Friday, 7 December 2012

Twitter for the Uninitiated Writer

So What is all this Twitter Nonsense About?

Whether you are a technophobe or a digital luddite, chances are you haven’t managed to escape the almost daily mentions of Twitter. Even the pope has an account, I kid you not: @Pontifex —read the article here.
What you may not appreciate is that a great part of the publishing industry has also embraced the 140 character social medium.

The benefits of using Twitter or any form of social media to help you as a writer are not immediately obvious; sign up for a new Twitter account and you will see a stream of drivel from the world informing you about what someone had for lunch or the current weather in Uptown Polemic. However, with the right filtering and a professional approach, Twitter can be very useful to you as a writer.

What apps should I use?

The main browser based Twitter website is useful for administering your account and writing tweets when away from your home computer, but to use it seriously you need something that runs as a separate application on your computer desktop. I recommend the following apps, all of which are free and are available for various operating systems:


Each allows multi-column views as well as allowing you to filter the column to show only tweets that you are interested in. Some allow scheduled tweets, others allow you to tweet through all your different social media outlets like Google plus, Facebook and LinkedIn.

How should I use Twitter?

There are a number of ways to use Twitter, though to be professional, avoid using it to inform the world that your cat is off his food –unless you are very famous, nobody is interested. Keep your tweets focused on what you intend. If you are talking about the writing process, do that. Tweet about your writing. By all means tweet about how you are progressing, even if you are struggling. Sprinkle in useful links to articles you have read.
Link your twitter account to your facebook account, so that when you tweet, the tweet also appears on your facebook wall. Aim to tweet fairly regularly. Once a week is too little, ten times a day is too much. 

How will Twitter help me?

This is the big and rather vague question. We have all heard stories of how so-and-so has used social media to make millions. In the real world Twitter is not going to do that for you. If you are a published writer, it may help to promote your work and sell a few books, but the time put in to achieve anything significant through Twitter alone is not worth it. Rather, Twitter is another weapon in your arsenal of your online presence. What it does do, is allow people to see you are there, working, writing, being active in the industry. Agents and publishers will see this and realise you are serious about your career. Readers will be interested to see what you are doing now, what you will be doing next and to see that you are a real person. Other writers will be interested to learn from you, to have your support and vice versa. It is also a very good way to source articles that appear on blogs and newspaper sites that are focussed on your area of interest.

What can I do with Twitter?

First off, Twitter is a very rapid source of news sharing –possibly the most rapid in the world. A bomb goes off somewhere and you can guarantee that within one minute someone has tweeted about it. Within five, someone has uploaded a photo and put a link on Twitter. Before you follow anyone else sign up to follow all the big newspapers. Just do a search in the search option for any you can think of. Once you have done that start to add those areas of specific interest to you. All major publishing houses have twitter accounts, they do say things of use. Look at the websites for agents, they will often have twitter streams to follow. @PublishersWkly @HuffPostBooks @Writers_Cafe @NewYorker @littlebrown @randomhouse @PenguinUKBooks @EgmontUK @nytimesbooks @GuardianBooks @HarperFiction are all useful sources for writers.

Hashtags # and Extra Columns

To have any kind of use from Twitter it is necessary to filter the streams. It is all very well to view just the tweets from those you have chosen to follow, but how do you find the good stuff, or new people to follow? The best way for tweet writers to make sure their tweets are seen by the right people is to use a hash tag # before the relevant keyword (you can just filter for keywords as well, but hashtags are more targeted). Set up a new column in your app that is just for tweets containing the #amwriting tag, see what you get. Other relevant tags will be #publishing, #writing, #books, #authors, #agents, #editing, or #writers. There are many more. Often tweets are sent with multiple hashtags so you can just make a new column to see what is going on in any that sound interesting to you. You may eventually want a column for mentions if people start replying to you or re-tweeting your tweets.

Following and Followers

You don’t need huge numbers of followers, just good ones. Some people are merely observers and never tweet, others get sucked in and tweet about every moment in their lives, you probably want to be somewhere in-between. Having followed a few papers and publishers, you may find one or two have decided to follow you back. Great, now you have some people who might even view what you tweet. Try being a bit braver, search out your friends and follow them. If you have been watching a hashtag stream like #writers and someone’s tweet amuses you, check them out, click follow. Often people you follow will follow you back. If someone follows you out of the blue, check them out first, then follow them back. It is good to have a spring clean every so often, block anyone who has started following you who appears to be a spammer. Check out your new followers own list of followers, these are likely to be people who might be interested in you -you can even click to follow a few of them.

Other Things to be Aware of

  • Twitter is a social media just like facebook. Reply to people’s tweets using the reply option; they will see your tweet. If you are lucky you may even get a thanks from someone famous. 
  • Be polite, if someone re-tweets one of your tweets, thank them, or even start a tweeted conversation. 
  • If you think a writer is great, and want to recommend them, write a tweet on Writers Wednesday #WW, or give a list of people worth following on Follow Friday #FF. You will find the favour returned. 
  • Avoid following people without profile pictures, people who haven’t bothered to write a profile or who seem to be spamming in their tweets. 
  • NEVER fall for stupid ploys like: "someone has been saying rude things about you, check it out at". 
  • Monitor your follower list, if people unfollow you, return the favour, they obviously only followed you to get their numbers up. is a useful helper for this.
  • Block anyone who is filling the airwaves with drivel, you don’t have the time. 
  • Double check your tweets for typos; once sent they cannot be recalled. 

I hope that is enough to get up and running with Twitter. It is not for everyone, but giving it a proper go may prove to be useful.

Simon Cornish

Monday, 27 August 2012

Looking Back Down

Ten things that helped me write a novel

After just over two years steadily climbing towards this point, my first novel is finished and ready for the next step. It’s an odd place to be. Along with an odd sense of vertigo, I can see a lot from this hilltop: there’s the next book to decide on —all those other hills— as well as that publishing mountain looming on the horizon. But for now it’s just nice to sit here and admire the view, to look back down at some of those paths, guides and handholds that have helped me get to this point. The route hasn’t always been straight or easy, but I’ve found my way.

Here are some of the things that have helped me get here:

1. Doing a Course.
Doing some kind of course in writing, even if it is a short semester at the local community college, will provide invaluable grounding and experience, as well as offering a boost to the confidence of anyone thinking of writing professionally.
In 2009 I began a Masters degree in professional writing through University College Falmouth, I graduated in 2011. I cannot say enough about how much this has changed my understanding of writing, the industry and what it entails to be a writer. I feel privileged to have worked with the combination of staff and fellow students for that time.

2. Having Good and Supportive Mentors
Writing is a lonely activity; one in which self-doubt and second-guessing can creep into your thoughts as easily as over-confidence and blindness to fundamental errors. Having the right mentors at the right times will not only help you continue with your work, but will hopefully give you the right perspective on it. A mentor does not have to be the all-wise sensei of the martial arts films, simply a person whose knowledge and opinion you trust. Though, as in the films one should always respect such individuals and never pester them with trivial questions.
I was lucky enough to work with some first class tutors as part of my MA, but I’ve also had other mentors both from my background in the film industry and new ones I have encountered since starting out as a writer. Finding mentors is not as difficult as some might believe; experienced writers will often answer queries through social media and a little research can turn up a whole plethora of experts in various fields, who are often flattered to be consulted as long as you are sincere.

3. The Notebook
As an animator and illustrator I learned to use sketchbooks to record interesting things that I encountered as well as ideas as they occurred to me. My sketchbooks also were also where I worked out and developed rough concepts and images. I would also note and develop any script ideas. So much, in fact that I began to realise that I got more from the writing than I did from the drawing. But notebook or sketchbook, the point is the same; I have a lot of ideas, some good, some rubbish and some a little outlandish, but if I don’t record them somewhere I’ll forget them as soon as new ideas arrive to push them out of my head. Even if an idea isn’t going to fill out to my next novel it may still form a scene, make a short story or flash fiction piece.

4. Research
It goes without saying, but there are still times when I have felt unable to progress because I didn’t fully understand something. This has occurred both with the technical aspects of writing and also with such things as background for characters or places.
Public libraries, or better still sneaky visits to university libraries are always rewarding, buying the relevant books is even better if you can afford it. For some elements of research it is worth investing the time and visiting places, or interviewing people with direct experience. That said, we live in an era of unprecedented access to information and  it is possible to look many things up on the internet within minutes or visit a location through Google Earth. Such research should always be double checked, but it’s saved me a lot of time and frustration.

5. A Professional Approach
Though there are times when we all slip; when we could be more thorough, deal with people better or remember important details; everything undertaken as a writer should be with professionalism at the back of your mind. Whether tweeting, blogging, updating a website or sending an email, you should be conscious of who might read it.
It is not just the copy, the content, editing or structure that is important to being professional: it is how the process is approached. I made a decision early on that if writing was going to be part of my career, I would need to dedicate a portion of my life to it. For the last two years that is exactly how I have worked, dividing my day in two, with mornings reserved exclusively for writing. It is part of my job and I try to discipline myself to work as if I’m being employed to do so.

6. Understanding Yourself
This is an odd one that won’t appear in many books, but finding out about your writing foibles and working with them can help your productivity as well as avoid frustration in your work. I’ve done a fair amount of research into what makes writers tick (more about that another time) and the conclusion is that we really do implement different thought processes for different writing tasks. These can be divided roughly into freeform creative writing and analytical editing. Like many people I’m not able to perform the two at the same time. I’ve learnt to accept that my creative brain can’t spell, uses punctuation like fairy-dust and insists on inserting apostrophes into embarrassing places, but I can come back to the piece later and let my analytical mode give a long suffering sigh and sort it all out.
I’ve learned that I’m a very focussed writer, but a lousy multi-tasker: if I’m working on a project, I need to shut myself away from outside distractions. I also find it far too easy to jump between different projects then end up in a tissy about which to work on. To avoid this I’ve taken to prioritising my projects and keeping at it until I’m finished.

7. Keeping Going
I’m not a volume writer: Nanowrimo is not my thing, but I like to think I’m an inspired writer. Unfortunately there are inevitably days when the muse doesn’t feel like pushing me on to the next sentence or when the narrative demands I write an event or character interaction for which I feel no magic tingle in my fingers. Sometimes I’m not inspired, sometimes I’m daunted by what I’ve set out to achieve. My usual solution to this, perhaps after a short walk or a coffee, is to just get on with it and brute it down on paper with intentional recklessness. This sometimes yields surprising results. On other days I’ve sat and written a list of four very easily achievable tasks: write the next sentence, write what Mel says, check the time it takes to fly from Heathrow to Bordeux, finish the paragraph. Once the list is complete I can feel good, get up, reward myself with yet more coffee and then write another list.

8. Understanding Structure
Prior to my MA my knowledge of structure for both scripts and stories was a vague belief that there should be a beginning, middle and end, coupled with an instinctive seat-of-the-pants approach to the way a narrative unfolded. To be fair, my instincts weren’t too bad, but on several occasions I had to abandon projects that had gone awry. With hindsight I now know this was caused by a lack of understanding of the necessary structure. On my MA course, I had a genuine moment of epiphany when I realised how different narrative structures could be used to work through any story, novel or a script. Thanks Aristotle, Michael Tierno and Joseph Campbell.

9. Getting into Character
Characters are the story. It is their struggles and reactions to what gets thrown at them that make the magic happen; make the reader love them or love despising them. Trooping out a set of caricatures is passé for animation work let alone your novel. Characters take time to distil and develop. Research helps, but it can still tend to be a bit dry and remote. I’m lucky I have a background in nerdiness; I’m not ashamed to admit that I play roleplaying games; it’s an enjoyable and social pastime that also gives me regular practice of getting behind the eyes of different characters. I found it useful to develop back stories for such characters and have even created a questionnaire that asked for details of a character’s early childhood, adolescence and life as an adult. This works perfectly well for my book characters as well and can be used to develop character complexities as well as explain existing quirks. Getting a friend to hit you with questions while ‘in character’ can also throw up some useful material. Much of this will never actually come out in the book, but the more time you spend playing around in your characters’ heads the better rounded they will be.

10. Having a Story Worth Telling
Well, duh! But this is a more actively applied process than most people imagine. It is very easy to have a great concept, but a concept isn’t a story; it’s merely the premise to a story. I have notebooks full of such premises, I also have bits of storyline concepts, characters  or situations which are all good material, but not actually a story. Being able to tease a concept out into a worthwhile story is a good skill to develop. Being able to recognise which concepts to pursue; which will make a full novel, which a short story, which will actually be saleable and which a white elephant; is equally important. Developing this skill in choosing what to write next could make the difference between being an earnest hobbyist or an earning professional.

The route to the top of the first hill is probably different for each writer. Are there any hand-holds that have helped on your own journey? The gallons of coffee and small Chocolatey rewards, along with the support of family and friends all go without saying.

Friday, 27 July 2012

First Novel Completed

So I’ve finished writing my debut novel, The Different. Good for me —yay!

Quite an achievement for someone who only learnt to write three years ago. Not that I was illiterate, far from it; I’d already waffled my way through a couple of unpublished  non-fiction books, film scripts and the expected raft of dissertations and magazine articles. But three years ago I learnt there was a craft to it. Before that, I could string a sentence together, even make sense, but I was oblivious to the words being any more than a means to deliver my ideas, the writing little more than an inconvenient step. I knew such a thing as good writing existed, I’d read and appreciated enough of it in my choice of fiction, but I never thought I could be a writer of such. Perhaps that was why I stuck to scripts for so long, why I never actually tried to publish anything.
Having the scales peeled from my eyes about the potential of my writing was a revelation. I remember being, not flattered as I should, but slightly stunned when Helen Shipman, my tutor at Falmouth, in her slightly admonishing tones commented how I could be a very good writer if I could write everything as well as the piece I’d just handed to her. I can trace it back to that point when I decided to learn the craft, hone it and perfect it; not as the medium through which my ideas are delivered, but with which they are painted.

I know that my skills as a marketeer, not those as a writer will be tested next, but for now I’d like to relish this milestone and celebrate a long worked-for achievement.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Book of Revelations Encoded Into Pi

Conspiracy, contrivance, or just an inevitability?

Mathematicians working for GCHQ in the United Kingdom have long known the fact that the entirety of Revelations along with various other biblical references are mathematically encoded into pi. For those that are a bit foggy on their maths, pi or π is the mathematical constant arrived at by dividing the circumference of a circle by its diameter, which works out as approximately 3.14. One of the many notable features of the number is the 'approximately' bit, because it isn't precisely 3.14 or even 3.14159265, the actual number of decimal places of pi is seemingly endless and continues without any kind of discernible repetition.

What the boffins at GCHQ have been sitting on is a code within those infinite random digits, a mathematical code that translates verbatim to the original Book of Revelations written in Greek.

GCHQ is the offspring of the HM Government institution that was based at Bletchly Park where the enigma code was broken and the first electronic computer developed. For any maths genius, cracking such a code would be a relatively simple task (and GCHQ boasts a number of expert code crackers). The greatest challenge would not be the mathematical code itself, but finding where in the unending string of decimals that code would be hidden. So far pi has been calculated to over 16 trillion digits and there are plenty more where those came from. 

However, even if they don't yet know where The Book of Revelations code lies within pi's infinite number string, mathematicians at various institutions around the world can now verify that its existence can be predicted, along with a number of other works including: The Book of the Dead, Aristotle's second book of Poetics, a rendition of All You Need is Love by the Beatles*, and of course, the complete script to Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Go figure.

*pi is yet to be sued for copyright infringement by the performing rights society.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Real-time Fiction: a Guide

S.Cornish: Time Flies 

This is frontier territory; beyond that line of jagged prose there be dragons.

Using tweets to drip feed the narrative directly to the reader is pretty novel. This is a strange and unfamiliar format, even to me.  Follow it as a reader and you catch the story, blink and you’ll have to scroll back to catch up. Twitter isn’t the medium to simply deliver an existing piece of prose fiction line by line, no-one will want to read that. As a writer it takes some planning to write a story that unfolds in real-time, but it doesn’t need to be difficult or intimidating to do.

What makes any story a good story is an interesting premise, strong believable characters and an engaging narrative. Put this across as a succession of tweets that unfold the story in a fictional real-time and you have a temporal tale.
When setting out to write a temporal story there are a few things worth thinking about.

1. Temporal fiction lends itself to the first person, present tense written as if the narrator/character is sending the tweets. 
2. Give it some structure. Like any story, a beginning establishes the characters and setting, the middle moves the story on from the driving incident/motive and the end brings it to a conclusion along with any consequences. 
3. The story will unfold over several hours or days, so try to pace the delivery of tweets to allow the story arc to work with that, making sure interest is maintained even on the days that are leading up to the major bits of drama.
4. In some respects temporal fiction will work more like a film script or radio play than a short written story. It is worth writing a treatment beforehand to help plan how the story will unfold and how long it will take to do so.
5. Making short plot notes also helps as these are already part way to being tweets in their own right.
6. Note down any extra foibles that occur to you about the characters or situation, these can often be worked into the main story arc for additional interest/drama/comedy.
7. Most likely any dialogue will need to be reported, unless it is addressed directly to the reader. But it isn't the only way, be inventive.
8. Suspension of disbelief should be maintained: if the story had been relying on the character sending tweets on their phone and they get tied up: how are they going to be able to send more tweets?
9. Twitter is a restrictive medium; there are only 140 characters for each tweet (both MS Word and Apple Pages will give a useful character count of any chunk of text you select), avoid having to break a segment of story into more than one tweet. But if it can’t be helped then try to use a device like an interruption to make this seem more plausible.
10. Short snappy delivery of the narrative as reports or recounts is easier to write and read.
11. A one day story may need as many tweets as a five day story, try ensuring there is a tweet every few hours to keep the audience interested. 

If you have any other ideas or thoughts on using twitter as a storytelling medium please comment.
These pointers aren’t rules, they are just things learnt from messing round with the format,
an experimental format. With it, anyone can be a ground-breaker and make up the rules as they go along. Go on, surprise us all.

@TemporalTales is looking for story submissions by new or established writers that can be tweeted over a period of one to fourteen days. Please email stories (.doc .txt or .pages format) to:
muse (at)
(I’ve used (at) instead of @ to defeat the bots. I’m sure you can figure out how to reassemble it).