Monday, July 16, 2018

Writing and "The Flow"

I am currently in reading a great book called, THE RISE OF SUPERMAN: DECODING THE
SCIENCE OF ULTIMATE HUMAN PERFORMANCE by Steven Kotler. The book spends the time focusing in on what makes those super athletes do things that most humans would never think of doing, or for that matter, even thinking possible to do. As Amazon describes it:

Drawing on over a decade of research and first-hand reporting with dozens of top action and adventure sports athletes like big wave legend Laird Hamilton, big mountain snowboarder Jeremy Jones, and skateboarding pioneer Danny Way, Kotler explores the frontier science of “flow,” an optimal state of consciousness in which we perform and feel our best.

As I was reading this, I really spent time thinking about how this relates to writers. It seems to be something I have talked about a lot here on the blog.

Kotler describes this state as "The Flow" or for some of you, it might be closely related to that statement some of you say about "being I the zone." The scientists who have been looking at this phenomenon for some time have noted clear changes in brain wave activity for these athletes when they are doing these super human feats. But I do believe a lot of this can account for why so many newer writers and even experienced writers struggle to get the words on the page.

According to the scientists, many of these athletes shift from a critical thinking mode to an intuitive thinking mode. When this happens, thinking and all of those reflexes move at a much higher rate.

Think of playing an instrument. When you first learn to play, your brain has to do everything in a step by step process.
  1. Look at black dots on page.
  2. Identify black do as a B-flat
  3. Look down at keyboard (for you piano people)
  4. Find center C
  5. Adjust to find B-flat
  6. Push note
But, as you begin to really learn to play, you move closer into doing things naturally. You look at the note on the page and your fingers instinctively hit the right note. 

Now, as you get into "The Flow" your brain knows exactly how hard to hit that note and how long to hold it. It is all intuition.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Simple enough. If you quit thinking about the writing. If you quit obsessing over small things such as passive voice or the right phrasing, your writing will flow out of your brain faster and produce a higher quality of product.

Now, let me state, I am in no way supporting being a "pantster" and not planning the writing out. All of these athletes take hours and months planning what they are going to do. What I am supporting is getting your mind in the game when it is time to write and "just writer". Let the words do what they need to do. Let the characters do what they need to know. Intuitively, you will know the right words to say when the time comes.

This also supports what I have been saying here for some time. Being a successful writer takes time. If you have written one book and are wondering why that book is not a #1 Best Seller immediately, it is probably due the fact that you were not in the flow when you were writing. Oh, you may have written it fast, but the strength of the book, the ability of that book being the height of human performance is still not there. You are still writing it like those early piano players.

As you write, learn to trust your words. Let it go and see how things work out for you.


Thursday, July 12, 2018

Hotel Review, Book Reviews, A Lot Of Similarities

Early this week, I read an article about an author who was giving up on the 5-Star rating system on Goodreads. Her rationale was that it limited the ability to really get into what made a book good or not. As someone in education, I have seen similar versions when you grade a paper using a rubric that has only 5 points. If an assignment, or in this case a book, is not 100% perfect, we give it a 4 (but note that brings it down to an 80% or B-.

I do applaud this author. It is also this reason why I have consistently pushed writing contests, including the Golden Heart and RITA to go to a larger point scale with a clear rubric. This allows for that flexibility.

But, I do think there is a bigger issue here with online reviews which can be seen in other forms of online reviews, including hotels.

When thinking more about this, I went out to see what else I could find. I know I had seen several news stories on TV as well as hearing something on NPR about this once before. One article I read stated...

E-commerce platforms have become so popular that online sales of travel products, particularly by hotels and airlines, have become the “biggest part of their business”, write the researchers. One reason for this rising popularity is the availability of online reviews and feedback posted by customers, which help potential customers to make informed decisions. From the service provider’s perspective, online reviews provide “fast, instant and easily accessible customer feedback”, and good reviews can increase their revenue.

Because we simply are missing out on that bookstore experience, so many readers have to rely on these comments just like people do with hotels and airlines. Think about the algorithms on sites such as Amazon. Customers who bought this item also bought...

Readers, and authors, are buying into these without a lot of critical thinking skills.

But there is another issue that we have to take in. Who are the people writing those reviews.

One practice authors use is that of having a "street team" helping out with promotion. These are handpicked readers the author has chosen who go out and, hard-core, push those great reviews. Once a new title is out, they are posting, fast and furious on every one of the sites they are connected to talking about how "AMAZING" this latest book was to read.

Again, from that 2016 article on hotels and airlines...

However, the researchers warn that although “every e-commerce platform has a system and procedure to ensure the authenticity” of reviews, there is growing concern that companies, or customers, manipulate reviews or give false ratings for various reasons. Owners, for instance, may post positive reviews themselves, or get friends or others to do so, to attract customers and boost sales. Conversely, they may post bad reviews to “defame competitors”.
Although false and misleading reviews can lead to consumers making the wrong purchasing decisions, there is still insufficient evidence on the extent of such practices. One reason, the researchers note, is the lack of a reliable method for detecting fake reviews. Detecting them by differences in writing style, for instance, “assumes that the writing styles of manipulators will be different from those of genuine customers”. 
Authors want that great publicity. They want those 5 star reviews! They want the great quotes. Unfortunately, we are also living in a busy world and for many readers, even if they did love that latest book, finding the time to get online, log in, and post the review may not seem worth it. When reading a bad book, we often state that "It just wasn't for me," and posting the review is also not worth it.

Does this mean that all reviews are bad? Absolutely not. Does this mean that all reviews are fake. Again, I say, absolutely not. What I am saying, however, is that readers and authors need to be cautious. They need to understand that those reviews ARE biased. These are reviews are not necessarily showing the entire picture.

What we need to do is simply think. Make our own choices. Trust our own gut instincts.

And, as a follow up... If you do love your favorite author's latest book, let them know. They love to hear from you. But keep it authentic!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Why The Romance Writers Of America Might Not Be For You

I heard an author recently making a statement about how the RWA wasn't that inclusive. No, this author was not talking about the standard concept of inclusiveness that we hear about in politics. This dealt with the simple fact that the organization didn't represent her genre of writing. I don't remember exactly what it was, but I do know it was not romance or women's fiction.

This is actually something that the RWA faced a while ago when they were looking at categories for the Golden Heart and the Rita when some authors felt that stories that just happened to have some romance in the plot were being excluded.

This has always confused me. The Romance Writers of America represents what? - ROMANCE. Come on people. The word is in the title.

Now let me explain where I am going to. The RWA like all of the other professional writing organizations available to authors IS inclusive. These organizations are open to everyone. With that said, each organization has a different focus. Your writing might simply not work with that organization but might work for someone else. If you write Mystery then Mystery Writers of America might be the place for you and maybe your story doesn't fit with the RWA.

That's OK.

Each of these organizations need to stick to what they know best. We don't have to start opening up categories in our contests, or open up new chapters, or teach workshops at our conferences if those things do not fit with the focus of the organization.

I get that times change. This is something I hear over and over again from members of the various Boards of Directors. But, this does not mean that an organization has to change their focus.

And for those of you who may be part of a writing organization, and your writing has now moved to something other than the focus of that organization, it might just be time to move on to something new. Don't get mad with the organization if they don't meet your needs any more.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Disappointed In Latest Contemporary Romances

Last Friday, I went searching for some new books to add to my reading list. I will be at a horse show for the next several days so I wanted some reading material. Needless to say, I ended up with nothing. If you saw my post on Twitter, I was very disappointed. I went on Amazon and started searching and after 40 pages, I found nothing appealing.

So, why is it that I found nothing?

In simple terms, the covers and the blurbs all read like videos you would find at an adult bookstore. The plot of these stories was pretty basic. Hero and heroine meet up, have sex, fight about it, have make up sex and supposedly live happily ever after.

Sorry, not a plot.

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying stories cannot be hot and steamy. My issue is that all of these books I stumbled over did nothing beyond that.

To add to the frustration, I have heard editors say that they are looking for something more substantial in books, and yet, we continually see a surplus of stories with the concept of "hockey player is bonking the coaches daughter." Sorry, but last time I checked, this is not substantial.

Contemporary romances do not have to be gimmicky. These books can be hot, or they can be sweet. The key, however, is to write a story that has a real plot and purpose.