Posted in Self-publishing, Writing

1 Simple Tip to Boost Your Writing Productivity: Learn to Touch-Type

A post in praise of touch-typing

This post originally appeared on the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Self-publishing Advice blog here, where it was obviously aimed at indie authors and aspiring writers, a startling number of whom don’t touch-type. I’m reproducing it here because I believe the content is equally relevant and helpful to anyone who uses a computer keyboard for any purpose, business or pleasure.

Why the old-fashioned skill of touch typing can be a real boon to twenty-first century indie authors, and why you should add this accomplishment to your repertoire to help you increase your output as a writer.

Blog posts and books abound about how indie authors can increase their self-publishing productivity by various means, primarily by focusing on increasing daily word counts. Different methods exist for boosting your writing output, such as getting into a daily habit of writing a fixed number of words per session or day, or by writing in sprints, against the clock, or using popular schemes such as NaNoWriMo to squeeze out a fixed word count in a set time frame.

Image of keyboard with most of letters rubbed off

True touch typing means it doesn’t matter if you’ve written so much, you’ve worn the letters off your keyboard

Missing a Trick

But most of these schemes fail to mention one of the most straightforward practical tips there is: to learn to touch-type.  In an informal survey I’ve just conducted of over 100 indie authors, around 40% of them admitted they didn’t touch type. This included writers of multiple books. I wondered how much more prolific they might be if they mastered this important art.

What is Touch-typing?

Touch typing means typing accurately without looking at the keyboard. Thanks to an ALLi member in Russia, Alexander Kirko, I can tell you that in three other languages, touch typing is known as “blind typing”, which I think is a more graphic description.

When you can touch type efficiently, you can set down many more words per minute than you can when you have to look at the keyboard. This frees you to concentrate on picking the right words, rather than hunting for the right letters.

There’s no such thing as a “sort of” touch typist. It’s like being “a bit pregnant”. You either are or you aren’t.

Many Ways to Learn

Many of the respondents to my informal poll reported that they’d learned to touch type early in their careers, either at school or at college or on first entering the world of work, and plenty went on to say it was the most useful skill they’d ever learned.

But the good news is, it’s never too late to learn, and by throwing a little time at the task each day, you can quickly acquire the skill. It’s simply a question of putting in a certain number of hours to program your brain.

How you do it is up to you, and there’s plenty of choice.

  • I learned fresh out of university, using a tried-and-trusted traditional approach: a typing manual with a cardboard chart that taught you to match the right fingers to the right keys, building up your skill one row and one new finger at a time till you’d mastered the alphabet.
  • These days there are plenty of automated programs available online to make the process more fun.

Whichever route you choose, make sure you pick one that serves the layout for whatever language you write in. When I went to work in Switzerland in my twenties, I had to reprogramme myself to use a German keyboard, in which the Y and the Z trade places.

If you’ve learned to drive a car, you can learn to touch type. And you won’t even have to master hill starts or parallel parking.

So if you haven’t mastered the art of touch typing yet, and are seeking to increase your writing output, don’t dismiss this simple technique. Once you’re hammering out 80 words a minute (my current rate – I just checked on this fun online gadget), you’ll be glad that you persevered.

http://www.allianceindependentauthors.org/?affid=?885
All for one and one for all – the Alliance of Independent Authors’ cute pen logo

If you’re an author or an aspiring author, you’ll find more posts like this, with a new one published every day, on the Alliance of Independent AuthorsSelf-publishing Advice blog, of which I’m Commissioning Editor. 

Posted in Self-publishing, Writing

Writing: In Praise of Editors & Proofreaders

http://www.allianceindependentauthors.org/?affid=?885
All for one and one for all – the Alliance of Independent Authors’ cute pen logo

I originally wrote this post for the Alliance of Independent Authors‘ blog, but I hope readers of my own blog will also find it entertaining. I certainly enjoyed writing it!

(This is an abridged version of the original post, but you can read it in full on the Alliance of Independent Authors‘ website here.) 

Editors: Unsung Superheroes Who Save Authors from Themselves

No matter how well authors polish a manuscript before submitting them for professional editing, and regardless of how dazzling their prose, a good editor will always polish it further. In true superhero style, editors and proofreaders daily avert disaster, and I’m glad I’ve secured the services of two brilliant professionals to help me with my books, Alison Jack and Helen Baggott.

image of heavily edited manuscript
Just one of many rounds of self-editing that I do before passing my final, final, final manuscript into the hands of my trusty editor, Alison Jack

Classic Errors Spotted by Editors

Here are some typical errors recently shared by authors and editors on ALLi’s private member forum, spotted either in their own books or in books by other writers.

Continuity errors are too easy for an author to miss:

  • two unrelated characters sharing the same surname
  • eyes or hair spontaneously changing colour from one page to the next
  • a character’s medication changing from one chapter to the next
  • someone at the theatre sitting in mid-air (in the front row of the circle, they leaned forward to tap the person in front on the shoulder)
  • a character entering a flat twice without leaving in between times
  • a person landing at JFK before the flight has taken off from Heathrow (and in a different model of plane from the one in which the journey began)

Global search-and-replace can trigger disasters:

  • changing Carol’s name to Barbara was fine until the carol singing scene
  • swapping “ass” for “butt” resulted in a case of embarrbuttment

There are also comical typos that a spellchecker will let through because the words are correctly typed, but the meaning is wrong in the context:

  • a bowel full of sauerkraut left on the balcony to ferment
  • a female character becoming enraptured by the scent of a man’s colon
  • a trip on an udderless boat
  • the stoking of cats
  • an acute angel
  • the Suntan of Brunei

Serious Consequences (Bad Reviews) Averted by Editors

Author Geoffrey Ashe, in The Art of Writing Made Simple, classifies readers into three different groups:

  • the critical reader
  • the lazy reader who won’t make an effort
  • the one who has the eye for the comic or incongruous

If you’re an author, it’s worth keeping all three in mind while you’re writing and self-editing.

While an indulgent reader of the third kind might simply smile and move on, it’s also very easy these days for dissastisfied readers to post scathing reviews online, deterring others from buying your books in future.

So although this is a light-hearted post, the message is a serious one on the importance of the editor’s role in helping you publish your books to professional standards – or indeed anything else that you happen to be writing for public consumption, including blogs of business reports for work.

In Praise of MY Editor and Proofreader

While ALLi policy precluded me from giving a shout-out in the original post to the professional editorial people that I employ for my own books, I would like to take the opportunity to thank Alison Jack (www.alisonjack-editor.co.uk) and Helen Baggott (www.helenbaggott.co.uk) for regularly saving me from myself when editing and proofreading books for me.

I should add that this post has been edited only by me, so any errors it contains are entirely my responsibility – and proof of how dependent I am on the likes of Alison and Helen!

ALLi logoMORE INFORMATION FOR AUTHORS

To learn more about the benefits of joining the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), visit their membership website:
www.allianceindependentauthors.org.

To read more posts on ALLi’s Author Advice Centre blog (of which I’m commissioning editor, visit their blog site: 
www.selfpublishingadvice.org 

Posted in Writing

Blog Chain: What Am I Working On?

Brooch in the form of a typewriterToday I’m pleased to be taking part in a blog chain. 

Don’t worry, it’s not one of those dreadful chain letters that does the rounds on the internet, imploring you to forward an email to umpteen friends to earn good luck or ward off a curse.  A blog chain is simply a blog post written on a set topic, at the end of which you nominate a given number of bloggers to do the same. Put a lot of them together and – ta da! – you have a chain.

The blog chain is a cousin of the blog hop, which requires a quantity of bloggers post simultaneously on the same topic, including links to each other’s posts. You may have spotted a recent hop that I took part in: Helen Hollick’s excellent Winter Solstice Blog Hop.

I wonder what the collective noun for a group of bloggers is, by the way? Feel free to make suggestions via the comments box at the end!

Why Bloggers Like Blog Chains & Hops

Bloggers like to take part in blog chains and hops because:

  • chains provide a ready-made idea for a post
  • they help bloggers reach new readers via the other links in the chain
  • they’re fun!

But you can have too much of a good thing. A blog with a disproportionate number of chain-linked posts can be dull. But once in a while, I’m happy to take part, because it’s an opportunity to work with author/blogger friends whose company I enjoy and whose work I’m sure will interest my readers.

Passing the Baton to Me: Sally Jenkins

Sally JenkinsThe first of these is the English writer Sally Jenkins, who kindly nominated me in her post a week ago. Sally is a highly experienced, talented and generous writer of short fiction. Two of her story collections have been published on Kindle (I enjoyed them both!) and she is currently tweaking her 2013 NaNoWriMo script into shape. Find out more about Sally  on her excellent blog, on which she often shares useful tips and information about writing: http://www.sallyjenkins.wordpress.com

As Sally’s post explains, the theme of this chain is “What Am I Working On?” Participants are required to answer these four questions about their writing (or at least whichever ones they wish to answer!):

  1. What am I working on?
  2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
  3. Why do I write what I do?
  4. How does my writing process work?

Being the garrulous type, I’m happy to answer all of them! I write in two different genres, non-fiction and short fiction, so each of my answers will be in two parts.

What am I working on?

  • Non-fiction I’m just putting the finishing touches to a book in support of ALLi‘s Open Up To Indies campaign, and then – new year, new book! I’m just starting to write  The Author’s Guide to Blogging, to be published by SilverWood Books. Over the summer I’ll be revising my book promotion handbook, Sell Your Books!, also a SilverWood Original, ready for an updated second edition to be published in the autumn. Other plans include: an extended paperback edition of my e-book Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes, with lots of new material, and Travels with My Camper Van, based on my many blog posts about our family’s travels.
  • Short fiction My first fiction project of 2014 is Quick Change, a collection of short stories and flash fiction on the theme of transition. Then I’ll be pressing on with Tuning In, a volume of short stories inspired by misheard snippets of BBC Radio 4. (I published a taster story as a Christmas ebook, The Owl and the Turkey.)

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

  • Non-fiction My self-help books for authors are exceptionally friendly, positive and supportive, and my readers enjoy my optimistic, encouraging tone. My memoir writing combines my strong sense of fun and of the ridiculous with poignant observation.
  • Short fiction The same combination, really – my writing reflects how I am in real life: sensitive but daft! My stories are also very positive. I don’t “do” sad – I’m an optimist but also  a realist. Readers often remark that they enjoy the “light touch” of my writing, whether addressing serious or light-hearted issues.

Why do I write what I do?

  • Non-fiction Self-help books for authors: because I have a lot of knowledge and experience that I can easily share, and I want to help other writers become more successful. The travel pieces: because wherever I travel, I find inspiration, and writing about it is my instinctive response. Memoirs: because I want to capture the memories for my daughter and the rest of my family, and because I worry that one day I won’t remember them myself.
  • Fiction I’ve always wanted to write fiction and now at last, after a long full-time career in the real world, I have the time and leisure to fit fiction writing in to my daily life – although since I gave up my day job, my non-fiction writing and related freelance work has taken up most of my time.

How does my writing process work?

When I first get an idea, I plan a rough outline on paper (chapter headings for the non-fiction books, scribbly random notes for the rest) and let them simmer for a while. I keep a notebook by my bed and in my handbag to capture odd ideas as they occur, for later development. Occasionally I’ll write the first draft of a short story longhand, but I can do it much faster on my netbook or PC. However, this might change soon, as my friend the writer, poet and creative thinking coach Orna Ross has just recommended to me a voice-activated writing software package that sounds a great way of speeding up the writing part.

Once the first draft is down on paper or screen, I redraft and edit, over and over again, until the words are so familiar that I can do no more. If there’s time, I’ll leave the manuscript to one side for a few weeks, but I don’t always have that luxury with blog posts in particular.

 I write best first thing in the morning, preferably in my pyjamas, and better still, in bed, but I rarely have the leisure to do that, as the school run calls. I write best of all when I’ve been in bed ill for a few days, when new story ideas emerge fully formed from my rested brain. I’m definitely at my most creative first thing, and my plan is to spend at least a couple of hours every morning doing creative writing, with the non-fiction work, marketing and related chores saved for the afternoon. I also like to blog as much as I can, but there’s never enough time to do everything – there are as many unwritten blog posts still stuck inside my head as there are online (and there are around 400 posts online across both my websites just now). In the evenings I prefer reading to writing. Every writer should be reading daily and widely.

Passing The Baton On…

So, now to introduce my three nominated writers. I can’t wait to read their answers to these questions! 

  • Canadian novelist Francis Guenette

Francis and I became friends on Twitter on the night of the last papal election, enjoying the banter on Twitter about this historic occasion. When it turned out that the new pope was also to be named Francis, I knew this friendship was meant to be! I have just been bowled over by her debut novel, Disappearing in Plain Sight, published early last year. (Read my review here.) Here’s Francis’s bio:

Francis GuenetteFrancis Guenette has spent most of her life on the west coast of British Columbia. She lives with her husband and dog and finds inspiration for writing in the beauty and drama of their lakeshore cabin and garden. She has a graduate degree in Counselling Psychology from the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. She has worked as an educator, trauma counsellor and researcher. Disappearing in Plain Sight is her first novel.  Find out more about Francis at her always interesting author website and blog: http://disappearinginplainsight.com

  • English historical novelist Helen Hollick

I first met Helen at the launch of my book marketing handbook for authors, Sell Your Books! Helen and I share a publisher, the author services provider SilverWood Books, and we’ve since become good friends, although we live a hundred miles apart. The first book in Helen’s pirate fantasy series kept my spirits up during a pre-Christmas bout of bronchitis, and the sequels are now on my to-read list. Here’s my review of Sea Witchone of my top reads for 2013. She’s also one of my mum’s favourite authors! Here’s how Helen describes herself:

Helen HollickHelen Hollick started writing pony stories as a young teenager. She moved onto science fiction and fantasy and then discovered the delight of writing historical fiction. Helen is published in the UK and the US with her books about King Arthur and the 1066 Battle of Hastings, officially making the USA Today best seller list with her novel Forever Queen. She also writes a series of historical adventure seafaring books inspired by her love of the Golden Age of Piracy. As a firm supporter of independent authors, publishers and bookstores, she has recently taken on the role of UK Editor for the Historical Novel Society Online Review for self-published historical fiction produced in the UK. Helen now lives in Devon with her husband, adult daughter and son-in-law – and a variety of pets, including a dog, two cats, and four horses. Her website is at www.helenhollick.net and her blog is at www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.co.uk.

  • American novelist Amira Makansi

Amira Makansi with a copy of The Sowing I met Amira via the Alliance of Independent Authors, whose blog of self-publishing advice I edit, and I was interested to hear about her debut The Sowing, which was co-written with two other authors – her mother and sister. Following her article about the experience on the ALLi blog, I’ve been following her progress with interest – she’s a lively, energetic and talented author and blogger who I’m sure is going to go far. She kindly asked me to be a guest on her blog before Christmas (here’s my post on her blog), and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to return the favour now. Here is what Amira has to say about herself:

Amira loves nothing more in life than reading and writing, except maybe hot wings. As an artist, she’s interested in pretty much anything except the real world. Give her science fiction, fantasy, or even a good historical fiction and she’ll love you forever. Her debut novel, the first book in the Seeds trilogy, co-written with her mother Kristy and sister Elena, is a science-fiction dystopia that explores what happens when corrupt politicians control the food system. She’s also got a bad case of wanderlust and has yet to ‘settle down’ like most normal people her age. You can find her in the hills and mountains of Oregon, the vineyards of France, or the streets of St. Louis. She’s currently working on a reader-driven blog serial in the dark fantasy or paranormal genre, which you can find here , the second book in the Seeds trilogy titled The Reaping, and an in-between novella set in the same world, as yet untitled.

Hop over to their websites now to find out more about them – and if you visit them again this time next week, you’ll find out more about what they’re working on too.

So, back to my question at the start of this post, what IS the collective noun for bloggers? Answers in the comments section please!

Posted in Personal life, Reading, Travel, Writing

Why I’m Going Underground (And So Is My Book)

Map of the London Underground akak the Tube
Current London Underground (Tube) from Transport for London’s official website

Last weekend I came across a terrific new scheme to entertain bored commuters and tourists as they travel beneath the streets of London on the city’s famous Underground system, commonly known as the Tube.

It’s called Books on the Underground and does what you might expect from its name: it distributes books on the London Underground system for people to pick up and read for free. They may either dip into a book on their journey and leave it where they found it, or take the book home to read in full. The only proviso is that they release the book back onto the Tube afterwards. A branded sticker on the cover makes it clear that each book belongs to the scheme and acts as a reminder to return it.

Who Sends Books Underground?

Inceptio by Alison Morton at Stockwell tube station
Alison Morton’s alternate history novel transports readers from Stockwell to Roma Nova (Photo by Books on the Underground)

Anyone can donate a book, including its author. Many authors I know, through my book promotions consultancy Off The Shelf and the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), whose blog of self-publishing advice I edit, are climbing aboard the scheme. It’s a fun way for an author to gain visibility – literally – for their work.

I’m sending a copy of my own book underground this weekend. As Sell Your Books! has a narrow target market (it’s a self-help book of promotion advice for authors), I wasn’t sure the scheme would want it, but their lovely administrator Hollie assures me that they would. After all, authors travel by Underground too.

My Top 10 Books for Reading on the Tube

I began to wonder what other titles might be appropriate for Underground travellers. Here are the 10 titles I’d most like to find there:

  • Alice’s Adventures Underground (the original title for Alice in Wonderland, seen on old copies) by Lewis Carroll
  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  • Travels with my Aunt by Graham Greene
  • Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  • The Odyssey by Homer
  • The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford
  • Lost Horizon by James Hilton
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • and finally, ending on a lighter note: Are We Nearly There Yet? by Ben Hatch

Action Stations

Lucienne Boyce's historival novel To The Fair Land on the Underground
Travelling To The Fair Land by Tube (Photo from Books on the Underground’s website)

As a former London commuter, I’m well acquainted with the Underground network. I can easily picture the books travelling through the different stations on familiar lines. So it struck me as especially magical if a passenger picked up a book at a particularly relevant Tube stop. I’m longing for someone boarding at Covent Garden to pick up my friend Lucienne Boyce’s fab historical novel, To The Fair Landwhich opens  with a vivid scene in the Covent Garden of 1789. What a great way to escape from 2013 London for the rest of their journey.

Here are another top 10 titles that I’d like to find at a particular station:

  • A Zoo in my Luggage by Gerald Durrell (Regent’s Park)
  • Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (Westminster)
  • 1984 by George Orwell (Westminster again)
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Conan Doyle (Baker Street)
  • Peter Pan by J M Barrie (either of the Kensington stops)
  • Babar the King by Jean de Brunhoff (Elephant and Castle)
  • The Adventures of Paddington Bear by Michael Bond (no prizes for guessing that one’s station)
  • Heidi by Johanna Spyri (Swiss Cottage)
  • The Wombles by Elisabeth Beresford (Wimbledon)
  • The House at Pooh Corner by A A Milne (just about anywhere on the grubby old Northern Line)

I’m sure you can think of more books you’d love to find Underground. Please feel free to add them in a comment below – I’d love to hear your ideas. And if you’re travelling on the Underground and come across my book, please send me a photo!

London Underground map from 1908
We’re getting there – London Underground map from 1908 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

More Underground information:

If you enjoyed this post, you might like some other posts about travel:

Posted in Family, Reading, Writing

Meeting My Hero: M C Beaton

Cover of Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death
Who could resist a book with a title like that?

Walking past my local public library just before Christmas, I nearly fell over in delighted surprise when I spotted a big sign announcing an imminent personal appearance by one of my favourite living novelists, M C Beaton.

Although my nearest public library is in the middle of an old-fashioned  shopping centre, its managers are  up-to-the-minute on what makes modern readers tick. M C Beaton is the author of some of the most borrowed library books in the country (more details here). I’ve been hooked on her mystery  stories  ever since I heard a snippet of a radio dramatisation of the first Agatha Raisin book, Agatha Raisin and The Quiche of Death. I’ve now worked my way through all 23 books in the Agatha Raisin series, another 28 about Hamish Macbeth, and some of her others too. Always enormously prolific, at the age of 74 she still writes at least two books every year, an Agatha and a Hamish, for which her fans are truly grateful.

I immediately snapped up tickets for myself and her other fans in my family: my parents and my sister. We were all impatient for the day of her talk to arrive. After giving them a big build-up to the event, I became a little anxious. Would M C Beaton live up to our sky-high expectations? Supposing she wasn’t as fun, witty, warm and anarchic as her books? When I was a child, I met Michael Bond, creator of Paddington Bear  and Olga da Polga, and found him rather dull. There wasn’t a jar of marmalade nor a duffle coat in sight. (Apologies to Michael Bond, by the way – my disappointment reflects my childish grasp of authorship rather than his personality!)

Top Talk by A Master of Her Craft

M C Beaton addressing audience in library
The audience hung on her every word

Thankfully, Marion Chesney, to use her real name, was even more fun than I’d dared hope.  On the appointed evening in January, we battled through wind and rain to gather in the little local library. The room was buzzing with the chatter of eager fans, yet the minute she walked in, the room fell silent. She progressed  across the room, her Edwardian-style velvet gown billowing about her in a multitude of jewel-like colours. Beneath it shimmered a copper silk shirt. She knew how to create a dramatic entrance. Taking her seat on a plain library chair in the middle of the room, she picked up the microphone and with no more ado began to speak. Without reference to notes or slides, she took us through a highly entertaining account of her career, swiftly moving from bookshop assistant to reporter to theatre critic to novelist, holding the audience completely in her thrall.

It would be easy for a bestselling writer to use library events simply to sell their books. M C Beaton preferred to entertain. She also demonstrated herself to be as prolific a reader as she is a writer, just as all good writers ought to be. I was especially pleased to hear that one of her favourite authors was another of my literary heroes: Dorothy L Sayers, creator of Lord Peter Wimsey.

“I’ve even bought Fifty Shades of Gray,” she announced to our astonishment. “I bought it by mistake at an airport when I didn’t have my glasses on. I thought, ‘Oh, here’s a new P D James I haven’t read yet’.”

The Icing on the Cake

M C Beaton shares a joke with my mum
Making my mum’s day

We were putty in her capable hands. Her self-deprecating tales served only to hold us deeper in her thrall. After the talk, not only was the queue to buy her books enormous; many people went back two or three times with further purchases.

Were we the unwitting victims of clever, cynical marketing tactics? Oh no, she was entirely genuine. How do I know? I asked her to sign a book for my author friend Sandy Osborne, whose own debut novel Girl Cop had been published the previous week. As she was autographing the frontispiece, I had a sudden, cheeky impulse to tell her about Girl Cop, and I offered to send her a free copy.

“Oh no, dear, give me the details and I’ll order it from Amazon,” she said with a winning smile. “I believe in writers getting their royalties.”

Cover of Death of a Scriptwriter by M C Beaton
The writer’s revenge!

M C Beaton’s writing career has not all been plain sailing. She is still bitter at the way she was treated by the producers of the Hamish Macbeth television series many years ago. They took extraordinary liberties with her characters and plots, which bear  no resemblance to her creations. Scandalously, they don’t even pay her royalties for repeats. But is she downhearted?

“Oh no, I got my revenge,” she asserted. “My next Hamish Macbeth book was called Death of a Scriptwriter.”

Now that’s what I call a class act.

For more about M C Beaton, visit her website.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to read other items I’ve written in praise of public libraries:

A nostalgic portrait of the public library I visited as a child

From my book promotion website, a report on talks by romantic novelist Sarah Duncan and performance poet John Hegley