Sunday, March 24, 2013

Solitude and the writer

A writer friend of mine (who has a live-in partner) said to me the other day, "I'd like to live alone, and just have them come over when I feel like it. That's not too much to ask, is it?" Then she laughed - a lot - as did I, and then we both sighed.  Yes, it's too much to ask, especially of a relationship where one person is not a writer and doesn't "get" the constant desire for solitude.

What happens for a writer during those solitary times? I can only tell you what happens for me, when I get them (which is rare these days, but more of that later). I find focus, for a start. When someone else is in the house, even if they are not in the same room, their very presence makes me scattered. The only way I have found to combat this is to have a list of things to do (which includes writing) and try really hard to stick to it. It does help. A bit. When I am alone for one or two whole days, it's all about writing. I think, sit in one place, focus, plan, daydream, and write. It's a flow, like a river I am floating along, with no need to dock anywhere unless I need food or sleep.

In solitude I also find ideas. That line to start a poem, that flash that might be a story, that insight into my main character in my current novel - instead of drifting past before I can stop them, or having someone speak to me and pop the idea bubble, I can grab the nearest notebook, write down what I thought and then add more to it as I sit (in peace and quiet) and ponder.

In solitude I write more poems. May Sarton (in her Journal of a Solitude, which I am about to re-read) says "If I were in solitary confinement for a time and knew that no one would ever read what I wrote, I would still write poetry but not novels ... perhaps because a poem is primarily a dialogue with the self and the novel a dialogue with others." When someone else is around you all the time, there is no mental space to have that dialogue with yourself.

In solitude, I find myself. I go inside and dream and think and my thoughts meander wherever they want to. While to other people this might sound like laziness, or a break from the real world, or a form of meditation, for me it is simply time for my brain to do whatever it feels like. Do you remember what that is like?

Maybe this is mostly why I like Facebook. I choose when to log in, I love seeing what my friends are up to, what makes them laugh (and often me, too), what family are doing, and I get to share what I currently find interesting. Then I log out and it's all gone. Peace. (Yes, kind of like that ideal spouse who only comes around when you want them to!)

But as far as solitude and my writing goes, I have finally, after two years of struggling with this and trying various solutions, come to the conclusion that solitude will not find me in opportune moments. I will have to go out and claim it, one way or another.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Google Reader is gone

Apparently Google Reader (and receiving your most-read blog posts using that feed option) is gone, which a lot of people won't be happy about. The news came to me from Copyblogger, which I receive via email.

So I have taken the RSS feed widget off this blog, and replaced it with the "subscribe by Email" widget - it just means the posts from here will come to you via email rather than you reading them in your (no longer existing) Reader. If you really want to continue with RSS, the hot app for reading blogs now is Feedly. The information I have says you can move everything across from Google Reader to Feedly by using the same log in.

Over to you. Hope you'll stick with me!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What kind of book reviewer are you?

The world of book reviewing is changing/has changed. And it's changed faster in the USA than it has in Australia. When my YA novel, Dying to Tell Me , came out in the US, I was actually surprised at how many bloggers had been given review copies, and how much influence they had, let alone the number of reviews that gradually appeared on GoodReads. It very quickly dawned on me that our system in Australia (which basically consists of a review in Magpies, a review (much later) in Reading Time, and the very occasional review, if you're lucky, in the news media outlets) is slower and generally still very traditional.

Yes, librarians everywhere do still look at reviews, but more and more, with time and money restraints, they're relying on recommendations and requests from library patrons (including kids), awards lists and general "noticeability". Or the current buzzword among publishers - discoverability. Reviews have moved down the list of important places for your book to be seen and talked about. But not entirely.

Still, with the internet the way it is now, and publicists at publishing companies keeping a close eye on who is blogging reviews and how much notice is being taken, it's worth thinking about where you sit, if reviewing is something you take reasonably seriously.

Professional - these are people who are paid to write reviews. Or who write reviews for prestigious outlets simply for the kudos. These are also the avenues that many would consider "traditional". How does an average review go? There's a fair amount of space devoted to summarising the plot (or scope of the book) and associated elements. The rule of thumb is that you don't give away the big moments and twists, or the ending. A lot of reviews of this kind are pretty bland, although some reviewers like to gain a name by being as critical as possible. Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times would probably be one of these.

General via Amazon, GoodReads - there are people who are famous for reviewing on Amazon. Their reviews are taken seriously, as are their recommendations. They take their reviewing seriously, too. Some people on GoodReads do the same. But GoodReads tends to be more democratic, I think, and more relaxed. You will get opinions, praise and criticism, but not couched in academic language. On the other hand, Amazon has been in the news for "sock puppet" reviews, where people sometimes review under an alias for scurrilous reasons (such as slamming books by their rivals - who'd have thought?).

Your own blog - there are lots of readers now who have their own review blogs. I'm one of them (occasionally) when a book strikes me in a way that I want to talk about. The difference with me is that I tend to approach a review from a writer's perspective. What did I learn about writing from the book, good or bad? What aspect of the book showed me something new, writing-wise? I think blogs that review books rise or fall based on several things - the reviewer's perspective and approach, whether they bring something new to the discussion, and whether they are truly interested in talking about books. They gain followers in the same way I look at the film reviews in my newspaper - some reviewers I don't even bother with because I know their tastes are nothing like mine, others I will read and take notice of.

Word of mouth - yes, this is the one we have no control over but everyone wants. It doesn't matter if you're a publisher, an editor, a book publicist or an author. You hope that readers out there will go around saying to their friends, "You've got to read this book - it's amazing/really good/will make you cry/ keep you up at night, etc." Really, all you can do as the author is write the best book you can and cross your fingers.

But ultimately, in this day and age, word of mouth has the most power at the moment. Flogging your book with a million tweets and FB posts won't do it. Readers are quick to feel put off by this. A super-duper website won't do it. Readers who love what you write will do it for you. So it comes back to the same thing we always talk about - you have to write what's in your heart,w hat you're passionate about. And if you're a part-time book reviewer? Maybe consider that the way to "pass it forward" is to only talk about and review books you love.