Some Salvaged Scribbles.

A few days after my handwritten entry last week, I was looking for something in my bottom drawer, when I discovered an old notepad. It’s nothing special; it’s a Tesco Value spiral-bound A4 pad with a slightly ripped cover.

I’ve used a quarter of its 80 pages, and most of it is taken up with attempts to expand on a fragment of poetry that I tried to expand into a song, although there is also a brief novel idea, pages of free writing, and a poem on the topic of my own handwriting.

Of these, I only consider the poem be a decent piece of work. As for the rest, I know what I was trying to express, but I didn’t have the techniques at my disposal to do it properly. But looking at the content, I’ve calculated that I last wrote in this notebook in September 2009, more than a year before I began writing. I’m therefore not surprised about the quality.

My filing system
My filing system

Yesterday, I discovered other half-completed notebooks, but none as full or detailed as this one. I’ve noticed I rarely reached the last page, although I’m more than likely to complete my current ones. Also, there are hardly any drawings or even doodles, just text.

But the one notebook I would like to look at again is missing, believed lost. At my very first National Novel Writing Month meeting, my laptop battery died. I had to rush out and buy a notepad and mechanical pencil so I could continue my story. I had it about a year before its disappearance, and it contains drafts of my first novel, and some of my earliest stories. I don’t think I’ve lost anything, but I might have.

I know I’m not the only writer with notepads dotted about, and I’d like to hear about yours. Do you have any hidden in a drawer somewhere? What did you discover when you pulled them out again? Have you misplaced an important story you wish you could recover?

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The Update to The Update.

Alternate Hilarities
Alternate Hilarities

Over the last few entries, I’ve posted that Strange Musings Press would be printing my story Amending Diabolical Acronym Misuse, subject to raising enough money through their Kickstarter page.

I’m pleased to report that the $1,100 target has been reached, and the anthology will absolutely and definitely be going ahead.

The Kickstarter campaign is still open, and there are extra bonuses for reaching $2,200 and above.

An Update on @Strange_Musings, and Some Transatlantic Translations.

Alternate Hilarities
Alternate Hilarities

Around three weeks ago, I was pleased to report that I’ve had a third short story accepted for publication. Strange Musings Press of New York will be printing Amending Diabolical Acronym Misuse, subject to raising enough funds through their Kickstarter page.

There’s still around a week left to raise the $1,100 required for it to go ahead. You can donate at several different levels from $1 to $150, each of which buys you into the project with increasing levels of reward, including electronic and/or paper copies, autographs, and your name in the Contributors’ section.

My story is called Amending Diabolical Acronym Misuse, and it’s about a man who wants to rid the world of badly-constructed acronyms. Although I’m Scottish, my dialect is British English so that’s how most of my stories are written, including this one.

If I’m sending to an American publisher, I often change the grammar and spelling to suit; at least, I have a decent stab at it. In one case, I even wrote the whole story in US English because the character was so strong in my head: a cross between Jason Gideon from Criminal Minds, and Adrian Monk. In Amending…, I took the decision to keep it in my natural dialect as there are a number of references to British places and companies, and I felt it would look odd if I, “translated” it.

A couple of weeks ago, I began reading The Traveller by John Twelve Hawks. The narrative is written with a curious mix of dialects. For instance, the title is spelt with two Ls and there’s a reference to a pub, but the colour gray and an SUV appear in other parts. The SUV would be known as a 4-by-4 in Britain. The story is set in several countries so I expect it’s difficult to settle on one standard spelling, yet it’s not a distraction here, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the story.

Conversely, my mentor Zöe Venditozzi released her debut novel Anywhere’s Better Than Here in 2012. When a US edition hit the shelves, she told me there were no spelling changes made. When you buy a copy, watch out for the character whose initials match mine.

So is it important to adapt your dialect depending on which side of the Atlantic you’ll be published? I expect most Internet users will be accustomed to reading both, but at the same time, people will still write in whichever they feel comes most naturally.

Perhaps one day in the future, the two will merge and we’ll have one way of spelling each word, one form of grammar for all. It would be more practical, but probably rather dull.

Helping @SuitedSorted Improve His Blog, and Hints for Everyone Else.

I hadn’t written a response blog for years, and now this is my second in a fortnight. But this time, it was requested.

Scott Graham runs Suited Sorted on Blogspot, where he has recently re-focused on Android technology, although he has back entries discussing music, television, holidays, and weight loss. He has asked for some constructive criticism about the page, and with ten years’ blogging experience, I reckon I’m qualified to pass on some tips.

Tone, spelling, and grammar

Scott wonders if he’s a little too conversational. There’s a certain style that many bloggers go for, whether they mean to or not. The closest off-line equivalent is an opinion column in a newspaper. You’re telling the reader your view on a particular matter, but using everyday spoken words. For instance, you’ll say asked for rather than requested, or use contractions like can’t instead of cannot.

Cartoon about spelling mistakes in blogs
Thats verry true

But this isn’t a licence to spell words any old way, or leave out punctuation where it’s needed. Almost every piece of blogging software has a spellchecker. Spelling extensions are available for Firefox and Chrome, most mobile phones have the facility built-in, and the latest edition of Microsoft Word even lets you post to WordPress directly. If the reader doesn’t have to decode what you’re trying to tell them, your message will come across much stronger.

Scott, you’re doing fine on that front.

Layout

Newspapers and magazines learnt early on that long articles do not translate well to the Web. When you’re reading a three-page printed interview, your neck automatically moves downwards as your eyes follow the text, where scrolling down with your hands requires more conscious effort. A normal screen – not an e-ink display – is also brighter than a page, so it’s harder to read from.

That’s why I restrict my paragraphs to about three to six lines, and leave a clear line between each one. A lot of people will give up reading a wall of text, if they attempt it at all.

Your paragraphs can be quite long, Scott, but certainly not the dreaded wall.

Attracting attention

Using the site analytics tools on WordPress, I’ve found that my posts attract more attention and reaction if I post them between around 6pm and 10pm Monday to Friday. Entries made at any time on Saturday or Sunday simply don’t seem to be noticed. Certain tags also seem to generate interest, while others have no effect.

For years, I posted with LiveJournal and tagged my entries. I very much accepted that hardly anyone except my friends read the page, as they were the only ones to comment. But when I moved to WordPress, I realised I’d been missing out on this vital piece of analysis. Everyone will be different, and some will find that daytime or weekend posts work for them.

So keep tagging your entries, Scott, and have a look at Blogspot’s analysis tools to find out exactly when people are reading you. I hope you’ve found this critique helpful.

To everyone else, I’ll be pleased if any of my suggestions help you with your own blogging.

Happy World Book Day: A Response to @MostlyYummy.

It’s a rare occasion that Mostly Yummy’s blog topics will intersect in any way with mine, but today it’s happened.

I didn’t realise until this morning that World Book Day was such a big deal among the nation’s schoolchildren. They’re encouraged to dress up as their favourite fictional character.

The theory of this is quite sound. A child’s imagination can be sparked and expanded by his or her early reading choices. The other part of the theory is peer pressure. If a child knows that everyone else will be dressing up, they’ll likely want to do the same.

Like many children, I loved Roald Dahl’s slightly twisted novels, but I also enjoyed the stories from Antelope Books. I can’t find any relevant references to Antelope online, so do comment if you remember these guys.

But as Yummy points out in today’s post, the reality of the aforementioned theory can be very different. She tells us how she tried to cobble together outfits for two of her children, while making a valid point that the dressing up can overshadow the intention of World Book Day which is to read.

I must’ve mentioned this before, but being asked to do anything artistic scares the bejesus out of me; even seeing the words Daler Rowney brings me out in hives. I disliked the subject at school since I could never make the final product look anything like what the teacher asked. I did know what I wanted to draw, paint, or construct, but it became lost somewhere between my head and my arm. In essence, I sympathise a great deal with my fellow blogger.

I’ve been upfront from the start that I’m a latecomer to writing fiction. I didn’t pen a single piece between my last high school English class, when it was mandatory, and just before I turned 27. Despite the long gap, I find writing comes naturally to me, although I still had to learn the rules and conventions of the craft, whereas expressing myself with a paintbrush just isn’t me.

I recognise that some people won’t be able to relate to this as they have the exact opposite talents. I would like to learn, as it could complement my writing. Perhaps someone suitably gifted could put together a Complete Ninny’s Guide for me, and throw in a copy for Mostly Yummy.