Writer’s Self-Promotion: Short or Wordy?

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This morning, I came across a letter from a writers’ magazine, to which I am subscribed. It suggested to take a look at ‘a special offer for readers’ from their trusted partner. As I have a habit to read every email I receive, I read it through. The announcement started with a massive energy injection in a form of a greeting:

“Fellow Writer,
What if I told you-”

The greeting was followed by a 1300-word-long biographical description of the author’s way to financial happiness, suggesting me to do the same and promising to tell me how to do it, for this price if I subscribe here, or for that price if I sign up there. In my case, the ‘energy injection’ stopped working after the first passage, so by the middle of the second passage I was beginning to regret loosing my precious morning time on reading something that I probably don’t need.

Still, my female curiosity took over, so I switched to speed-reading and finally, on the last passages of the email, I realized that the announcement was about membership in a writers club! Finally, the P.S. part of the email, which was two passages long itself, contained more practical information on the cost and free bonuses that the club membership offers.

All in all, I spent nearly quarter of an hour reading through and digesting the information; then I caught myself on thinking that, according to the length of the message, the membership might be so overwhelming that I would have no time left for doing my writer’s job in the end!

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Again, I remembered the main requirement dictated to us by present time: brevity. Probably, I am giving it too much attention, but I really believe that today, brevity is a crucial requirement, even for such a specific business as writer’s self-promotion. If I were to write that announcement, I would cut it down to two hundred words, or even less. It is so easy today to simply provide links to pages with more detailed descriptions of any ideas or events!

In the end, self-promotion is all about attracting your audience by a few keywords. When you want to attract visitors to a pub, you only need to write a short sign: “BEER HERE”; it is the same with the virtual world we work in. Create a short slogan, give it a short description on your website, and discuss it in your blog, then, don’t forget to link all those pieces of information to each other! Doesn’t this look easier than writing miles of text trying to convince your audience? Not to mention that time is the most precious thing we have, so we should not take each other’s time by writing lengthy announcements.

Please, tell me if you think this is not right. I will gladly discuss every opinion. In the end, we are all in the same boat: we need to know how to self-promote. Thank you!

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Overcoming Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years. (Wikipedia)

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It was a surprise for me to discover how much has been written about writer’s block in English. In my culture (Russian), the same thing is called творческий кризис (‘creative crisis’) or творческий затык (‘creative block’), and quite often, authors are shy to discuss this intimate state of mind, because it is associated, in the first place, with weakness of character. Russian authors usually suggest three steps of overcoming the block:

  1. Push away your fear by allowing yourself to write bad. If you ignore others’ remarks about your bad writing and simply go forward, your writing will improve.
  2. Your lack of ideas comes from the lack of knowledge. Learn more about the subject of your writing (the time which you are trying describe, the psychology of people, the place where you build your scenes, etc.) and creative ideas will pour into your head.
  3. No procrastination! Do not allow yourself to think about doing it tomorrow. Sit down and write. Do it now.

These three simple rules really help. Why don’t you try them if you have a writer’s block?

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” — Mark Twain

As a bonus, here is a link to a wonderful collection of quotes by worldly-known writers about overcoming writer’s block from Ken Miyamoto’s blog

“I don’t believe in writer’s block or waiting for inspiration. If you’re a writer, you sit down and write.” — Elmore Leonard

 

The Principle of Brevity in Writing

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Today, in our fast-paced world, time has become the greatest of all values. We, people, still have not fully realized this fact, but it already dictates us the necessity to introduce some changes into our lives – first of all, in the field of time management

The dwellers of large cities (New York, London, Tokyo, etc.) were the first to sense the change: they had to reduce the time spent on walking, cooking, cleaning, driving, socializing, learning, and so on and so forth, including the time spent on reading. Today, smaller cities confidently follow megacities, while the pace of life continues to accelerate, forcing us to revise our professional habits, too.

Have you noticed that more and more people tend to skip reading long texts, even if they are beautifully written and contain brilliant ideas? We seem to give preference to visual, well-organized, simplistically laid-out, or even bullet-structured information. When we revise a book of fiction, we tend to say (more and more often these days), “It’s a good book, but a little too long. It would be better if it was one third thinner…”

The reality makes every author to face an inevitable phenomenon: we don’t only have to write quickly, we also have to adhere to the new principle: the principle of brevity in writing. The rule is simple: the shorter is your post (article, story, novel, etc.) the better, because brevity in writing shows the author’s respect for their readers’ time.

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This fact may upset those authors who love writing long pieces of speculative prose. Certainly, there will always remain people who will love reading very long novels, but the number of such readers will continue to reduce. Well, this is the trend of the new Millennium! I am afraid, we have nothing else to do, but adjust.

I will try to be short here, too, and wrap up this one here. As a postscriptim, to please your eyes, I will finish this post with beautiful words by Aldous Huxley, written in 1958, which have become even more timely today:

However elegant and memorable, brevity can never, in the nature of things, do justice to all the facts of a complex situation… On such a theme one can be brief only by omission and simplification… In practice we are generally forced to choose between an unduly brief exposition and no exposition at all. Abbreviation is a necessary evil and the abbreviator’s business is to make the best of a job which, though intrinsically bad, is still better than nothing. He must learn to simplify, but not to the point of falsification. He must learn to concentrate upon the essentials of a situation, but without ignoring too many of reality’s qualifying side issues. In this way he may be able to tell, not indeed the whole truth (for the whole truth about almost any important subject is incompatible with brevity), but considerably more than the dangerous quarter-truths and half-truths which have always been the current coin of thought.” A.Huxley, Brave New World Revisited.


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A Few Thoughts About Ethics in Writing

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Interestingly, while ethics are huge in technical and academic writing, it is not given the same attention in the world of fiction writing. As an author who belongs to both groups, I have been watching the difference and wondering why? Could it be because scientists have to be more accurate about every word they write? Or maybe, the fiction writers are in any way more (or less) ethical than technical writers, so they don’t need to set up any rules of fiction writing ethics? 😉 I want to believe that both groups equally care about their readers and this difference is nothing more than a tradition, so nobody ever asks the question.

Ethics codes are present at the workplace: even if they aren’t always enforced, they still exist and we obey them… often mechanically, without thinking. Summing up a dozen of articles which I studied in search for an answer to my question, there are a few basic points to adhere to whenever you are writing a professional document:

  • don’t mislead;
  • don’t manipulate;
  • don’t stereotype; and
  • always check the facts.

Well, I did a thing which I may regret doing: I tried to apply these rules to fiction writing this morning… and found the reason of my writer’s block! I realized that everything fiction writers do is exactly the opposite of the four rules!

Unlike academic writing, which is all about sharing facts to feed the work of mind, fiction writing works with reader’s imagination and emotions; it’s principal idea is to mislead, manipulate, hide (or distort) facts of real life with the only purpose of creating stereotype universes in the readers’ minds and enticing them into reading! 

Does this mean that fiction writers are unethical, immoral, dishonest, improper, corrupt, unrighteous, unjust and… (could not think of more antonyms to the word “ethical”, sorry)?  Uh-huh, I kind of regret I took up the topic already!

To calm myself down, I decided to accept the following explanation: fiction writers have to break those rules of ethics. Like mathematicians, who sometimes look for a proof by contradiction, fiction writers need to show their readers a ‘different’ world, where rules are broken and norms are corrupted; we only have one rule to follow: we must expose the fake in the end. If writers did not do this, the world would never get to know “Alice in Wonderland”, “Winnie-the-Pooh” or Harry Potter books! These books mislead, manipulate, create unusual stereoptypes, and distort our reality, but they do this so awesomely well that no one can resist reading them again and again!

So, what is the answer? Is it ethical for fiction writers to ignore the ethics of academic writing? 😉 The question is still up!

Please, share your thoughts, I am very curious to know your opinions on this.

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Stepping into the Same River

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This time, visiting my home city felt like stepping into the same river. Sevastopol, the notorious Black Sea port at the southern tip of Crimea, where I grew up, has finally and completely turned into an imprint of the Soviet era. As I walked along its streets, I could not resist a funny feeling that I’d been thrown there from the future: all surrounding objects, people, little street conversations, sounds, smells – everything was amazingly familiar, but had undeniable touch of the past- of the time about 30 years ago, when I was a teenager.

After the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, local residents of Sevastopol (more than the other dwellers of Crimea) were re-captured by their own old misconception of being the main southern forpost of Russian military glory that had protected mother Russia in a number of wars, thinking that they would now regain the attention of the Russian government and receive abundant accolades from all Russia’s population. This did not happen, though. After a short emotional moment (also provoked by the Kremlin propaganda) the population of Russia realized that Crimea is no more than another needy region that requires support, and its vaunted seaside resorts are uncomfortable and inaccessible for many Russians. Litle by little, Sevastopol – the Crimea’s dead end – was completely left to fend for itself. The only part of its nearly half-million population that feels more or less protected are the miliary and naval personnel, paid by the Russian government.

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The sanctions, which affected Crimea more than any other region of Russia, have reached their goal: my childhood city looks abandoned, humiliated and deceived; people are troubled and moody, no one smiles back at you if you make eye contact – just like it was in the Soviet time. Their interests are scarce, everybody is busy surviving, and again, like it was in the Soviet time, they tend to be happy with very simple things: a lucky purchase of some fresh food in a store or a drinking party with friends in the kitchen.

Every moment I was there this time, I could not help thinking that in only three years (since the annexation) both conflicting countries – Russia and Ukraine – have estranged from each other to a huge distance, moving exactly in opposite directions: Ukraine to the west, Russia to the east, which means (unfortunately for the city of my childhood) that it has been moving backwards, into the past, and this movement will soon bring it to complete disappointment and depression.

My own mind has changed a lot, too: when I visit Sevastopol now, I see it with the curious eyes of a westerner who has purchased a time-travel tour; the only difference is that my mind still keeps clear memories of the childhood spent in that time.

Interestingly, I just caught myself on thinking that I am not even sad about this fact. All people deserve to have the life they want to have. The population of Sevastopol, at least its older (and prevailing) generation, looks quite satisfied with the movement back in time. Well, if they like it, let them have it. I will simply wave my hand to them and go my way.

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Jerry Jay Carroll

New York Times bestselling author

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