One million words

Dear reader,

Do you know what one million words look like over a span of 18 months and a week? Allow me to show you:

A million in a graph
Don’t worry, some month abbreviations may look funny but that’s because they’re in Dutch.

Last year April I started keeping track of how much I write daily and kept scores in a spreadsheet. I wondered how long it would take me to get to one million words. Now I know. 18 months and a week. I thought it would take me longer to reach that number. Now of course I’m curious if the next million will take longer, less long or equally long, so I shall meet you again in 18 months and a week. Or sooner. Or so.

Stories are like old wine

Dear reader,

Wine cellarIn the Netherlands there’s a saying “Old wine in new bags“. I discovered that the English equivalent would be “Same meat, different gravy“.

Why do I bring this up? At one moment it struck me that story telling (or writing) is in fact the same thing. There are a number of concepts and ideas that we can write about. The more popular ones are the ones most used and those are the old wine, the same meat.

This is what presents the biggest challenge for a writing person. How do you pick that concept or idea apart and present it in a new, inviting way? Inventing a new environment, creating a new ‘world’ with new people is one of the ways to do this, but what if we’re talking about a series of books, like the Hilda the Wicked Witch books? There always is the common factor of Hilda and William appearing. Sometimes Baba Yaga appears, and lately it’s also Hilda’s sister who chimes in here and there, but the world they inhabited remains the same. It’s Fairyland with it’s fairy tales. I think it’s fascinating to delve deeper into things. That is why I don’t limit myself to the stories of Hans Christian Anderson, the brothers Grimm or the other more or less famous fairy tale writers. Every culture has its stories, legends, myths and fairy tales. Going into them and finding out about them, showing you, the reader, how they make their old wine and how that’s treated, that’s one of the big delights I find in providing a new bag, a different kind of gravy.


The joys of writing.

Dear Reader,

Have you ever wondered why writers write? Wouldn’t they rather sit back with a good book and enjoy that?

Well, most writers I know love that too. Many writers however have this collection of stories in their head that scream to get out, just like a painter has an urge to pick up the brushes and create a work of art, or a musician who can’t sleep until the bits of a tune in his or her head have been quieted down on a sheet of music paper.

Of course I only speak for myself when I say that writing helps me relax and think a lot. Events from real life, things of the world, but also silly ideas pop up, and most of them will somehow find their way into a story. Most of them will be disguised that they are beyond recognition for someone who reads the story, but that is part of the fun and joy for me; to stick something that is a problem or an issue for me into a story, without burdening the reader with it. It’s truly like a release of emotions, this story-writing.

And then there is the knowledge that somewhere in this world there are people who simply feel better after reading something I wrote. And in that, I know, I’m not the only one. What more reward can a person have than to do something (s)he likes very much, and in the same effort brighten the day of other people?

Sometimes people ask me where I get the inspiration and the ideas from. Well, for me they are in everything I hear, see and read. And that can be a problem, because that makes that there is a lot to write. Although… problem… as long as I love it, it can’t be a problem. I just need the motivation and the strength to keep doing it, and that is inherent to writing for me, at this moment. In the words of the far too early deceased Sylvia Plath:

Silvia Plath


“Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”


Nanowrimo 2012

Dear reader,

I finally have the right idea for this year’s Nanowrimo. It will be about an orchestra. Not an ordinary orchestra of course. A while ago at the gym I had the first idea for it, which involved a gym (back then). The idea took hold and morphed a few times, from gym to school, to undertaker firm, to some things I don’t even (want or care to) recall, and finally to the orchestra.


So far as I can tell now, the director of the orchestra is also a librarian. All the members of the orchestra have their own background and occupation, and each one will be featured in a chapter. Well, that is the idea for now. It is not November yet and once the ideas start bubbling and boiling there is no telling what else can jump from the cauldron of my mind…

The hard part

Dear reader, and perhaps fellow-writer,

Everyone seems to know that writing, be it a short story or a book, is easy.Until you sit down and start writing it.

I’ve seen examples of this. Yes, writing can be difficult, when your characters stand on the page and look at you, waiting for a clue what to do next. When you get lost in your own intrigues and desperately try to find a way out of the web you’ve woven.

Is that the hard part of writing? No. The hard part comes when you dive into the finished story which has been staring at you as the famous ‘first draft’. You pick up the thing, a few days, weeks or even months after writing it, to get a bit of distance from it. And you read it. You try to follow the line you originally laid out. And then you face the dread: things don’t match, don’t work. People pop up in the wrong place and days are too long.

That is where the hard part of writing comes in: you have to rework your story. You have to cut into what you thought was so carefully wrought. Things need to be moved, remove, altered.

You will have to stab at your story. Butcher it – or so it may feel. But with every flick of the writer’s knife, each sentence that gets examined, changed, removed or replaced, the work will become better. It is difficult. You may have to sacrifice the parts you were most proud of. If you find parts and paragraphs like that, save them somewhere. You never know when you may need something brilliant like that, later.

You’ll see that, after your massacre, the work comes out better. Smoother. The people are where they’re supposed to be, and the strange day you came up with, where the morning was too long and the afternoon was rushed through, now is a balanced, normal day.

It’s painful, but it is worth the agony.


How Smashwords smashed PayPal’s erotica publishing restrictions

Fast Company has an interview with Mark Coker of Smashwords in which he discusses the recent moves by PayPal to force removal from sale of certain categories of erotica, and how public pressure from writers, readers, the press, and others was able to make the company (and the credit card companies behind it) back down. He also expresses his opinions on the agency pricing anti-trust lawsuits.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to me is the remarkable bit of luck Coker had when he was first trying to contact PayPal to find out how to fight the requirements:

By luck, I called in to the general customer support line, and person who picked up happened to be an author, a member of the Romance Writers of America. She knew who Smashwords was, and knew it was a legitimate platform for indie authors, and that kind soul volunteered to walk us through the process and connect us with people who could actually listen to us.

I don’t know how many members of the Romance Writers of America work for PayPal (hopefully there won’t be one fewer since the Fast Company article came out!) but even (or especially) writers have to eat, so it might not be too surprising to find one with a customer service phone center day job. (Which kind of describes yours truly, as well, for that matter.) But what an amazingly fortunate coincidence! If Coker had ended up with just another bored “Sorry, can’t help you, the policy is the policy” rep,, the whole affair could have turned out very differently.

After Coker was able to rally writers, readers, and the press to put pressure on the credit card companies PayPal said were behind the restrictions, the companies backed down. Coker writes:

I think with this incident, a lot of authors realized Smashwords was standing behind them. I think if anyone tries to push the indie author community down again, we’ll be there to help stand behind these authors. In the end I think it was a great victory for free speech, and shows the rising power of self-publishing authors in the publishing community.

As for the lawsuit, Coker doesn’t think that the publishers actually colluded, though the way things turned out made it look that way. And he is also saddened that three of the publishers decided to “roll over” and settle, because the settlement terms will set their business back and possibly even hinder their ability to talk to other publishers at all.

These things they agreed to will slow down business and increase expenses at the very time these publishers need to become more nimble. If all the large publishers go away tomorrow, that probably benefits my business, but that’s not what I want to happen. I want there to be a healthy ecosystem of large publishers, because they have a lot of value to provide to readers, authors, and the entire culture of books.

But Coker is overall optimistic about the future of publishing, discussing the fall of traditional gatekeepers and the shift in power to the authors. Now, he writes, “it’s possible for any writer, anywhere in the world, instantly [to] publish a book at no cost.” And that is something to be happy about.

(Found via Teleread via Moriah Jovan through Mike Cane.)

Proven ways to increase your creativity

Someone I know posted this link to an excellent article on how to improve your creativity as a copywriter.

The post is not very long, and an interesting read as well.

Here is a sample of the text, to wet your appetite. Or not.

As copywriters we are constantly fuelled by our own creativity. It’s what separates us from people who can write but who can’t do it well. It’s what we’re paid for – to generate interesting and new ideas and then to apply and illustrate them. But the creative process is a strange thing. It is something that we grow to both love and hate. There is nothing more exciting and enjoyable than thinking up a new idea but there’s also nothing worse than being stuck with writers block.

After producing my first few hundred seo articles I realised very quickly that my ability to be creative was defining my success. In times of creative triumph I would be able to whisk out several engaging articles in the space of a few hours whereas in a creative lull it would take me a day to finish one piece. I decided that I wanted to know more about why I was being creative at  specific times and how I could tap into this state of mind whenever I wanted to. I ended up buying “59 seconds” by Professor Richard Wiseman which promised a whole chapter on enhancing creativity.

What made the book so attractive to me was the emphasis that it placed on evidence and research. I am naturally a very sceptical person and so I was only interested in advice that had been verified and confirmed. Professor Wiseman did not let me down. The book cites well over 100 different studies of research and offers practical advice that can be used to improve all aspects of day to day life. I was so impressed by the effect his creativity chapter had on the way I write that I decided I had to share what I had learned. Below is the best advice for improving creativity I have ever received.