Charles Daly


Category: Blog the Block (page 11 of 14)

One Question for Seth Godin

This blog owes its existence to the wisdom of Seth Godin. These posts are an exercise in what he calls “shipping.” I make something every day and put it out in the world in order to practice the vulnerability required to make art. I think out loud often enough and publicly enough that I lose any fear of sharing my words. Seth Godin’s blog is my model. 
For those of you who don’t know, Seth Godin is the best selling author of Poke the Boxthe Icarus Deception, and the Purple Cow. He is the founder of Squidoo and Yoyodyne, one of the first online marketing firms. Forbes Magazine described Godin as a “Demigod on the web… uniquely respected for his understanding of the internet.” 
Recently Godin reached out to his readers for questions to address in an online course on freelancing. Mine is one of the questions that he chose. Here’s what he had to say: 
Charles Daly:
If, starting today, you had to draw 100% of your income from writing fiction how would you go about doing that? As writers we’re told that only the outliers get to pay the bills with novels, is that true?
Seth Godin:
As I’ve said before, and I’m going to keep saying, being generic is a choice. Being average is a choice, being in the middle is a choice. Only outliers can make a good living as freelancers. Only outliers make a living writing fiction. 
It’s the outliers who succeed, so that’s not the question. The question is: what type of outlier are you willing to be? 
One type of outlier is to be the writer of a specific type of genre fiction that you can own, that you can be the leader of, that you can be on the edge of. There’s someone I was talking to the other day who writes adult fiction that involves men and women and various furry animals. Don’t ask me, but there are people who really want that and if you’re the one who owns that genre you can do just fine. 
The other alternative is […] to build a subscriber base. You, like Charles Dickens, can have people who sign up to hear from you on a regular basis. 
So our work, as a writer of fiction, is to build something people want to talk about and they want to sign up for. 
What I say to every first-time novelist is simple:  if you can’t get it sold to a big, fancy publishing house (and you probably can’t,) take your novel, print it to PDF–make it pretty–and then send your novel to a hundred people. If they share it with a thousand or ten thousand people you’re doing great and publishers will start calling you. And if they don’t share it, well, your novel wasn’t that good and you should start over. But either way, it doesn’t wait for you to sit around hoping to get picked. 
Seth Godin
Seth Godin’s Freelancer Course is available through Udemy. It is a must for anyone interested in freelancing and entrepreneurship. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Along with Seth Godin’s eighty-seven mini lectures (varying in length from 1 to 5 minutes,) you get an active and supportive online community, and assignments to evaluate your assets as a freelancer. 
There’s another lesson here: I almost didn’t submit my question. There was a deadline, so I didn’t think I had enough time to craft something perfect that would wow my hero (because that’s why you ask questions, right?) Besides, I’m not someone who wins contests anyway. My question was far from perfect–I think I sounded like a fourth grader on career day–but I shipped it.
Thank you, Seth. 

A Cautionary Sketch

I missed my deadline for today’s post. Here’s a page from my journal instead. Like I said, missed deadlines must come with consequences.


When’s your deadline? More importantly, what happens if you don’t meet it? There’s nothing about marking a date on the calendar that inspires action. The effectiveness of the deadline is in the consequence of missing it. Journalists don’t believe in writer’s block because they can’t afford to. The stakes are lower in the fiction racket, and that’s a problem. We’re not going to starve if we don’t finish our stories on time any more than we’re going to feast if we do (and what, by the way, does ‘on time’ mean to a fiction writer?)  We must set our own deadlines and impose our own penalties. If the writing life is like having homework forever, the best writers work as though someone might cancel Christmas if they start slacking. 
D-Day for the second draft of my novella is May 10th. If I don’t get a draft to my first reader by then, she won’t read it. I’m supposed to take a trip that week: if I don’t turn in my draft, I won’t get on the plane.
D-Day for this post is now. It’s not right, but it’s written. 

How Many Conrads did you Write Today?

Author, Will Self measures his work in ‘Conrads,’ a unit equal to to Joseph Conrad’s daily word count. One Conrad is 800 words.
Self elaborated in the Telegraph:

“I write a first draft fairly rapidly,” he says. “I write in Conrads. Conrad wrote 800 words a day, on which he could support a butler, two maids, a chauffeur, a gardener and an under-gardener. On a good day, I write three Conrads, on a fighting day, four.”

  • NANOWRIMO writers challenge themselves to produce a novel of 62 Conrads in one month.
  • The rough draft of my latest project is 40 Conrads long. I’m looking for entire Conrads to cut.
  • Graham Greene limited himself to exactly 0.625 Conrads a day and stopped short even if he was in the middle of a sentence.

The Pathology of Cliché

The cliché virus comes in two common strains.

The first is cliché of language, those over-used phrases we all know and love:
the icing on the cake
the heat was stifling
the sky was on fire (at sunset)
to your hearts content
dead as a doornail
a loose cannon

You get the idea…

The second and more virulent strain is what author Donald Murray calls “cliché of vision.” Cliché of vision is all encompassing. It compromises a writer’s images, characterization, and story before she even commits them to paper. As the name suggests, COV amounts to a trite way of looking at the world: worn out lenses through which car salesmen are sleazy, cab drivers are wise, artists are tortured, and villages are quaint. Clichéd vision makes for easy writing and agonizing reading.  

Cliché of language is remedied by reading more. Cliché of vision remedied by living more.

Competence and Good Boy Syndrome

You get competent by following the rules. 

You learned to read and write by following the rules of the classroom. You learned how to play the piano by practicing scales. You got your BA in English by putting semicolons in the right places and by seeing the right things in the same books everybody else was reading.
We get competent, some of us get good and get passionate and decide to make a life out of our area of competence. That’s when the trouble starts. Competence, the very thing that won us gold stars, becomes a given. We get lost because our education has taught us to seek approval, but approval is not what art’s about. Your band doesn’t earn a cult following because you’re in tune, nobody stays up reading your book under the covers with a flashlight because it’s well punctuated. 

School’s out, do something that might get you detention. Get weird.

Check out the anti-conformity classic “little boxes covered by Cheyne Kohl’s latest project, Ookpik

Get a Bad Haircut

Get an ugly haircut the day before you start a big project, one you wouldn’t want to be seen with in public. This will make it easier to follow the first commandment of writing and glue thy ass to the chair . I’m currently sporting an overgrown buzz cut like Sid Phillips from Toy Story. 


Roald Dahl’s 7 Qualities of a Fiction Writer

In his collection, the Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, Roald Dahl lays down the seven qualities “you should posses or try to acquire if you wish to become a fiction writer.” They are as follows:
  1. You should have a lively imagination. 
  2. You should be able to write well. By that I mean you should be able to make a scene come alive in the reader’s mind. Not everybody has this ability. It is a gift, and you either have it or you don’t.
  3. You must have Stamina. In other words, you must be able to stick to what you are doing and never give up, for hour after hour, day after day, week after week and month after month. 
  4. You must be a perfectionist. That means you must never be satisfied with what you have written until you have rewritten it again and again, making it as good as you possibly can. 
  5. You must have strong self-discipline. you are working alone. No one is employing you. No one is around to give you the sack if you don’t turn up for work, or to tick  you off if you start slacking. 
  6. It helps a lot if you have a keen sense of humour. This is not essential when writing for grown-ups, but for children it’s vital. 
  7. You must have a degree of humility. The writer who thinks that his work is marvellous is heading for trouble. 
Dahl also recommends keeping a day job, emphasizing that most great writing through the centuries has been the work of amateurs and hobbyists. He sites Dickens as a rare exception. 
Not one to suffer fools, he shared some tough love in response to a fan who sent him a short story “expecting to be introduced to his publisher.” 

Hear the fantastic Mr. Dahl paraphrase these tips, and add a few more, in recordings from the Roald Dahl museum.

You Are Not a Storyteller

Unless, of course, you actually tell stories.

Comma Story

We interrupt our regular programing to bring you a public service announcement from TED. 

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