Here are quite a few questions and tips I have either been asked, or that I feel I should share.
Advice for writing
There are a number of things vital for writing, and you’ll find all authors agree on a few – if not all, as styles are very different. I have found that I write best in scenes, grabbing visually what I see and penning it, and then creating the story around it. Other authors write in a very methodically planned way from start to finish. Write. Try. There is no “best way” to write, but there is A best way for YOU to write.
You may find especially with more complex ideas that you need a computer to keep track and cross reference. I use a home PC, a laptop, and an Asus T100 pad which has a decent keyboard for travel – and even my phone in a pinch to get ideas down.
This is a must. If you spend any amount of time writing (or gaming), something that reduces RSI and gives tactile comfortable feedback is essential. I used to use the Roccat Ryos MK Pro with Cherry Brown switches, but like the other Roccat kit I’ve had it had poor build quality. LEDs were not protected for ESD correctly, and it was becoming harder to accurately type for some reason. It was decent when I first bought it, but I can’t recommend Roccat to people now.
So, I went looking and did a LOT more research. In the UK there is virtually nowhere to TEST mechanical keyboards, but this is CRITICAL if you are buying one! Although you can get 100/80/60% factors and many different switches with lights, effects, macros, etc, if this is mainly for typing focus on that. A lot of keyboards now have RBG lighting per key, macro keys, and so forth. Great for gaming, but for typing… less so. I found The Keyboard Company, and they excelled at helping with this.
The most important things to consider are use (typing, typing/gaming etc) and the build quality, switches and feel. After that comes size, lighting, portability, etc.
There are 3 switches I recommend for serious typing (all rated to 50m keypresses):
Cherry MX brown
If you like quieter keys. My least favourite – feel too light and not tactile enough.
Cherry MX Blue
Lovely to type on, very tactile, clickety clack! Approaching typewriter. Heavier than the browns.
These are the cream of the crop, but very expensive hybrid membrane/mech capacitive switches. Most amazing things I have ever typed on. I am immediately MUCH faster and more accurate on these. There is no click, however.
Also, keyboards are built in different ways. If you want a long lasting keyboard, look at ones with a backplate of metal and keys made from PBT. ABS keys shine quickly and are light and clacky. PBT keys are superb – heavier, quieter, smoother, grippier, and don’t shine so much. Also more expensive!
After several hours testing of approximately seven keyboards, I finally selected the Japanese-built Realforce 105UB UK. It is NOT cheap – but I have never typed on such an amazing keyboard, and despite the 100% factor, lack of lights and lack of anything other than a standard keyset, it is utterly sublime to use. The gold-on-black is a dye sublimation limit on PBT (white doesn’t work well), but it actually looks fine in the flesh, and the keys won’t wear out.
The Varmilo VA69M Ice Blue was a close second on Cherry MX blues, as it had everything else I wanted. If it had been Topre, I’d never buy another keyboard, but the switches were the priority over portability for long term use. It’s also fully metal, so heavier than the Realforce! And the Blues are louder.
In the end, I actually bought both. The Varmilo is for casting the laptop to a tv and typing, or travel. It’s compact, solid and very nice to use. The Realforce is my dreamy desk typer, for longer sessions, and is just the best feeling keyboard I have used. Both are amazing, and highly recommended.
Other recommended typist’s boards are the Topre Heaven, Realforce RGB (ABS build however and costlier), Filco, and Das Keyboards. I did a LOT of research before settling for the Realforce (and Varmilo as a second), but you need to test one yourself, as everyone is different.
The Keyboard Company are based in Stroud and the only place I could find to test the things out before buying. They are knowledgeable, friendly and extremely helpful, dedicating testing time of several hours to me. I can’t recommend them enough.
The message here is… Don’t scrimp on the keyboard.
Whether it is on paper or computer, you must have a way of taking notes or scenes and organising them. I use a combination of OneNote and Scrivener mostly – more on those below.
Change of scene
Sometimes, just get out and away. Change your view. Gain inspiration elsewhere. See the world. Experience things. Your writing will improve, as will your mindset. You can’t force creativity, but you can inspire it.
Get on and WRITE.
Even if you aren’t feeling it achieves anything, every word makes you better in a small way. You may not have a use for what you just noted or wrote now, but other stories may find a fit, and if all else fails, write in scenes – jump to what grabs you! Inspire yourself.
Read other authors
This is a contentious one – some authors say you should not read other works too much, others say the more you read the better you will write. I believe in the latter, but you then have to worry if your stories are inspired by other works. This is something for you to discover, but reading other authors will help you see where you may have gone wrong (or right!).
There is a lot of software out there. What should I use?
Well, this is up to you, but I use two main tools: Scrivener and OneNote. I also use other supportive apps to these.
Scrivener allows you to write multiple types of document in scenes with linked research and then collate and output the result into multiple formats. It is INVALUABLE for a writer! Many authors now use this. If you have a Mac, you are in luck as it was designed for this – the Windows version that I use is a little behind, but still – excellent in either OS whether you are writing a short story, a novel, a play, a script, or a thesis.
OneNote is now free to download and is hands down the best and most intuitive cloud-synchronised note taker out there across all your devices (Windows, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Web). It beats Evernote and many others in quite a few ways, integrates with OneDrive which is integral to Windows, and auto saves and synchs to cloud constantly. It is fast, easily searchable across ALL notes, and easy to organise into notebooks. It can take picture or audio input as well as text and even has a write-to-text function. If you have a midnight idea, jot it on your phone here and it’s instantly available anywhere else you can log in.
These two – in my opinion – are the way forward, unless you are writing longhand on paper – and there is nothing wrong with that, I do that too sometimes. Besides these, the other tools I have found excellent for visualisation, formatting and organisation to complement the above are:
Microsoft Word, which is a staple now for WP on both PC and Mac. I wouldn’t write in it these days but it is useful for formatting for publishing and ebooking.
Microsoft Excel, well known and available on Mac and PC. It helped me past writers block caused by over complications in backstory and planning; a large multi volume story arc will do that. I kicked myself when I finally remembered I worked in IT and could use it. D’oh.
Scapple is a visual notepad by the makers of Scrivener, and it allows a note to be dropped in a workspace and then drag and connect it to any other notes. Makes plotting multiple story arcs and timelines for characters a fair bit easier.
Why do you write?
Because I love it. Because nothing is better than reading about an entire universe created in someone’s head, apart from being allowed to glimpse it yourself and try and put those visions to paper. Because stories need to be told. And because of people like Neil Gaimen, Patrick Rothfuss, Terry Pratchett, Raymond E. Feist, Ursula Le Guin, Stephen King, Peter V. Brett, Brent Weeks, Tad Williams, J R.R. Tolkien, and the other equally visionary authors who are too multitudinous to list who see, influence and craft with love tales which set your mind free in other realms, some of which even seem to be the same as this one.
Are any of the characters you?
Yes and no. I write as much as I can from experience, of course – and I’m lucky in that I have done a lot of things to at least be able to pen a perspective. However, what many of them experience are things I have and perhaps could not. Being a writer is about putting bits of yourself into characters, making them real… but you aren’t enough to be spread that thin. The characters evolve themselves, and you end up with bits of people you know as well. None of the characters are me, although I’m ordinary enough and occasionally stupid enough to have done a few things Karland has.
Your fight scenes are very different…
True, although that’s not really a question. However – I have trained in various martial arts over my life, ranging from Judo, Shaolin Kung Fu, Tang Soo Do, and various other traditional martial arts to MMA, more practical styles, striking and even a few weapon based varieties. I know a lot of fighters from different disciplines, from brawlers to pure artists, and have spent years reading up on as well as doing it. That doesn’t make me a fightmaster by any means, but I understand fighting in a much more visceral way than perhaps some authors do. I have been a little frustrated in the past by fights in some books that clearly are just impossible except in the mind, and do not bring the immediacy, the pumping adrenaline, and sheer brutality of what war and fighting is to the reader. The same with any violence, really. Having said that, some authors do excel at it! I have my own way of writing the fights, and I play them out in my head and think how I would do it. I try and inject the mixture of timing, luck, skill and technical ability that you develop in any fighting art into the scenes, and make them as realistic as I can whilst keeping that fantasy visual edge.
I’ve written a book! I’m done, right?
Congratulations, sincerely – it’s something that not a lot of people achieve! However, writing and finishing a book is only about one third of the actual work. I would say at least another third is research and extra notes/background – research is critical to a writer, and allows you to write outside experience – and the last rough third is the editing. Be prepared to edit, cut, modify, lean, condense, even rewrite, and a lot. This is before you even decide whether you are going to self publish or go the traditional route, both of which have pros and cons, and either one is a long hard slog.
Will you read my book?
Unless I know you or have met you and spoken professionally, regrettably – probably not. I do so many things in addition to working and writing that I simply don’t have time except in select circumstances. I can recommend some very good editors, however, and I also suggest getting peer reviews where you can from a variety of people who you can rely on to be honest!.