Increase impact by making eye contact in your writing

Increase impact by making eye contact in your writing

On a recent episode of television news-comedy The Weekly, contributor Kitty Flanagan put together a funny but telling story about road rage. She asked the question: Why is it that we are so ready to lose our cool in the car, while we almost never do so as pedestrians?

I’ve thought about this before and I believe a major contributor to road rage is a lack of eye contact. When someone cuts in front of us on the road, we don’t see another person. We see a hunk of metal with an invisible driver. There is no emotional connection between us and the other driver. That connection exists on the footpath and guess what? Little or no ‘path rage’. 

Our eyes are an incredibly powerful tool for making emotional connections. But what does that have to do with writing, where clearly eye contact is not possible?

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The four stages of editing

The four stages of editing

My colleague Ann Bolch, one of our editors, recently wrote a post on her own blog about a common misunderstanding of what ‘editing’ means. Unless you’ve suffered under the point of an editor’s red pen, you may not realise that editing ain’t editing – that there are various stages of editing between a draft and its final form. Ann is here to explain in this very lightly edited version of her original.

Many people come to me asking to have their work edited.

Fair enough. I’m an editor. But the first question, ‘What sort of editing are you after?’ often stumps them.

Simple requests like, ‘Can you edit my 82,000-word novel?’ or ‘I have a website that needs updating – is this something you would do?’ soon become complicated because, actually, there are four stages of editing. And we need to know which stage the project is at before we can write a proposal outlining timeframe, costs and approach.

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I've stopped reading the news and feel better for it. Which is not good.

I've stopped reading the news and feel better for it. Which is not good.

I’ve always been a politics junkie. As a teenager I avidly read the papers and watched the news, providing a running commentary on the politics of the day to whoever would listen (even if that was just the dog). I can’t imagine not subscribing to a daily newspaper. For someone like me the greatest godsend of the internet has been the gift of access to more online news than I could ever read. 

At least that was the case. Not any more. 

A couple of weeks ago I declared that I will no longer read about politics, listen to political interviews or watch the television news. I’m unsubscribing from Crikey, turning off Q&A and listening to more music.

Why? Because it has got to the point that tuning into politics makes me physically tense. At times it makes me so angry I feel like … like … Damn it!

Today’s political leaders are treating their audience – we voters – with complete contempt. Being true to your values no longer matters. Nor does saying what you really think. Don’t be authentic – it’s too risky.

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Can you still make a buck out of a book?

Can you still make a buck out of a book?

The recent launch of Apple Music, overnight a gorilla-sized player in the streaming music industry, has again raised debate about, essentially, reward for effort when it comes to creativity. I came across an excellent blog post by Hugh Hancock on this topic the other day that does a great job of pulling apart what is happening in the creative world. 

All this, and other recent discussions, has got me rethinking the value of the non-fiction business book to its author.

Production is getting easier

Hancock’s article is a fairly deep analysis of what is happening in film and television making, computer game production and various other formats. The gist of his conclusion is this: in all these areas, production has become vastly cheaper and easier than it used to be. In film making, for instance, it is now entirely possible to make a high-quality production with handheld cameras and a crew of two, including the director. Needless to say that’s a lot less people than you’ll see on the credits of the average Hollywood flick.

The same can be said of music, where home studios are now commonplace and results of very high standard can be produced on relatively inexpensive equipment. The ‘barrier to entry’ for a new and completely unknown musician is lower than ever. 

Writing, of course, became ‘easy’...

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How Pixar's 'Inside Out' delivers an important lesson for writers

How Pixar's 'Inside Out' delivers an important lesson for writers

I’m a huge fan of Pixar, the animated film wizards who have given us, amongst others, the Toy Story series, Monsters Inc. and one of my top 10 favourite movies, Finding Nemo. Any filmmakers who can consistently make a grown man tear up in a cartoon must be masters of the emotions, and Toy Story 3 is probably the most heartstring-pulling film I have ever seen.

Pixar’s latest film, Inside Out, takes things in a new direction by taking us inside the head of an 11-year-old girl where we get to meet her feelings and explore her memory. Once again they’ve managed to put together a completely engaging story for both adults and kids, only this time they’ve combined their story with some pretty serious science.

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The single biggest way to get more focused and productive

The single biggest way to get more focused and productive

As I prepared my breakfast this morning it dawned on me that technology’s obsession with notifications isn’t restricted to devices like the Apple Watch. These days everything needs to tell you when it’s done. Our toaster beeps when it has finished its cycle. So does the dishwasher. And the washing machine. Even my electric toothbrush alerts me to the fact that I’ve been brushing for the optimum amount of time.

It’s only a matter of time before all these notifications get rerouted to Silicon Valley and back to my phone or (if I had one) watch.

It was this realisation that caused me to revisit the notifications on my phone.

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5 rules for writers when working with fonts

5 rules for writers when working with fonts

I was a bit misty eyed during the week after reading of the death of Hermann Zapf. Zapf was a typographer and font designer. He gave us the widely used Palatino typeface, Optima (one of my favourite fonts) and the Zapf Dingbats (you’ve probably used some of them), amongst others.

To be honest I hadn’t heard of Zapf before. What made me go all nostalgic was the thought of what this 96-year-old had seen over his life and that he will continue to make his mark, via his fonts, for many years to come.

I’ve always loved a good font. However, as a writer I’m also aware of the potential dangers of being a ‘fontoholic’. Believe me, there are a lot of fonts out there if you go looking for them.

Here are the five strategies I use in order to manage this condition.

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Writing a book? Dig deeper for a better story

Writing a book? Dig deeper for a better story

I’ve just finished watching the excellent television drama House of Cards – the US version starring Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood. If you’re into politics, it’s a must see.

During the third and final season, one of the subplots involves a writer, Thomas Yates, who is commissioned by Underwood to write a biography of him. In many ways it’s a poisoned chalice for Yates. The book is always intended as a puff piece.

Nevertheless, there are some interesting interactions between subject and writer across a number of episodes – interactions I think many ghostwriters and biographers could relate to.

A theme that ran particularly true for me was Yates’s challenge in getting any level of detail out of Underwood.

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Why I (sadly) won't be buying an Apple Watch, and you shouldn't either

Why I (sadly) won't be buying an Apple Watch, and you shouldn't either

I am an unashamed technophile and fan of virtually all things Apple. I’m always pretty keen to get my hands on the newest Apple release in fairly quick time, so I am instinctively drawn towards the freshest fruit on the tree: the Apple Watch.

Three things held me back from yielding to this temptation early on. First, the Apple Watch doesn’t come cheap. I need to know $500+ would be money well spent. Second, and with that in mind, I don’t wear a watch – I haven’t for years – so I need to be convinced that I would be comfortable wearing this ‘timepiece’. And third, history tells us that the second generation of Apple’s devices is usually a big step forward from the first so perhaps better to wait a year regardless.

However, after reading and listening to a number of reviews of the watch (such as this one), I’m even less convinced that I will ever need an Apple Watch. While it aims to make us more productive, my current thinking is that it could quite possibly do the opposite.

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Why overindulging in the exclamation mark is bad for your writing's health

Why overindulging in the exclamation mark is bad for your writing's health

For my recent 50th birthday my wife gave me (at my request) an electronic drum kit. My daughters rolled their eyes. “Mid-life crisis” they said loudly, without having to say anything at all. (There was general acknowledgement that alternative mid-life crisis choices could have been far worse.)

Anyway, to come to the point. As I work my way through a couple of drumming books and numerous YouTube clips, there’s one message that comes through time and time again. It’s that good drumming isn’t about lots of fancy stuff. It’s about keeping a good steady beat most of the time and stepping it up with a flourish once in a while. The art is less about complexity and more about timing – knowing precisely when to break out for maximum impact.

All of this came to mind when I was chatting to editor Heather Kelly the other day. Heather has years of editing experience and has always been an advocate for very sparse use of exclamation marks (or ‘exclamation points’ as they are called in the US). It is a very lucky exclamation mark indeed that survives Heather’s red pen.

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