Today I'm delighted to publish a guest post from writer and film-maker Phil South, discussing his special interest, inspiration.
Take it away, Phil...
I often hear writers or aspiring writers talking at parties. Often that's more than enough reason for me to get my coat. Perhaps they're yarning on about what they wrote, how they wrote it, where they get their ideas from, as if they're being asked by Parkinson to give us all the details. Sadly most of the time nobody asked and these poor souls are just GAGGING for someone to ask them about their book, so they just launch into it anyway.
It happened again over Christmas. Standing next to my hosts blazing hot Aga with a mulled wine in my hand and an expression of glassy half-interest on my face, I overheard the words, "Yes, I am very interested in history, in fact I'm sending my book to agents at the moment. Of course, they all turned it down..." I must have let that smirk of recognition cross my face, because the person being told about the book saw me and said desperately, "Phil's a writer, aren't you, Phil?" Damn. I feigned surprise and delight and went over.
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm always glad to help writers with their work, nothing gives me greater pleasure, but I've learned that often people don't want to hear the answers to their questions. I used to get this in a former life when I sat in on the advice shops at Computer Shopper shows with members of the public dropping by to ask us "experts" technical questions about their computers. Most of the time people just wanted professional verification they were a bona fide clever dick, and took offence when we inferred they were only half right.
After my first few mild bits of advice were parried, I relaxed and I was okay listening politely and nodding while looking for an opening to slide back into the warm embrace of the Aga. Then the guy said something which struck a chord, something I've heard aspiring writers say before. He said, "I don't read anyone else's stuff because I don't want it to influence me."
Having nothing better to do at that point I started to analyse it. Why would you say something like that? EITHER you are dissembling to cover up a lack of research OR you believe that you might be accused of copying someone else's style. It all sounds like posturing to my ears. Either answer tells you something about how little the speaker knows about the mechanisms and lubrications of good writing.
First of all, Mr Writer at a party, you should be so lucky to be as good as the people who inspire you, and if you ARE as good you won't be like them, you'll be like you. Second of all, it doesn't make you sound like an artist to deny any outside influence, it just makes you sound like a jackass. And lastly, very few people are such complete and perfect geniuses they can support meaningful output without meaningful input.
It's difficult to write about this without frothing at the mouth a little bit. Of course, influence and inspiration go hand in hand. You are the product of your influences. You want to do what you do because someone you like does it well. That's influences. But inspiration?
Inspiration is listening to a piece of music and painting a picture. Or reading a novel and writing a song. Or dancing about geography. It's the world around you, the art and social networking and general human walking about and interacting we do every day. Of course, it would be wrong to copy any of the ideas out of a book that you read. But reading a story by somebody, having a response to it, a mood if you like, and getting the urge to take that mood and do something else with it? That's inspiration.
Bathe yourself in influences, drink and eat art and science and music and words. Take all these moods, your responses to the things you consume, and note them all down. The things you have passion for, the things that are you, will stick. The stuff that's not you will fall away. Eventually, ideas being what they are, some will start to cohere, and you will start to get a piece of art that is the sum of your parts.
Learning how to suck the juice out of the best of culture, pour it in your pen and write your own story with it is what it means to be a writer.
Phil South has been a writer and film-maker for 26 years. He started in consumer technology journalism, also known as playing computer games and writing jokes for magazines like Your Sinclair, Computer Shopper and Mac User. After a spell making animated web sites for Disney Channel UK, he now teaches film-making and photography at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. While waiting to have time to make the ultimate British cult movie, he writes the creativity blog Going Down Writing and the Creative Genius Newsletter, which you can subscribe to via his blog. Phil is also on Twitter - here is a link to his Twitter homepage.
Many thanks to Phil for an interesting and thought-provoking article. Do you agree that creativity is best fostered by immersing yourself in other influences, or do you prefer to keep your inspiration pure and unsullied? I'd love to read your response to Phil's article as a comment below!
I'm sure most of you will have heard about the recent earthquake on Haiti and the terrible devastation it has wreaked.
As a direct response to the tragedy, Greg McQueen, an author from the UK based in Denmark, has decided to produce an e-book called 100 Stories for Haiti. All profits from sales will go to the Red Cross relief operation on Haiti.
Greg is inviting submissions of short stories (which must be upbeat and positive) for possible inclusion in the e-book. He is also seeking experienced people to join the editorial team choosing the 100 stories and editing them for publication. See his video below for more information, or visit his blog.
As ever, if you are receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to view the video.
Stories of up to 1000 words must be submitted in the body of an email by next Monday, 25 January 2010. For full details of how and where to submit your work, please see the guidelines on Greg's blog.
Good luck to Greg and his team in this very worthwhile project, and good luck to any readers who submit work for the anthology.
Until recently, only US authors and publishers were able to publish work using Amazon's Digital Text Platform, but Amazon have just announced that henceforth this will be available to anyone in the world. Here's an excerpt from their press release dated January 15, 2010:
Amazon.com, Inc. today announced that authors and publishers around the world can now use the self-service Kindle Digital Text Platform (DTP) to upload and sell books in English, German and French to customers worldwide in the Kindle Store (www.amazon.com/kindlestore). Until today, DTP was only available to authors and publishers based in the United States. Now, authors and publishers outside the United States can take advantage of this same opportunity and start offering their books to Kindle customers at http://dtp.amazon.com.
"We are excited to make the self-service Kindle Digital Text Platform available to authors and publishers around the world," said Russ Grandinetti, Vice President, Kindle Content. "Now any content owner can offer English, German or French-language books to the fast-growing audience of Kindle owners around the globe."
Additional language options with DTP will be added in the coming months. To learn more about the Kindle Digital Text Platform visit http://dtp.amazon.com.
As the Kindle and other e-book readers grow in popularity, authors and publishers will want to ensure that their titles are available in suitable formats for them. This is a topic I expect to return to on this blog very soon.
Write Any Book in Under 28 Days was my first course published by The WCCL Network, and it is still by a distance the most popular. It is supplied on CD-ROM (printed and audio versions are also available), and will run on any Windows computer.
Write Any Book in Under 28 Days takes you through every stage in the book-writing process, from coming up with ideas, through to editing and marketing your finished manuscript. Of course, it's probably best-known for my unique, five-step outlining and blueprinting system, which will help you write your book as quickly and easily as possible.
Over the years Write Any Book in Under 28 Days has sold many thousands of copies, and I'm pleased to say that my shelves at home are filling up with books I have been sent by grateful students, who wrote them as a result of following my methods. You can also see just a small selection of unsolicited testimonials the course has received by clicking here.
You can read more about Write Any Book in Under 28 Days - including an extract from the course - by clicking on any of the links in this post. Let me tell you a bit about my New Year Special Offer, though.
Until January 31 2010, I'm offering anyone who buys Write Any Book in Under 28 Days via my own page a $10 DISCOUNT on the advertised price. What's more, I'm also offering TWO extra bonuses to people ordering via the page in question.
The first is my mini-guide to publishing an e-book on Lulu.com, the world's most popular self-publishing site. Publishing an e-book on Lulu can be a great way to get your work out to readers quickly and easily, and for zero cost. This report reveals EXACTLY how to do it in simple, step-by-step terms anyone can follow. And yes, advice on promoting your e-book and generating sales is included!
The second bonus is an e-book I published on Lulu myself (I don't just write about it, I actually do it!). It's called Fifty Great Ideas for Creative Writing Teaching, and it was co-written with a professional writer-in-schools, Simon Pitt.
This unique PDF guide sets out fifty tried-and-tested creative writing exercises that won't just be relevant for teachers, but also for writers hoping to work in schools, writers' groups, and so on. I hope it will be useful both as an example of a published e-book on Lulu and a valuable resource in its own right.
To see how exactly you can get the $10 discount on Write Any Book in Under 28 DaysAND my two extra bonus items, just click here or on any of the links in this post. Don't leave it too long, though! As I said above, this New Year Special Offer will DEFINITELY be closing on 31 January 2010.
I've just received my annual statement from the UK PLR Office, setting out my earnings for the year 2008/09.
For those who don't know, PLR stands for Public Lending Right. The UK PLR Office distributes money to UK authors based on the number of times their books have been borrowed from public libraries in Britain in the last year.
This year they are paying 6.29 pence per library loan. This money is paid to authors as compensation for their presumed lost royalties on sales.
All UK authors are eligible for PLR (even if they don't currently live in Britain), but you do have to register with the UK PLR Officefirst. If you're a UK author with at least one published book to your name, therefore, you should sign up immediately to get what is due to you. If you are already registered at the UK PLR Office site, you can log in now to view your 2008/09 earnings statement.
Non-UK nationals cannot claim from the UK PLR Office, but many other countries (though not the USA as far as I know) have similar schemes in place to compensate writers for library lending. In many countries there are also reciprocal arrangements to compensate non-nationals for lending in the country concerned. In Britain this is co-ordinated by ALCS (the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society), and UK authors should also register separately with them.
I always find it interesting to study my PLR statement. One message that comes across very clearly in my latest one is that public libraries are cutting back on buying new books. My highest-earning titles for PLR are those published 5 to 10 years ago. My recent titles have fewer loans, suggesting that not as many libraries have them in stock. But even my oldest books, published up to twenty years ago, are still being borrowed in some libraries. Those copies must be pretty dog-eared by now!
Over the years I have made literally thousands of pounds from PLR payments; in the case of some books I have earned more from PLR than I have in publisher fees or royalties. So if you're a UK author it really is well worth taking the few minutes needed to register yourself and your book/s at the UK PLR Office site. Otherwise, you really are leaving money on the table!
You might like to know that next Monday - January 11 2010 - I will be a guest on The Contest Queen's BlogTalkRadio talk show. I'll be discussing my WCCL guide How to Win Contests.
The Contest Queen is actually Carolyn Wilman. Carolyn lives in Canada, and is an author, sweepstakes expert and Contest Marketing Consultant - as she puts it, "helping companies create better promotions from the outside in."
For those who don't know, How to Win Contests is my guide to entering and winning consumer contests, especially those that involve completing a slogan, e.g. "I want to win a holiday in Mauritius because..."
I'm a particular fan of slogan contests, because they provide an opportunity for writers who understand the principles involved to apply their skills and really boost their chances of winning.
On the show I'll be talking about all aspects of entering consumer contests, and offering a few hints and tips on how to succeed in this field.
The show is on BlogTalkRadio at 12 noon Eastern Time, 5 pm GMT, on Monday January 11th. It can be heard live online, or later via the online archives or through the iTunes podcast.
You can call in to the show yourself to ask any questions you may have. The call-in number is (646) 200-4857 (note: this is a New York City phone number). Alternatively, if you have a microphone connected to your computer, you can call in via the BlogTalkRadio website - just select the "Click to Talk" button during the live show. This service is free to callers from anywhere in the world.
And, of course, you can find out much more about my guide How to Win Contests by clicking on any of the links in this article.
Just wanted to wish every reader of my blog a happy, creative and prosperous 2010!
I hope this is the year when you fulfill, or at least start to fulfill, all of your writing ambitions.
I'm looking forward to sharing my writing tips, advice, resources, market information and more with you on my blog in the year ahead. So if you haven't already done so, be sure to subscribe via email or RSS to ensure you never miss a post!
Don't forget, also, to sign up to follow me on the micro-blogging service Twitter. I regularly use this to share details of interesting websites and blog posts that I don't always have time to post about here.
And if you really want to stay connected, you can also sign up to follow me on Facebook via my Fan Page. I'm pleased to say that this is fast growing into a mini writers' community in its own right.
Good luck to all of you, and I very much look forward to hearing about your writing successes in the months ahead.