I thought good for her. I’ve been toiling for years on content and yet to publish. She has achieved this in six short months. Though, when I investigated her claims, found out a little more about her book, nothing added up. No listing on Goodreads, no search results on Amazon, or Google for that matter. I couldn’t find it anywhere apart from a link on her website. It was a little overpriced. In the genre of self-help, and to be completely honest, nothing particularly unique or original. I could jump on Pinterest and scroll through the inspirational quotes and get the same sort of content.

Did that mean she wasn’t a success as an author?

So the discussion with my little gaggle of writers pondered the idea that you are a writer as long as you are writing, and an author as long as you have published something for public consumption.

The woman mentioned above may be an author, but she exposed herself as a bit of a liar by making sensational claims on stitched together content from very generic sources. My fellow writers wanted to discredit her because of how they put in so much time and effort to craft a novel, or memoir, and someone else produces something, in their opinion, substandard.

But that’s the thing about the access to self-publishing. We have started to see work that is solely produced as a revenue stream, a low-cost method to get your work out and support your claims that you are an established author.

I say good for them. Everyone has different tastes in literature, different ways they want to spend their own money. There is an audience for all types of writers.

Eluding further on the conversation, many of us were mixing up published online content with traditionally published and self-published material. It is such a diverse field. I had to bring up the fact that I do a lot of writing for web content, textbooks and manuals, technical writing, and ghost writing. Very little of which has my name attached to it. So it falls into the grey area of being labelled an author. I can’t point a something and claim I wrote it when I don’t have a by-line, or am not credited in the end pages. Today, we have infinitely more access and diverse modes of writing and publishing. I think the past ideas of a successful author aren’t holding true in today’s climate.

Not all authors are credited for their work. Not all writers earn money from their craft. Not all writers and authors are commercially successful.

Measuring Your Success as an Author 03 by Casey Carlisle

Talking to many writers, it seems the dream is to be getting that elusive best seller from being traditionally published. However there are alternatives to this ideal. Traditionally published authors reap the benefits of a system that has their work edited and published by a team, having their books positioned in book stores, department stores and online shops. It’s nothing a person with some basic know-how and a bit of savvy, and a lot of hard work cannot accomplish today. Online marketing has provided a great opportunity to anyone willing to have a go.

Blogs and podcasts have found success on their own. E-books have cornered a niche market. It is truly an amazing landscape in comparison to what existed 15-20 years ago.

Getting back to defining success as an author… is success earning a living from your publications? Recognition? Or merely the fact that you have been published? With the market being flooded with sub-par self-published material, general opinion on simply being published has become devalued. In a culture of influencers and social media, recognition seems to have taken a more dominant role. But that is tied into image, behaviour, content, and relevance. It’s a full time job managing an image just to market your publication. But individuals are doing it and winning. And as for earning a living from your published works… there aren’t a lot of writer friends in proportion to the number of writers I know of who are living above the poverty line solely on the profit and royalties they make from sales alone.

So, unfortunately, success as an author is a subjective term. It’s interpreted by the individual and their perspective. In my opinion as long as you are enriching the publishing landscape, touching readers, then you are a success. But don’t be like that woman lying about her book – she’s like a Karen. Don’t be Karen. Write with passion. Believe in your work. Support fellow authors and make the publishing experience a pleasant one, because heaven knows it’s hard enough for most of us to write a book in the first place.

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How would your measure success for an author or writer?

What is your opinion on a lot of these false claims made in marketing a book?

Do you thing self-publishing is sullying the reputations of published authors?

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© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

7 Ways to Create Sizzling First Sentences

7 Sizzling First Sentences Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

I read this article by Pamela Rushby in the WQ and wanted to share it here because I love compelling first sentences. I always try to write that hook for the start of my novels (and at the start of every chapter) because I feel it is important to be aware of ways to keep your words engaging and capture your audience. In fact it is one of the items I have on my checklist while editing.

What’s the most important sentence in your story?

The first!

When a potential reader picks up your book in a bookshop or library they’ll glance at the cover. Possibly read the blurb on the back. Then, if thy’re still attracted, flip the book open and read the first sentence.

The first sentence.

Now, you have probably not (unless you’re an author/illustrator) designed the cover. Probably not written the blurb on the back. So that first sentence is your first opportunity to grab your reader – and keep them reader.

Which means that the first sentence needs to be a sizzler.

Here are just a few first sentences that I desperately wish I’d written. You probably have favourites of your own – and I’d love to hear them.

  • The small boys arrived early for the hanging. (The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett, Penguin Random House 2016)
  • I’ve been collecting bugs since I was ten: it’s the only way I can stop their whispers. (Splintered, A.G. Howard, Amulex Books 2013)
  • King Constantine IX of Regia had been killed three times and was bored with it. (The Beggar Queen, Lloyd Alexander, E.P. Dutton 1984)
  • The three backpackers were breathing heavily. (Circles of Stone, HarperCollins 2003)
  • I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. (I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith, St Martins Griffin 1948)

All pretty compelling, yes? Except one. I slipped that in there because I don’t like it at all. I think it’s weak. Dull. It’s ‘The three backpackers were breathing heavily.’ B-o-r-i-n-g. And I can say that because I wrote it. It’s the first sentence of my ya novel Circles of Stone. It makes me blush now. I’d never use that as a first sentence again.

So how could I have made that stronger – a sizzling first sentence? One way is to locate the first really dramatic incident in the book and make that the first sentence. Put it right up front. Hook the reader, then explain what’s going on in flashbacks.

In Circles I was 2000 words into the story before something exciting happened: the discovery of a centuries-old mummified body in a bog. That’s where I should have begun!

But there are many different ways to start a story, and I’ve collected seven of them.

7 Sizzling First Sentences Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

And here are a few examples:

Action   I didn’t hesitate. I shot him

Dialogue   “So, Sabrina, just when was it you discovered that you were destined to kill your one ture love?”

Thought   It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife (Pride and Prejidice, Jane Austin)

Senses, feeling   He knew there was something about that room, it was the way he shivered and a cold sweat broke out under his arms whenever he passed it.

Surprise, shock   I never thought my favourite cousin would try to poison me on my sixteenth birthday.

Question   When you start a new school you know it’s not going to be a barrel of laughs, but do you expect to be charged with murder on your first day?

Description   Dusk drew in, sleet hissed furiously against the cabin walls, and much closer than they would have liked, something suspiciously like a wolf howled.

 

Want to try it for yourself? Here’s a short scenario:

It’s 79AD. You’re living in Pompeii, In Italy. You’ve noticed some slight earth tremors in the past few days, but these happen often in Pompeii. Nothing to worry about. Then, without warning, you hear an ear-splitting roar. You turn to see the mountain behind your town has exploded. A huge black cloud is climbing up into the sky.

Now, choose a way to start: action, dialogue, statement, feeling, surprise, question, description.

What’s your first sizzling sentence?

Pamela Rushby has had over 200 books published, both in Australia and overseas. Her books and scripts have won many awards. Her historical fantasy middle-grade novel, The Mummy Smugglers of Crumblin Castle will be published by Walker in 2020. It is guaranteed to have a sizzling first sentence.

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I liked that we got specific examples and an exercise to challenge our writer’s brain in creating an attention grabbing first sentence. Is this something you’ve thought of? Have your heard this advice before? Do you have a particular favourite first sentence?

I also like the approach that some authors take of a preface – a cut scene from the most dramatic part of the novel to grab the readers attention.

Additionally, some novels have fun chapter headings, or a weird location to create intrigue like Somewhere beneath the city in the darkness of the catacombs 1:37am.

It’s all about creating an atmosphere to hook your reader… do you have a favourite that you have written? Share some in the comments sections, I’d love the hear them – and possibly find my next five star read!

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© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.