Sunday, April 29, 2012

May Writing Prompts - get on board!

Some of you might know that I have another blog and website these days (am I crazy? Probably!) I've been working on Ebooks4writers for over a year, and my aim is to publish, in one form or another, all the stuff I've been teaching in my creative writing classes for the past 20 years.

Most recently, I've posted a series on how to create great characters - the first one begins with the outside (then I look at aspects such as personality and psychology). And I'm giving away a free ebook called The Tough Guide to Why You're Not Published Yet.

Right now, I'm setting up a writing challenge for May. Anyone who emails me will get a fiction and a poetry prompt in their email InBox every day in May. That's 31 fiction writing ideas and 31 poetry writing ideas (and I'm throwing in some occasional children's story ideas for good measure).

Hop on over to the site for more information, or if you just want to sign up for your prompts now, email me at sherryl (at) ebooks4writers (dot) com. Looking forward to writing with you!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Why You Should Backup Your Work - 3 times!

How much is your writing worth to you? Some of it, I bet, is priceless. Poems you wrote just for yourself, family stories you'll never hear again, journal writing that got you through a bad time. Photos. And that novel which is not published yet, and is in its fifth draft, but you're getting close. The poetry collection you're going to publish that you've spent two weeks solid putting together. The blog post you're really proud of, ready to post tomorrow.
Phfffft! All gone. Forever. Because you didn't back up recently.

Most writers do back up. It only takes losing things a couple of times before you get to grips with the need to back up copies of your work on a regular basis. But the word regular is the one that gets most of us. For a long time, I had a back-up program on my computer that did it for me every day, to an external hard drive. When my computer hard drive died, I had nearly everything backed up, and was I relieved! But now I have a new computer and guess what - I can't get the program to work on this one. It's my number 1 job for today. Find another program.

But why do I say - back up three times? Because things do fail twice. If, for example, my computer had died because of a huge power surge, the external drive would very likely have died, too, because it's permanently connected. And other backup options do the same. USB drives (flash drives) have a higher failure rate than you realise, plus they are easily lost. And I hope you're not one of those who keeps their USB on their key ring, along with a dozen metal keys.

Another option being promoted everywhere is saving in the cloud, i.e. up there in cyberspace. Now this is useful, as your third option, but be careful. Cloud storage can fail, too. Even paid cloud storage. Just look at what happened to those who had paid storage accounts with Megauploads. Recently, the IT guy in the Age Green Guide had problems with stuff he had stored in the Apple cloud. If you don't have a heap of stuff to store "up there", try opening a special Gmail account and emailing important files to yourself instead.

Another option is to burn your photos and files onto CDs and store them with friends. That way, if your house burns down, that kind of backup is safe. What is not such a good idea is storing your backups at your workplace in your work computer or on their system. What if you leave and forget to retrieve it or delete it first? Or if your work computers (or even your home one) get infected with a nasty virus or trojan?

Now, if you think I'm sounding paranoid here, I have good reasons! I added up all the storage failures in my computers over the past two years and this is what I got:
* two computers at home had hard drive failures - one total, one that made dying sounds so I could back up before its final demise
* one USB that kept overheating and then died
* one computer at my workplace that, three days after a power blackout, died suddenly and included dramatic smoke effects
* one external hard drive (on spouse's computer) that stopped talking to any computer
* one small external hard drive that developed a faulty connection and only works now if you hold the cord a certain way.

Despite what we think, technology is by no means infallible. Hard copy is useful but takes up a lot of room in your office. I have boxes of it. But I still don't want to lose what's on my computer, so I'm going to keep backing up my important stuff - three times!

Friday, April 06, 2012

Book Ideas in the Ether

Trends are one thing - dystopian fiction now, vampires two years ago, in two year's time it might well be historical romance. But ideas that seem to come to unconnected writers at the same time are different. I'm a co-editor of a poetry magazine, Poetrix, that publishes two issues a year of poetry by women. We are regularly amazed at how poets from all over Australia suddenly send us poems on the same topic or theme.

I'm not talking about current events such as the Arab Spring, which often inspire poets to respond via poems. Rather I'm talking about things that just pop up. Half a dozen issues ago, we got a whole range of poems about widowhood. For another issue, it was the sea. An early issue brought a number of poems about death. Another topic later was euthanasia. Most recently it was walls - garden walls, house walls, tumbledown walls. We have no idea why - we don't set themes - it just happens.

There are studies that have shown it's not an omen when you suddenly start seeing red cars everywhere, or reading books in which a camera is lost over a cliff - it's just that once you notice the first one, your brain somehow decides to "take notice" of all the other instances that might normally pass you unnoticed. Or so the studies say!

The other side of this is writers who are working on a novel they believe says something new or has an original story idea that they are sure no one else could have come up with. And within a few months, there's a book published that "pinches" their idea. The truly paranoid believe that somehow their idea was stolen, even if the writer lives on the other side of the world. But there is sometimes credence in this when, for example, a new writer has sent in a spec script to the producers of a TV show, and been rejected, and a few weeks or months later, that concept turns up in an episode.

Wouldn't you feel a bit suspicious?
The only true remedy for all of this is to keep developing ideas - lots of them. Recently, our students listened to a great talk by freelance writer, Sarah Marinos, and she described how she comes up with article ideas. One of her key strategies is to sit down with the newspaper every day and pull out possibilities and then (importantly) look at ways to develop them into several different ideas. She takes the next step - pushing the concept into more original directions.

Fiction and poetry writers can do this, too. Grab today's newspaper and see if you can come up with six new ideas for stories or poems. Do it every day for a week and you'll have more ideas than you could write about in a month, or a year. But don't use the idea of a mother's house being shot up because her son is in trouble with drug dealers. My friend L has already written a novel about that!