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Kaizen – Continuously Improve

What is Kaizen?

Kaizen is the Japanese word for ‘improvement’ or ‘good change’, but it has come to mean ‘continuous improvement’. In business, kaizen refers to activities that continuously improve all functions such as eliminating waste, promoting innovation, and encouraging worker purpose and accountability. The idea is to put quality control directly into the hands of the workers in order to deliver small improvements. You could say that these are the aims of Kaizen.

Kaizen differs from business improvement programs used in the twentieth century, as it has no large scale planning and lengthy implementation. Instead small experiments are used that can be rapidly adapted. It puts the power of quality into the hands of those carrying out the work, in this sense.

The history of Kaizen

In World War Two there was neither time nor resources to radically improve the production of war equipment on a large scale, and the USA’s Training Within Industry program came up with a new approach: to improve the use of existing workforces and technologies.

To improve management skills in Japan, training films and programs were prepared. Titled ‘Improvement in Four Steps’ (Kaizen eno Yon Dankai) it was introduced to Japan. The most well-known example of Kaizen in practice is Toyota, in the prevention of defects, as a direct response to American management. W. Edwards Deming argued that quality control should be put in the hands of the line workers.

Kaizen was brought to the West in 1986 by Masaaki Imai via his book Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success.

Implementation

Some of the core purposes behind Kaizen, mentioned above, inform its implementation. In order to promote innovation the status quo must be ignored, and a system or cycle of continuous improvement is formulated. This system is meant to repeat through the same steps to create an ongoing system of improvement, which involves making a list of problems, testing solutions, analysing if they work. If they do work they are standardised throughout the company, if they don’t the process is repeated. The same process is repeated regardless to tackle other problems or test solutions.

The Five Whys asked questions about why a failure has occurred, basing the next question on the answer to the previous to attempt to get to the root cause. This system can be used as a tool for self-improvement. In practice it can be turned into a diagram, and used as a system of continuous improvement.

Other systems include the Kaizen 5S framework aims to create an ideal physical workplace in order to improve efficiency: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardise, and Sustain. There is the PDCA – Plan, Do, Check, Act – also called the Deming Cycle or the Shewhart Cycle.

How does Kaizen relate to anything else?

What Kaizen means to a large business may not always relate to individuals and those who have yet to learn about and adopt the approach, but it can be a model used for many purposes such as in effecting personal and business development. Its advantages can include rapid improvement, thinking outside of the box, and gaining a new understanding of how things work without the restraints of culture, status quo, or traditional assumptions.

As a freelance copy editor and proofreader who enjoys to work independently, I particularly like the idea of putting more responsibility for improvement into the hands of workers because I think it can be liberating and it can allow for organisational change in a system at the level where work is done. If you’re self-employed you’re also a worker and must make continuous improvements if you are to succeed: see what works, ask why, and develop models that may improve your method.

Kaizen for personal improvement

When I started reading about Kaizen, one thing I was struck by was how much I had always been invested in my own self-improvement, since being a young adult, without actually being aware of it or reading self-help books. For example, improvement in health and creativity has always been important to me, and I often fostered a hope of branching out in these areas for the sake of improvement, knowledge, happiness, and well-being. As I got older, I applied this same need for improvement to success as a copy editor/proofreader, and author.

There are likely many people with the same challenges towards improving their lives in their unique way, who are struck by some common pitfalls that have been identified by Kaizen. Kaizen for self-improvement aims to change the mindset that leads to those pitfalls, based on the same philosophy of small continuous change rather than tackling and achieving life goals immediately. Here are some of the main points:

  • Success is not a destination; it’s an ongoing process towards continuous improvement. You’re never done. It can be tempting for many to work really hard in the expectation of reaching a time where success leads to a relaxed state of life, where no achieving goals or working is necessary. I suppose the reason for this expectation could be the mind’s attempt to balance out a work-oriented life with a future hope of relaxation.
  • Don’t aim to tackle big life-changing goals in a short period of time because they won’t be achievable. Instead, focus on tasks in the present you can do that can help you on your path to achieving your goals. Aim for a gradual ‘1% improvement’ every day in whatever you want to do. In practice it doesn’t have to measure as a single percent, I don’t think. The point is to improve at a gradual and comfortable pace. This can be spending a small amount of time doing a task, ten minutes each day, and then adding an extra two minutes when you’re ready. It could also involve adding related tasks to that task, fitting it into a routine that works for you.

The point is that Kaizen’s philosophy of continuous improvement can be used on a day-to-day basis for improving your life or freelance business just as much as it can help a large business by focusing on what can be done in the present to improve how things are done instead of improbable large-scale business changes or life-changing achievements.

To me this means letting go of restraints, such as cultural beliefs or the status quo in how work or improvement is to be carried out, creating an organised workspace, and encouraging innovation in life. It’s not about sticking to a single system as the template for success, but improving on that system as time goes by. I think the point of ‘success is not a destination’ could mean that there should be balance in your approach in implementing success, improvement, or Kaizen, otherwise routine towards those things may lead to stagnation or a new status quo. Kaizen can help to remind you not to expect too much in present action when concocting new goals and not to be too disappointed if they fail to deliver immediate results.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaizen

https://searcherp.techtarget.com/definition/kaizen-or-continuous-improvement

https://medium.com/the-mission/get-1-better-every-day-the-kaizen-approach-to-self-improvement-b79c9e045678

https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/get-1-better-every-day-the-kaizen-way-to-self-improvement/

How Personal Matters Affect Business Success

Introduction

In this blog post I’ll be talking about personal weaknesses and how they can impact on the running of a business if you’re self-employed or work from home. Weaknesses can include poor skills, emotional or social problems, and health conditions; basically, anything that can affect the mind and body. The same principle applies even if your problems are slightly different. Sometimes it only takes one rupture in the system, and the whole ship goes down!

Personal matters can affect short-term and long-term success

The link between personal matters and business success hit me with force in early September 2018 when I realised they were holding me back, in the present to some extent and certainly in the long-term. In the present it can be like being burdened with a perpetual problem, causing you to brood, or it can be like a glitch that shows your personal weakness before it is ignored and life continues. Often there is a link to unhappiness or past problems that you know exist and you haven’t resolved. Why would you resolve them when you’re trying to run a business?

In the long-term personal matters are intrinsically related to your happiness as a human being, your performance, and your business skills. Any serious rupture that repeatedly causes problems should not be dismissed because they will crop up when you least expect it and perhaps sabotage a situation you could have used to your advantage.

Is it possible to ignore personal matters when building a business?

The short answer is yes, it is possible and likely you will be able to ignore personal matters when building your business. You see the activity of business much like a manuscript or any activity you put sufficient effort into, as something external that relates only to you in so far as it enables you to achieve your goals in life.

How personal matters affected my business success

As somebody with Asperger Syndrome many of my weaknesses were interpersonal. This wasn’t helped by the fact that in early life I struggled to forge many friendships, and I was often perplexed by the behaviour of other people and I suffered social anxiety; none of these were conducive to interpersonal growth. I’ve lived most of my life since without needing to build relationships or ‘contacts’, being occupied with routines and hobbies in my own comfortable bubble. I then became a freelance professional copy editor and proofreader and many people in this vocation struggle with getting out, meeting people, and taking time away from their work.

I became comfortable in my bubble because it was familiar. It defined my strengths and weaknesses, who I was even, or so I thought. To me the realm of people was one of potential misunderstanding and failed interaction. Losing people and being rejected by them was a fear but it was also expected by me. I suppose, in hindsight, I didn’t emotionally care for myself much and never had, so why would others care? Everybody was a potential stranger and categorised mentally as ‘unfamiliar’.

I would lose some friends and contacts, but more often than not the problem was with finding new friends and contacts. When it keeps happening the problem inflates and paralyses some of the relevant mental faculties, allowing anxiety to take its place. As you can see, this mindset is not conducive to making new contacts and building a business. People skills should not be overlooked in any area of life, but certainly not in building a business, where you have to be one of the main reasons potential clients will purchase your services, and becoming a familiar, friendly, and well-known person is essential.

What I did – one step back solution

It’s frustrating when you’ve spent so much time on business-related tasks and then you realise you’ve ignored how your personal life is tied to it. You need to analyse this new problem from step one, going back a few steps, and this can take time. In my case, I began to realise my approach to other aspects of life wasn’t doing me any favours personally, never mind in connecting with people for business purposes. I took a few good days thinking hard about why it was I thought the way I did, and what I was doing wrong. Sometimes help from an outside perspective can be beneficial too in allowing you to see that you cannot continue on the path you are on, and this can be in the form of friends, mentors, and support organisations.

I tend to think building a freelance business is not always about a simple linear path to constructing your success, or even about a massive expansion of clients. It can be as simple as building, seeing what went wrong, and then building again. Each time you’re widening your base and creating a model with more success that is more in line with your goals and can withstand the test of time. This model should have factored in personal matters too and how they describe you as a person, where they are letting you down and where they are giving you an advantage. Eventually, it is hoped your client list will expand and you’ll have greater choice over type of clients, and greater income.

Conclusion – how to tackle these types of problems?

You’ve got to take care of yourself, and that means not existing in a vacuum, and it means reaching out to friends, family, and support networks. It isn’t enough to know you have weaknesses; they should be addressed at the earliest possible time and with the right support. Escaping from personal matters won’t help you in the long-term. The longer you leave it, the more difficult and upsetting it can be when it is finally confronted.

Building a business is about you, foremost, and your health and wellbeing is intrinsically linked to your ideas, performance, and long-term success. It can be easy to lose sight of this when you’re too engaged in present tasks or pressured into doing work that isn’t necessarily helping the ‘bigger you’ that cannot be defined by a limited model of business.

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks – 4/5 Stars

Consider Phlebas by Iain M Banks - front cover

‘This was because the culture saw itself as being a self-consciously rational society; and machines, even sentient ones, were more capable of achieving this desired state as well as more efficient at using it once they had. That was good enough for the Culture.

‘Besides, it left the humans in the Culture free to take care of the things that really mattered in life, such as sports, games, romance, studying dead languages, barbarian societies and impossible problems, and climbing high mountains without the aid of a safety harness.’

Sick, grotesque, twisted, perverted, mind boggling, expansive; and with high stakes: these words have come to characterise my experience of Iain M. Banks’ science fiction novels, and far from leaving me with revulsion, I’m drawn to them. In these high-concept adventures literally anything could greet you round the next corner, from mean mercenaries to ugly freakish beings.

Consider Phlebas by Iain M Banks - back cover

A galactic war is ongoing, between the religious aliens called the Idirans, their strength coming from their evolutionary survival roots, and the atheistic Culture. It’s the Culture that really interests the author, from the main character’s (Horza) train of thoughts. Horza doesn’t agree with the Culture and their use of machines to interfere with life, and works as a mercenary for the Idirans, but during an attack he is separated from them and finds himself among a group of other mercenaries. Later, he’ll find himself in other predicaments too where he’ll have to adapt, survive, or escape. Luckily for Horza he’s a Changer, which gives him a few advantages … he can alter his appearance to infiltrate enemy organisations and he can produce acid.

Everything is done on a grand scale. There is an epic fight scene between Horza and this ‘Jabba the Hutt’ creature. The tribes and groups that pop up in this book are ludicrous, but Iain M. Banks does an excellent job of describing who they are, their history, and where they might fit in to the grand scheme of events. The entire text, if not filled with personal action and major conflict, was entertaining. There was always something happening, be it dialogue that impacted on current challenges for the characters or a new event that brought us a new perspective of the ongoing galactic war.

Consider Phlebas on Amazon

Iain M. Banks’ Website

Number of Words

The Importance of Number of Words in Writing
Do you write a lot of words in one day or do you set limits?

For a long time, I wrote as much as humanly possible in one day, time permitting, in the worry I’d run out of writing time in the future. During this time the word count was the sole way of measuring my progress and forward momentum. This mindset can be understandable: after all getting enough words down to equal the size of a novel is one of the biggest challenges facing writers. I was of the mind that by keeping writing going, I was on track, and I think this is true to some extent.

Now I like to think it depends less on how many words I write as it does on what progress I’ve made in terms of thinking, planning, and moving my story forward. As a result, I’ve felt the benefit of limiting how much I write each day. Keeping 1,000/2,000-word limits sustains my interest in the story and ensures I’m not exhausting my mind, imagination, and interest. I hope this method can improve my first drafts. However, one disadvantage of this is that I do need to keep regaining my bearings in my story, from where I left off, which is more of a problem than when I was writing thousands more words each day.

My advice

Because of the need to regain bearings, it can often be a good idea to keep a plan, or a few notes that are relevant to your current position in the story, such as any facts to keep in mind and where you intend for the story to go in the next scenes.

Tackling a large story by thinking of it in terms of word count is possible; I’ve done it myself. Indeed, the story’s completeness can be measured by the final word count. However, I feel the approach can be stressful, exhausting, and time consuming. In the end you’re left with a mess of a first draft that could have been avoided with patience and planning. In contrast, thinking of a story in terms of tasks to do that can be done one at a time takes the pressure off, and some of these tasks lead to a few thousand words or more anyway and the word count builds automatically, and at least this time you’ve put more thought into the story in advance of the writing sprint.

Quality Writing

What is meant by quality writing, and why should we, as writers, aspire to write quality?

To me, quality writing is about checking and editing it to ensure the message we wish to convey is apparent to us and other potential readers. Checking and editing can be done at the appropriate time.

We should aspire to write quality to avoid vagueness and having to clarify something. When we’re not clear with our writing it can waste time trying to get our message across, with the discussion of errors, and it can confuse other people with possible double meanings.

What do you do, specifically, to improve the quality of your writing?

The first thing to do, for me, is quite simple. I take a break from it after I’ve written something. This works wonders in giving me distance from my own material. Then, I think about anything I may want to add, in the next few hours, or the next day.

If I think it’s almost complete in its content I’ll leave it for a few more days, then I’ll give it a final proofread or make minor additions or changes to the text, to avoid the possibility of introducing further error.

When did you start focusing on the quality of your writing?

When you’re a writer, you’re usually at least slightly conscious of the fact that somebody else may be reading your writing, if not immediately, then in some point in the future. I think this was the same with me, and I made minor changes all the time to improve consistency or the way the text was presented.

A more concentrated effort to improve the quality of my writing probably came with the realisation that I could improve my writing, after repeated first drafts and enough time reading back my own work. This happened during 2016, I think, as I was trying to ‘write better novels’ and it’s a process that has lasted to Summer 2018 so far.

Do readers judge writers on the quality of their writing?

That depends. Friends or readers who are more interested in supporting you as an author than giving critical reviews won’t judge the quality of your writing in their reviews. They may privately have thoughts relating to the quality of your writing, and if you notice a lot of readers don’t read further books in your series this may be a sign, but more often than not it is normal for friends and writer acquaintances to read just a single book of yours.

Reviewers are another matter. If more than a few reviewers have been unhappy with the quality of your writing, and they’ve said as much then it’s a sure sign that readers do judge writers on the quality of their writing. There are a lot of discerning reviewers out there too. Sometimes it’s personal opinion, but more often than not there is truth in personal opinion, if it’s constructive.

What can writers do to be conscious of the quality of their writing?

I think this doesn’t necessarily have to be difficult.

1. Keep writing.
2. Read and edit.
3. Look at your writing from different angles, using different methods.
4. Keep your plans simple.
5. Take a break.
6. Get feedback.

Where is my Creativity?

Creativity

‘The use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness.’

Oxford Dictionaries

Internal and external factors

Before delving into my own experiences, let’s look first at how we define creativity. The first things we think of are often, as in the definition above, imagination, ideas, and inventiveness. However, creativity is influenced by many factors, both external and internal. Internal factors may include personality traits such as being open-minded, adventurous, and experimental. External factors include whether you are in the right environment, an environment conducive to creativity, and what resources in terms of ideas, writing, inspiration, or people that are available to you.

Conformity

Creativity can be more prevalent in some people or places than in others. For example, it is often rooted in people or cultures who do not conform. Perhaps it is a wish to explore new avenues of thought and expression, rather than to be told how to think, work, or behave. As a result, it attracts a greater following, and is popular among those who see its value.

Who are creative people?

Some occupations are considered creative while others are not. Writing, music, and art are creative pursuits, but jobs that are considered normal, routine, or that involve tasks that leave little room for group innovation or personal development would not be considered creative. Sometimes there is confusion as to what would constitute creativity. Many writers of fiction wouldn’t think running a business would be creative. For many a business represents the antithesis of their creativity. Yet there are other fiction writers out there; some of whom have had previous backgrounds or relevant knowledge in the working world; embrace creative business practices and actively encourage creativity in their businesses. It may depend on how we define creativity and which type of creativity we enjoy.

Balancing creativity

Have you thought about how much you are using the creative part of your brain, and whether this can suffer if you spend too much time using the other parts of the brain: editing, running a business, etc.? Independent authors sometimes need to be editors and publishers too. Indeed the number of tasks expected of ourselves can be overwhelming. It affects our mindset, and it’s not out of the question to assume it can also affect our creativity.

My experience – author and editor differences

I find, as a copy editor and proofreader, the skills I need are quite different from those I use as an author. It can be confusing when you think of yourself as both, or combine job roles in order to succeed. In 2016 I went to Bradford Literature Festival and I was confronted with the problem, as if my brain was a hat and I could don the author or the editor one at will, and yet without having decided which one to use I was left with no hats on, confused, so to speak. Do I introduce myself as an editor and have business cards ready just in case? Or do I aim to take advantage of opportunities to improve the quality of my own stories and improve my publishing and marketing model? I didn’t know, and attended as an observer. If you consider yourself a professional at anything, you shouldn’t be going to a place where your target audience is only to observe or take a mild interest.

You need to prioritise in life, and that means deciding on a structure, and brain pattern, and sticking with it. Everything else has to be secondary, for a specified time. I chose to prioritise my freelance copy editing and proofreading, and there is a part of my mind that notices how differently I think now: planning, organising, targeting, and analysing. I see things through the lens of efficiency. I plan and research my novels more than I used to and only consider jumping in when all the pieces are in place. Patience and preparing quality become paramount.

When being an indie author was the priority my mindset was less calculating, searching for promotional events and literary opportunities or the next best thing, and making connections with readers, were the most important priorities. Having stalls and holding writing sessions helped too. In my experience, authors seek out approval and they have a real passion for their writing and the inspiration their writing comes from; they have a unique background and world view to share. Writing during this time revolved around my direct experiences of having Asperger Syndrome. The condition was an ideal research topic and this informed the attributes and struggles of my characters. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote, without caring too much about planning or self-editing until I had drafts down. I was moving forward all the time without knowing exactly where I was moving, yet at the same time I was impatient, uninformed, and without having planned sufficiently, but these weaknesses are not necessarily characteristic of most authors.

Prioritising has helped me rectify some of the mistakes of one mindset, and has prevented confusion. As much as we humans want to have the ‘best of both’ it isn’t possible; you’d need two minds, and we can only aim for the ‘best we can’.

Have you noticed any differences between what you consider the creative part of your brain and the non-creative part?

Freelance Milestones

Our reliance on online marketing

When you’re working on a freelance business, it can take time to set up and become established, and sometimes this process can be daunting, confusing, and frustrating. There are marketing experts everywhere offering contradictory advice or propagating the use of technologies, platforms, systems, and media as the cool tricks of the trade that you need to wrap your head around to get ahead in business. I’ve found that to someone versed in the jargon of business, business advice must seem exciting and obvious, but to those who are not experts in business or marketing it can come across as a confusing nightmare.

If you remember the 1990s, or life before technology became prevalent in our lives, you’ll know that it hasn’t always been pervasive, and books written by the older generation will tell you as much. A lot of us, young or old, have gone through an adjustment period in life to increasing reliance on social media and online as a means of succeeding in life, and with this change came new best practice. It happened so fast, and though some are quick to learn the ropes and take advantage of the change, there are plenty who will always be a bit stymied.

Which strategies didn’t work?

1. Passing advice with no interest in the individual

When I was in my early twenties and learning how to develop my freelance businesses, it was with misguided excitement that I would find a new means to boosting forward based on advice from social media experts, usually. People emphasise different things: the importance of social media, website, SEO, in these times; or they would stress the same things and offer little tips on how you could get more out of a system with a tweak here and there. It started with misguided excitement, bordering on delusion, and then it would burn out into a hopeless realisation that this new-age trick wasn’t going to work either.

I didn’t realise at the time that I was thinking too much about gadgets and systems, and not what I wanted as a person or why these gadgets and systems were going to help ‘me’ achieve my goals in life. The experts weren’t interested in my personal development, and there was little encouraging my interest in marketing when people only threw advice at you and then left you.

2. Doing everything yourself – ‘going it alone’

The following was, to some extent, a mistake of mine. You may think you’re intelligent and independent and that these characteristics will allow you to surge forward ahead of your peers in a matter of time, but if you do think this you may be forgetting something crucial and that is that successful self-employment, as with any type of business I assume, does depend on an ability to form business relationships with others. It may not be easy to get work in your chosen field without the help of others, especially if you depend on others for your salary.

3. No marketing

If you’re fed up of marketing because you don’t like it and you think you can do better focusing on ‘your job’, you’ve basically given up searching for work, and you’re waiting for something to happen that won’t happen. The intent to succeed has to be there, in a form acceptable to you, or you may end up in an abyss of escapism. You won’t be doing yourself any favours by resorting to this escapism; the self-satisfied pleasure may be temporary.

4. The definition of marketing

Okay, so you’ve come to detest the word ‘marketing’ and anything that attests to it but this is likely because you’ve been confused into thinking marketing means cool online platforms, apps, gadgets; or on the other hand is all about serious marketing plans, complex calculations, and business plans. Obsess with either of these too much when you’re not knowledgeable about either, and you’ve been misled into how you’re going to use the best methods.

Some of the things that helped me

1. I sought advice from support networks

I don’t think anybody should be too proud to seek support. If you don’t use any networks that are considered to be support or labelled as support then just have a good think about all the people who have helped you on your way as a freelance: friends, colleagues, and more.

2. I took a social skills course

It helped my confidence, got me out there talking and connecting with likeminded people. This same course offered self-employment advice from somebody who thought in a similar way to me and had experienced self-employment. This one action alone showed me the benefits of getting out of the house, and I felt like instead of struggling alone in self-defeatism I was actually doing something to move my career forward – not something ‘I thought’ might work but something that proved I was more serious about succeeding.

3. I was persistent

I was persistent with my support networks. Without this persistence, I would not have finished my business plan and been given a mentor. On so many occasions I nearly gave up. Thankfully, my dad was there to help me see that I had to fight for what was in my best interests, and he was right. I had never been an assertive person, and talking to people sometimes made me anxious, so this was difficult for me.

4. The right people and the right professionals

The right people are crucial in your development as a human being, never mind a business. The right people have complementary skills that you can connect with to learn and grow. These people don’t always know what you need to know and it’s sometimes in unlikely places where you’ll find these people, but it’s always worth giving anything new a chance before dismissing it.

5. Try new things

Doing the same things, over and over, will bore you or drive you mad, even if you’re good at those things. To grow as people, we need something new every so often, to do different things every day and try something completely different every few months. Sometimes this includes tasks others have given you, and not just your own ideas. You can get bored of your own ideas, but other ideas are fresh.

Vows and Honor: Oathblood by Mercedes Lackey – 4/5 Stars

The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey - back cover

The third part in the Vows and Honor omnibus is not a novel, but rather a collection of short stories. Though there are a lot of repeated stories from earlier in the omnibus, there are a lot of new stories too, one reaching back in time to when Tarma met Kethry in Swordsworn after the slaughter of her tribe. There are stories about Leslac the bard, a cup being poisoned, a large bear on the loose, a giant monster that has a town cowed, and a chambermaid being forced into abuse and then on the run for a new life.

The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey - back cover

If you’re familiar with Tarma and Kethry’s stories you’ll love the short stories, which combine brutality, morality, adventure, and humour. If you aren’t familiar with the main novels and you’re not sure whether to try them, these short stories give a good indication of what you can expect and I don’t think you’ll leave disappointed.

 

 

Mercedes Lackey’s Website

Mercedes Lackey’s Amazon Author Page

 

Bag of Bones by Stephen King – 5/5 Stars

Bag of Bones is a complex unravelling of the present and past of the ‘TR’ village. There is much more than there appears to be behind the fabric of everyday village life – ghosts of the past that connect with present unspeakable actions. It can be difficult to know who is friend and foe, which invisible forces are at work and what they want. Between the main characters there is a psychic connection, but sometimes what moves us is deeper than the human mind can comprehend, even the mind of a writer …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was much to interest me throughout, which is mainly about Mike Noonan going back and forth between his home and Mattie Devore’s to help her with her child custody case. As you can imagine, the other villagers have noticed his interest in her and assume he just wants to take advantage of her young body, like every middle-aged man with his tongue lolling out, which was described something to that effect in the book. Mike asserts that his real purpose is to help her against her tyrant father-in-law, rich billionaire Max Devore, and the villagers’ cynicism towards him convinces Mike they are being bribed by Max Devore.

Bag of Bones by Stephen King- book cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When he’s not trying to seduce Mattie Devore, he’s in his home Sara Laughs writing his new story. His writer’s block has vanished since his wife died. The child custody case, strange noises in his house, and rearranging fridge magnets, inspire him to write a murder story. Unfortunately the ghosts that live with him do not rest, and he becomes convinced the villagers are hiding something about the past that has some relevance to Mattie Devore and her daughter Kyra. It also has relevance to Mike’s deceased wife and the child they were denied.

 

The Journey to my First Book

Writing my first book was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life, where the imagination opened, amid a rush of emotion. You’re exploring that coursing emotion through you and words are pouring out of your mind through your fingertips. There was no hard thinking at this stage, just a titanic release of thoughts, images, and exploration in a fascinating setting. But make no mistake, the journey doesn’t happen in one day!

The Antpod Faction by Alex James

Intent

The intent to write a book is a strange thing. Many people are determined to write a book, on their preferred topic, but sometimes that determination can override the natural unfolding of happiness and exhilaration you experience when your intent is more concerned with feeling than it is with mental intent. I experienced this much later, when I tried to think too hard to write a book.

My first book was a good example of a natural intent developing over the course of a few years. It started as an image in my mind of the setting of a desert planet, where strange beings interacted, and because the idea took hold of me it stuck there. It was a fixed intent that I was absorbed in. I had both the focus and the creative element intertwined. I was ready to move forward.

Planning

As I may point out in a few other resources or blog posts, planning isn’t essential, but for my first idea it was. I had to write down some specifics about the characters if only to get a vague idea of who they were and what they were doing in the setting. It didn’t matter too much to me if I changed my mind when I started writing, but writing specifics on paper enabled me to take more of an interest in the development of the idea, which would fuel my writing later on.

I went through a few planning and writing phases. My first drafts would appear horrible to me now, years later, but at the time they were a massive achievement and I was proud of myself. If you’ve never written your own story in chapters before and you just have, you’ve done very well. As Obi-Wan Kenobi would say, ‘You’ve taken your first step into a larger world.’ During this time there was no compulsive need to keep writing or planning. I simply noticed there were things I could have done better when looking at my drafts, or at the accuracy of my plans. My drafts weren’t long enough, for one, and the characters in my plans were robotic. Seeing these problems inspired me to re-plan and to change the focus of the story in a way that was more exciting and familiar to me. They say that writers often do write what they know best, and I think I instinctively did this.

First Draft

Writing a first draft was the exciting bit, and I mean really exciting. It was the first time I had written so many words, and momentum led me on. I didn’t stop. I had to know what was going to happen in the story. I was as immersed as a reader is at reading their favourite book, even if it was my own. I didn’t understand back then that I could have written different types of scenes and eventualities in the same story. No, I thought the way the story unfolded was special somehow; that there was one way it was meant to be told and I had to know all the answers, so I continued writing, thousands of words. It took me three whole months, but I had 120,000 words at the end of it, and more importantly, I had the end of the story.

What I wasn’t really aware of was the funny thing about the way you tell your story, as an individual human being, by writing purely from instinct in a first draft. You put it together in a haphazard jumble. Every scene you write is like a first scene into a new world, though they relate in sequence and character names. It’s a mess, but it was your best chance at getting that first draft down onto digital paper and that was what mattered, and it is somehow special in that sense. I made the mistake of hugging onto that first draft format too tightly for a period of time, which is a classic amateur writer mistake. Save your first draft, and then rework changes into a new file. Don’t resist positive change and suggestion ‘because it wasn’t the way the story was meant to be told’. Tell yourself that and hear how foolish it sounds!

Self-editing and publishing preparation
Photo by Bad Wisdom Photography from the Leeds Steampunk Market
Here I am at the Leeds Steampunk Market at my first event with my first book. Photo by Bad Wisdom Photography from the Leeds Steampunk Market.

Self-editing wasn’t really something I thought I would want to do and its importance, even when I was doing it, wasn’t apparent. The motivation was the need to prepare my book for self-publishing, and changing my first draft was an extension of this motivation. Even amateur writers know it’s not recommended to upload the first draft to be published as it is. There comes the fearful thought: what if the public sees my story and it’s in a mess?

Years down the line, the better I was at seeing my story from more distance and different angles, I realised it was published as a bigger mess than I thought. But I don’t regret this because I made a solid effort at writing, preparing my writing for publishing, and then self-publishing it. After all, my efforts at self-editing my writing did make a difference and gave me skills I didn’t have before, such as how to see the same sentences from different angles, identify spelling corrections, write blurbs, gain feedback and knowledge from the process, format a manuscript into an ebook, and decide which changes should be made for the sake of my readers. Yes, just as with writing, preparing a book for publishing is about vision, having a product the way I wanted it, and good organisational skills helped with this.

Publishing and marketing

Publishing was quite easy, at the press of the button. What comes after publishing is left to your imagination if you didn’t have a plan. Finding opportunities was instrumental in getting the word out about my book and this involved blog posts; booking stalls at steampunk, comic, craft, and book fairs; social media posts. There is no news quite like new news and announcing to the world that your book is available is exciting news to deliver.

Ordering physical books was a key part of having stalls, and sometimes I over-ordered. It’s good to have an idea about demand for books and to visit events as a customer before being a stallholder, for this reason.

Your first book can become your signature story, as it did with mine: the book you are known for or that is bought more often than others. First impressions matter, a lot.

Lots of antpod books in a box.
Lots of antpod books in a box.
Overall

The journey to my first book was one of great anticipation, where I learnt new skills, motivated by the reality of becoming a published author. The power of hope and fulfilment was combined. The journey didn’t even stop after I had published my first book; it continues in different forms as the years go by and defines who you are. It was well worth it!