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What is the value of writing?

As with all my previous reflections on my own writing, I suspect that there is a wide range of approaches to any one deceptively simple question such as ‘What is the value of writing?’

The motivations for writing and the gains for the writer, from writing, are two sides of the same coin. If a person writes predominantly for money then the value is measured in cash terms. If a person writes for pleasure then the value is measured in terms of satisfaction. If a person writes as catharsis then the value is measured in terms of some sense of relief.

Some writers describe what they do as a compulsion, a vocation, a calling that has to be responded to: Something that cannot be ignored. Maybe, for these, a sense of value is felt as the progress made, the word-count produced, the pages of text edited.

For others, writing is a form of work, a financially-aspirational form of self-employment. Value comes as income generated over and above outgoings expended. Value may also be linked to feelings of job-satisfaction, and a sense of balance or control.

Or maybe the motivation is the lure of fame, with value being put on celebrity status, public recognition, Facebook likes and Twitter followers.

For some, writing may be a way of dealing with personal demons; a righting of wrongs; a satisfying of troubles. Value is seen as resolution, or as retribution.

For me, at my age and stage of developments, I write for a number of reasons.

If there is the sense in which I can now think of myself as Geoff Bateson the Writer, I had better write something in order to sustain that self-definition. I have a set of mechanisms. There are a number of blogs for which I have committed to producing content. There is the ambition to produce several ebooks that are at least readable. There is my main website to post a steady flow of articles on – articles that need writing. I sketch out my planned writings for the next three or four months and chastise myself when I start to drift away from that loose schedule.

I do not write with the expectation of immediate income. I am realistic enough about the economics of writing to know that I need to put more energy into promotion of what I write if I have any vague hope of it selling in sufficient volumes to create a liveable income stream. Fortunately, I am at a stage where my pension-income adequately covers my modest outgoings so I no longer need to sell myself and my labour. At the same time there is a long-term economic plan.

I have lived through enough periods of high inflation to know that whilst I am financially comfortable now this may not necessarily be true in several years’ time. The plan is to produce a steady stream of ebooks, to put these on an electronic bookshelf in a virtual bookshop (in this case Amazon Kindle Store) and to take opportunities, as they arise, to tell people about them. By the way, in case you are interested, the current stock of books is at https://www.amazon.com/author/geoffbateson

The plan is to add to those already on sale (and which sell slowly and randomly) until there are, by say 2025, at least 10-12 books of very different kinds on that bookshelf. These will then be more heavily promoted in the hope that there is a broad enough range to appeal to many people, and that someone coming to buy one of the books might opt to go away with two or three of them. Any income that is generated might make my elderly care a bit more enjoyable – and that will be very valued.

Beyond this, the main reason for writing at the moment is two-fold.

I see what I write as being part of a fifteen year creative undertaking that (for want of a better working title) I call R:2025. The writings (blogs, website articles, ebooks) sit alongside some seminars, some visits, some links to art galleries etc – all connected to each other within a framework of personal interests and social concerns. A fuller exploration of R:2025 is available at http://thewordsthething.org.uk/?p=492 .

I am enthused by this as a new way of being, and as a new set of interests and motivations. At the same time, as well as any personal gains, I want more. I want the writing (and other) aspects of R:2025 to have public value for a network of readers some of whom will be people already working on the social issues I am myself interested in. The social value of this, for me, will emerge if any of these writings and other activities start to connect across and begin to influence the ways that others think about, and work on, those issues.

The other reason, for doing all this, is part of an approach to try to remain healthy and sustain individual well-being. One document linked to this was the report from the UK Foresight Report on Mental Capital and Wellbeing (www.foresight.gov.uk).

This reviewed recent evidence on the everyday actions that were important for wellbeing (both as feeling good and as functioning well). These were summarised within five areas:

  • Connecting with other people … investing in developing and sustaining links with family, friends, colleagues, others in the locality … building connections to enrich everyday activity …
  • Being active … taking appropriate levels of physical exercise … having reasons to get out and about …
  • Being curious … taking notice of things, being aware of surroundings and what you are doing … remarking on the unusual, or interesting … reflecting on experiences …
  • Learning … trying something different … puzzling and working things out … challenging yourself … pulling in new skills when needed or developing existing interests even further …
  • Giving time and energy to things … volunteering activity … supporting others … being able to feel that you are making a useful contribution …
  • I already had my own way of personal development planning – a loose framework that would satisfactorily get me to age 80. This was made up of broad intentions, reviewed fairly regularly, against headings such as:
  • Staying in touch with others; not getting isolated …
  • Staying mentally and physically healthy as far as was in my control …
  • Sustaining a set of interests – allowing me to be fully occupied …
  • Having an adequate level of financial security and stability …
  • Maintaining productive family relationships …
  • Taking regular breaks, holidays, ways of relaxing …
  • Staying aware of, and making appropriate use of, changes in technology …
  • Having reasons to do things, go places, join in with events …
  • Being in control of own time and stress …
  • Maintaining some credible reputation/sense of identity …
  • Being organised at home and at work (even where these overlapped) …From this perspective, writing holds personal value for me if it helps hold off mental decline, keeps me connected with people, gives me a reason to continue exploring thoughts and ideas, and gets me out and about (not just locally but, recently, to London, New York, Vancouver, and Whitehorse in Canada’s Yukon Territory).
  • Will things work out that way? They may; they may not. It is an ambition. That is good enough.
  • Bringing my long-standing personal development framework together with the five Foresight strands set me on a stronger path of transitioning from me as full-time city council employee to me as fully occupied, productively and happily, in quite different ways. In a sense it was a design project – outlining and testing a way of being. It enabled me to get a greater clarity – a larger degree of foresight – around what I might be and do with myself. Part of all of that was to write in a range of styles, for a variety of reasons, and with various different audiences in mind.
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Where is it all getting to: Next Steps

This is the site where I reflect on my own approach to writing. In addition to a number of ebooks on Amazon’s Kindle site the bulk of my writing is held on a website at www.thewordsthething.org.uk . Some early posts on that website outlined the features of a flourishing organisation, and ways that agencies may need to think differently if they are to make progress. These arose from thinking about cities. They can equally be used as a framework for reflecting on any set of activities – and here are being used to assess where my own work (captured on the www.thewordsthething.org.uk website) might be going.

This has highlighted some of the things that I will need to emphasise more over the next three years. These include:

  • Being able to clearly articulate why I wish to occupy myself in this way … the purposes behind what is being done … with sufficient ‘presence’/ confidence/ self-determination whilst still being tentative/ modest.
  • Responding to current concerns and interests without slipping into populist reactionism … Still being at least a little bit different in what is being undertaken … having more challenge to the aspirations, pushing myself in what I am comfortable doing.
  • Reflecting on what is being done, without endless internal activity that is of little value to anyone else
  • Being more active in engaging with others (authentically rather than simply clocking up more and more links/ likes/ followings) … countering it being a solitary undertaking … looking for more things that might require collaboration with others.
  • Actively promoting content/writing, and asserting myself as author, without unnecessarily heavy self-promotion
  • Maintaining an approach that is based on puzzling, wondering, being curious for its own sake … as well as aiming to produce stuff that could be of value/use to others.
  • Covering costs without being a money-driven set of activities … with most things being freely available to anyone … things done voluntarily.

That’s it: I have my list of commitments already signed-up to, and this sense of next-step directions to follow. Time to get on with it all.

 

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New Year, New Starts: Or the same old things?

January is traditionally a time for making Resolutions. I prefer to think in terms of Intentions. Resolutions are often specific things that have a pass/fail feel about them. Intentions, on the other hand, are looser things – one can try to get there but if (for all good reasons) things are not fully attained then that is not the end of the world, more a chance to rethink and retry.

So what do I intend, as a writer, for 2013? Does the old logic of last year still hold or is there scope for some change of emphasis? I think that 2013 will still, for me as a writer, be characterised as:

Still ebooks. Still Amazon:

Why would I not want to stay with this route? The same logic still holds for me for as long as I see editing, checking, publishing and promotion as things that I want to do as part of the overall writing activity. There may come a time when the world is swamped with ebooks and the publishing/ promoting/selling part of the enterprise ceases to enjoyable or worthwhile. There may also come a time when there are so many other providers of ebooks that the kindle site of Amazon ceases to be worth thinking of as my sole outlet. At the moment though, 2013 will still be ebooks and still be Amazon – alongside my couple of blogs and any other writing I choose to do.

Still variety:

2012 saw four books up on the Kindle site. These were all very different: one light mystery, one collection of Tales, one exploratory story based on a young man in a box, one collection of poems. I have no intention of doing lots of sequels or follow-ups. The freedom to write in the way that I do gives me variety and that is something that I value. 2013 has work in progress on: a story about men in a 1950s Manchester hospital – in which I am testing out heavy use of the present tense; a story (which may have a ‘diary’ feel to it) set in 2097 – so future, but based on extrapolations from today – where the central character is a 12 year old girl; a piece based on research via Twitter, which results in a longer article on Place/Cities; two blogs (this one and a wordpress one titled ‘Man from the Box’ which is a follow-on from the ‘Another Glorious Day’ story of the man in the box ie is a blog written by that character); as well as maintaining my on-going website www.thewordsthething.org.uk which is designed to hold a somewhat wide-ranging/eclectic set of writings. There are other things that occasionally need to be revisited to check that I still want to do them; and some mulling over of how to do promotion that isn’t simply insistent shouting about myself. All of which will keep me busy throughout the first 2-3 months of 2013.

Still planned. Still developmental. Still being persistent and determined, whilst keeping it all at the enjoyable level (even having a sense of fun). Still scheduled:

So I have my daily list of things that I intend to get done through January and February 2013. I am disciplined enough to try to keep up momentum on these but sensible enough not to beat myself up if things start to knowingly drift off-schedule. I am, after all, my own line-manager and want to be an exemplary boss to myself.

The variety of potential writings in the programme for this year will mean that my interests continue to have scope for developing. There will need to be some extra creativity if I am going to write up the fictionalised tour of the Stans (see earlier postings or, better, the relevant bits on my web site); there will be space for a wide exploration of thinkings around contemporary art; there are further ideas about cities that might get worked on; there is the linking of parts of the already-published Tales with approaches in sociology under a working title of Sides and Edges (which may, or may not, see the light of day during 2013) ….. Enough there to keep my mind flowing for now….

Revisiting the costing:

I had set an internal price-line in my head based on a sense of ‘value’. This was that the reasonable length books (and my style of writing would mean that these usually turned out at around 45,000-60,000 words) would be costed at somewhere close to £3. Shorter booklets, or things put together from other sources, might come in at a lower cost. Kindle publishers also have free-loan options. During 2012 I tried out a variety of costings on the Kindle site and produced a graph of ‘sales’ versus ‘cost’. Thinking about that reinforced the notion that £2-£4 would be an optimum normal price range to go with for the first six months of 2013.

Revisiting the use of social media

I have this blog; I have a section of Facebook that is reserved for Friends and Family as well as a section that is me as Writer; I have an active use of Twitter, based on wanting to learn from others fractionally more than I want to push out my own thoughts; and I have a fairly passive presence on LinkedIn. The way others use each of these will, to an extent, guide how I use them. They are all part of my thinking about letting people know that I write stuff which may be of interest to them, but none of them are seen purely as channels of self-promotion. There is a balance to be struck between seeing each of the different media as a form of writing in its own right, as a way of maintaining interesting contact with others, and as a way of guiding people to what I am doing with my life these days. This is a theme I am sure to revisit a number of times during 2013.

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50,000 words in 30 days?

Three years ago I was alerted to the challenge, via National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), of writing at least 50,000 words within the thirty days of November. This works out at just under 1700 words a day, which felt like a very cleverly chosen goal: high enough to feel a real challenge yet low enough to seem just about possible. I decided to go for it. I have attempted to meet this challenge each year since.

In that first year my theme was a man, on his own, in a box – maybe not the best choice for getting a wide enough plot and a sufficient range of characters to generate lots of words. Whilst I was writing I tried to give quite a bit of consideration to the quality of what I was writing rather than bashing out rubbish. I lightly edited as I went along. At the end of that November I had my 50,000+ words, in more or less the right order, with virtually no repetition or inconsistencies. It still needing some deletion of weak parts. I had read that some writers sit and type large amounts of text one day and, in editing later, chop out around 25% of what they had written. I was quite pleased only to lose a couple of thousand words of weak parts during my December final editing. Continuing the writing in a more leisurely way during early 2011 got the word count back up to more than 56,000. With further editing and a final polishing this text was then ready for converting to an ebook format and uploading onto the Amazon Kindle site. It is up there under the title ‘Another Glorious Day’. Details of this (and my other ebooks) can be found at http://thewordsthething.org.uk/?p=181

Last year I was kinder to myself and worked with five characters in a more open setting. Four men from different backgrounds ended up together in a small hospital ward in a late 1950s Manchester hospital. Each brought their own personality and their own history. Each man looked back at their lives; they interacted in the present; and each had their own future to think about. (The fifth character was someone who had died in the past). I found getting to 50,000 words just as much of a challenge as before but again achieved it with not too much heavy editing to do. Because of all the looking back/being in the present structure the editing that needed to be done after the end-November deadline was mostly one of checking tenses. This text is still in the process of being edited slowly, in between other writings. One part of my ‘delivery plan’ is to have this completed and up on Amazon Kindle before the end of March 2013.

November 2012: NaNoWriMo time again. I had already decided to test myself by going for a different genre, or a different kind of character. Just as November 1st was almost upon me I set aside an hour in my usual coffee shop and thought out what this might mean. I settled on an overall style that might be nearer to ‘young adult fiction’ than I normally wrote, with a thirteen year old girl as narrator, set in 2097.

I wasn’t sure about whether I would be able to manage, and maintain, thinking like an average female teenager in the future. Nor was I sure that I could write in a language and style that matched any ideas of young adult readability (if such a things exists). Setting it 85 years in the future was a deliberate choice. Life would be different from how it is now but would still contain much that was the same. This wasn’t some Science Fiction; it was Future Fiction. Since developments tend to speed up as time goes on, 85 years in the future would probably be as different from today as maybe 140 years ago was from now. Thinking of the changes over the period from the 1870s to today, we might expect at least the same degree of social and technological change by 2097.

Whilst writing it, during November, I drew on what I already knew of various trends in society and projected each one forward to try to get a sense of what that future might be like. Each day brought the same challenge: Remembering that I was in the year 2097 and not inadvertently assuming that I was still in 2012. Some of the things in the story may seem a bit far-fetched but each has its roots in things that are already being developed or invented today.

November started and the writing set off a a fair pace but very soon the daily volume of writing became erratic. The realities of life kept intruding in ways that couldn’t be ignored so the neat 1800 words a day became much more ragged with times when I was quite a way behind schedule and needing, in the later parts of the month, to write more like 5,000 words each day. The start of the last day of November saw me needing 10,000 more words to reach the target for the month. At the end of that day I dragged myself, a bit bleary eyed, over the 50,000 word finishing line.

I have to say that I enjoyed writing this particular challenge. The storyline worked out fairly well. It reached the word total without rushing out lots of gibberish just to get there. Yes, it will need fairly substantial editing but it is in my plan to get it polished sufficiently to put it up as an ebook by the end of March 2013. At the moment, though, I am happy to have got there and plead ‘Can I have my life back now please? – Well, at least until next November’.

What did I learn this time round? There were several things:

  • No matter how important the writing seems, and no matter how far off schedule it drifts, there are some things that are more important.
  • At the end of the day, sheer determination can be enough to carry you through to the deadline.
  • A target is only a target. There is no value in hitting a numerical figure by devious means or by compromising on values; better to be happy with quality/authentic content and fall short of the target.
  • Going into new territory can be daunting yet stimulating.
  • Internal consistencies matter a great deal. In the enthusiasm of writing inconsistencies may not be spotted but they are sure to jump out at readers later on.
  • It is possible to have an editing perspective whilst writing, but it will exert a control. Too much control and the creative drives of the writing will not be able to carry it along; too little control and there could be the inefficiency of writing whole paragraphs that simply get deleted later.
  • Having got the main body of text in place, time then spent editing is as important as the time spent writing – and can be just as challenging and just as much fun.
  • An annual challenge like this is a good way to get writing started.
  • 50,000 words is a challenge to write but produces something of a size appropriate to many readers.

More things may occur to me as I reflect further on this November’s experience – but meanwhile I have a good body body of text that needs some reshaping and minor editing to get it into a final form that is likely to be around 55,000-60,000 words. This is substantial enough to carry several ideas and, hopefully, be of interest to a variety of readers.

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