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A Writer’s Journey – And Finding Courage to Write From the Heart

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I dreamed of being a writer from almost the time I was old enough to pick up a book. As a child, my head was always brimming with stories, adventures, far off lands and an assortment of characters that were almost like invisible friends to me. I would spend hours in the garden playing by myself, letting these stories unfold as I roamed about, engaged in mortal combat with fearsome enemies and endeavouring to save the universe as we know it! I still think there’s nothing in the universe quite as magical as a little kid’s imagination.

As I grew up I knew I wanted to find ways to share my stories. Just about every medium of storytelling fascinated and inspired me—whether novels, comic books, films or television. It was very much an innate love—not something that was instilled in me, or something I consciously developed, but something that was as natural to me as breathing. Having said that, although the urge to create may be a natural one, the journey of a writer is rarely an easy one. It can be, I suppose. All one technically needs to do is find an idea, sit down and start scrawling words on paper. But it was never quite that easy for me.

My apprenticeship as a writer was a long and arduous one. My new novel, The Key of Alanar, is a story I began developing when I was quite young. I can’t even remember where the initial idea came from. I do remember that I was compelled by a deep desire to create a book that I hoped would eventually become a film or TV series. My style of writing is quite visual, and many who have read my books have remarked what wonderful movies they would make. I began actively working on the ideas when I was about fifteen years old. At a time when I should have been working hard at school, going to parties and chasing girls, or boys, I spent much of my time dreaming up the world of Alanar and envisaging the characters and plot that would eventually become the framework for The Key of Alanar. I had a vision and I was committed! Those are two of the most important steps in any creative endeavour.

Perhaps if I’d chosen a less ambitious concept for my first novel I’d have finished it a whole lot sooner. But I didn’t. I wanted to tell the best story I could possibly tell; a story that captivated and enthralled me. I wanted it to be a story about life; about the human journey from loss, pain and lack to some kind of peace, redemption and wholeness. I admit, even as a kid, I was always a bit of a deep thinker—a natural born philosopher and mystic. I set out to tell a story that meant something; a story that would hopefully inspire and challenge the way people see themselves and life. I wanted to write a book into which I’d put so much love, attention and effort that even if I were never to write again, I would be satisfied.

I had nothing if not ambition! I spent many years working on the initial drafts of The Key of Alanar, and eventually brought it to completion in 2007. I was delighted to have finally completed a project that had been with me for so long. Looking back, however, I’m not surprised I didn’t find a publisher for it. It was a good book, but I was as yet unskilled as a writer and hadn’t really done it justice. It takes significant time and practise to become a good writer. It doesn’t happen overnight; as nice as that would be. A writer’s apprenticeship is beset with frustration, self-doubt, failure and rejection. The obstacles, both inner and outer, are many and often overwhelming. Although I was committed to being a writer, I experienced enormous self-doubt and there were times when I simply wanted to give it all up. But I found that I couldn’t. The desire to create is like an itch that, unless scratched, has the potential to drive one insane!

The Key of Alanar is more than just another fantasy adventure about goblins and dwarves. It’s a story about a boy learning to deal with the painful things life throws his way, heal his past, discover who he is and realise the gifts he can bring to a world in desperate need. It’s a human story; a story about the journey we must all take through life. With some subtly woven metaphysical elements it’s also an inquiry into the very nature of reality, consciousness, life and death. While ensuring I was still writing an accessible, action-packed novel, I wanted to delve deep and incorporate my love of philosophy and metaphysics. I wanted to push the boundaries of storytelling and see how far I could take it. I knew I had to write from my heart and tell the story I always wanted to tell, the way I wanted to tell it.

I rewote The Key of Alanar from scratch following the publication of my first novel, Eladria. In retrospect, I can see that in order to write a book about life, I first had to experience life. I had to experience pain and loss; to lose people extremely close to me; to fall in love and be heartbroken; to feel lost and alone; and to ultimately find my place in life, and to begin to understand the nature of reality. My journey through life as a person is paralleled in the characters, particularly the protagonist, David. Similarly, the metaphysical aspects of the book are not simply an arbitrary afterthought but are based upon in-depth study of many spiritual and philosophical texts; and my own experiences after twenty years of meditation and exploration of consciousness.

With this book, I found the courage to write from my heart, to share my journey and experiences, as well as ideas and knowledge that I hope will stay with the reader and benefit their life in some way. The journey of a writer is not an easy one (we just make it look easy as we sit sipping our latte, fingers elegantly dancing across the laptop keyboard!). But it is a worthwhile one, so long as we have the courage to write from a place of love and integrity. The world doesn’t need more mindless distraction and diversion; the world needs stories that challenge and provoke, stories that explore the way we live our lives and the problems we face along our way; and stories that offer the promise of hope, inspiration, healing and wholeness.


Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00050]This blog post was originally written for The Key of Alanar book tour. The Key of Alanar is now available in both paperback and ebook format! Click here for more details, including a synopsis, video trailer and free sample chapters!

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‘The Key of Alanar’ is Officially Released Today!

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Hi everyone! It may be Monday morning (ugh!) but it’s also 14th September, a day I’ve been looking forward to for some time now! I’m delighted to announce that The Key of Alanar is now available online from multiple stores in both ebook and paperback format. You can also order it through your local bookshop or library, too!

My website has been updated with full details about the book, including information on the characters and setting. You can also order a SIGNED COPY directly from me. All you need to do is select your region and click ‘buy now’ and your payment will be processed via Paypal. It really is as simple as clicking a button. All orders will be promptly dispatched and will include a free bookmark. Click here to visit the Key of Alanar launch page!

Here are the direct links to Amazon and Amazon UK. There are more purchase links on the launch page.


Synopsis

Lasandria. An ancient civilization, consigned to oblivion by the greed and power lust of its own people.

The coming apocalypse heralds the arrival of a new evil that will ravage the world of Alanar for an entire age. Yet on the eve of Lasandria’s destruction, the ethereal overseers of the mortal realm grant a dispensation—a promise of hope for the future.

That hope lies with an orphaned teenager named David, born some ten millennia later; a boy whose isolated and uncertain existence leads him on a journey upon which hinges the fate of not just his world, but countless others.

On the run from a brutal military force, David’s quest is one born of shattered dreams and tainted by the thirst for revenge. As an inter-dimensional war that has been waged since the beginning of time threatens to consume his world, the dark force that destroyed Lasandria lurks in the shadows, ready to take possession of the one thing that will either save Alanar or destroy it: David.


From the official press release…

SCOTTISH AUTHOR RELEASES LIFE-CHANGING NOVEL 20 YEARS IN THE MAKING

Sometimes perseverance really does pay off. Scottish author Rory Mackay has spent two decades working on a single novel: The Key of Alanar, an ambitious fantasy/science-fiction thriller with a metaphysical twist. Originally conceived when the author was still in high school, it’s a story that has been with him most his life—and a story that has changed his life.

While Rory spent years developing the ideas behind this and subsequent books in the planned series, little direct progress was made on the book as he focused on education and work. A chronic illness brought him to a crossroads in life and enabled him to rediscover his true passion as a storyteller. Determined to pursue his dream in spite of all challenges, Rory continued working on the book through countless drafts, rewrites and edits. In the meantime he had another novel published in 2013, Eladria, a critically acclaimed prelude to The Key of Alanar (available from Cosmic Egg Books – and currently on a 99p / 99c sale!).

Finally released this month, The Key of Alanar marks the completion of a 20 year project—and one that helped the author through some difficult times. Rory’s work reflects his interest in the potential of mythology and fiction to elevate mood and consciousness: to make people think, to inspire, provoke and ultimately to heal.

An action packed, emotionally charged adventure, The Key of Alanar has an element of philosophy subtly woven into the narrative, serving as an exploration of life, death, reality and how, on a personal level, we can move beyond grief and suffering to become all that we are capable of being. A tale of transcendence and redemption, The Key of Alanar is a book that will likely stay with the reader long after they have read the last page.

Watch the official trailer! It truly captures the epic, cinematic scope of the novel:

Click here to visit The Key of Alanar launch page, for order links and to purchase a signed copy!

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Stay tuned for exclusive extracts in the next few days and some cool behind the scenes information on the making of a book!

An author in the spotlight: Rory Mackay answers 4 questions!

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Nothing beats the power of a good question. Questions make us think, reflect and explore things in different ways. I’m all for questions, and I always endeavour to give good answers! So here I am taking part in a challenge I saw online several months back, in which an author answers four simple questions. Well, I’m an author, and without any further ado, here are the questions…

When did you begin writing?

I’ve been writing since childhood. Creativity was an innate and essential part of my nature as far back as I can remember. When I was younger I was more visually focused, as I loved drawing and painting. What I did was always connected with storytelling, however. I created characters, worlds and adventures and made my own comic books from the time I was about 7 or 8 years old. My longest running series was called King Croc, a quirky and comical fantasy series about a reptilian anti-hero whose job was to conquer the galaxy but who really couldn’t be bothered. He would rather sit at home eating doughnuts that conquer planets. Who wouldn’t? I still have some of those comics in a drawer.

When I was in my teens I began work on a very different project; laying the groundwork for what would eventually become the novel I am about to publish, The Key of Alanar! This was originally intended as a serialised television series or series of movies, but not knowing how to even begin with such a lofty project, I decided to make it a series of novels instead. Having worked on this for the best part of my life, and invested so much time, energy and love in it, I’m truly excited that I am finally able to share this creative vision with the world. (The Key of Alanar is already available to preorder on Amazon for a 14 September release!)

What inspired me to write my first books?

I grew up with a great love of science fiction and fantasy. Already something of a dreamer, it really stirred my imagination and I loved nothing more than to transport myself to other worlds, times and places. But for me the genre was far more than simple escapism. Even in my early teens I really loved that sci-fi and fantasy could be used as a means of exploring ideas, themes and human potential. I was always a bit of a deep thinker, and I loved when books, films and television had a little depth; a purpose behind telling a story.

As I grew up, I became fascinated by mythology and archetypal tales of heroic quests and journeys. Initially my first series of books was called ‘The Journey’, as a reflection of the journey we all take through life, in search of happiness and wholeness. I wanted to explore what makes us tick, and why we live as we do. I didn’t just want to entertain people, I wanted to make people think and say something about life. The development of my books ran parallel to my development as a person as I grew up, learned, experienced many things, and ultimately devoted myself to the pursuit of spiritual knowledge, truth and understanding the nature of life and who we are. I like telling fantastical stories that fire the imagination, stir the emotions and, above all, make people think. In my view, the greatest stories inspire, challenge and enlighten. They are stories that heal. They leave people the better for having read them; a kind of gift shared between author and reader. That is why I wanted to write and why I still keep writing.

How do you write?

I need to be clear about what I’m writing before I start the first sentence. I learned early on the necessity of starting with a blueprint, or at least a firm plan of how the novel will begin, develop and end. My stories are quite complex and multi-layered, so I need to make sure I’ve worked everything beforehand or else I would be liable to write myself into a sticky corner and waste significant time on something that just doesn’t work out. One day I’d actually like to just start writing with no idea in ind how it will end, but it certainly won’t be for my current series, which requires forward planning. There are simply too many balls to potentially drop otherwise!

So, I wait for the ideas to start flowing. It’s almost like my mind is working on the story even when I’m not consciously thinking about it. There comes a time when I can feel the creative energy flowing and I just sit down with paper and a pen and allow the ideas to spill out. I get them structured into a clear framework, and then, when I’m satisfied with what I’ve got, I start writing away. First drafts are usually best written as quickly as possible, to keep the creative momentum flowing smoothly. Then I’ll write three, four or more subsequent drafts and spend a long time editing. With my first published novel, Eladria, I spent one year writing the first few drafts and then another 18 months or so editing and polishing it. As Phyllis A Whitney said: “a good book isn’t written, it is rewritten.” The key is really in taking that mud-covered diamond and scraping and polishing it until it gleams.

Do you have any writing advice you would like to share?

Yes. Write because you love to write. Have no expectations. Follow your passion and pour your heart and soul into it. Don’t expect anything back; even if you write a complete masterpiece, there are so many books being written and published right now that it’s hard to get anyone’s attention. Have no expectation, but stay true to your own unique creative vision. Write a story you feel needs to be told. Share ideas, share experiences and dreams and thoughts. Write a book that will make the world a better place for your having written it. Think of it as part of your legacy, which it is, and make it as wonderful as you can. Don’t rush it necessarily, take your time and let your heart guide you. Whether you then sell ten copies or ten thousand, you’ll have contributed something special to the world. And that why being a writer is one of the coolest things in the world.

Archetypes in Fiction and the Hero’s Journey

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My last post, ‘The Power of Storytelling and Mythology’, explored the work of comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell. Campbell identified a distinct and cohesive pattern running through countless myths, legends and stories throughout time. He called this the hero’s journey–the “song of the universe” being sung by a thousand different peoples and cultures.

In addition to exploring the different stages of the hero’s journey, which is a metaphor for the human journey through life, Campbell, who was heavily influenced by the work of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, also identified several character archetypes that feature in these myths and stories.

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Archetypes are recurring human patterns or personality types that reside in what Jung called the collective unconscious. As universally occurring character traits, there are certain archetypes found in myth and all kinds of stories throughout time. Archetypes should be seen as flexible character functions rather than rigid character types. Characters might actually switch between archetypes as the story progresses.

Here are some of the main archetypes prevalent in storytelling throughout the ages.

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The hero

The hero is usually the central figure in stories. This archetype represents the human search for identity and wholeness. The hero is the audience’s window into the story; the person the reader or viewer wants to identify with, to share their adventure and experience their highs and lows. The hero typically starts off in a state of lack and incompleteness and as the story unfolds, ends up in a state of wholeness and completeness. All good stories are essentially about a journey of transformation.

The role of the hero can vary wildly. They can be almost anyone from any walk of life. They might be a willing or an unwilling hero, they might be a group-oriented hero or more of a loner. Sometimes the protagonist is a tragic hero or an anti-hero–perhaps an outlaw or villain of some kind, but with whom the audience develops sympathy.

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The shadow

The shadow is represented by the villains and antagonists, or perhaps an internal enemy such as the hero’s inner demons–the darker aspects of their psyche–qualities they’ve perhaps tried to repress or renounce, but which still lurk within; such as anger, hatred or violence. The function of the shadow in drama is to challenge, threaten and oppose the hero; to create conflict and force the hero to find and bring out the best in him or herself and to become all they are capable of being.

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Mentor

The archetype of the mentor is found in many myths and stories. The mentor is usually a guide to the hero; someone who aids or even trains the hero. The mentor is related to the image of a parent. Often heroes seek out a mentor because their own parents are inadequate role models.

The mentor helps train the hero for the adventure/ordeal ahead of them. They might provide the voice of the hero’s conscience, offer motivation or share important information. The mentor might be a ghostly figure, or may be someone with a dark secret or nefarious past–a fallen mentor, someone who’s been broken in some way but who still has wisdom they can impart to the hero.

The Herald

The herald is the character or event that initiates the call to adventure. They issue a challenge or announce the coming of significant change. The herald is usually the element that gets the story rolling. It might be a new character, a change of circumstances, or a piece of crucial information that changes the hero’s life, forcing them to embrace the adventure that lies before them. Any character can adopt the herald archetype at any time. The herald might be a positive, negative or neutral character. It might simply be someone with vital news or information, or someone who challenges the hero in some way, forcing them to get involved in a situation.

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Threshold Guardian

Threshold guardians are the forces that stand in the way at important turning points, opposing the hero and trying to prevent him or her from moving forward. They’re usually not the main villain but might be the villain’s henchmen, guards, gatekeepers or mercenaries. They might even be creatures of some kind–wild animals, monsters or even a force of nature that has to be overcome. They might even take the form of the hero’s internal demons: their fears, doubts, emotional scars or self-limiting beliefs. Any time the hero encounters a threshold guardian, they face a puzzle, test or obstacle that must be overcome in order to move forward. Their function is to temporarily block the hero’s way and force them to test their powers.

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Trickster

The trickster is a clown and mischief-maker…perhaps a comic relief sidekick. They inject an element of unpredictability into the story, cutting egos down to size, and bringing the hero and audiences back down to earth. The trickster might be a loveable rogue, or someone whose motives and allegiances are unclear. The trickster might be allies of the hero, or perhaps servants of the villain. As with the other archetypes, any character can embody the role of trickster–including the hero and villain. “Spreading strife is my greatest joy” said one trickster god in an old Nigerian story.

There are many more archetypes that can be found in stories and myths. Understanding the use and application of archetypes in storytelling can be very helpful. Archetypes reflect core human personality types and social roles and can help us understand how character dynamics drive the plot forward.

They are not rigid and set in stone, for at any point in the story a character might embody the archetype of trickster, herald or threshold guardian, or perhaps even mentor or shadow.  In my new novel, The Key of Alanar, my protagonist, David, actually moves between hero and shadow archetype! It can be fun to push the boundaries of storytelling and mix things up. If nothing else it keeps life interesting.

For more information on archetypes and storytelling, I highly recommend investigating the work of Joseph Campbell, Christopher Vogler and Carl Jung.

The publishing industry is imploding

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(Things I wish I’d known about writing from the start, Part 2)

We live in a world in which change is rife, entropy is king and civilisations and species are faced with a stark choice: evolve or die. The 21st century has thus far been a time of immense change and unsettling insecurity. Technology is advancing at an incredible rate and a global economic downturn has created a whole new set of challenges and struggles. Few industries have been unaffected by the widespread societal changes taking place, and the publishing industry is no exception. I deliberately chose a provocative title for this blog and I stand by it. The past ten years have seen perhaps the biggest challenges to the publishing industry since its inception.

When I was growing up I had a slightly romanticised notion of what it was to be a published author, although it did have some basis in fact. A writer would be given a good advance and the necessary time, space and resources to write a (hopefully) amazing book. The book would be edited, published and promoted and the writer would then move onto his or her next book. Rinse and repeat. Those days are now gone. My experience of the publishing industry was a cold, hard slap in the face. Looking back, I can see how naive and idealistic my outlook was. The industry is cut-throat, and I suppose it has to be. It’s driven by money–and these days it seems there’s not much of that around.

Here’s what I wish I’d known before I became a writer. A publisher doesn’t really care about your book. They care about your book’s ability to make them money. Every week publishers are bombarded with manuscripts and many of them are indeed of publishable quality. They’re not looking for good literature however; they don’t necessarily care how well-written your book is, how meaningful the story is or how it could possibly impact the lives of readers. They are looking at it through a filter of marketability. How well is the book likely to sell, is it the right length, does it fit in with current market trends and popularity? If it’s a post-apocalyptic novel or a book about horny teenage vampires you can probably skip forward a few places in the queue.

Publishers don’t really care what you as a writer have to say. To the writer it’s all about the book; about bearing one’s heart and soul and creating something special and unique, something inspired by some deep and persistent yearning; something the writer simply had to create and share with the world. To the publisher it’s about product. It’s not about the writer at all, it’s about the reader and the market forces that compel that reader to buy certain types of book.

There’s no judgement or blame in this. It’s simply the way the game works. If I was a publisher struggling to stay afloat, I’d be no different. Publishing and releasing a book is a tremendous investment of money, time and energy. If there’s currently no market for a certain genre or style of writing, then that investment is simply not going to pay off and the publisher will go under, as many have.

The digital revolution has changed things in so many ways. As I explored in my previous post, books (and authors by extension) have become significantly devalued. Anyone can knock up a book and publish it that same day. The gross oversaturation of the book market has driven ebook prices to almost rock bottom. Even established, best-selling and award-winning authors are struggling in the current climate. In order to make a living many are forced to signficantly ‘up’ their output: to write more and sell it for less.

By all accounts, publishers are becoming more ruthless with their authors. I’ve heard that a number of publishers no longer offer in-house editing. That is now the responsibility of the author, who must hire his or her own editor (which, let me tell you, is not cheap). In many cases, marketing and promotion also now largely falls to the author. The author does most the work, yet the publisher takes most of the money. That was certainly my experience!

It’s a cutthroat industry and something of a zero sum game to boot. If you want the prestige of being a published author, you have to pay the price. You no longer own the rights to your own work and you’re only going to see a small percentage of the profits. That price is worth paying it if you can shift enough copies. But these days if your book fails to sell a thousand copies or so in the first week, you’ll find that you get short shrift from the publisher. I know some authors who were treated terribly by their publisher. It can leave a pretty sour aftertaste.

Industries are driven by money. When the pursuit of money is running the show, other things get compromised. The mandate ceases to be about people; about helping people in some way and contributing to the betterment of society and the world. Ideals are left by the wayside; and often morality and ethics are too. The corporate money-grabbers have little conscience and little soul. This is why the world is in the mess it is today.

It’s fair to say that I’m disillusioned with the publishing industry. But I’m not angry or bitter in any way. It simply is the way it is. The industry is driven by money and shaped by market forces. But I, as a writer and a human being, am not. I became a writer because I had a vision, I had stories I wanted to tell, and as ostentatious as this sounds, I wanted to change the world.

Writers are like that–and I mean the proper writers. We don’t become writers just to make money. Anyone even contemplating that needs a reality check. Go study law or something instead! Few writers will ever get rich from their labour. And people don’t realise what an immense labout it can be! Writers don’t just have to wrestle with words, they must wrestle daily with self-doubt, fear, uncertainty and the intensely solitary, often lonely nature of their vocation.

But writers, true writers, pursue their calling because something within them yearns to be born; stories must be told, words must be shared and ideas must be brought into the world. A true writer isn’t driven exclusively by money or market concerns. They want to bring something into the world that will better the world in some way. Ideas want to be clothed in words and shared with people. And although they start off intangible and abstract, there’s nothing more powerful, for it’s ideas that shape human culture, civilisation and destiny.

The publishing industry is struggling to adapt to a changing world. As the digital revolution continues to transform the landscape, many publishers are struggling just to stay afloat. No one quite knows where things are headed. Will ebooks in time completely replace old-fashioned hard copies? Are publishers even needed these days when authors can, and with increasingly frequency are, cutting out the middle-man and selling directly to their readers?

Publishers are getting nervous. They have been for some time. Nothing is the same anymore and a fundamental insecurity underlies everything. Some publishers are actually quite abusive to their capital: the very authors whose work they make a living from. Like most industries in our capitalistic machine, there’s a symbiotic but sometimes exploitative relationship between publisher and author. The unsettling truth for publishers is that while they need authors, authors don’t necessarily need them any more.

Here’s the thing. Writers are storytellers–and storytellers have been around throughout the entirety of human history. Even before the development of linguistic communication, primitive man still found ways to tell and share stories and ideas. This is an essential and intrinsic part of human nature. It is hard-wired into us. The publishing industry as we know it is a relatively recent development. In a rapidly changing world it’s not inconceivable that, with technology continuing to revolutionise the way we exchange and share information, the publishing industry may in time find itself obsolete. But as for writers–we’ve been around forever, and I can guarantee we won’t be going away anytime soon. The way we do it may change, but what we do will never change.

Why Books Have Become Devalued

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These are interesting yet precarious times for fiction writers. Although the digital revolution has given authors an unprecedented opportunity to share their work, it has come at a price.

The landscape has changed almost beyond recognition. It’s much easier to ‘be’ a writer now. Anyone and their uncle can churn out a book and have it published on Amazon Kindle that afternoon. In spite of this, it’s actually much harder to ‘make it’ as a writer, due to complete over-saturation of the market. Something in the range of 4,000 books are being published every single day. Competition can be a good thing, but it also has its downside. What happens when a market is oversaturated? The product in question inevitably becomes devalued, and so does the supplier of that product.

I believe the devaluing of fiction started off with supermarkets and online stores such as Amazon artificially slashing the prices of books. Publishers were in many cases willing to make only a marginal profit (if any) per unit in exchange for selling in greater quantity. I always suspected that mass market paperbacks had an adverse effect on other publishers and lesser known authors unable  to sell their product at such low prices.

In terms of Amazon Kindle, the leading ebook store by a wide margin, what I’ve seen happening is authors and publishers pitching their products at the lowest possible prices in order to stand above the competition. While this is good for the consumer in many respects–they can afford to buy more ebooks!– what it means is that artificially low prices have become the norm.

The reader clearly isn’t to blame. If there are so many books out there at 99 cents/pence or less, why should they be willing to pay more? The publisher of my first novel, Eladria, doesn’t seem to know how to deal with this, having charged everything from 99p to £6.49 for the ebook. I can’t see many willing to pay the latter price for a book by a first-time, sadly quite unknown author, even though the book in question took three years to write and garnered pretty impressive reviews. The only exceptions to the “pay cheap” rule are the big-name authors and they have the backing of big publishing houses behind them. And even a number of them are struggling in the new publishing landscape.

Again, this is good for the reader in the short term. It’s a buyer’s market without a doubt. But I fear that in the long term everyone may suffer. Writing is and always has been a very labour-intensive process. Some writers have the ability to churn out book after book in a conveyor belt-like process. If anything I’m a little envious of them. But I contend that the best books take time and care to write; not weeks, but months and possibly years. Unfortunately, authors who invest such time and care in their work are struggling to survive. The new model of cheap fiction is only viable if an author can release a LOT of work, very often.

I’m concerned that what the digital revolution has seen in terms of fiction is a shift to quantity over quality.

Unless they already have money in the bank, writers can no longer spend years on a single project. The focus is now on producing more, more often and selling it at knock-down prices. It’s inevitable that the quality of the output will suffer in some way. This looks set to continue and perhaps even get worse. Is the publishing industry on the verge of disintegration or can it, by picking itself up and adapting to changing times, create a radical new renaissance?

The 3 Steps to Writing Anything

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Whether you’re writing an essay, an article, sales copy or the great American novel, there’s a basic three-step process that, if understood and applied, can make it a whole lot easier for you.

If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to get the words out, or unable to get beyond the first couple of sentences, it’s probably because you’re trying to do the wrong step in the wrong order. Once you’re clear on how to apply this universal three-step method, you’re certain to find the process of writing easier, more effortless and hopefully more enjoyable too.

The three steps of writing are:

1. Planning
2. Writing
3. Polishing

That may appear to be pretty much common sense! Yet you’d be surprised at how often we tend to get these steps muddled up, resulting in all kinds of problems. Each stage needs to be understood and done in sequence before moving onto the next.

Here’s a rundown of each step.

1. PLANNING

Sprouting-Seeds

Planting a seed

Any creative endeavour begins with the planting of a seed. You get, wait for or are given an initial idea about what to write. Perhaps you have an idea for a story, or have received a brief for an essay or article.

Allowing it to grow
Once you have a starting point, you need to give yourself time to brainstorm and play with ideas. If you started out with a fairly broad focus, then you have to gradually narrow and refine it. If you’re writing fiction, this is the time to explore your story, theme and characters, to run with your imagination and allow the story to unfold and take shape.

If you’re writing nonfiction, perhaps you need to do some research and gather information and then arrange and structure it. The initial seed you planted begins to germinate and grow. It’s best to keep this stage as organic as you can, allowing it to unfold naturally. Trying to force it can restrict your creativity and obscure insights, inspiration and fresh ways of looking at things.

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Creating a blueprint
Once you have a fairly clear idea what you want to write, it’s time to take things up a notch and create a blueprint. Whereas the first part of the planning stage should be quite free-flowing, it’s now time to arrange things into a cohesive structure. Some people skip the blueprint stage altogether, and that’s a matter of personal preference and also depends on what you’re writing and why. But I find rushing ahead to write before I have a clear idea what I’m writing about often leads to dead-ends and a lot of frustration and wasted time. I like to have a blueprint for what I’m writing — or at the very least a clear idea of the beginning, middle and end. Then I can simply relax into the next step and be confident that there’s an underlying structure in place to keep me right.

To create a blueprint, you simply arrange your ideas or information into the appropriate structure. If you’re writing a story or novel, try to put all the elements of your plot into place so you know roughly what happens when. What this does is enables you to get a sense for the structure, rhythm and balance of the story. It’s helpful to have this in place before you start writing, because it’s a whole lot easier to change elements at this stage than it is when you’ve written the whole thing and realised that the basic structure of the story doesn’t work (doh!).

This doesn’t mean the blueprint needs to be rigidly set in stone. It should be flexible enough to add, subtract or move around elements as you write. But it gives you a solid foundation and the confidence to start writing. If you’re writing an essay or article, your blueprint will set out your introduction, each key point in progression and end with clear summary or conclusion. Once you’re happy with your blueprint you can move onto the next step.

2. WRITING

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The mistake a lot of people make when writing is to assume that writing consists solely of — well, writing! But jumping straight into the process of writing without having a clear idea what you’re actually writing about is generally a recipe for muddle and frustration. So I’d generally advise people not to bypass the first step.

Once you have your blueprint in place, it’s time to get into the flow of writing. Make sure your first draft is just that: a first draft. It might be helpful to even think of it as a zero draft. At this stage it’s not about making it perfect; it’s simply about getting words down on the page. Now’s the time to write for your life and not look back!

Forget about formatting and editing and try not to read back over what you’ve written if you can help it. You may have a tendency to edit as you go along, trying to ‘perfect’ each sentence before moving onto the next, but it’s best to avoid that temptation. The next step is the editing stage; this is simply the writing stage. So make it easier on yourself: don’t skip ahead. You can edit and refine it when it’s finished, and not before.

The key to good writing is to get into that state where the words just flow with ease and effortlessness. There are different ways to reach that creative flow, and you may need to experiment to find what works best for you. One of the keys to entering the state of flow is to simply focus on the step you’re on; in this case, the writing. You’ve already got your blueprint in place so you don’t need to worry about that, and you don’t need to worry about editing what you’re writing — that’s the next step. Try to bypass your inner critic. Don’t judge the work before you’re finished, or you may never finish: you’ll simply end up in the sticky web of perfectionist paralysis!

Just let go, relax and write. It can be helpful to do a writing warm-up exercise before you start. For example, you might take a random word and do some free-flow association. Just write whatever comes to mind; complete stream-of-consciousness writing. Try that for five minutes and see if it loosens you up and gets you into the creative flow.

3. POLISHING

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The final step is the editing and polishing stage. Once you’ve finished your first draft, take a break if you can and then go back read over it. It’s now time for the inner critic take the reins for a while — although do make sure that any criticism is constructive!

You’ll likely get a sense for the flow and structure of the text. How does it read? What areas need improving? What needs to be added and, more importantly, what bits can you take out? I naturally tend to overwrite, so my editing stage largely consists of pruning things back. Try to remove redundancies and be alert to repetition. A good mantra for the editing process (and perhaps life in general) is: “if in doubt, cut it out!”

Perhaps your piece only needs some minor modifications or it may need several successive drafts. Keep going until you’re happy with it. An excellent tip is to actually read the text aloud. This helps you get a feel for the rhythm of the words and sentence structure and is also helpful for spotting errors that may have otherwise slipped through the radar.

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And those are the three steps to writing pretty much anything! Even though it seems so simple and self-evident, it took me a number of years to figure out this three-step process and to apply it to my work. The difference it made was immeasurable.

The most important thing is to know which step you’re on and to stay on that step until you’re ready to move to the next. No premature skipping ahead! This is especially important when you’re in the writing stage. If you’re always slipping into editorial mode and trying to make each sentence ‘perfect’ before moving onto the next, you’re almost certainly going to struggle. Besides, the sobering (or perhaps liberating) truth is that there’s no such thing as a perfect sentence. So just let go, relax–and write!

This article was originally posted on my other blog, Beyond The Dream, a couple of years ago and ezineArticles.com