Feeling inadequate? Here’s why….

Of all the things I’ve ever done, that required learning new skills, I think that writing is the most neurotic. Whatever you do, it’s not good enough, but if you just read this article or attend this course or pay this editor to knock your manuscript into shape, then you’ll be a better writer.

As examples of what I mean, here are the titles of emails on writing sent to me today:

*Authors You Need To Follow On Social Media

*What’s the point of Blogging?

*Secrets to help your Content go Viral

*Ten Reasons You Book Is Not Ready To Publish

*Beginners Guide: 26 Most Common WordPress Mistakes To Avoid

The stance of the writers of these helpful articles is that I’m making mistakes that need rectifying, that they know things I don’t. Of course, some of these experts are selling their services in direct ways, while others earn funds through the ads on their websites and blogs. That’s fair enough, and they’re doing nothing different to what anyone advertising a product or service does—trading on buyer’s insecurities—they’ll be better people if they only buy this.

It’s worth remembering, that the stores selling food and equipment to gold rush prospectors made more loot that the miners digging for gold.

The thing is, creativity is dependent on free thought, the spark of originality that attracts the interest of the writer first of all and then the reader. Literary agents say things like:We are always on the lookout for new writing talent who see things in a different way, producing great stories to share with the world.What they don’t say is: “We’re looking for adequate authors who produce stories we know will sell, because they’re the sort of humdrum thing that’s sold before.”

I sometimes wonder about the worth of following advice designed to make me feel inadequate. Certainly, there are useful tips and tricks to learn to create an appealing manuscript which seduces the reader, but following advice too closely may produce cookie-cutter writing that is technically correct, but which reads just like everything else churned out by authors who subscribed to that course.

It’s hard enough to get noticed from writing the mountain that is a book, but if you’re following the same route to the summit, you’re joining a queue, as shown by this tragic story about the deaths of mountaineers attempting to scale Mount Everest:


Writing a book should be hard work, but it should be enjoyable, a journey of discovery in which you’re surprised. If that happens to you, it may well happen to the reader.

Remember Sturgeon’s Law which advises that 90% of anything is crap—and that includes advice about how to write.

I think I need to unsubscribe from many of my newsletters. It’s not that I think I know it all, but I do know enough to get through without having so-called experts tell me I’m going the wrong way. It makes for a lousy start to the day.

What drives you mad about writing gurus?

Have you ever paid for training or editing which was beneficial…or, which was a waste of money?

(Happy Birthday, Bob, who is 78 today)

Book Pricing—Perceived Value

This article is worth a look, especially if you’re considering self-publishing your book:


You might well think, that the less you ask for your ebook, the more copies you’ll sell, but that isn’t necessarily so. Shoppers for all types of goods, from books to wine to cars, have pre-determined limits on what they want to spend. They equate the price with the quality of the product—they want to spend £7.99 on a paperback, which is a big saving on the £15.99 asking price of the hardback—and they’re not going to demean themselves by looking in the charity shop, where the best-selling title they’re after is available for £1.00.

Wine lovers are price-driven, however much of an expert they claim to be. I’ve known many car and motorcycle dealers who were amazed at how few buyers haggle over the price of the vehicle. They’ve saved £10,000 and that’s what they want to spend, or that’s what they’ve calculated they can afford in repayments if they’re buying on a finance plan.

I’ve attended two business start-up courses, set ten years apart, where the tutors both told the story of a baker who made a disastrous price change to his sausage rolls. His were an inch longer than his only competitor in town but priced at 25p more, so he dropped the asking price to one penny less that his rival, thinking to boost sales, in a more for less way. Sales plummeted, as customers liked paying that bit more for what they saw as a luxury product…they were treating themselves. I don’t know if this baker ever really existed, but he lives on in business studies.

I’m intending to launch my Cornish Detective series of crime novels this summer, so have been pondering pricing, while scurrying around trying to understand blogging and social media posting to create my author platform. I’ve praised James Oswald several times on this blog for his success story with crime writing. Oswald went from not selling many copies of his fantasy fiction, to writing detective stories set in Edinburgh, which he sold online, shifting 150,000 downloads in nine months. This led to Penguin offering him a six-figure advance. He’s been a best-selling author ever since.

When he started publishing online, James Oswald copied a trick from an Australian science fiction author called Simon Haynes who made the first book in the series free. James Oswald said:

The idea was that they could try it, and if they liked it they could pay me money for the rest of them.

A lot of people have asked me for information about how I did this, as they want to do it themselves. I always ask them how many books they’ve written, and it’s almost invariably just the one.

There is no point giving away your first book in a series if the next one isn’t immediately available (and ideally a few more as well).

If people like your work, they will want more, and they will want it now. By the time you’ve written and published the next book in the series, they’ll have forgotten you and moved on to the next thing.

I’m going to copy James Oswald copying of Simon Haynes, by offering my first novel Who Kills A Nudist? for free—accompanied by promotion of the rest of the series (four more books already written and ready to go) + links to my online presence on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and my blog.

Quite how attractive crime fans will find this offer, I’ve no way of predicting. I feel like a one-man band at the moment, making up tunes as I go along, about to fall off my unicycle!

Pricing books makes me think of how drug dealers and casinos get their customers hooked—give them a freebie, then jack the price up! Will anyone get addicted to my books? 

How do you decide on what to charge for your books?

Have you found a sweet spot where the asking price generates more sales?

Do you use special offers?

How Gritty are You?

To succeed at writing, you need patience and perseverance. As James Baldwin said:

Image result for writer james baldwin Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.

If you don’t dig in to pursue your long-term writing goal, then your manuscript will become another dust gatherer.

Angela Duckworth is a psychologist, academic and popular science author who’s studied grit—which she defines as  passion and perseverance for long-term goals.

Image result for psychologist Angela Duckworth

She’s devised a test to measure your grit:


Click on MORE ABOUT GRIT for information about what this means.

I scored 4.59 out of 5—higher than about 95% of American adults in a recent studyproving what my mother used to say about me, that I‘m mule-headed!

How did you do?

Writing for Myself

If a writer wants to keep their sanity, it’s best to enjoy the process of creating stories, at the very least. How you cope with editing and querying literary agents is another matter.

Image result for writer losing temper gif

At the moment, I’m preparing to enter the fray of social media posting and will be running two blogs—one on writing and publishing, the other more of a static website for my Cornish Detective series of novels. The first quarter of the year was eaten up with querying and editing posts I’ve made on The Colony in the last four years, which I’ll use as a basis for this Paul Pens blog.

It was repetitive work, but to provide some thrills, I began a short story that’s ballooned into a novella. I did little preparation for where the plot would go, simply starting with the premise of a widow observing an unknown male stranger dancing naked in a field on a summer day. I’m more of a pantser than a plotter, but I’ve never begun a story before without any structure at all. I feel a bit like a bird returning to its nest, from time to time, as I add some more chapters. I may be travelling hopefully, with no destination in mind, but I love the journey.

Controlling the fates of characters is thrilling.


As Anita Brookner admitted: You never know what you will learn ’til you start writing. Then you discover truths you never knew existed.

That’s what I’m finding, as I add to my novella, that is branching out in unexpected directions. While preoccupied with learning about themes, plug-ins, categories, posts and pages on my WordPress blog, I’m delighted that the creative part of my brain is quietly working away, gently nudging me with suggestions for my neglected tale of a hedge witch meeting a paranoid man with arcane knowledge that he won’t admit to.

Stories can be lifebuoys in the maelstrom of life—both in the reading and writing of them.

Recently, I read Leonard Cohen’s Stranger Music, which compiles many of his published poems and song lyrics. I liked this poem about the creative process, which gels with how I feel about why I’m writing:

The Only Poem

This is the only poem
I can read
I am the only one
can write it
I didn’t kill myself
when things went wrong
I didn’t turn
to drugs or teaching
I tried to sleep
but when I couldn’t sleep
I learned to write
I learned to write
what might be read
on nights like this
by one like me

Leonard Cohen

If you’re not writing for yourself it won’t ring true.

We’re writer and reader combined.

Aren’t we?

Neurotic Writing

A while ago, I posted on Turning Suffering Into Writing, but everyday neuroticism is a tool authors can use to good effect. Try to think of a writer or any creative artist who stimulates you, that sees things in what would be deemed a conventional way. It’s often a skewed viewpoint that captivates.

Neurosis is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as:

‘A mental illness resulting in high levels of anxiety, unreasonable fears and behaviour and, often, a need to repeat actions for no reason’

It’s easy to see how such symptoms afflict writers. After all, much of what we do is speculative, flights of fancy that our family and friends may view as delusional.

‘The good writing of any age has always been the product of someone’s neurosis, and we’d have a mighty dull literature if all the writers that came along were a bunch of happy chuckleheads.’

William Styron

Styron’s Darkness Visible: A Memoir Of Madness is a moving chronicle of his own descent into depression and his triumphant recovery.

While writing a story, then editing it and creating a synopsis, followed by querying agents with a view to selling, it’s likely that an author will ask themselves many times, “Why am I doing this?”

If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I’m neurotic as hell. I’ll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days.” 
Sylvia Plath, from The Bell Jar.

I’ve often contemplated my manuscripts, after reading them in as detached a way as possible, wondering if my theme worked, does the story arc ring true within this story and across the series and what would a reader take away from the story?

That way madness lies! Trying to guess what readers will notice is a form of fortune-telling. My beta-readers pointed out things to me which they liked, that I hadn’t considered.

Telling someone that you’re a writer produces mixed reactions, I think. Some people will admire you, while others will be intimidated. You may be thought of as wealthy, in a J.K. Rowling way, or as a total loser who can’t write well, as you’re not a household name. Most people will give you leeway to be just a bit weird!

Research has shown, that highly creative people are often neurotic:


To throw a reinterpretation on Robert A. Heinlein’s book title Stranger In A Strange Land, authors are among the strangest folk in society, telling tales to entertain, inform and which reveal truths.

Have you embraced your neuroticism?

Jerome Lawrence

Bestsellers—Gaming the System

After the dodgy dealings revealed in the Social Media & Book Deals post, I came across a dissection of how easily Amazon’s bestseller status can be achieved:


(Click on more to read the whole article)

Such duplicity is further proof that no one knows what the truth is these days. The meaning of words is altered so drastically, that sometimes they mean the opposite of their real definition.

Fake News as a phenomenon is depressing.

I agree with Abraham Lincoln!

Take It Easy On Yourself

By writing a book, you’re tackling a challenge that many people talk about but never get around to doing.

Some of them buy the equipment and do the training—books on writing and attending courses—but you’re actually climbing the mountain of creating a story. There are a thousand ways to reach the peak, and nothing to prevent you backtracking to try a different route. To get to the top, you’ll need determination and self-belief to the point of arrogance; the worst thing you can do is beat yourself up. If you do that, you’ll stop climbing, crawl into a crevasse and freeze to death.

Our greatest weakness is in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always try one more time.

Thomas A. Edison

It could be that no one much will care that you make a successful ascent—that’s what literary agents are for, to bring you down to earth—but, you’ll know you did it and that’s what’s crucial. You’ll feel better for it:

“We write to heighten our own awareness of life. We write to lure and enchant and console others. We write to serenade our lovers. We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection. We write, like Proust, to render all of it eternal, and to persuade ourselves that it is eternal. We write to be able to transcend our life, to reach beyond it. We write to teach ourselves to speak with others, to record the journey into the labyrinth. We write to expand our world when we feel strangled, or constricted, or lonely…When I don’t write, I feel my world shrinking. I feel I am in prison. I feel I lose my fire and my colour. It should be a necessity, as the sea needs to heave, and I call it breathing.”

Anaïs Nin

So, enjoy what you’re doing. Writing will always be hard work, but it shouldn’t be excruciating. You need to get on your own side.

When your book is written, you’re marked out as different—to be admired and, of course, criticised. But, you did it. Don’t be denied!

Benjamin Jowett

Reading in the Bath

After the recent Reading In Bed post, I wondered about another horizontal way of reading—in the bath.

It’s a risky activity with books, let alone electronic ways of reading. People’s addiction to their smartphones has led to all too many dying by electrocution, foolishly recharging their phone while in the bath:

http:// https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-39307418

In an ideal world, one would have a loving narrator reading your favourite book to you:

If you’re going it alone, then why not be comfortable? Stay long enough, and you’ll turn into a human prune!

Toddlers have long been well supplied with waterproof books!

And now, adults can get classic literature in a waterproof form:

http:// http://bibliobath.com/

Reading in the shower is tricky, but you could show your literary interests with the right shower curtain:


Should you be worried about dropping your book into the bath, or making the pages go crinkly from the humidity, it’s possible to buy a waterproof cover! At $85 it’s pricey…Ziploc food bags are cheap if you really can’t resist…

http:// https://www.bookofjoe.com/2014/10/book-read.html

I admit, that I’ve read in the bath many a time, several times nodding off and dipping the book into the water, waking with a start to insert toilet tissue between the pages. Funnily enough, the last time it happened, the book I was reading, The Dreadful Judgement by Neil Hanson, is about the Great Fire of London. It’s a wonder, it didn’t hiss when it touched my bubble bath foam! The book now looks like it’s been gnawed on by a hippopotamus.

Do you read in the bath?

Dropped any books?

Chen Bolan (Born Shanghai, 1955)

Making Memorable Quotes

We all remember memorable openings and closing lines of famous novels – the ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged’ and ‘After all, tomorrow is another day’ phrases that have entered the language as expressions. 

Sometimes powerful quotes are lifted from the body of the narrative, and it helps if the writer is witty, such as Oscar Wilde with this observation from The Picture Of Dorian Gray – ‘Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.’

I’ve wondered how much an author laboured at coming up with something meaningful, hoping it would pass into posterity. I didn’t consciously try to compose anything pithy while writing my novels. If I did write something that reflected a character’s view of the world, it was more as a way of summing them up than meant for posterity. All the same, my beta-readers commented on several phrases that I’d used, which was encouraging.

Their praise set me to thinking that I should, perhaps, sprinkle a few pearls of wisdom into my writing – only in passing, not setting them up as some portentous pronouncement to the universe! Readers like phrases that ring true to them – I know that I do.

I had proof of this a few years ago, when I found an interesting novella in my local out-of-town discount retailer, a place that sellseverything, including remaindered books. It was a book called The Fly Truffler, written by Gustaf Sobin – an American-born writer, who lived in France, and who had more success with his poetry than prose. I was intrigued by the story, as I didn’t know that truffles could be traced by the flies that hover above where they’re growing. I’d heard of truffle hunters using pigs and dogs to find them.

Image result for The Fly-Truffler by Gustaf Sobin

The story is about an ill-advised affair between a middle-aged professor and one of his students. It’s intense and poetic reading, and I really enjoyed it. 


As the discounted book was only 50p, I bought several copies to give to friends. They all picked out a couple of sentences that had struck me as being wise and expressive :

Maybe it’s not a person we fall in love with so much as a distance, a depth which that particular person happens to embody. Perhaps it’s some inconsolable quality in that person, some unappeasable dimension that attracts one all the more forcibly’

It fascinated me, that we’d all noticed the same thing, and again I wondered how consciously the author had chosen his words.

Do any of you pause for thought, trying to come up with memorable phrases that might take on a life of their own? And, if you do, how about some examples…