Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Boring Writing vs. Interesting Writing

By the title, I don't mean whether it's boring or interesting for the reader. Writing all day, every damn day makes you appreciate when a topic is just interesting enough to keep you from throwing things to keep yourself awake but not interesting enough to make you freak out. Why would something interesting be bad? Perhaps an explanation is in order...

I have ghostwritten a number of boring topics. If I told you the topics, just listed them, they would bore you. Now imagine writing on topics like that for hours when you know that Charmed may possibly be on or maybe there's still a Cadbury egg in the pantry that you missed. It's rough.

So, an interesting topic should be a lot better, right? Not remotely. A too-interesting topic can keep you researching way past the point that you should. That makes the writing process go on and on and on. This means less money, fewer opportunities for new projects and glaring spouses. I first noticed the glare this evening when I showed him the third giant insect native to a specific African jungle. I was already half an hour past the information I needed and was still going. That's what an interesting topic can do.

The ideal topic is one that is interesting, but not fascinating. It's easy to research, but the Internet isn't crammed full of information about it. And lastly, there should never be too damn many pictures of it.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Travel Writing Tips From Paul Kilduff

Ruinair is a humorous travelogue around Europe - I have visited about 25 countries in Europe in the past 3 years and here are my tips for some pithy travel writing;

Don't write about the same old things to see and do in your destination. Instead find one theme or common thread. If I was writing about my home town of Dublin I would not go to Trinity College nor the Guinness Storehouse. Being me, I would only go see all the U2 sights in the city including a trip to Windmill Lane Studios, Bono's nice home in Killiney etc.

Don't try to make everything funny. Very often in vaguely humorous travel writing, less is more. Don't end every sentence with a bon mot nor every paragraph with a punchline. Try to leave the reader wanting more. Very often readers will find their own humour in different aspects of your writing and not everyone will share my own bizarre sense of humour.

Pray that something goes wrong. If everything goes to plan then it's not very interesting for a reader so hope for a missed flight, a wrong train connection, a lost wallet.

John Cleese once said that Fawlty Towers was only funny because everything went wrong all the time i.e. guests dying, loose rats, kitchen fires and a lack of Waldorf salads.

Use the tourist office. When I arrive in a city I make first for the official tourist office and I grab all the free literature I can. And I book an official city walking tour. It's amazing the amount of anecdotes and unique info you can glean over two hours from someone whose full time job is to know all about your destination. Ask them questions. Tip well too .....

Omit the boring stuff. No one wants to read about meals in restaurants, drinks in bars, rooms in hotels. People want to read about something new and different. I edit a lot. If in doubt I leave it out.

Don't write about the weather. First of all it's not very exciting and secondly it will jar at a later date. If you write about freezing winds in the Artic, chances are your reader will be on a beach on the Costa del Sol, or when you write about searing temperatures in Monaco, your reader will have received the book as a Christmas present.

Read extensively in the travel writing genre to see how others do it. I read Bill Bryson, Tim Moore, Pete McCarthy, Charlie Connelly, Tom Chesshyre and Tony Hawks.

Don't research destinations on the web before you go. This is not called travel writing. It's called cut and paste plagiarism and it does not lend itself to originality. Read one good guide book for a basic orientation of your destination. Check your facts out later on reputable web sites but only after you have been on your trip and written a first good draft.

Don't rush your writing. I make rough notes on loose A4 pages in pen when I travel (usually on the reverse side of my Ryanair flight itinerary which I dare not lose). I don't bring nor do I even own a dreaded laptop. When I return home I wait a week before I write anything on my home PC. If something in my notes no longer seems valid or relevant or funny then I don't use it. I keep only what I like seven days on. Maybe that's why some folks say that Ruinair works. Good luck.

About the writer-

Paul Kilduff
was born in Dublin, Ireland. He began writing fiction in 1996 and finished his first novel in 1998. Square Mile was published in 1999, The Dealer in 2000, The Frontrunner in 2001 and The Headhunter in 2003, which were published by Hodder & Stoughton in London and by Muelenhoff in The Netherlands.

He decided to write a travel book a couple of years ago and was extremely fortunate shortly afterwards to be abandoned in Malaga airport for ten hours, where he had the germ of an idea for Ruinair - an epic tale of human endurance on Europe's low fares airlines. Ruinair was published in February 2008 by Gill & Macmillan Ireland and entered the Irish non fiction bestseller list at no 1 where it has spent eight weeks to date.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Article Timer Report and Guest Post Tomorrow

The timer I reported about a few days ago is working very well now. It has increased the amount I'm making per hour and therefore per day. With the cost of groceries and gas right now, I think writers need all the help they can get. If you know about how long an article should take, the timer can keep you aware that the chosen amount of time is ticking. It took about two days to get used to, during which I nearly strangled it and I'm pretty sure I threw it once. Anyway, it is now working so well that articles are taking even less time than I'm allotting them. That gives me a minute or two in between articles to look through YouTube and The Onion.

Tomorrow I'll have my first guest post, from Paul Kilduff. He has held the top position on the Irish non-fiction chart for six weeks for his travel book Ruinair. As a fiction writer, he wrote a number of popular thrillers and now has transitioned into nonfiction travel writing. It looks like the topic tomorrow will be travel writing. Making travel writing interesting means writing about the most interesting parts of travel and of the destination. That sounds easy, but isn't. How do you find those interesting tidbits? Paul Kilduff's post tomorrow will tell you all about it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

You Know You're a Writer When...

I've seen that discussion a lot. When can you call yourself a writer? Is it when you first get paid? Is it when you make a living writing? Is it when you just love writing? I don't know. I don't really have time to contemplate it much because I'm too busy writing.

Anyway, it occurred to me last night that one of the criteria may be writing all day for pay and then spending your free time writing stuff to amuse yourself. Yeah. That's how I have fun. Don't pity me too terribly.

There are a lot of little 'net corners where you can amuse yourself. And if you use a pen name, no one ever has to know that it's you. I've given up who I am on HubPages now, but I'm betting you'll never find me on Triond or, well, let's just say I get around. If you want to have a little fun, express something that isn't popular or just try to stretch your writing skills a little bit, try HubPages or Squidoo. You don't have to use your actual name on either one, unlike Suite101 or the like.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Journalism, Free Stuff and Ethics

In journalism school we were taught never to accept free stuff from anyone so as not to compromise our objectivity. At the first paper I worked for we were warned never to accept anything at all. We couldn't even allow anyone to buy us a soda for fear of becoming impartial or appearing to be so. Well, I'm not with a newspaper anymore- I got something free!

I write for BellaOnline, the second-largest site for women. One of the benefits of writing for Bella is supposed to be getting free crap from people who want the items reviewed. I've been happily writing for the site for eight months without getting anything free- until today. I was sent a free book to review for the Bella Classic Rock site. Ha! Does getting a free, pristine hardcover book mean that I have to review it positively? Hell no. I'll read through it and say what I think of it. I may be accepting free stuff but I still have a few journalistic ethics floating around in this little head.

In news that's probably a little more important than my free book, Thomson Reuters is downsizing 140 journalists. If you look at the article closely, you will see that Reuters has clearly gone insane. Papers and news agencies always think that the reporters aren't as necessary to the operation as the support people. They are cutting 140 jobs but creating 50 new ones in "web video." So I'm thinking, hey- they will probably do what my last paper did and hire tons of sales people because they think it'll boost revenue. Nope. They also cut hundreds of sales jobs.

Great. So they'll have fewer reporters, fewer sales people and will rely on "more commentary and analysis" for revenue. Personally, I'm sick of commentary. Everybody thinks they have to comment on the news all time. Can't we just have news without all the comments? Oh, I think I just commented on the news...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

StumbleUpon Brings Amazing Traffic

I check my stats a couple of times a day. They're always kind of sad, but hey- people are actually looking at the stuff I write so I can't really complain. Today, by the time I woke up, 135 people had looked at one of my sites. That particular site is not one that I market or really promote in any way and gets very little traffic. I mainly keep it to amuse myself. So how did it get so many hits in one morning? Well, you read the title, so you probably already know.

I checked the stumble through the url on my statcounter, wondering how many stumbles it had. It had just one stumble. One! That's pretty powerful social bookmarking. Reddit and the like have never done much for me, but Stumbleupon seems like it's actually worth the time. If the site had three or four stumbles, imagine that traffic that would be coming in.

Unfortunately, to sign up to stumble sites you have to download all kinds of stuff from the site. I'm not willing to do that and I don't think they should ask that of people. They should not be getting control of my computer just so that I can recommend sites. Bravo to those brave enough, though. It seems like a great traffic mover.

I don't usually admit that I write this site, and I might take this paragraph out of here once I come to my senses, but here's the one that was stumbled. It has a great review on stumbleupon, which made me smile. Yeah, it's kind of a mean site, but I mean every word of it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Freelance Writing Roundup

It's been a wild week in my own little freelancing land. I got the Suite101 promotion a week ago and today got an Editor's Choice Award for an article that I wrote over the weekend. I had planned it as part of a three-part series on libel law. I can't imagine where the time will come from to write the other two parts, but here's hoping. The award, by the way, is a check mark that sits next to the title. Oh well, I do appreciate it. (I would also appreciate cash.)

I also got a new little frenemy to help out around the computer. I sent off for a tiny timer that I could set for the specific amount of time that I think an article should take. Then, I can frantically stare at it as the minutes wind down and I'm only halfway through. Hoorah! One of the best parts of the evil, pressure-inducing Timer From Hell is that it keeps me on track (and angry). It also came with the following instructions:

Widely use in Entertainment, Examination, Beauty House, Kitchen, Sunbathing...etc. Big Screen to show the correct time in Minutes & Seconds.

Yup, it was a cheapie from China. The interesting part, though, dear friends, is that it was actually a lot easier for me to send off to China for some Chinese merchant to package up a timer and send it across the ocean via Air Mail to my house than it would have been for me to get in the car and go to Target. Modern life is weird.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

It Pays to Write for TV

Weren't TV writers just striking to get more money? It seems like those poor souls were being shafted from increasing their meager earnings. It's enough to make you cry. Well, until you read this. Did you read it? You probably shouldn't have. This guy, creator of some of the worst shows in the history of bad shows, is making an insane amount of money for it. And not just insane- crazy, ridiculous, howling-at-the-moon kind of money.

I don't mind Family Guy that much, but have you seen American Dad? Come on. I could take off my socks, put them on my hands and do a puppet show with them and it would be more interesting than American Dad. This is the unholy crap that's making money right now while my unique, creative (yes, I'm biased) children's book can't get an agent to represent it. Maybe I should add in an unfunny alien and wooden characters who stand still and yell for half an hour? For $100 million, I might be willing. Well, maybe not.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

100th Post and Suite101 Promotion

This is my 100th post here on my 'lil blog. I'm not sure where I thought I was going with the blog when I started, other than simply chronicling my exploits in freelance writing. I think I've done that and had some fun along the way. Thanks for reading!

I just found out that I was made a feature writer at Suite101 yesterday. Yes, I'm just finding out. Apparently the email got caught in the hinterlands and I never saw it. The promotion to feature writer comes with extra exposure for my articles as well as a small raise in pay. I was interested in moving up to feature writer but had been too nervous to even email about it. I assumed they would send the email around the office for a laugh and try to send me a nicely-worded rejection that gave no hint of their shared joke. But in the end, they actually approached me about it.

Suite101 takes its content very seriously and there were still a few things they wanted me to do to get ready for the position. After reading my stuff obsessively every day trying to figure out if it could be made better, I finally emailed and said that I thought I was indeed ready. Three days later and they actually chose me. Weird. Maybe I don't suck? It's hard to tell when it's your own writing. I don't know if I'll ever get past my own suspicions of suckage.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Guest Blogger Later This Month

I've never had a guest blogger before, but I now have one scheduled for May 23. The guest will be Paul Kilduff, a successful author of several thrillers. He now has a non-fiction humor book out, which the virtual tour is promoting. Here's a synopsis:

"Stung by a ten hour delay and a E300 fare to Spain on his native “low-fares” airline, Dubliner Paul Kilduff plots revenge – to fly to every country in Europe for the same total outlay, suffering every low-fares airline indignity. Armed with no more than 10kg of carry-on baggage, he endures 6.00am departures, Six Nations-style boarding scrums, lengthy bus excursions, terminal anxiety and cabin crew who deliver famed customer service."

I've actually been to Dublin, and I can imagine how bad it can get. Traveling can be complicated in Ireland, particularly if you're five months pregnant and you start crying once you realize that there's no food in Ireland besides roast beef and you hate roast beef. Um, not that I ever did that or anything. I'm sure they do have other food there. Don't they? Maybe that can be something Mr. Kilduff can answer.

Kidding, kidding. It looks like the topic will be transitioning from fiction to nonfiction. So many authors end up making that switch, it should be interesting to hear about how the two differ and whether the fiction-writing process influences the writing of nonfiction.