Friday, March 28, 2014

Bad Writing Is Better Than Not Writing At All

Once I had an idea for a short story that consumed me. I even wrote bits of it on scrap paper while I was at work. From beginning to end, the whole thing took a couple of days. I tweaked it a bit when I was done, but how I first wrote it was how it appeared in the finished version. It was a quick and easy process, like taking dictation.

Unfortunately, that never happened again. Some days my writing flows better than others. Some days I feel more inspired than others. But it always takes months, even years for a story to go from the germ of an idea to a completed work that’s ready for publication.

Writer’s block is something I deal with on a daily basis.

I always think of it as a logistics problem, because that’s usually how it works for me. My characters are in one place and I need to get them someplace else. For example, Mary and Bob are washing dishes together in the kitchen. (OK, so no one washes dishes anymore--let’s say this is a period piece). They don’t know it, but there’s a dead body in the living room. To move the story along, either Bob or Mary needs a reason to go to the living room.

I want to get them out of the kitchen with style and grace and a bit of pizazz. It’s got to be exciting, razor sharp prose. I’m a writer, dammit! I should be able to come up with something besides “Bob went into the living room.” 

So I sit and stare at the screen. I type “asdfasdfasdfasdfasdff” with my left hand and hit the delete button a couple of times. I might even pull up the Solitaire program and fool around with that for a while. I’d go on the internet to check my email but I use an old laptop with no wifi connection, so that’s not an option. 

Then I take a look at my special inspiration file. It says “It’s OK to write bad. Just write.”

So I write “Bob went into the living room,” and go on.

Because you have to write bad to write good. (Please forgive my grammatical lapses. I do know I’m supposed to use “badly” and “well” when modifying a verb like “write”). Bad writing can be fixed. It’s been my experience that once you start writing, no matter how crappy you think it is, rest assured that you will come up with something better than “Bob went into the living room.”

Give yourself permission to write boring, dull prose. You can always fix it later. What you can’t do is edit a blank page.

Don’t leave Bob and Mary in the kitchen.

Judy Nichols is the author of several books available on Amazon/

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Einbinder Flypaper and Book Marketing

Okay, I’m going to show my age here and reminisce a bit about old time radio. Back in the 1980s, our local public radio station would broadcast classic radio shows in the afternoon. One of my favorites was The Bob and Ray Show, featuring comedy skits by veteran broadcast personalities Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding.

Lately, a slogan from one of their “sponsors” has stuck in my head. 

“Einbinder Flypaper--the brand you gradually grow to trust over the course of three generations.”

Yes, anyone who has an inkling of how marketing works would know that’s a terrible way to sell anything. You don’t make a dime waiting through the course of three generations for people to grow to trust your brand. You want them to buy your flypaper (or in our case, books) right now. 

And yet, as I think about it, I find myself admiring the Einbinder Flypaper Company. They’re in it for the long haul. They’re patient and steadfast. They are willing to stay the course to gain your trust. And that of your children and grandchildren.

I believe all authors should keep that concept of gradually building trust in mind when they market themselves through social media. Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest--they’re not platforms for promotion, they’re communities. Instead of logging on and posting endless links to five star reviews for your books, you need to become a contributing member of the community.

That means in Goodreads you post reviews and write comments and take part in group discussions. If you just set up an author page and go trolling members for reviews, you’ll end up alienating the people you want as readers.

In Twitter, you have to offer your followers something besides “Buy My Book” tweets. It may seem counterintuitive, but sending out an endless stream of tweets promoting your book will get you nowhere. Give your followers something interesting. 

(And while I’m talking about Twitter, I have to say I’ve grown really tired of the X Meets Y promo. “James Bond meets Sherlock Holmes” for example. My twitter feed is full of them. If you’re doing those, stop. Just stop. I mean it.)

I send out a quotes that I find interesting, like this one from Jay Leno “You’re not famous until my mother has heard of you.” I expect there are apps that generate quotes on a daily basis, but I prefer ones I’ve chosen myself. I go to Brainyquote, but there are plenty of others. I also tweet about things going on in the world and my observations. And I do manage to sneak in a few links to buy my books on Amazon, but I try to be subtle about it.

Like Grandma always said, to have a friend, you have to be a friend. So tweet a thank you to people who follow you. Retweet anything you find interesting. Get into discussions. Yes, distilling everything you want to say into 140 characters or less can be a pain, but after a while you’ll look on it as a challenge. Even kind of fun.

These days Facebook is more for interacting with friends than marketing books, although I do use it for that purpose now and again. It’s one of those places where thanks to my friend J.D. Rhoades, I get into cyber arguments with people I've never met. Even so, I love a good political discussion and I confine my rants to Facebook.

I’ve just begun to use Pinterest, so I can’t really comment on that. Except to say I’ll be participating there too, once I get the hang of it. They all have a learning curve.

Keep in mind you only have so much time and you can’t maintain an online presence everywhere. Sure belonging to lots of reader sites like LibraryThing and Booklikes gives your more exposure to readers. But in the end, it’s easier to become very familiar with a few venues and stick with those.

So when you’re trying to build up your online reputation, think of Einbinder Flypaper. And here’s hoping you don’t have to wait three generations before customers grow to trust your brand.

If you'd like to listen to the Einbinder Flypaper ad, click  here.

Judy Nichols is the author of several books available on Amazon/

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Is Good Penmanship Necessary In The 21st Century?

When you read a book by Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, or any other 19th Century author, do you ever consider that every single word in that book was written by hand? 

Probably not. I know I don't. 

But if you do stop and think about sitting at your desk with just a pen and paper, and look at the volumes of work those authors produced with their own one hand, it will make your wrist and fingers ache with writer's cramp.

In Dickens's time, good handwriting was a necessity. Letters were the only way to communicate. Businesses records were all hand written. From the bills to the ledgers to the files, somebody's job was writing all that stuff down. That person had to have neat, legible handwriting, so other people could read it.

I'm sure we're all very happy that we can do our bookkeeping on computers with software that not only lets us enter the numbers, but runs the figures for us too. Likewise for sending messages via devices with keyboards. Quick, easy and you knew it was readable.

Here in North Carolina, a law was recently passed requiring schools to teach cursive handwriting. To me that shows how out of touch our state house is. My 18 year old daughter can go for days or even weeks without writing a single word on paper.

She uses her laptop for taking notes in class, (although some professors frown on this practice), doing assignments which are uploaded online, and sending messages home to her mom. No pen or paper needed.

I really believe that teaching cursive handwriting is a waste of valuable class time.

In 2014, when does anyone need to write something by hand? 

There's writing checks, but with online banking and payments, that's something that only your grandmother does.

You need to sign your name to birthday cards and Christmas cards. Still, Facebook has eliminated the need to send a card. To wish someone a happy birthday you just post on their wall.

Love letters come to mind, along with images of those precious missives tied with a ribbon and tucked away so that the recipient can read them and re-read the words her beloved has penned.

Yeah, right. These days, words of love so soft and tender come in the form of a text message.

There's writing letters home to your mother, but those come in the form of a text message as well.

I scribble out To-Do lists on scraps of paper. Aside from writing in my journal (something else that can be done with a keyboard), that's about the only time I use my handwriting skills.

For kids my daughters' age, there's an app for that. They do it all on their phones.

As someone who made straight Cs in handwriting, I'd just as soon spare other children the ordeal of trying to form the loops of each letter line upon line in workbooks, striving for perfection that few (like my older sister) ever achieve.

I say start teaching them the QWERTY keyboard. That's something they should use for years to come.

Judy Nichols is the author of several books available on Amazon

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Gaming The System--Jeopardy! And Champion Arthur Chu

Okay, as a former Jeopardy! contestant, and a two-day champion, I figure I’m as much of an expert on playing the game as anyone out there. 

So I’m going to throw in my two cents (I still have some of my winnings left, so I can afford it) on Jeopardy! dynamo Arthur Chu. He’s winning games left and right--nine so far and it’s possible he may have surpassed nice guy Ken Jennings’s record of 74 wins. 

As you all know, the games are filmed in advance. When Alex Trebek wished my husband and me a happy anniversary on April 13, 2012, it was actually the middle of December, 2011. So whatever happens when regular Jeopardy! returns after the Decades Tournament, actually took place months ago. Quite possibly the person who bested Chu is waiting patiently to see his or her own victory against this behemoth.

Chu employs Game Theory when he plays. He racks up the wins by starting at the bottom of the board with the higher value questions. He’s quick with the buzzer and takes the big money early. When the others get a chance to ring in, they’re getting the $200 and $400 questions, not nearly enough to beat Chu’s lead.

What he’s doing is not against the rules. In fact, it’s not even new. Although most contestants like to start at the first clue and work down, a fair number (usually determined, humorless geeky guys) will do what is known as the Forest Bounce. It’s named for Chuck Forrest who went hunting for the Daily Double during his games in 1985 and won a five day total of $72,800. 

That was back when the show had a five win limit. You took the money, left undefeated and returned later for the Tournament of Champions.

Personally, I wish they’d never gotten rid of that rule. I think five wins in a row is enough for anyone.

In my first game, at the break, the returning champion had $6000 compared to my $600 and the other challenger’s $400. I remember thinking “Hey, I’m in second place. I may be able to pull this one out after all.” And I did, because of a rally in Double Jeopardy! and the returning champion not knowing his Shakespeare in Final Jeopardy!.

And that’s why I like watching Jeopardy!. The underdog can pull it out. You can have a negative score at the break but hear Alex declare you the champion at the end. In most games all three contestants have a pretty good chance of winning.

As Chu has made abundantly clear, strategy plays a part in successful play. Quick reflexes help too. The buzzer is the hardest thing about the game. You have to time it just right--too soon and you cut yourself out. Too late and the other guy rings in. We’re talking hundredths of a second. 

But you have to know the answers. And no one, not even Arthur Chu, can know the answer to every Jeopardy! clue. Sooner or later, there will be a Daily Double where he bets too much on a question that stumps him, followed by a Final Jeopardy! clue that he doesn't know, but the challenger does.

Unless his strategy works so well and he proves unbeatable. I’m not sure how that situation will be handled. Can you imagine tuning into Jeopardy! to hear Johnny Gilbert say, “And here’s our returning champion, Arthur Chu whose 471 day winnings now total the gross national product of New Zealand?”

Would people stop watching? Maybe. Like me, I believe most Jeopardy! fans prefer evenly matched games where anyone can win. On the other hand, we all might start watching every night just to see the game where Chu loses.

That fateful day when Arthur Chu cries all the way to the bank.

Then again, there is no crying in Jeopardy!

Judy Nichols is the author of several books available on Amazon