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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Review: Opening the Creativity Diamond

Do you ever struggle with writer's block, or feel like your brain is stuck in a rut, recycling the same old tropes? Do you wish you knew some time-tested techniques to nudge your creative mind in new directions? Do you have trouble establishing (or maintaining) a consistently productive writing schedule? If so, I have something that may help.

I recently read the review copy of Opening the Creativity Diamond: The writer's guide to creative thinking by Tony Jones, which is a book designed to help writers unleash their potential. Tony Jones is a fellow indie author, blogger, and Google Plusser with "years of experience as a trainer of creative thinking tools." In his book, Mr. Jones reveals proven ways to 'jump-start' your brain, including detailed examples, puzzles, and brain teasers.

Mr. Jones explains that "I have tailored a diverse set of techniques for writers. The book contains many examples of the ideas in action along with a few exercises for the reader. There is even a chapter on writer’s block and how to work through it."

The book begins by explaining what the Creativity Diamond is, and how a writer can benefit from understanding it, while Chapter Two explores the Myers Briggs personality traits, and how you can understand your own traits and learn how they influence your creativity. From this foundation, Opening the Creativity Diamond goes on to provide creativity-generating techniques like brainstorming, anchoring, random stimulus, role-storming, and more. In general, the book defines a technique, explains how to use it, describes why it works, and offers tips for implementation.

A favorite example of mine is The Six Questions (or 5Ws and 1H): Who, What, Where, When, Why and How? Mr. Jones describes how you can use these prompts to make sure your writing is creatively providing your reader with the necessary information. Even if you don't answer all six questions in your scene, mentally addressing each will help you craft a coherent and robust narrative, and possibly provide you with fresh ideas you may have overlooked by not considering the 5Ws and 1H.

Although I've read many guides on the various components of writing, and a couple books on personality traits, I've not read a book combining the two into a creativity guide. I found found Opening the Creativity Diamond to be a short (50 pages), fun, educational read, and recommend it to any author searching for ways to maximize their creative potential.

Tony Jones has dined with royalty, supped Slings in Singapore and been taught by several Nobel Prize winners (though he could have paid more attention). He is an Indie Author, freelance writer and blogger based in the early 21st Century. Apart from his day job, he is also a lead writer for Starburst Magazine. He writes about psychology, creativity and the kind of science fiction and fantasy he liked to read in the 1970s.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Social Media: Too Much, or Not Enough?

Happy new year, everyone (better late than never)! I sincerely hope you had a wonderful holiday season and wish you all the best for 2015. As another year rolls by, I find myself assessing my efficiency and productivity. As an indie author, I still need to maintain a non-writing, full-time job, and hence, my 'free' time for creative writing related activities is at a premium.

Since I waded into the self-publishing pool in 2012, I've seen the industry expand in leaps and bounds. It seems every day there is something new to consider; websites, services, blogs, advice, social media outlets, retail sellers, and more bombard the indie author with promises of success. Yet wading through this myriad of potentially-beneficial distractions to find the most useful and efficient tools is daunting.

As a newbie, I tried everything; signed up for every social media platform, joined all the indie author sites I could find, subscribed to countless blogs, posted my e-book anywhere it could be sold, 'friended,' circled, and added every follower who asked. I splattered myself across the internet with impunity.

And now I'm tired. I spread myself too thin and have neglected my 'web presence' at so many sites, I almost feel guilty.

On Facebook, I've networked with hundreds of authors, but much fewer fans. I do have some genuine author connections and groups that keep me involved in Facebook, but my stream often reads like an endless ribbon of indie book promotions. And Facebook keeps us on our toes by changing things up on a regular basis. Am I optimizing Facebook? I doubt it. Is this failure costing me significant fans and book sales? I rather doubt that, too.

Twitter also confounds me. I have a presence, and when I tweet, I try to provide entertaining content and not to spam, but I suspect I'm not a very captivating tweeter. I get the feeling the majority of my followers are trying to sell me something. And the tweets roll in faster than I can read them. I'm aware that you can customize your Twitter feeds and make groups to filter what you see, but that effort is pretty low on my priority list right now.

I have accounts with Diaspora, Socl, and Safari (remember them?), but can't recall the last time I posted. Same with Wattpad, Literater, Authordb, and on and on. I've not tried Instagram or Tsu, and suspect they'll already be passe by the time I get around to checking them out. And I'm not suggesting there is anything lacking with any of these sites; they all have merit and are interesting in their own ways. Short of mass-spamming (which I loathe to do), I just don't have enough time to regularly participate in all of them.

So that's a lot of complaining, right? Well, I did save the best for last. Though I'm no more than an infrequent lurker on the Amazon and Smashwords boards, I have found them consistently useful as a resource, with friendly, informed people willing to share ideas and information. But they're still not in the top three in my batting order.

Personally, the social media-style platforms I find the most rewarding are Google Plus (G+), Pinterest and Goodreads. I'm not implying my presence on these outlets is selling more books or providing me the most exposure (or that they're any better than other sites), rather that I feel my time is better spent there.

I'll start with Google Plus, which most resembles Facebook in functionality. I find the writing communities I've joined on G+ are more responsive, specialized, and interactive than what I've found on Facebook. I also find G+ much less 'spammy' than Facebook, with not as many 'promotional' posts (or maybe it's easier to filter these out on G+). Whatever the reason, in general, my interactions with people on G+ are more productive and personal when compared to those on Facebook.

I find Pinterest beneficial because it allows me to save, organize, and share interesting content I find online. Just by making boards of things I enjoy and use as personal resources (for writing, inspiration, creativity, etc.) and adding a visual association to my book(s), I've built a decent following without even trying. I think of it as having public bookmarks identified by pictures.

Goodreads is a juggernaut in its own right, and since being acquired by Amazon, an indie author has no excuse not to have a presence on Goodreads. The community is huge and helpful, with a myriad of groups, and Goodreads provides many author tools and opportunities to meet like-minded readers.

Figuring out what works for your writing career versus what you enjoy is tricky. My advice is to invest your time into the platforms you enjoy, and do the best you can while you're there. At the end of the day, the choice on how you spend your free time is yours. As always, I'm interested in hearing what others think, so please share.

Author update: Mirrors & Mist is in the hands of my last few beta readers, and I am addressing the beta comments as I receive them. Still on track for a March release. A special thanks to all my beta readers, who are invaluable and do a wonderful job!

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