Category Archives: Writing Tips

Rambles: A front end for KindleGen

For those of you going, huh? at that title, you can skip this post. The Kindle authors out there can dig in and enjoy…

Last year, I had to demonstrate to a small group of people the way to create a .mobi file. I’d been using Calibre (http://calibre-ebook.com/) for a while, but it seems like Amazon are tightening up on creating files without using KindleGen (Certainly the last time I used Calibre, the Amazon uploader kicked it back out).

The only choice was using the lousy Amazon command line KindleGen program (Seriously, what is this, 1998?). But trying to explain command lines and file paths in DOS to a group of people who had barely used a computer was really out of the question.

So I Googled and searched around for a while…and I wrote my own front end for KindleGen in .hta and VisualBasic.

Untitled

 

It’s pretty self-explanatory. Tell it where the KindleGen application is, tell it where the document is you want converting to .mobi. It takes that input, makes a compound statement and spits out the .mobi at the end in the same location as the document in the second box.

No fuss, no bother.

I really have to wonder if someone with as little coding experience as me can make something simpler than fighting your way through DOS pathways – in less than a week – why couldn’t Amazon?

Feel free to modify it as you like, but let me know if you make it all singing and dancing – I’d love to see it (Especially if someone figures out a way of adding a cover).

Download it here.

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Writing Tips: Short stories 101

I was emailing an Australian friend the other day (Anna Hub). She’s written four novels and just finished a fifth (The Ninth Hunter, well worth looking for when it comes out). But…she’s not sure where to start with short stories.

Most writers start with short stories and progress to novels, so it’s curious to see it the other way round…

“Bigger” (54 words)

“Mick? Did you hear that?” Elbows him awake.
“Wassup?”
“Something downstairs.”
“Bloody cat.”
“No. It sounded bigger.”
“Bloody dog then.”
“No! Bigger.”
“Bloody kids.”
“Bigger!”
“Bigger?”
“Yeah. Lots bigger.”
Mick purses lips. “Burglar?”
Eyes wide. “Yeah.”
“Big burglar?”
“Yeah.”
“Good.”
“Wot?”
“Then he can take the bloody cat, bloody dog and bloody kids. Goodnight!”

 …the trick with short stories is to use your reader’s knowledge of the world to your advantage. I didn’t need to say these two are in bed and asleep when the story starts; I didn’t need to say it’s most likely the middle of the night (Most burglars don’t work afternoons, after all). “Elbows him awake” takes care of all that in three words. Mick has a name, but his partner doesn’t. Trim the fat and leave what you need.

Short stories don’t need to be that short either. Technically, anything under 20,000 words is ‘a short story’, so you have a lot of room to move around in. Most of mine come to between 1500 and 3000 words, for example.

The real fun with short stories is to take what the readers assume and find a way to twist the end. So a short story about a man exploring an alien world turns out to be a robot exploring earth, for instance. Or drop in a humorous spin, like “Bigger”.

Here a great one from science fiction master of the twist and short, Frederic Brown:

“Earth was dead after the last atomic war. Nothing grew, nothing lived. The last man sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…”

Everything you need is right there. We know who the story is about, we know the world he lives in, and there’s even a hook for suspense. Twenty seven words to create a world and tell a story.

Shorter than that? Here’s a (possibly apocryphal) story from Ernest Hemingway:

“For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”

Short stories are a great way of perfecting the art of keeping the bits you don’t need out of your novels as well. Sharpen your skills on them and it will always serve you well.

Writing tips: Tony Talbot, The Brand

When I started self-publishing back in 2008, I came across an interesting concept: The writer as a brand item and marketed as such.

It seemed a little odd to me at the time, but I see the logic of it now: Your readers see very few images of you, or even better, just one. Think of McDonalds and you think of Golden Arches and wheat field yellow and red, for instance.

Quite a few years ago, Stephen King decided he wanted to sell books under a different name, for a variety of reasons. So he quietly sold books under the name Richard Bachman with minimal publicity. One book sold about ten thousand copies or so…but when he re-published the book as Stephen King, it sold an order of magnitude more. That’s the power of a writer as a brand, as a consumer item.

So all writers do it, even the big six. They all have a Facebook page, a Twitter hashtag, a YouTube channel and countless other ways of getting their name out there. We’re all waving our arms and shouting as loud as we can, after all. It helps that everywhere you go and look for us, you know what to look for.

I’ve seen this again and again from writers…they’re asked to be A Brand. To promote their books themselves as part of that brand, go on lecture tours, do readings from bits of their books, and so on. To give people a face to attach to the name.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, a few weeks ago I changed my author picture from this 2012 pic (A very hot day in Washington State):

61EZUOfoH1L._UY200_

 

…to this 2015 one (Tutbury Castle, Staffordshire)…

TT-2015

Doesn’t seem like much of a deal, does it?

But think about it again…this author picture is the virtual image I send out to the world and the one that sits on my little business cards I give out to people. What do I want it to say about me? What brand image do I want to have?

It’s a serious business when this picture is how most of my readers see me most of the time. After all, ninety-nine percent of what I am as a writer is virtual; I’m mostly just binary.

So I asked for comments on Facebook before I went with it, and someone suggested I lighten the pic, so I did that. I cropped it a little as well and I cut off my feet (Hurt like hell). The same person also commented the stones and the countryside make me look like a writer of fantasy…see what I mean about branding? I decided I could live with that though.

There are also technical considerations. How does this picture look when it’s shrunk to a thumbnail or on one of my little business cards, for instance? How does it look on a mobile device?

And there are also the number of places this picture has to be updated: Goodreads, Booklikes, Twitter, WordPress.org and WordPress.com. Facebook, Amazon US, Amazon UK. My Gravatar avatar. Two places on my website. Physically, I’m going to have to change my business cards as well.

It might look like a small matter – changing one picture to another – but even for a small writer like me, that’s a dozen or so places. If I get it wrong or change my mind, I’ll have to do all those pictures again. There are places I can’t change – reviewers who have my old picture on their site, for instance – but you do what you can with what you’ve got.

Why does it matter? Being Tony Talbot, The Brand means everywhere you find me, I look the same.

Just like McDonalds: You’ll always know what to look for.

Writing Tips: The one rule of writing I know.

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” – W. Somerset Maugham

Maybe not, but there’s one rule I have discovered…almost by accident really. It’s going to seem strange to people just starting to publish that they shouldn’t do it, but here it is:

Don’t respond to a review.

That’s it; Good or bad, do not respond to a review of your story. Ever.

Of course, the nice thing about rules is that they’re made to be broken, and I’ve broken this one a few times…but here’s the modifier: The reviews I’ve replied to are only to people I know. Don’t do it somewhere like Amazon, as tempting as that ‘Reply to this comment’ button is.

There are times and places to thank your readers for leaving reviews, and you have to pick them using some judgement.

So why not respond?

It’s a good question. You spent weeks or months (or years!) writing your beautiful story and someone doesn’t get the fuss you kept making about Sam’s dress being green. They missed the symbolism of it all, The Big Image You Had in Your Head.

Two sentences, you can clear it all up for them, right? That Reply button is looking so tempting…

But don’t.

It’s frustrating, I know. I’ve had someone leave a one star review saying a short story “Wasn’t true and was too short.” I could have pointed out that the story is A) Clearly listed as fiction, and B) Clearly listed as a short. But I didn’t, although I still have to restrain myself every time I go and check my reviews.

Console yourself with the knowledge that you did the best you could. Try harder next time, and accept that most people aren’t going to be on the same mental wavelength as you (Another reason editors and beta-readers are so useful, by the way).

It’s going to sound odd, but the minute someone reads your story, it isn’t yours anymore.

People take reading very seriously…and what they take away from the story might not be what you wanted them to take away. Get to live with that, because it’s true. I didn’t take anything away from The Road, for instance, but a damn dull time. I’m sure Cormac McCarthy had something else in mind when he wrote it.

If someone didn’t like your story, do not tell them what they missed. Do not tell them you’re the best writer since Shakespeare or Dickens. Brood over a bad review if you have to. Rend your garments and thrash about on the floor for a while.

Just don’t do it in public or to the people who left you a review.

Replies to reviewers scare them away.

I discovered this one on an Amazon board where the question What do you think of authors replying to a review? was asked.

I was quite shocked by the drift of the comments. One person said they felt as though the author was breathing over their shoulder as they read; another said they had trouble saying how much a story sucked for fear of hurting the author’s feelings, knowing they were checking in.

But they said such nice things!

This one is harder to deal with, I think, than a bad review. Someone gives you five stars and said your story made them cry. I can tell you, that feels damn good. Even better if it’s your intent. ;-).

But take the good with the bad. Go out and celebrate for a while. Come back to the good reviews when you feel like what you’re writing is Bantha Poodoo and take heart from them. But don’t reply, even to the good reviews.

Reviews – good and bad – aren’t there for you as a writer to gloat or weep over (although, of course, we do). It’s the obvious point, but I’m going to restate it anyway: A review is for readers. Remember that and stand back.

Writing Tips: Show-not-tell with dialogue

One of the things they always tell writers to do is show and not tell. “Don’t Tell Me the Moon Is Shining; Show Me the Glint of Light on Broken Glass” to paraphrase playwright Anton Chekov. Chekov was talking about describing the world, but here’s another way you can use that show-not-tell: to describe your characters using only their dialogue and body language.

It’s certainly one of my favourite ways of doing it. Here are some snips from my own Eight Mile Island:

Mum comes out onto the deck from the cabin behind me and weaves along it towards me. …

“Dylan?”

I ignore her for a minute, pretending not to hear my name until she says it louder. I turn from the waves and face her. “What?”

“You’ve got to come inside. You’ll be washed away.”

“So?”

“Please, Dylan. Don’t start. Not today.”

And these are the first word you hear Dylan say…half a page in, one surly question and you know you’re dealing with a boy with attitude and a mother helpless to do anything about it.

Neat, isn’t it? And it’s not magic or sleight of hand. We all make conscious and subconscious judgements about people we meet by the way they talk and the words they use. It’s the same for readers, and it’s something you can use – should use – in your dialogue and your character’s body language.

What I’m not talking about here, by the way, is stereotyping. Don’t bother with the gay character who talks in a high pitched voice and is flaming all of the time. Most of them don’t, and you shouldn’t either. Make it subtle, folks. One hand movement or high-pitched comment can be enough.

I wrote a story recently for an Australian competition and sent it off to a ‘Straylian friend for her input. She returned it with a comment about stereotyping an uneducated train driver and I cleaned up the dialogue. Here’s the first version:

He smiled, but it faltered and failed quickly, and he returned to gnawing his lip. “Thought so. That aftershave your wife buys you stinks somethin rotten.”

“Tom, I don’t think I’m the right person for you to be talking to right now. You need a doc.”

“Siddown, Bill. I gotta tell someone. Cops out there wouldn’t believe a word of it.”

I moved to the table and sat down opposite, looking towards the two-way mirror Tom couldn’t see. The man I am looked back at me, and that man looked scared out of his wits.

Tom leaned back as far as his bolted down chair would allow. “What did they tell ya?”

Now I fidgeted. “That you wouldn’t talk to anyone but me. That you, uh…you –”

“I killed em both, Bill. Merciful, it was. Best thing for em.”

“Uh, Tom…I really think you need a doc. For that lip, at least.”

His tongue tasted the blood and darted back into his mouth. “Let it bleed. Maybe it’ll be enough to end it.”

“Is that what you want?”

He leaned forward and his breath was foul, his body odour sweet and sickly and I retreated from it. “What I want…is for them to kill me.”

Here’s the modified version:

His nostrils flared. “That you Bill? I can smell that bloody aftershave your wife buys you.” Even though spasms racked his body, the voice was still solid.

“It’s me, mate.” I paused. “Tom, I don’t think I’m the right person to be talking to. You need a doctor.”

“Siddown, Bill. I gotta tell someone. Cops out there wouldn’t believe a word anyway.”

I sat opposite him and glanced at the two-way mirror. The man I am looked back at me, and that man looked scared out of his wits.

Tom leaned back in his bolted down chair. “What did they tell you?”

I fidgeted. “That you wouldn’t talk to anyone but me. That you, uh…you –”

“They think I killed them? Yeah, merciful if I did, I’d say. Best thing for them.”

“Uh, Tom…I really think you need a doctor. For that lip, at least.”

His tongue tasted the blood. “Let it bleed. Maybe it’ll be enough to end it.”

“Is that what you want?”

He leaned forward, his body odour sickly. “What I want…is for them to kill me. So I don’t have to dream about those women anymore.”

What I’ve done is make Tom and Bill’s dialogue slightly more formal throughout, but the whole is more than the sum of its parts. For instance,

They think I killed them? Yeah, merciful if I did, I’d say. Best thing for them.”

…instead of the more direct

“I killed em both, Bill. Merciful, it was. Best thing for em.”

You can also subvert dialogue. A good example is in John Wyndham’s Day of The Triffids. A character named Coker – working class, superficially poorly educated – sometimes pops up with words and references beyond what you would expect him to know. The main character asks him about it, and discovers that Coker found out that the better educated wouldn’t listen to him unless he spoke as if he was educated; and poorly educated people wouldn’t listen to him if he did. Sometimes he drops it for a word or two, just for effect.

Give your characters different voices and you won’t many need dialogue attributes. It’s a way to show who’s speaking and not just tell again. Here’s a phone conversation from Eight Mile Island:

“Yeah?” a rough voice speaks in my ear.

“Hello, is this Mr Yates?”

“Who the hell wants to know at this goddamn hour?”

“Uh…you don’t know me, my name is…is, uh…” I look round the kitchen and a box of cereal catches my eye. “Uh, Teddy Graham. I’m trying to contact Cassie. About a reunion we’re having at the school for former pupils.”

“What the Christ you callin me at this hour for?”

“S…sorry, I forgot about the time difference. So, anyway, if I could talk to her, maybe…?”

“Well, son, if you want to talk to her, go ahead. I got no objections to it. Why not ask her yesself?”

What?

“You mean she isn’t there?”

“No, for Gods sake, you stupid or sumthin’? She’s at the school, ain’t she?”

“Uh, yeah, sure. I misheard you, sorry.”

“Yes. Cassie is happy at the school. Doesn’t ever want to leave there. Happy there. Don’t even have to call her to check she’s all right.”

I hang up as quickly as I can make up an excuse, my legs going weak.

…because we have a good idea how Mr Yates ‘sounds’, when something odd happens at the end of this conversation, it jumps right out.

 

So, just a final exercise: How old is this character from Fidget? How did I show you without telling you?

One morning in the big school holiday, when I got up after a long sleep, I went downstairs into the kitchen. Mummy was outside, hanging the big white bed sheets out on the clothesline, and I went outside to see her, even before I had breakfast.

I ran my hands down the sheets, pretending I was a pirate and they were sails on my ship, the wind making them blow and huff. I got to the end of the clothesline and stopped. The big red flowers were in front of me off to one side, and the big trees behind them were bending with the wind. The day was bright and blue and hot on my head.

 

I hope all that helps you see how you can make your characters do the work for you when it comes to show-not-tell!

Writing tips: Remember every scar

 

“A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.” – Stephen King.

 

I was e-mailing an Antipodean writing friend the other day. I’d sent her the first page of my WIP and explaining a little where it came from, when that quote from Stephen King popped into my head.

A little backstory: The first page of my WIP has a character shoot someone. It’s a kicker of an opening, but what I was telling my friend was where it came from. I’ve never shot anyone in my life (You’ll be delighted to know), never even held a gun, loaded or otherwise. Air pistol and air rifle – shot at a few empty cans – but never a gun.

The shooting isn’t the important part, and not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about the person who did the shooting, which will – trust me on this – get me back to the quote at the top.

I have a not-seen-in-years cousin in the police. More years ago than I can date, he told me (or my dad while I was listening) that he’d had someone point a gun at him. At the time, he was as professional and calm as his training taught him. But he said after the incident, he was still shaking hours later.

So my character shoots someone, calmly and professionally, as they were taught. Then they realise what they’ve just done and the effects hit them.

Which brings me to my point (told ya!) and the quote above: Writers never forget anything.

We can, indeed, point to every scar and tell you its story. In detail.

Everything we’ve ever seen will probably end up in one of our stories somewhere; from the shop assistant who compulsively stretches her sweater cuff over her wrist (Eight Mile Island) from someone who loves rainstorms (Over the Mountain). Everything gets stored and sifted in a writers head and pulled out when we need it.

I’m very lucky in the regard that I have a pretty good memory. I do remember the most obscure occurrences years later – even if I can’t accurately date them. It’s not so useful for real life – I can’t remember how to fold bath towels for instance, which drives my wife mad every week.

But if you don’t recall things as well, then write it down. Or sketch it. Or scribble yourself a note when you come across something. Do whatever works so you remember it.

You never know when it’s going to be useful.

 

Writing Tips: Ignore that Elephant in the corner

 

Adam yawned and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, blearily taking in the empty place at the breakfast table. “Morning, mum. Where’s dad? Did he leave for work already?”

His mum didn’t turn away from the eggs she was scrambling. “We had an argument last night, so after he fell asleep, I shot him.”

Adam yawned again. “Extra butter in those eggs?”

“Of course.”

Adam poured himself some juice. “Is this orange? Did they change the ingredients?”

 

This silly piece of writing is an example of what writers call “The Elephant in the Room”.

Elephants, are of course, very hard to ignore. Unless your characters are wearing blinkers or earmuffs, having someone throw something major into your story and then not have anyone react to it is generally not a good idea.

Your character got up last night and shot someone, and all you want to know is if there’s extra butter with those scrambled eggs. At which point, your readers will start to wonder what the gubbins are you talking about, and why aren’t you talking about what’s really going on here.

Think of the facet of your story as a spotlight aimed at a darkened stage. There it is, shining away on the box on a table. The thing you want your characters to talk about is in that box – why Adam’s mother shot his father. And what are you doing? Shining your spotlight wayyyy over there, talking about scrambled eggs. Why do we care about scrambled eggs? We keep looking back at the box, no matter how hard you don’t want us to.

The other side of this, of course, is where magic and misdirection comes in. When you dim the lights to shine it on the eggs, we don’t see the stagehands swooping away the box and bringing the elephant on stage until the lights come back up – in my example, perhaps Adam pulls a gun while we look away. Then we want the characters to talk about something else, while we do some magic in the dark.

But, the thing with “EITR” is that this misdirection is never given to a reveal. In my example, no one would ever mention the shooting again. If you cut away to focus on something else, fair enough; but remember to cut back to what your readers are thinking about:

Adam yawned and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, blearily taking in the empty place at the breakfast table. “Morning, mum. Where’s dad? Did he leave for work already?”

His mum didn’t turn away from the eggs she was scrambling. “We had an argument last night, so after he fell asleep, I shot him.”

Adam yawned again. “Extra butter in those eggs?”

“Of course.”

He poured himself some juice. “So you shot dad, huh? About time.”

“I thought so too.”

If you don’t do this, you’ll have a pachyderm of problems on your hands.

Getting blood out of a stone. Or worse, a Federal bureaucracy.

This week, I got a bee in my bonnet about getting some tax back from the IRS (The US tax service). I’ve looked into it before, but it’s always been such a labyrinthine procedure, I’ve thrown my hands in the air and said “Keep the money, life is too short!”

The thing is, Amazon and Smashwords are required to keep 30% of UK royalties and send them to the IRS, even though I don’t work or earn money in the US, unless I fill out some forms.

In short, I need a US tax code so I can claim exemption against that tax code.

The research I did for this suggested I’d have to do something horrendous, like get my passport notarised or send my driving licence to Texas for eight weeks. Ugh. This is why I haven’t bothered with it before!

On Sunday, I asked around a few online friends, and I found my way to a link: (http://catherineryanhoward.com/2012/02/24/non-us-self-publisher-tax-issues-dont-need-to-be-taxing/).

I followed the ONE page of instructions last night…and Bingo! Twenty minutes on hold and falling asleep at the kitchen table and I was about to give up and re-dial when CLICK, the hold music changed and I heard a surly and bored voice say,

“HellothisisDanielmyoperatornumberis1000131717711, IRS.”

There was much creaking of his chair, sighing into the phone – I could hear every breath he took, and it wasn’t attractive. When it comes to customer service, I’d say every call centre I’ve ever been through has the edge on the IRS. He definitely gave me the impression I was taking him away from something important, like what Beyonce was tweeting or maybe picking his nose.

Anyway, he went through some basic details, mis-pronounced “Leicestershire”, then went off and got my EIN (tax) code. That was the scariest part…waiting for him to come back for ten minutes, expecting the phone to die on me or for the line to go dead and I’d have to sit there for another hour and do it all again. At least the hold music wasn’t that bad.

But, he came back on, and I have a US tax code! Result!

Next, I have to fill in another two (possibly three) forms and send them to Amazon and Smashwords. That will take a few months to sort out, but then my royalties will be tax free!

Now all I have to do is sell some books…

Do I need a webpage?

This is a little involved, but bear with me for a moment while I tell you a story. I’m good at that, so my reviewers say. 😉

I’ve been playing with the settings on my webpage recently, trying to iron out some random noisy statistics.

For those who don’t know, there are automated ‘spiders’ and ‘bots’ that index webpages for search engines. They crawl through the entire site, picking out keywords and then report back to their makers. Or something like that.

Anyway, I’ve been getting a lot of traffic from random places like China and South America, and as much as it inflates my ego to think that my fame spreads across the globe, looking closer tells me another story. There are bots and spiders out there that steal images and content from your site and eat up your bandwidth. In webpage terms, more bandwidth = more cost, and these bots can get bad enough to eat it all if you don’t stop them, with the result that the people hosting my webpage will turn it off.

I think the steps I’m taking to combat these bots are working, and when I look at my statistics for my webpage, I know by the traffic drop-off that they seemed to have stopped. And so does everyone else, for that matter: zero visitors yesterday. Compared to Facebook, which had thirty or so visits and a few people talking about me.

Another thing on my mind is that my webpage is ‘rented’ by me from a hosting company, and the renewal is up in December. It’s quite cheap, but money is money at the end of the day.

So here’s the thing: The sudden drop in statistics, the renewal thing have all got me thinking:

Do I need a webpage at all?

It’s in all the how-to-become-an-internet-successful-author books, right there at the top: Get a webpage, get on Facebook, get on Twitter, get yourself virtually out there and networking.

And the webpage is the least successful of all of those. My webpage sits there, passively, in a kind of Zen state. Nothing changes, except when I write another book (and I am!).

I could tweak it and put in a blog, download some applications to do that. But why? That’s what WordPress is for. I drop in links to where my books are sold…again, WordPress.

I could tweak it and put in a forum, do some social networking. But why? That’s what Facebook and Twitter are for.

I could drop in a secure store, but I’m happy to link back to my booksellers on Amazon and Smashwords.

So my point is that everything on my webpage I could spend weeks doing myself (or a small fortune paying someone else), I can do somewhere else. Simpler, faster, cheaper, more interactive. So why do I have a webpage? For instance, I’m posting this on two blogs – not my webpage.

Almost, the personal webpage is becoming redundant. The links on it point to other pages where people can at least interact with me – I’m having a fun debate on Facebook on making up some futuristic profanity for my work-in-progress at the minute.

I’m not planning to dump it tomorrow – for one thing, I get free email hosting tony-talbot@tony-talbot.co.uk, which I like.

I’ll keep you updated when the site comes up for renewal in December 2013. And where will that update be?

Not on my webpage, that’s for sure.

Are personal webpages irrelevant? What do you think?

My playlist…and why I have it.

Playing music when I write doesn’t always work for me. My home and my “office” are pretty quiet most of the time, apart from – to quote Belinda Carlisle – the sound of kids on the street outside.

So when I listen to music when I write, it isn’t necessarily because it’s something I want to hear anywhere else. It’s more like it’s another barrier between me and the outside world, another way of getting through the hole in the page where I write without distraction. Earphones and an MP3 player are essential…I don’t want anything to distract me once I’m in there, don’t want to pop back out of the document I’m working on and fiddle with my computer’s media player.

In a way, I can listen to anything…because there comes a point when I’m listening to it and not consciously hearing it; tracks will zip by on my MP3 and I won’t even notice when one starts and one ends until the end of the playlist.

Having said that, if I stick on Beethoven’s Ninth symphony and I’m still writing at the end of it, that’s a solid piece of work; that sucker’s 78 minutes long. I sometimes air compose towards the end, something I always do when I come across The William Tell Overture. It’s too catchy not to. (Trivia of the day: A recording of Beethoven’s Ninth was chosen as the run length of a CD).

Anyway, I have things on my MP3 I never listen to other than when I’m writing. Ten symphonies by Joseph Haydn, and one by his son Michael. Four Beethoven symphonies and 1st and 2nd piano concertos, tons of Mozart, highlights from some of his operas and a bunch of symphonies. I’ve been getting into some Salieri as well.

I tend to prefer longer pieces of classical when I’m writing, but I have some soft rock on there as well – some Queen and Belinda Carlisle (My wife pointed me towards The Go-Gos, and I’ve been having a blast with them), some Bryan Adams. A long playlist of “Late 20th Century”, 80s and 90s stuff. A long list of 50s and 60s, and The Beatles.

I think the thing for my MP3 and playlist is familiarity. I’m listening while I write because the music is familiar to me and I don’t have to focus on it. I’ve heard it a thousand times before, so it doesn’t have any surprises. There’s stuff on there I listen to when I’m not writing, but most of it…most of it is the equivalent of white noise.

And sometimes I even have to turn that off because it’s simply too distracting, and sometimes it’s too easy to get distracted rather than writing – I spent a good few hours one Saturday playing with my playlists rather than writing, for instance. I wrote my last three books without a soundtrack, but I did stick it on when I went back to editing. Book Five feels like a soundtrack novel, and so far it is. It’s early days yet.

I know some people do it for the rhythms, assigning a piece of music to each character, and that sounds like fun and something I wish I could do. You’re a better multitasker than I am if you can focus that well. For me, it’s another wall between the world and the page, and sometimes you need all the walls between you and the world outside, so you can get into the rabbit hole and fall forever.