Thursday, August 25

Make Your First Podcast: Hosting


Podcast Hosting. Even just the phrase sends a chill down my spine.

After you record your podcast you need to upload it to a server where folks can access it over the internet. But where? There are so many choices.

If you have a hosting package with a place like Squarespace or Bluehost you could simply upload the file to your hosting package and make it public. Doing this is—and I really want to stress this—NOT a good idea.

If your podcast catches on right away (say it's plugged on a couple of popular blogs), or if you have one especially popular episode, your website will be hammered and—if your luck is anything like mine—it will crash. If that happens, at minimum, you've given a lot of people, a bad experience. On top of that, depending on your hosting package, you might have to pay extra for the excess traffic.

I don't podcast, but I've read quite a few articles and watched more YouTube videos on the subject than I care to admit. The overwhelming consensus seems to be that it will involve you in the least headache in the long run if, from the beginning, you host your website and your podcast separately. And, as podcasts soar in popularity there are more and more hosting choices.

So, let's look at a couple of hosting solutions you might want to consider:

1. Libsyn (Liberated Syndication)


Libsyn is the original podcasting solution and is widely trusted.

"In October 2004, detailed how-to podcast articles had begun to appear online, and a month later, Liberated Syndication (Libsyn) launched the first Podcast Service Provider, offering storage, bandwidth, and RSS creation tools. "Podcasting" was first defined in Wikipedia. In November 2004, podcasting networks started to appear on the scene with podcasters affiliating with one another," (History of Podcasting)

An introductory package starts at $5 a month. To see all Libsyn's hosting packages, click here.

Many podcasters use Libsyn. I'll talk about the pros and cons of using Libsyn in a moment. First let's look at ...

2. Amazon Web Services: S3


With Amazon S3, you pay for only what you use. But what does this mean? Let's look at some figures:

Let's say that an average podcast is about 50 megabytes. Let's say (we've got to be optimistic, right?) you have 50 podcast episodes stored on Amazon S3 and that you publish four podcasts a month. How many downloads could you expect? Here's what the folks over at School of Podcasting have to say:

"According to Rob Walch VP of Podcaster Relations at libsyn.com (the largest podcast media hosting company) in September of 2013 a podcast episode that has been live approximately 30 days averages 141 downloads. If you have over 3400 downloads you are in the top 10%. If you have over 9000 downloads you are in the top 5%. Lastly, if you have over 50,000 downloads per episode (again after having it live for 30 days) you are in the top 1% (this would be the Marc Maron, Adam Corrola, Jay Mohr, etc)," How Many Podcasts Do Podcasters Average?

So let's say that you have 150 downloads a month. Now let's calculate the cost:

First, let's use the Amazon Web Services Calculator to figure out how much Amazon would charge you for simply storing your podcasts through S3.

Storage: 50 mb per file * 50 podcasts = 2,500 mbs = 2.5 gigabytes = about 5 cents.

So ... that's not an issue! Now let's look at how much Amazon would charge us for bandwidth:

150 downloads per month * 50 megabytes per file = 7,500 megabytes = 7.5 gigabytes -> Costs about 60 cents.

That's for one file, but (in our example) you have 50. Now, I would imagine that new files would get the most downloads, but let's just say that ALL 50 files on your account get 150 downloads per month. So that makes it 7.5 gigs * 50 which comes to 375 gigs which would kick up your bill to $32.40! But, for giggles, let's say that all your podcast episodes got 3400 downloads in a month (in this case your podcast would be in the top 10% of podcasts). In this case your bill would soar to $1,808!

Which is one reason why folks with popular podcasts seek out hosting solutions like Libsyn. Libsyn charges you according to how much you upload, not according to how much bandwidth your podcast uses. If all you want to do is upload four 50 gig podcasts a month then you'd be fine with their $15 a month plan. $15 versus $1,808! That's quite the difference.

My Opinion: The Best Choice For A Beginner


I think that if you are already hosting your website through Amazon Web Services it makes sense to start off using S3. Unless you already have a large following, in the beginning you are NOT going to come anywhere near to getting 150 downloads a month. And, even if you do, that's going to cost you all of 60 cents! As you start to upload more podcasts and things begin to get pricier, you would probably want to switch to another solution.

If, however, you don't host your blog on Amazon and you don't mind paying $5 a month, signing up with a host such as Libsyn is a no-brainer. Libsyn is trusted and, while many folks with popular podcasts use other hosting solutions, I think it's probably the best choice for the beginner podcaster (by the way, I don't have any sort of affiliate relationship with Libsyn).

Steer Clear of Free Hosting Solutions


One thing folks should be wary of are free hosting solutions. If you upload your podcasts to one of these and the service goes out of business, your files will disappear. Also, they may insert their advertising into your podcast. I think it's important to have total control over your intellectual property.

(You may think it's odd me saying this about free hosting because I have my blog on Blogger. That's fair. A couple of things. First, I'm in the process of transferring my blog onto my own blogging platform. Second, the process has been so incredibly painful that I feel I must try and warn readers not to make the same mistakes I have!)

Links:


Here are some links I've found to tutorials about podcasting in general, but they do also talk about hosting and the pros and cons of various hosting solutions:

How to Start a Podcast - A Step-By-Step Podcasting Tutorial (YouTube series. Excellent.)
The Definitive Guide to Setting Up and Marketing a Podcast to Help Grow Your Blog
Learn How To Podcast
How to Start a Podcast: Pat’s Complete Step-By-Step Podcasting Tutorial


Monday, August 22

Make Your First Podcast: Intro and Outro


This post continues my series on how to start a podcast. Last time (Make Your First Podcast On Your iPad) we talked about what software you might want to use. Today we're going to look at something almost as important as software: the podcast format, specifically the intro and outro.


Podcast Format: Intro Text


Every podcast I've listened to has an intro and outro. Here—thanks to Albert Costill and his article The Definitive Guide to Podcast Intros—are the common elements of an intro:

  • Podcast name *
  • Episode number
  • Episode title *
  • Music/sound effects
  • Domain name
  • Your name and (if applicable) the names of your co-hosts. *
  • Subject of podcast: The idea here is to let your listeners know in one or two sentences what this episode is about.
  • Sponsors: If you have sponsors, this is often a good place to mention them.
  • Warning: Give your listeners a warning if the episode is going to be not safe for work.
Every podcast intro won't contain all these elements! I've marked (*) the ones every podcast I've listened to has (your mileage may vary).

Here's what this might sound like:
Hello and welcome! You're listening to my podcast, [Podcast Name], episode [Episode Number].

Today we're talking about [Subject of Podcast], so let's get started!

[Intro music for 2 or 3 seconds.]

Hello everyone. My name is [Your Name]. If this is your first time listening, it's good to have you with us. For everyone else, welcome back!

[Podcast Name] is produced every month and show notes can be found over at [Domain Name], forward slash podcasts, forward slash [Episode Name and/or Number]. If you enjoy listening to [Podcast Name] please consider subscribing so you don't miss an episode. You can also find me, [Twitter Name], over on Twitter/Facebook/etc.

Now, on with the show!
After that, launch into the podcast proper.

Outro Text


The outro is even simpler. From my own listening experience, here are some common elements of outros:

  • Podcast name *
  • Ask to rate the episode on iTunes
  • Plug a sponsor
  • Tell listeners other places they can connect with you (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, iTunes, your website, etc.)
  • Tell listeners what the next episode is going to be about.
  • Ask listeners to comment and submit their own answers/opinions/observations for a question you answered in the podcast.
  • Give listeners a challenge to complete.
  • Tell listeners where they can download the show notes. *
  • Thank listeners for listening. *
  • Tell your listeners when the next podcast will be released. (e.g., I'll chat with you in a few days time.)

Here's what this might sound like:
You've been listening to [Podcast Name]. If you'd like to comment on any of today's topics or subscribe to the series, find us at [Domain Name], forward slash podcast. Tweet us at [Twitter Name]. Find us at Facebook.com forward slash [Facebook Name] or search [Podcast Name] on iTunes.

Thanks for listening to [Podcast Name]. If you like what you hear I would love it, if you have a moment, to head over to iTunes and give us a review or a rating. It really does help other folks find the podcast. Thanks for listening, chat with you again in [a few days/a week/etc.].
Well, that's it for today! Thanks for reading. This coming Thursday I'll blog about what options exist for the beginning podcaster in terms of hosting a podcast. Yes, this part can be pricy, but I've discovered a few options that—in the beginning at least—are either free or cost very little money, and by "very little" I mean one or two cents a month.

Stay tuned and good writing!


Other articles you might be interested in:


Write Now: 4 Tips For Growing A Readership
How To Record An Audiobook At Home
Aaron Sorkin On How To Write A Gripping Monologue

Thursday, August 18

Make Your First Podcast On Your iPad


I LOVE listening to podcasts—I think it's fair to say that, apart from reading and writing, podcasts are my primary form of entertainment. Podcasts on nature, science, technology and, of course, writing. I've flirted with the idea of creating a podcast of my own, but how does one start? It seems there is SO MUCH one needs to know and do.

So, in an effort to educate myself about how to go about creating that first podcast, I've begun this blog series. Today we'll skim over what one needs to do to create a podcast—all the steps—and then, in this and future blog posts, we'll do a deep dive into each one. Today we'll talk about what recording software you might want to use as well as what your intro might look like.

 If I haven't covered something and you'd like me to, please do leave a comment.

Elements of a Podcast


I'll be going over each of these points in more detail, later.
  • Recording software: One has to choose a software package (or packages) for editing audio files that both fits your budget and does what you need it to. Then one has to install it and get comfortable using it.
  • Home studio: It's also a good idea to set up—even temporarily—a home recording studio. Obviously, if you buy professional equipment the resulting audio will sound best, but there are inexpensive improvisations that can make a marked difference in sound quality.
  • Music/sound effects: The key is to be sure that the music you use isn't in any way pirated. The rule of thumb I use for art is this: If it's not clear how the item is licensed then I don't use it. Happily, it turns out there are quite a few places on the web where one can find public domain music and sound effects. I'll list the links to the ones I've found.
  • Podcast format: Every podcast has what is called an intro and an outro. What information should they contain?
  • Hosting: After you finally have your finished audio file you need somewhere to host it. There are a number of different solutions and we'll go over the most popular.
  • Create your finished audio: You'll want to make sure that the sound is uniform throughout the podcast. You don't want your voice to be soft—encouraging your listeners to turn up the volume—and then blast them.

Recording Software


About the matter of sound quality, certain podcasts are created in recording studios—for instance, This American Life, Freakonomics, Nature—and the audio quality is, as expected, top notch.

Other podcasts, especially in the early days before the creators knew their efforts would be profitable, were recorded in carefully constructed home studios. Inevitably, the quality isn't as good but still okay. The question is: Is "okay" good enough?

 I think it depends on your audience. If care is taken in setting up a home studio, chances are most folks won't notice unless they stop and think about it. Hopefully, they'll be too engrossed by what you're saying to focus on the quality of the audio. Second, I don't think folks expect as much from a podcast as they do from an audiobook.

 I could be wrong, though. What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

GarageBand


Let's face it, there are a LOT of choices. Just google "podcast recording software." If I was doing the recording on my iMac I would just use Audacity. It has a lot of features, is easy to use, has been maintained over the years and—this is important, especially in the beginning—it's free. Also, the manual is actually helpful. I've used it for years and will continue to use it. Highly recommended. 

That said, we're interested in recording on the iPad (or iPhone), and unfortunately Audacity doesn't have a version for the iOS.

 I've experimented with several apps and, honestly, the only one I can unreservedly recommend is GarageBand. It's not free, but it is relatively inexpensive at $6.99. I have no doubt that there is better software but chances are it costs a lot more money. My goal here is to help those who—like myself!—have never podcasted before to get up and running relatively inexpensively.

Using GarageBand


Not being musically inclined, when I first launched GarageBand I was a bit bewildered. Fortunately, I came across an excellent YouTube tutorial entitled, "Recording a Podcast with GarageBand for iPad" by Skip Via. I've embedded it below.

 

 I worked through the video and ended up with a recording that wasn't completely terrible.

 A couple of things:
  • Turn off the metronome: Settings > Metronome Sound > Visual Only. I also set "Metronome Level" to 0.
  • Start/Stop Recording: Press the round red button.
  • Set "Song Sections" to automatic: There's a small "+" in the upper right hand corner, under the "?". Tap it and then select "Section A." Set it to automatic. This will let you record for as long as you have space to record.
Here's the recording I made (see below). Keep in mind that I recorded this on my iPad Air without using an external microphone. I think if I used a microphone the sound quality could be improved.
 

By the way, the quotation I read is: "Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work," by Stephen King.

 If you would like to edit the audio (and chances are you will) you could edit on your iPad using an app like iMovie or you could use, as I did, Audacity on your Mac.

That's it for today! Sorry for the long post. I've been working on this one for awhile. I hope you find it useful. If you do (or even if you don't!), please let me know! I would be interested to learn what worked for you and what didn't.

The next article in this series on how to make your own podcast:

Ever been curious about the structure of a podcast? Read on! Make Your First Podcast: Intro and Outro.

Other articles you might find useful:

Write That Story! Don’t Let Fear Win
Don’t Write, Bleed
Getting Motivated To Write

Monday, August 15

Write Now: 4 Tips For Growing A Readership


We talk, tongue-in-cheek, about the cult of Apple.

Of course Apple isn’t a cult, though it does have certain cultish aspects. Take myself for instance. My computer was made by Apple. My phone is an iPhone, my tablet is an iPad. I don’t have an Apple Watch—I have a Fitbit Flex (which I love)—but if and when my Fitbit needs to be replaced, I’ll likely buy an Apple product.

Why?

Because I trust Apple to make beautiful, quality, products that are both fun and easy to use. (I’m not sure a product could be fun if it _wasn’t_ easy to use. But we could debate that. What do you think?).

There are two Apple Stores in my area and they are both packed whenever I go shopping. There is also a Samsung and a Microsoft store in my area. Both are usually empty.

This got me thinking about what business principles I could glean from my (meager) knowledge of businesses such as Apple that might be able to help writers connect with their readers.

1. Core Readers Understand Your Work AND Love It


Personally, I don’t know of a better compliment than when someone reads a story of mine and says, “That was a good read.” Those people are special. They get your work AND they like it.

Some folks will read your work but don’t really understand it. Other folks understand it but it leaves them cold. And that’s okay. They’re not your target audience. Other folks though—and these are the ones you want to cultivate like they’re your long lost twin—both understand your work and love it.

I think of these folks as my core readers.

2. Understand Your Core Readers


Chances are—even though your core readers are unique, distinct, varied—the more you know about them the better you are at picking up on the kind of stories they would love to read.

Chances are these folks are a bit like you and many of the stories they’d love to read are also stories you’d love to write. Win-win!

The trick is to find out who these people are, to connect with them. What do they love? Hate? Fear? Desire? What makes them scared to get up in the middle of the night? What other authors do they understand and love? What other stories do they read?

3. Make Your Readers Feel That They Belong


What do you like to do? What are your hobbies? Do you hike, climb, garden or cook? How do you like to relax? Did something funny happen to you as you were jogging? Did you see something interesting and take a picture?

Why not share it with your readers?

I find it’s often the little things that connect us to others and doing these little things often takes only a few moments of our time.

4. Let Your Readers Know Why Do You Do What You Do


Simon Sinek’s famous TEDx talk, Start With Why, is awesome. Everyone should watch it at least once .

Briefly, Sinek talks about the importance of understanding why you do what you do. He draws a circle and puts “why” in the center. Around that circle he draws another and in that circle writes, “how.” Around that circle he draws another circle and in that one he writes “what.” He calls this the Golden Circle.

Simon Sinek's Golden Circle

The WHY is about your purpose. What do you believe? Why do you write? Why are you passionate about crafting stories others will want to read? Why should anyone care about what you write about?

The HOW is about how whatever it is that you sell is created.

The WHAT is about what it is you actually sell, its qualities and characteristics, it’s selling points.

Generally speaking, we all know WHAT we’re selling. Further, we more or less clear on HOW we write our stories. What we’ve often far less clear on is the WHY.

What Is Your Why?

What folks of any stripe are often unconscious of is WHY we do what we do.

Someone might be thinking: Well, I do it for the money, to pay the rent. At least, that’s what I was thinking, but Sinek calls that a result.

Sinek gives the example of Apple. Here’s what Sinek gives as Apple’s why:

“In everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo, we believe in thinking differently.”

Here’s Apple’s how:

“The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, easy to use and user friendly.”

And, finally, here is Apple’s what:

“We just happen to make great computers.”

The Takeaway


There are a lot of great, wonderful, powerful readers in this world. Take Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame. Her prose is like a sucker punch, or at least it can be. Wonderful, wonderful book. (I listened to it as an audiobook first and recommend the experience. I loved hearing the voices change between the two narrators, I loved hearing the change in the tone of their voices as the plot progressed and we, the readers, received new (and surprising) information that transformed our understanding of the story. It was an incredible experience.)

I love Ray Bradbury’s books. I love reading his novels, his shorts stories. His prose has the power to weave a spell around me and change the world in which I live. Further, this experience doesn’t end with the story. The change seeps into my bones and transforms me a little bit. It leaves something with me. It’s special.

I guess what I’m trying to say is something you all know, that writing is magic! Part of that magic is finding your core readers, the people who can be—who will be—changed by your spell. And as you get to know them, you might be changed in return.

Well, that’s it for today! I’ll talk to you again on Thursday. Till then, good writing!

Other articles you might like:


How To Get Your Readers To Identify With Your Main Character
7 Secrets To Writing A Story Your Readers Won't Be Able To Put Down
Connect With Readers' Emotions: How To Make People Cry

Friday, August 12

Aaron Sorkin On How To Write A Gripping Monologue

Today I was supposed to blog about the five best books on writing. But, instead, I moved! For most of the day I had no internet and—ugh!—my life is scattered around me in boxes. I suspect you’ve been in a similar situation. Probably more than once!

As a thank you for coming here, I want to talk about something I’ve been thinking about lately: How to write a gripping monologue. And who better to turn to than Aaron Sorkin, master of the monologue.



Aaron Sorkin


Sorkin is a successful writer. His resume includes “A Few Good Men,” “Malice,” “The American President,” “The West Wing,” and “The Newsroom.” One of the things Sorkin is known for is his terrific, fantastic, get-out-of-your-seat-and-cheer, monologues.

Monologues are often boring. They can tempt a writer to dump a bunch of not-necessarily-wanted facts on her audience. As a result, readers are likely to become bored and irritated and meander away in search of something more gripping.

An Example of a Gripping Monologue


The first time I experienced a monologue written by Aaron Sorkin I was watching “A Few Good Men.” I had no idea who Sorkin was at the time, but was captivated by Jack Nicholson’s performance (he played Col. Nathan R. Jessup) when he took the stand at the end of the movie.

Tom Cruise’s character, Kaffee, attempts to get Col. Jessup to admit he ordered the code red. This is what the entire movie has been leading up to:

Kaffee: *Colonel Jessep, did you order the Code Red?*
Judge Randolph: You *don't* have to answer that question!
Col. Jessep: I'll answer the question!
[to Kaffee]
Col. Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee: I think I'm entitled to.
Col. Jessep: *You want answers?*
Kaffee: *I want the truth!*
Col. Jessep: *You can't handle the truth!*
(From: Quotes for Col. Nathan R. Jessup )

It’s a great scene. If you’d like to watch it just google “YouTube A Few Good Men.”

Aaron Sorkin’s Tips For Writing A Gripping Monologue


1. Make Your Audience Want The Information.


Sorkin writes:

“A song in a musical works best when a character has to sing—when words won’t do the trick anymore. The same idea applies to a long speech in a play or a movie or on television. You want to force the character out of a conversational pattern.” (How to Write an Aaron Sorkin Script, by Aaron Sorkin)

In other words, make your audience want the information the protagonist uses in his rant. In Jessup’s case, this was the information that he did in fact order the code red. It’s the information we’ve been waiting for all movie long. It’s the information that would save Kaffee’s hide.

2. Have The Monologue Reveal That The Protagonist Is Exceptional


Chances are, your protagonist has hidden depths. They can do things that none of your other characters can do. Jessup says:

“Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom.”

Whatever you might think of him, Col. Jessup is, in his own way, an extraordinary individual.

3. Have The Monologue Reveal That The Protagonist Is Human


Yes, Col. Jessup made mistakes. Big mistakes, but he was also, in his way, honorable. He was committed to defending his fellow Americans. Jessup’s monologue brings out aspects of the man that humanize the character. For example, here’s a line from Jessup’s speech:

“We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it.”

And that’s it!

Now that I’m moved into my new digs I’m looking forward to blogging more. I’m also going to give the site a bit of a facelift (Yes! Eventually I’m going to move over to Wordpress. * cross fingers*)

I’ll talk to you again on Monday. Till then, good writing!

Other articles you might like:


What Writers Can Learn From Aaron Sorkin
The Key To Being A Productive Writer: Prioritize
12 Tips On How To Write Antagonists Your Readers Will Love To Hate

Monday, August 8

Stephen King’s Best Advice For Writers

Today I continue my previous discussion of Stephen King’s book, On Writing. (see: The 5 Best Books on Writing)

At the end of that post I promised I would talk about Stephen King’s best advice for writers—or at least what I consider to be his best advice! Let’s do this as a countdown. Starting us off, here’s number five:

5. Fear Is The Muse-Killer


“I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. If one is writing for one’s own pleasure, that fear may be mild.... If, however, one is working under deadline … that fear may be intense.” “Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation. Affectation itself, beginning with the need to define some sorts of writing as “good” and other sorts as “bad,” is fearful behavior.”

4. The Magic Is In You

“I’m often asked if I think the beginning writer of fiction can benefit from writing classes or seminars. The people who ask are, all too often, looking for a magic bullet or a secret ingredient or possibly Dumbo’s magic feather, none of which can be found in classrooms or at writing retreats, no matter how enticing the brochures may be.” King uses Dumbo’s magic feather also as an analogy for the illusory appeal of adverbs (and quick fixes of all kinds) and a writer’s desperate clutching at them. At the base of this clutching is—as we’ve just seen—fear. Stephen King admonishes us to remember that Dumbo didn’t need the feather to fly. And neither do we.

3. Have An Ideal Reader (I.R.)

“When I write a scene that strikes me as funny (like the pie-eating contest in “The Body” or the execution rehearsal in The Green Mile), I am also imagining my I.R. finding it funny. I love it when Tabby laughs out of control—she puts her hands up as if to say I surrender and these big tears go rolling down her cheeks. I love it, that’s all, fucking adore it, and when I get hold of something with that potential, I twist it as hard as I can. During the actual writing of such a scene (door closed), the thought of making her laugh—or cry—is in the back of my mind. During the rewrite (door open), the question—is it funny enough yet? scary enough?—is right up front. I try to watch her when she gets to a particular scene, hoping for at least a smile or—jackpot, baby!—that big belly-laugh with the hands up, waving in the air.” When you write your first draft, write it for yourself. But stories are meant to be told. They are crafted with an audience in mind, even an audience of one. On the first draft—door closed to the world—write for yourself, write imagining your ideal reader. Would he/she laugh? Cry? Be bored? Scared? Irritated? When you rewrite you are no longer writing just for yourself and your ideal reader, now you are writing for the world (door open). Now you want to do two things. First, remove everything that doesn’t serve the story and, second, twist it as hard as you can. If you’re going for a laugh, make it the biggest laugh you can. If you want to scare your reader, terrify them. Make it so they’ll never be able to, for example, look at a mannequin without a chill.

2. Writing Is Seduction

“Language,” King writes, “does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes. The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story …, [it is] to make him/her forget, whenever possible, that he/she is reading a story at all.” Yes! That. Of course King doesn’t mean that anything goes. He explains: “It is possible to overuse the well-turned fragment … but frags can also work beautifully to streamline narration, create clear images, and create tension as well as to vary the prose-line. A series of grammatically proper sentences can stiffen that line, make it less pliable. Purists hate to hear that and will deny it to their dying breath, but it’s true. … The single-sentence paragraph more closely resembles talk than writing, and that’s good. Writing is seduction. Good talk is part of seduction.” Okay, we’ve reached it! Stephen King’s best advice for writers:

1. Write To Make Yourself Happy

Stephen King writes not because it makes him millions of dollars—I’m sure he would continue to write even if he flipped burgers for a living. He writes because it makes him happy. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy. Some of this book—perhaps too much—has been about how I learned to do it. Much of it has been about how you can do it better. The rest of it—and perhaps the best of it—is a permission slip: you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.” If you haven’t read Stephen King’s, On Writing, I would encourage you to. If I could point to any one thing that made me a better writer, it would be King’s advice in this book. In the end, that’s all we can shoot for, not to be as good as the writers we admire, but simply to be better than we are.

Other articles you might like:

The Magic Of Stephen King: How To Write Compelling Characters & Great Openings
Stephen King: How His Novel "Carrie" Changed His Life
My Analysis of 16 books: Stephen King is correct, the adverb is not your friend.

Thursday, August 4

Writing Prompt: You Are Lost


Before I jog, I warm up by stretching. Before I begin my writing day, I often warm up by completing a writing prompt. For a year or so I posted a prompt a day on Google+. I loved reading the responses folks shared as much as I enjoyed crafting my own.

I decided to continue the practice by posting the occasional writing prompt, starting with this one:
You go for a hike and become irrevocably lost. It's twilight. The sounds of the forest turn from enchanting to ominous. A twig near you snaps, the sound echoing through the trees like a gunshot.

What do you do?
(My apologies. I said that today I would write about Stephen King's best advice for writers. At present I'm going through the slow torture of moving and life has become barely controlled chaos. I will write about Stephen King's advice on Monday.)

Want more writing prompts? Try these:

 642 Things to Write About, by San Francisco Writers' Grotto
1,000 Awesome Writing Prompts, by Ryan Andrew Kinder

Monday, August 1

The 5 Best Books on Writing. First Book: On Writing by Stephen King























If I could only recommend one book on writing I wouldn’t hesitate. It would be Stephen King’s book, “On Writing.”

Why “On Writing”?


Stephen King is, in my opinion, one of the best writers of our time. I know not everyone will agree with that, and, if you don’t, I’d ask you to hear me out.

Prose and Plot


There are more (many more!) than two dimensions to any piece of writing, but here I’m only going to talk about two: prose and plot.

I think that where Stephen King excels is his prose, not his plot—though, don’t misunderstand, I think his plots are riveting. But it is his prose that immerses readers in his characters. It is the unrelenting intimacy one feels with his characters that sucks me into his stories, his worlds, and makes me sad when I have to leave.

Here’s an example. What follows are the first three paragraphs of “The Shining” by Stephen King.

Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick. Ullman stood five-five, and when he moved, it was with the prissy speed that seems to be the exclusive domain of all small plump men. The part in his hair was exact, his dark suit was sober but comforting. I am a man you can bring your problems to, that suit said to the paying customer. To the hired help it spoke more curtly: This had better be good, you. There was a red carnation in the lapel, perhaps so that no one on the street would mistake Stuart Ullman for the local undertaker. As he listened to Ullman speak, Jack admitted to himself that he probably could not have liked any man on that side of the desk—under the circumstances.

Let’s examine this. And, please, keep in mind these are just my thoughts as a reader and admirer of Stephen King’s work. I’m not speaking from any sort of privileged position. I’d love to read in the comments what you think of these passages. 

In the first paragraph we are shoved into the mind of one of the two main characters in this story, Jack Torrance. You can't get more intimate than that. Also, this is emotional. No one thinks, "officious little prick" of someone unless they're angry, and anger is very personal, very intense. We are not only eavesdropping on Jack’s thoughts, but Jack’s thoughts are (depending on what you're used to) a little bit shocking. I mean, the very first thing we learn about Jack Torrance is that he thinks someone is an officious little prick. It paints a picture of Jack. Right off the bat it seems that he might have anger issues, perhaps he is someone quick to take offense.

That first sentence of “The Shining” is, hands down, my favorite first sentence of any book, ever.

The second paragraph is written in the third person but it clearly reflects Jack’s point of view. King uses the phrases, “prissy speed,” “small plump men,” as well as a suggestion that Ullman looked cold and dour, to paint a picture not only of Ullmen, but of Jack. These are Jack’s emotions, Jack’s musings, Jack’s thoughts. It also tells us, or at least hints at, why Jack is with Ullman. Jack needs Ullman to hire him for a job that is (he feels) far beneath him and he hates Ullman for it.

In the third paragraph we learn that although Jack is angry he is also reflective. Thoughtful. He realizes that perhaps he isn't being fair to Ullman and is honest enough with himself to realize that, under the current circumstances, it doesn't matter what Ullman is like, Jack is going to despise him. And Jack seems okay with that.

Interwoven through it all is King's voice. It is like a living thing, thick with emotion. It thrusts and gouges, revealing character.

I was planning on writing more today but ... I'm moving! Lots to do, lots still to pack.

In my next post I’ll pick this topic up again and talk about what I think is Stephen King's number one best piece of advice for writers. Stay tuned!

Friday, July 29

Weekend Reading: The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins


I've been falling behind on my reading and thought I'd try something new. Weeks (months?!) ago I swore I would read "The Girl on the Train," by Paula Hawkins. From everything I've heard it's a delightful, provoking, read.

But, really, it was what Stephen King tweeted that sealed the deal for me:
So this weekend I'm going to do it, I'm going to read "The Girl on the Train," and by posting this here I'm making myself accountable to you!

What book are you reading this weekend? I would love to hear from you!

Talk to you again on Monday.

Thursday, July 28

Write Now: Finding Inspiration


Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” —Robert Frost

Let’s get something out of the way: writers do not need to feel inspired before they sit down to write. Or perhaps I should say that professional writers are sufficiently afraid of not being able to pay rent that they’re able to conjure up inspiration. As Jack London said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

Today, I would like to discuss what inspires me, what motivates me to write, and it turns out to be a long list. So, in no particular order:

Past Trauma


I think the best writing is emotionally evocative, causing the reader to feel fear, hate, loss, sadness, happiness, joy or regret.

What was a low time in your life? A dark hour? Think of it, concentrate on that memory. Slip into it. What were you feeling? Thinking? At the time, were you thinking clearly? How did your emotions change over time? Why did your emotions change? Did someone help you through your trauma or did you get through it in spite of those around you?

Now think of a character. It could be one that you have created; for instance, it could be the protagonist from your work in progress. It could also be a character from your favorite movie or TV show. Make that character an actor in your traumatic situation. Perhaps they can take on the role of one of the other people in your memory. Maybe they become you.

Now ask yourself, how would this have changed the situation? What would this character do differently? What would the new ending be, or would everything have turned out the same, regardless?

This is one way to take your raw emotions and weave them into a fictionalized environment, merging the unique, the painfully personal, and the general archetypal kinds of life events we’ve all suffered through. (For example, finding out that someone you love more than life doesn’t feel the same way about you.)

Past Triumph


Repeat the exercise we just did (Past Trauma) but now do it with a wonderful memory rather than a traumatic one. Think of a wonderful time of your life. Think of an event at which you were giddily, all-consumingly, happy. Close your eyes and slip into the memory.

How did your body feel? Were you outside or inside? Was it sunny out? Rainy? Who was with you? Why were you so happy? How did the people you were with (if any) respond to your happiness? Were they happy you were happy or were they jealous? How did the event end?

If you could go back in time and relive the event again, would you do anything differently? How would the character from your WIP react if put in exactly the same situation?

Writing Prompts


I love writing prompts! A good prompt—or perhaps just one suited to my particular creative temperament—can conjure up a strange new world.

I used to publish a new writing prompt every day. Just today I began corralling those into a Google+ collection imaginatively entitled, “Writing Prompts.” ;-) I plan to, one day, have all my writing prompts there. I find they’re a great way to kick-start my day.

I don’t have space to go into all of these in depth, but here is a list of possible sources of inspiration:

Friends and Family
Quotations
Religion
A Writing Journal
Pinterest
Google Maps, Street View
Poems
Novels
Music
Daydreams
Dreams
Blog Posts
People-Watching
Movies and TV
Forums
Free Writing

These are just a few of the ways I get inspiration. I would be really interested to hear how you find inspiration to write. What sort of things do you think about, what kind of things feed your soul?

Thanks it for today! Good writing and talk to you again on Monday.