Blue Water Writing: Corporate Gothic Real World

Throughout countless years, Amazon has provided me with easy access to hard-to-find products, which has saved me a lot of time and trouble. I’ve always found their customer service representatives to be polite and helpful. The supportive crew at Amazon’s KDP recently helped me publish my first ebook. When I came across complaints about Amazon’s Community in its forums and Quora, I was dumbfounded by the contrast between their claims and my positive experiences.

The writers were uncomfortable – not with Amazon’s Community Guidelines or with its policies – but with its lack of communication. The posts claimed that The Community’s automated system left their many questions and concerns unaddressed.  Amazon consistently addressed my questions and never left me concerned, so I wondered if the posts were fake news generated by anonymous bots.

To see for myself, I emailed The Community a question about its review policy. A chill ran down my spine as I read its automated reply. Under the notion that Amazon would never leave its customers hanging like that, I sent them a second email. To my inquiry on how I should go about obtaining reviews for that ebook, The Community never responded.

“The Community sometimes responds and sometimes doesn’t.” one person wrote.

“Word your email as simple as possible. That way, you’ll increase your chance of getting heard,” another advised. “Because you know, The Community has no phone.” 

Amazon’s Community must have a phone, I thought, searching through the side headings and drop-down menus for an 800 number or “contact us” link.  The Community didn’t have a phone. An example of Corporate Gothic Real World, they don’t respond to emails, and they don’t have a phone either. If someone were wrongly exiled or mistakenly banned from Amazon, I understand, they’ll be Nobody Home. 

Blue Water Writing: The Rising Tides of the Ebook Industry

If the print industry had its wild west, the ebook industry’s is currently experiencing a major hurricane. The rising tides are pushing past the dunes and reaching into the streets. As a first-time Kindle author, I’m having trouble finding solid ground. Reading Twitter promotions about new publications on my phone every other minute are inciting me to question my survivability. The popular book-bloggers that require two months of lead time – not for a review of a book – but for the consideration of a review, seems to me a prediction that more high winds on are the way.  Jeff Bullus‘ comments about the “over-saturated” ebook marketplace are drowned out by the crashing waves of ebook articles on the Internet. 

Cover for There’s a War on Here by J. Jirout

It’s a Category 6 out there right now, and I’m not sure that I’m really prepared. Writing the text for “There’s a War on Here” took a lot out of me – as did the creation of the audiobook. Then, reading through and applying the marketing advice on the Internet, constructing materials, and engaging in social media promotions, my household to-do list fell apart. Needing time to figure out how to work the apps and attach the links, I temporarily closed down my paying job. Spending time creating that YouTube Slideshow, my other projects were lost to the wind. As my kids are now wondering where I went, I am thinking about maybe exploring projects outside of the ebook industry.

I have gigs that provide more income and that demand less involvement, but they don’t thrill me like the pursuit of irony does. I thought about replacing my daily writing-routine with a high-energy exercise, but the adrenalin-rush of a work-out doesn’t feel anywhere near as satisfying at the completion of that perfect page.  The sparkling beauty of imagined possibilities, the crafting of pleasant-sounding paragraphs, and the construction of colorful characters positively cheer me up. It’s writing that puts a skip in my step, so here’s to sheltering in place, waiting out the storm, and staying afloat among the rising tides of the ebook industry.

Blue Water Writing: The Read-Aloud Review

Long before computers, tablets, and phones, writers wrote and edited on paper and with a pencil.  Pulling sheets through rubber rollers, dabbing glue on drying ink, and jabbing at springy keys, typing was a laborious affair. Unable to rely on spelling and grammar checks, the typewriter was reserved for final drafts only. Under these hostile conditions, writers identified issues with language by subjecting their texts to Read-Aloud Reviews.

Photo by Pereanu Sebastian on Unsplash

Using spoken presentations to check a text helped authors back in the day address problems with clarity, syntax, and diction. 
Alison Davis’ article on the Read Aloud and a recent discussion by The Writing Center praise the strategy as an editing tool. At The Write Practice, McGann takes it to another level and proclaims that the Read-Aloud will change a writer’s life. As I recently constructed an audiobook of my novelette, There’s a War on Here”, I stumbled across this editing method. 

Under the impression that the text was clear and concise, I pressed the record button and began narrating. When I came across awkward expressions or ill-fitted sentences, I stopped, fixed them, and re-recorded. As I listened to the spoken story, I noticed overused words, and again, I stopped, edited, rewound, and narrated a clean text.

When I started the audiobook, I’d thought that the manuscript was free from language issues. Each time that I edited, these snags went unnoticed. If it wasn’t for the narrating and listening process, I’d never have seen the errors. Much of the time and energy that I’ve put into editing over the years could have been saved if I simply applied this procedure.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Editing is visual. Language is pictorial. The written word uses optics. The Read-Aloud Review examines writing through an additional, auditory sense and accesses a different part of the brain. Editing through speaking and listening – instead of looking – expanded the scope of my awareness. Whether with recording software, text-to-voice apps, or simply my own voice, the Read-Aloud Review, as McGann so enthusiastically claims, is actually changing my writing life. 

Blue Water Writing: Where’s your Head At?

Most of the discussions on the Internet about “plotters” (writers that outline) and “pantsers” (writers that write by the seat of their pants) include an acknowledgment that authors have varied personalities, experiences, and needs. Robinson’s article discusses the different approaches that J.K. Rowling and Stephen King utilize. In contrast to the one-size-fits-all advice from NY Book EditorsKristen Kieffer’s website and Writer’s Digest’s article encourage writers to develop their individual methods. 

Using both the plotter and the pantser approach might work best for me, and the application of the methods might depend upon the surrounding circumstances.

As I began this novella, I applied both the “plotter” and the “pantser” writing method. Like a plotter, I outlined two scenes and generated a text that covered the points in the outline. During the writing process, I often reflected and edited the text. Then, like a pantser, I wrote two scenes without bullet points and without revising or rewording. The plotting method took more time and resulted in an organized and occasionally uninspired text.  The pantsing took less time and resulted in an energized, but often disjointed narrative. 

Image from NeedPix

When asked the question, “are you a plotter or a pantser?”, I answer, “Yes.” as I expect to use both techniques and according to the level of confidence that I have in the vision-details.  During the experiment, the effectiveness of the method reflected the level of vision-clarity.  When the ideas were distinct and detailed, I didn’t need an outline, and the pantsing method did not go off-topic. When my concepts were clouded and confused, a more systemic process provided the text with direction and focus.

Image from Pixabay

During less-hectic weekends and in a relaxed state of mind, a pantsing approach might be most enjoyable and produce a narration that is on-topic and inspired. After a busy workday or in a stressed state of mind, plotting might prove to be more effective and keep the story progressing. When deciding on which method or which combination of methods to use, it may be worth considering, as Basement Jaxx so aptly puts it, where your head’s at.

Blue Water Writing: Note-taking and Narrating

To avoid making the mistakes that I previously made, I utilized many of the suggestions from Writer’s Digest, and I constructed an outline before writing the text.  Some of the choices that I made in the outline were not ideal. Making my narrator a cop seemed to make sense while outlining, but the choice felt restrictive during the narration of the story. In the second draft of the outline, I changed my first-person narrator – from a retired cop – to a retired camera operator.  With this change, the narration flowed, and the next 1000 words were more enjoyable to write.  

Image by Pikist

While that change worked, I eventually came across an issue with the logistics of a scene, and uncertain of where I was going, I constructed a third draft of the outline.  The details that I added were in the form of sketches. The pictures presented only bird’s-eye views, looked very messy, used arrows to represent the characters’ movements, and referred only to the scenes that I was struggling with.  With these details, the narration resumed, and I was satisfied with the quality of the text generated.  

Initially, I thought that an outline was the solution. With an outline, I’d pay up front and rip the band-aid off fast. As I confronted the challenging aspects of the plot in the outline, the writing process would feel less like climbing up a mountain and more like sliding down one. While the outline supported the story, it was the writing of the text that revealed the holes in the outline. The best approach for me might include a continuous back-and-forth between note-taking and narration.

Blue Water Writing: Begin by Writing Goals

Throughout my adult life, I’ve read through countless “goal-setting” articles on the Internet.  As a high school teacher, I’ve taught the process of setting and achieving a goal many times. With this writing project, I returned to the topic and looked over a few discussions on “writing goals”.  Initially, the presentations seemed simplistic and overly general, and also, a little corny, if I may say.  The advice, however, is sound, I believe, and revisiting these methods did motivate me to act.

Photo credit: Pikist

Writing Goal #1

I set a goal to write three scenes for Chapter 1, with each scene being approximately 1000-words long.  I wrote for about an hour each day.  In three days, I completed the three scenes for a total of 3000-words. The plan applied the SMART acronym on The Golden Rules of Goal Setting, which suggests that goal-setters create objectives that are: “Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant. Time-Bound.” This approach also followed the advice that Writer’s Digest provides in 7 Tips for Creating Writing Goals. Viewing the potentially 30,000-word novella in 1000-word clusters felt manageable and motivational, and having an attainable and measurable goal pulled me out of stagnancy.

The completion of this “baby step”, however, resulted in the production of a text that still required significant editing. Since I’m trying to achieve clarity – efficiently – and without having to complete a million edits, I think that my writing goal should address quality, as well as quantity. Changes to the outlining process should improve the storytelling, which I’ll discuss in my next blog, as should the articulation of a goal that references quantity and quality. Since I’d like to connect to the reader with this text on an emotional and intellectual level, I’m articulating the qualitative goal in terms of the intended effect.

Photo credit: Pikist

Writing Goal #2

In the 1000-word scenes that I write – every day or every other day -, the first-person narrator should calm and console a reader that has an average or an above-average reading ability. The events that this male-protagonist conveys should excite the audience, and the unfolding of the events should move at a fast-pace. The cruise-ship settings that he relays should delight, but the antagonist’s destructive actions should horrify. On an intellectual level, the reader should walk away with an understanding that violent and offensive acts require attention and action if one is to prevent more.

Blue Water Writing: Mission Statement

How can I articulate my creative vision -clearly -in an engaging manner and -still have time left over to live?

Sisyphus overcoming
I have been blogging for over a week now, and it just dawned on me that I have not really specified the goal of this reflection journal. Before writing the Mission Statement, I’d like to mention the tragic state of affairs that led me to this exercise. It was a novella that I wrote, which didn’t turn out to be very good. I spent a lot of time on it, and still, it did not meet with the kind of reaction that I expected. The disappointment was rough on me. With this blog, I am trying to understand the disconnect that occurred between my presentation and the reader’s experience while working on my Novella #2.
One of the mistakes that I made was to focus too much on editing and not enough on content. I love to edit and I love reading nicely-edited texts, so I ended up line-editing pages of text that revolved around bad ideas.  For this writing endeavor, I’m going to initially focus on content only: descriptions, dialogue, and events will happen freely, and I won’t think about correctness, conciseness, or clarity. I won’t work on that easy-to-read flow until the content is written.  With that, I mean completely written. For this story, I’m planning to write the content, revise it, rework it, and revise it again before I even start to look at editing. Then, I may add in some descriptions. Once again, I am withholding the line-editing process in this endeavor, and edits in the form of comb-throughs and language fix-ups will be completed only at the very end.
In this top ten list of potential topics, “editing” is now listed last.

  1. Research: Is that true?
  2. Clarity of Plot, Clarity of Vision
  3. Identify the Genre, Target Audience, and Pacing of the Story
  4. Clarify: Subtext and Theme, Symbolism
  5. Identify Point of View, first-person, third-person
  6. Outline, Timeline of events / Timeline of Presentation
  7. Order of Information, Page and Paragraph level
  8. Order of Information, Sentence Level
  9. Editing Plot
  10. Editing Sentence, Syntax and Diction