How to Choose What to Write About When You Love Everything!

In writing, as with everything else, it pays to specialise. Rather than be “all things to all men”, be the one big fish in a niche group pond.

When you have a wide range of passions, this can be hard. You may love everything from alpacas to zen, but having such a dazzlingly daVinciesque array of interests can be hard to market. I know from experience that this just doesn’t cut it out there in Internetland. People want to know what you stand for, which category to put you in, the name written on the box that you so proudly think outside of.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers makes the claim that it takes 10,000 hours or five years to become an expert, to be able to claim you are a professional. This is contentious. you might spend 10,000 hours on something you have no natural aptitude for. Does that make you an expert? I don’t think so.

So when you are faced with  bewildering selection of passions, interests, skill and talents, be ruthless. You are talking about making your living, remember.

5 Ways to Stand Above the Common Herd

  1. Write down everything – yes everything – you like, love, are interested in or feel you are good at. Now be brutally honest. Which of those already puts you in the top one percent? (I love my alpacas, but I’m not an expert by a long chalk, so that rules them out!) That should be your short list. You’re not losing the others, they can be hobbies.
  2. What do you want to be well-known for as a writer? Imagine you can only choose one thing. (OMG! I know, I know!) If that’s too hard choose three – maximum!
  3. Which of those three do you find yourself talking most about? Thinking most about?  Which could you give an informed, impromptu talk on, right now?
  4. If you are still unsure, then which of the topics offers the best revenue? Which is there a real market for? That’s your winner. Your one big thing.
  5. Spend time polishing this one skill, talent, passion you have until it gleams.  Aim to move from the top one per cent to the top 0.01 per cent.

Can you do that? Of course you can!




Confessions of a Bookaholic

Some of my books

Temptation is everywhere

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Fiona and I’m a bookaholic.

It started when I was a child and discovered the thrill of being transported to another place by a book. I was hooked almost instantly.  I began to long for time that I could spend alone with a book – or preferably several. I begged to go to the library when other kids wanted the zoo or the cinema.  I got caught reading under the bedclothes with a torch and even (and I blush at the thought) in the toilet.

I have books stashed in strange places in the house, so that wherever I am I can grab a few pages. I even have a book in the car and a book in my handbag, it is that bad.

I have tried to go cold turkey. I  even managed a whole day once without reading, but then had to give in towards bedtime.

The early hours of the morning, I have discovered, are the most dangerous. I wake at around 5am and then spend an inordinate amount of time skulking among the virtual shelves of Amazon, desperate to spend my hard-earned cash on yet another book.

I will read anything, but I do the draw the line at reading fiction during the day. If I started a novel before 6pm I would consider myself in serious trouble, so try to stick to non – fiction during working hours as that way I can pretend it is research, although I am fooling no-one.

I know I should slow down. I read at breakneck speed, sometimes not even enjoying the contents that much. What is frightening is that sometimes I don’t even remember what I have read, unless I check my bookshelves or the order pages of Amazon.

The thought of being in a place or situation where I am not able to get a book easily is very scary. I have to make sure that if I am going anywhere for a long time that I fill up on the written word before I go. Excursions are planned around books – bookshops, libraries, second hand stores, book exhibitions … I think you get the idea. It’s not pretty.

Is there a cure? For a while I thought it might be ebooks. I tried them but they just didn’t hit the spot. They didn’t feel right or smell right. They didn’t flop nicely onto my sleeping face like the comforting open spine of a paperback, so I slid back into my old habits.

What is worse is that I am not just a reader, but I write too. Yes, I supply others with words and pages and books and get them hooked. Writing is the job of choice for a bookaholic, you get to spend time with the object of your desire every day and no-one bats an eyelid.

I am a hopeless case, but I know that I am not alone.

Yes, I’m talking to you. You, with your surreptitious glimpses at concealed pages, with your  voracious appetite for words and your stolen chapters. You might as well admit it – you’re as bad as me.

Aren’t you?






The Power of Words

When events spiral out of my control and the familiar, tried and tested is ripped away, then I find I always get comfort from words in some form or another – writing, reading, listening. The image of the tortured writer only able to get in touch with the muse when in emotional turmoil is a cliche, but there is little doubt that the most profound and most moving literature often comes from people going through personal pain.

At my mother's funeral at the end of December, all I knew waa that I wanted to write a poem about her – a funny poem that summed her up. That got me through the service. I felt compelled to write it, and to stand up and deliver it, because for me, creating a little piece of art was the only way I knew to honour her. It wasn't a great poem, but it said what I want it to, it was very personal, I think she would have liked it.

I haven't written my blog for a while because I just haven't felt like it, to be honest. I felt guilty, but now I'm being more understanding of myself. I knew I would be able to write again when I felt ready. As it turns out, this hasn't been when everything had settled down, as I thought would happen. In fact, things are currently more turbulent than ever. But words have always been my friends and words are all I have to make sense of things and record things. So I will keep putting one foot in front of the other and one word in front of the other and see where it takes me.

Write to Suit Your Personality

You may love writing but at the same time be stuck for what kind of writing to do. Should you go for the blockbuster novel, the non-fiction bio or be a killer blogger?

There are as many kinds of writing as there are personalities and the trick is to match your character and skills to the right category.

Writing a book, whether it’s a novel or a non-fiction work, means you are in it for the long haul. It requires determination and discipline as well as the ability to just keep writing when you are fed up and bored and want to be doing something else. Sure, there is variety in writing the different chapters and scenes, but you have got to love the whole big picture too. It takes a long time – maybe even a year or more – to write a book and if you get boreed after chapter two, you are in big trouble!

So if you have the patience, self-discipline and passion to see a long work through, then a full length book could be an option for you. Of course, then you have to decide whether to go for fiction or non-fiction and that is another character/personality
thing. To find out what you are best suited to, look at what you read. I know people
who NEVER read "made up" stuff considering it a waste of time, something
that leaves me scratching my head in bewilderment at what delights they are missing
out on.

If you love learning new things, are easily bored, know that you can focus and give
100 percent for a day or two but not a month or two on the same thing, then article writing or blogging could be the kind of writing that best suits you. It allows you
the variety you crave and the satisfaction of finishing something without having to
stay with it for too long. Then you can be onto the next thing! For fiction, then
think micro fiction or short stories. In other words, go with your natural tendencies
and abilities, don't fight them, just because you may feel a "proper"
writer has to write a book.

This is just scratching the surface and doesn't even cover the myriad other areas
of writing: copywriting, technical writing, poetry, screenplays, essays… but you get the basic idea. Work with your personality and you'll stand a lot better chance of being a great writer.

5 Top Tips for a Tidy Desk

There's this idea that if you are a creative person, then your desk will look like an explosion in a paper factory. I have seen some pretty crazy looking desks in my time; I remember a former teaching colleague whose desk was groaning under a collection of assorted detritus which he promised was all essential. I just wanted to clear off all that crap and put it in the wastepaper basket!

I'm creative, but I can't work in a mess. I just love having a clean, tidy desk before I start work each day. If you're like me, then here are five tips to help you:

  1. Before you finish work at the end of the day, tidy up and bin any rubbish cluttering up that lovely desk top space.  It's great to start fresh in the morning knowing what you are doing.
  2. Examine the top of your desk. (Makes a change from your navel!) How much stuff actually needs to be there? There comes a point where inspirational quotations, crystals, photos and CDs of relaxing music can actually start getting on your nerves, which rather defeats the object. Clean out drawers and filing cabinets too – it's still there you know, that clutter, even if you can't see it.
  3. Get into the habit of acting on something, binning it or filing it as soon as it arrives on your desk.
  4. Keep your 'wealth corner' (back left of your desk top) uncluttered and have a leafy plant or something else symbolising wealth on there, not your overflowing in-tray. (Thanks to a feng shui ebook I have just read for this tip – every little helps.)
  5. Keep everything fresh,clean and polished. (I hope you can see enough desk space to polish.) Apparently your computer keyboard has more germs on it than a toilet seat, so keep that clean too and not full of crumbs from your mid morning snack.

A tidy desk has a strong subconscious effect on you, making you feel empowered and in control, even if it's just in that very small area. So go on, get the duster out. You know you want to!



Is It Always Good to Get What You Want?

You can personalise everything these days: music, tv programmes, films, ringtones, news stories… you need never read a word, see an image or hear a sound that you are not interested in or entertained by. But is that necessarily a good thing? To only be exposed to what you like?

I'm of the generation brought up in the UK with only three tv channels and limited radio programmes ( like Pick of the Pops and Two Way Family Favourites!). No internet. No 24 hour rolling news. What that meant was that in order to get to the 'good' bits, you had to be exposed to the stuff that you did not necessarily like.

That did two things. It made you even happier to hear your favourite song when you had waited a long time for it  - something like appreciating the sunshine more because of the rain if you know what I mean – and it exposed you to a variety of material that you would not have come across by choice. Some of that material would never be of interest (nothing could persuade me to like brass bands or Highland dancing), but some lingered and developed into a curiosity and then a genuine love.

Only giving people what they like is short sighted.  It doesn't allow for changes of taste or the possibility of persuasion, the chance spark of curiosity that could ignite a passion of interest. It is narrow and inward looking. It stifles imagination and weakens willpower.  

I guess things have gone too far now and it's a genie that can't be put back in the bottle. Personalised everything is here to stay. I just hope that sometimes people choose randomness and surprises instead of their tried and tested favourites, because it's  only then that you find out what you really like.

Old, Not Stupid

One of the issues I get very passionate, not to say hot under the collar about, is the treatment of the older generation. To me, everyone has a story, has a lifetime of experience and wisdom and above all, still has the spirit and potential that they had when they were younger.

I despise seeing the rows of sad, hopeless faces sitting in care homes often just waiting to die. These people all have talents, skills, personality and sense of humour.

So I am delighted to share this amazing video with you. Watch it until the end. The lady is 92 and used to be a professional dancer and she is dancing with her great grandson aged 29. BRAVISSIMA!





Keeping a Diary

Do you keep a diary? A journal? A record of everything from when the plumber came to how you felt when your much-loved, one-winged crow disappeared from her aviary. (That would be me  two weeks ago.)

I used to keep a five-year diary when I was a teenager andI really wish I could read those entries now. Among other things, I wrote about my undying love for David my next door neighbour's son who took me out once in his Capri Ghia, promised he'd phone and then never did. I remember still waiting for that call six months later, detaling my anguish in my little lockable journal. That diary was like a friend. But when we moved house it somehow disappeared and I kind of lost interest in diary writing after that, for a very, very  long time.

When we moved to Italy in 1994. Alan and I started keeping a joint diary. After all, it was the experience of a lifetime. We had bought a ruined farmhouse in Umbria. It had no gas or water, no toilet or kitchen, no electricity or glass in the windows. Our farming neighbours were friendly but uncomprehending as we learned to plaster walls and lay bricks. We spent three hours in the blazing sunshine in July digging a round hole for a septic tank that arrived the same day. The driver laughed when he saw the tiny excavation we had made. 'You can plant a tree there,' he said as he unloaded a tank the size of the Ark Royal. It all went in the diary.

Our diary-writing gradually stopped as years passed and life became more 'normal. But I kept a record of my experiences through my weekly letters to my Mum, something I still do to this day. I found a bundle of my letters the last time I went to see her and re-read my tales of buying the geese, cleaning years of white paint off the beams and starting our little language school. You forget so much, you know?

I started keeping a diary again about two years ago and I write in it every morning, usually at about 7 am before I take the dogs out. I detail the boring stuff: got 21 quintale of logs they're too big for the stove!, but also the more interesting things: 'Picchio the handicapped pigeon arrived yesterday and promptly flew round the aviary. It's a miracle!'

I don't think many people keep diaries these days (God, I sound about a hundred years old!) but I think it is very important to have a way to express your feelings and record your life as even the little mundane details bring back a raft of other memories. Facebook and Twitter have their place but  lots of people seem to spend more time taking photos and uploading them on Facebook to prove they have had an experience than actually experiencing the thing in the first place!

So please consider writing a few lines every day in a notebook – writing not typing, notebook as in notebook with paper not electronic gadget – and record everything you do, big and small. One day you'll be glad that you did.

To Worry Mongers and Doom and Gloom Merchants – Shut the **** Up!

Half full Well, Happy New Year everyone and let’s hope 2011 is a great one.

It’s the time of year when we are bombarded with reflections on the year gone by (hate those – it’s gone – get over it) and dire predictions for the year ahead. I try to ignore the worry-mongers and writers of sensationalist newspaper headlines – it’s so easy to be negative and panic people, yes it may happen, but then again – it may not!

It’s like those programmes on doomsday scenarios . You know the kind of thing they have titles like, : “What Will Happen If a Meteor Strikes Earth…” or “The Super Volcanoes – Ending Life As We Know It.” I ask you! Have people got nothing better to do than create negative programmes about things that will possibly never happen? I certainly won’t waste my life watching them, that’s for sure! It’s not that I’m putting my head in the sand, but I refuse to worry about stuff like that, life is too short.

So let’s make it our New Year resolution to banish the bearers of depressing speculative crap, to try and look at the positive as well as the negative, to treat things in a balanced way and to be grateful for the good stuff we do have rather than the things we lack.

Sermon over! Back to work!

Let’s Hear it for Renaissance Man – and Woman!

The division between being an artist or a scientist has always struck me as totally artificial. How can you classify someone as 'an artist' or 'a scientist' as if they are mutually exclusive?

At school when it came to choosing my A level subjects, all my teachers were pushing me towards the arts as I had done so well in English and history. However, I was completley fascinated by mathematics. So I decided I wanted to do English, history and pure maths. Well, you would have thought I'd asked to study advanced pornography. 'You CAN'T' the teachers told me. 'Maths is a SCIENCE subject. English and history are ARTS.' It was at that moment that this ridiculous division really hit home. Out of awkwardness and annoyance at how stupid this was I pushed and pushed and eventually they changed the timetable so I could study all three subjects. I'd love to tell you that I went on to get an A in maths but sadly my enthusiasm wasn't matched by aptitude and I didn't pass. But I had been a little bit of a pioneer for breaking down the barriers, in my school at least.

When did this artificial division begin? I decided to do a little research and discovered that the split was prompted by Copernicus and really took hold in the 18th century, the era of the Romantic poets. Visionary poet William Blake detested Isaac Newton apparently! You can read more about it here, in a review of a fascinating lecture and book by Richard Holmes in The Guardian.

I continue to be eclectic in my interests, as fascinated by quantum physics as literature. To me, these areas are parts of a bigger picture than I will probably ever understand, but it's fun trying. The Theory of Everything does not belong to scientists but to all of us! It isn't Artists v. Scientists but Renaissance People all working together that helps us move forward.