A very dear and old friend of mine wrote me a message last night to ask some advice on blogging and writing a novel, both of which I have done with little to no success, so he clearly came to an expert, right? But, since I was in the publishing industry for about a decade, and since I do write constantly (if only in my head for the most part, lately), maybe I am the right person because I’ve seen more than my fair share of good and bad writing, good and bad ideas, and good and bad wordsmithing. I also just love writing and want to help anybody with the same dream any which way I can, so the following is what I wrote back to him, and I decided, with his permission, that it was maybe worth sharing with the rest of you…
Well, since you did wear the same Big Bird sweater as I did on the first day of nursery school, I guess I can take a few minutes to answer…
And, honestly, I have no idea. For me, the secret to writing is just to write. Sit down, and write honestly. Write like you know that nobody’s going to read it, so it doesn’t matter what you say (that could be my insecurity showing through, thinking nobody actually reads these things). Write without rules.
Most other writers will tell you to make a draft, sort out your thoughts beforehand, and then write. I am not one of those writers, but it’s not bad advice – It just doesn’t work for me. I prefer writing to be organic; I like to surprise myself. That said, though, depending on what kind of novel you’re writing, notes and research can be your best friend. I’ve written one novel so far (haven’t tried selling it) and I did it pretty well without any notes and just seeing where the story took me. When I started it, I had my beginning and end totally thought out, but I left my plans for the middle of the book pretty abstract, and by the time I got through writing those parts my ending had completely changed into something way better than I had originally planned.
As for blogging, I definitely don’t have the most popular blog on the internet – probably one of the least popular, actually. I only started thinking about an audience this year, and how to get more readers, and the key to that is Tagging. For blogging sites, there are two that are really superior, in my opinion – Blogger, and WordPress. I used to use Blogger, but WordPress is owned by Google, so I migrated over there, and it’s also an easier platform to use, and just more fun. I tend to write more about nothing, so my Tags are all over the place, which reduces my viewer-count because I’m never writing about the same topic twice – something I should change if I want to increase my traffic. A great example are all of the Mommy Blogs – they Tag theirs with keywords like “Mommy” “Baby” “Parenthood” and anybody who searches those topics on Google will get a link to their blog.
My two most popular blogs were both timely, so if you want attention, write about something that people are talking about. The most popular one I wrote was called “Catwoman’s Goggles”, written back in June or July because a lot of fanboys were screaming about how Catwoman wears goggles in the new Batman movie and that she shouldn’t because it’s not true to her character, so I had to use my vast knowledge of all things nerdy to let them all know they were wrong, she has worn goggles in the comics. Since Batman and Catwoman will always be popular, when people search those words they come to my blog. Then, yesterday I wrote about the monkey and my blog pretty much exploded – Almost 100 views by the time I went to bed last night! I Tagged it with “Ikea” “Monkey” and “Toronto”, and that seemed to work. So, if you want attention for your blog, write about something timely, and make sure people can find it by Tagging it with some good keywords. I’ll bet if I write a blog about breast implants and tag it with “Boobs” that I’ll have the most famous blog of the day…
Then, you should always promote yourself, something I’m not very good at. For me, I put a link on Facebook, I put a link on Twitter, and then I’m pretty much done with it. Other people I know post their links a few times a day, and put it in other places as well to increase attention (craigslist, internet forums, wherever…). It works for them, but I would feel like I was being annoying, so I don’t do that. That’s probably a fault on my part, but that’s the way my brain works.
Now, back to your novel – The best thing you can do is find a small group of writers (four or five) to meet with every week or so, and read your stuff aloud to them, and let them do the same with their stuff. This is helpful for two very good reasons – One, because it gives you deadline to get things accomplished before your next meeting so you can’t procrastinate, and two, ongoing feedback is invaluable, even when you don’t agree with it. As I’m just starting work on my second novel, I’d be glad to be part of this group if you decide to make one. Also, reading it aloud will help you figure out where you have any issues with flow, and if it reads well outside of your own head.
That’s pretty much my advice on writing. Write from the heart, write about what interests you, write honestly and with conviction, and if you think it sucks, don’t sweat it, just start again; some writers call their books their babies, but that’s not really a fitting analogy since if I don’t like what I’m writing, I can just delete it, whereas if you screw up with your kid, that’s it – you screwed up and have to move forward from there with that mistake being part of their story no matter what. So, don’t be afraid to make mistakes – this is not your baby! It is your creation, yes, but it’s not a child so don’t sweat it if you decide it sucks. In writing, the way I see it, you are God and the universe will bend to your will.
Good luck! I’d love to read your work when you get going on it, okay?
Just a quick hit about why I don’t think that the Ikea monkey, Darwin, should be returned to his owner. I am going to stay away from all of the biology and science here since I’m not an expert and can’t really comment on how detrimental it would be for a monkey to be raised among people. I imagine it’s not very good for the monkey and will inherently screw up his socialization, but I’m not an expert and I honestly don’t know.
I do know, however, that Ross on Friends had to get rid of Marcel after a certain point because Marcel started going through puberty and I can’t imagine a having a horny wild animal running around the house would be very much fun for anybody (other than the stuffed animals in the kid’s rooms, of course). But what I learn from a sitcom and what may be true in real life are likely two very different things, so I can’t comment on that point.
In fact, I’m not going to comment at all on the right or the wrong of keeping exotic animals as pets. If you know me, you’ll know that I’m rabidly against animals being kept in captivity, but of course, there’s the exception of dogs and cats (and goldfish) because, due to generations of domesticity, they really do seem to be losing their instinct to survive on their own. Or, at least my cat seems to have. She’s such a pussy.
No, the reason I don’t think this lady should get her monkey back is rooted in none of that. In fact, it’s not attached to my love of animals at all. It’s the fact that this woman is constantly referring to Darwin as her child (she has two human kids as well, from what I’ve read in the news, probably from a much better looking father). My logic behind this is simple. If Darwin is her child, THEN WHY THE FUCK DID SHE LEAVE HIM IN THE FUCKING CAR WHEN SHE WENT SHOPPING?
Now, you may say that she left him safely locked in her car, and you’re right, she did. Oh, except for the ‘safely’ part. Because, you see, monkeys, like people, have opposable thumbs. That means they can grab things, hold them, squeeze them, lift them. So, what good does a lock do against a creature who has the capacity to open it easily on its own?
The retort I usually get to that point is that you can buy a better lock, and yes, that is true, but it’s also a deflection, because the point is still that the monkey shouldn’t have been left alone in the car for an hour in the first place. Why not? Well, if this monkey is her child, as she’s so fond of claiming, guess what! It’s freakin’ illegal to keep your kid locked in your car while you go shopping, Swifty! Animals, too! Admittedly, it’s not a sweltering summer’s day, as illustrated by Darwin’s designer coat, but the law is the law, and this lady’s a lawyer, so either she’s publically and willfully admitting to being a child abuser, or she doesn’t actually think of him as her child.
(Speaking of which, where’s the monkey’s actual mother? Doesn’t she have a stake and a claim in all of this? No, because she’s a fuckin’ monkey, not a person, just like Darwin!)
Then there are the claims that this lady is making that she was coerced into signing the papers to turn Darwin over to the Monkey Sanctuary. Lady, you’re a lawyer. If you were so easily duped, than you basically just told the world that you’re a really shitty lawyer who doesn’t understand what it means when you sign your name to a legal document. So, which is it? Were you duped because you don’t understand the legality of your signature, or did you sign away all rights to your child because you didn’t give that much of a shit until he became a YouTube sensation and brought you all of this attention?
Now, maybe she does love and miss Darwin. He’s cute a button, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she did. But her home is not the right place for him. She has already demonstrated that she has no idea how to take care of a monkey by neglectfully leaving him in the car from which he had the means to easily escape, and he could very easily have been killed in that parking lot – I go to the Ikea and it’s a nightmare!
Let’s let this monkey enjoy a life surrounded by other monkeys, if not back at home in his native Japan, then at least at a sanctuary that will provide him with the peer group and socialization he deserves and needs, and let’s keep him away from the person who wants him for her own selfish reasons (He’s so cute!!! Just like a real baby, but with FUR!!!) and has already clearly established that she has no clue how to take care of him.
Totally forgot about and have neglected this thing while I’ve been ensconced inside of my creative cocoon developing my new project, which is now ready to put to paper. I will start posting asinine inanities again shortly as I tend to use those as my pre-writing warm-up. Sorry to the two people who might have actually noticed that I haven’t been posting…