Can the Working Writer Be an Artist?

Every four seconds, someone buys a novel by Lee Child, author of the popular Jack Reacher series. That’s 15 books every minute; 900 every hour; 21,600 every day.

University of Cambridge lecturer Andy Martin’s new book, Reacher Said Nothingfollows Child throughout the writing of Make Methe 20th of Child’s Jack Reacher blockbuster novels, providing Child’s fans and anyone with an interest in the creative process with unprecedented access to the writer at work.

The part of Martin’s book that most interested me was the copy of Child’s schedule for one writing day:

7:45 Up, straight to work
Coffee 3 (mugs)
Camels 3

9:28 Breakfast. Sugar Smacks

9:35 Back to work
Coffee 3
Camels 5

1:29 Lunch
Toast and marmalade and cheese (Swiss)
Coffee 2
New Yorkers 1

1:55 Back to work
Coffee 5
Camels 7

7:01 Dinner
Alpen cereal
Coffee 2
Camels 4

7:35 Evening shift
Coffee 4
Camels 7

10:20 Shut down

Total number of words in the day: 2,173

Total mugs of coffee: 19

Total Camels: 26

I was fascinated not just because of the daunting amount of coffee and tobacco Child takes in every day, but because this rigorous accounting of his writing day reminded me of a similar account given by Anthony Trollope in his autobiography in 1883. Trollope reported that he sat down to write every morning at 5:30. (He paid a servant an extra £5 annually to be sure that he was awakened on time.) He then wrote for three hours, after which he left to go to his job at the post office. Trollope records that it was his practice “to write with my watch before me, and to require from myself 250 words every quarter of an hour. I have found that the 250 words have been forthcoming as regularly as my watch went.”

Writing at this rate, he found, “allowed me to produce over ten pages of an ordinary novel volume a day, and if kept up through ten months, would have given as its results three novels of three volumes each in the year… which must at any rate be felt to be quite as much as the novel-readers of the world can want from the hands of one man.”

The autobiography closes with the Victorian equivalent of a spreadsheet recording the titles of Trollope’s novels, their publication dates, and the amount he was paid for each one.

Trollope’s autobiography came close to killing his literary legacy.

Unlike Child’s readers — cheerful purchasers of genre fiction who are thrilled to have new novels produced as rapidly as they can be consumed — Trollope’s readers, and the critics who weigh his fitness as a “real writer,” were not content to think of writing as a job and novels as a product of work. They had been trained by the Romantic movement to think of writing as a mysterious, spiritual experience where one is overtaken by inspiration.

The English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley gives probably the best example of that Romantic theory of creativity in his 1821 Defense of Poetry. While he writes specifically about poetry in that book, this same theory would have been applied to novels, paintings, drama, and nearly any creative endeavor of the time.

A man cannot say, “I will compose poetry.” The greatest poet even cannot say it; for the mind in creation is as a fading coal, which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness; this power arises from within, like the color of a flower which fades and changes as it is developed, and the conscious portions of our natures are unprophetic either of its approach or its departure.… I appeal to the greatest poets of the present day, whether it is not an error to assert that the finest passages of poetry are produced by labor and study.

Writing, for the Romantics, was not a matter of sitting down at a writing desk at a particular time and not getting up until the day’s work was complete. The Romantics waited for inspiration.

And so when Anthony Trollope listed his daily schedule, the Romantics and the critics who loved them dismissed him completely.

It did not help that Trollope noted,

I do lay claim to whatever merit should be accorded to me for persevering diligence in my profession. And I make the claim, not with a view to my own glory, but for the benefit of those who may read these pages, and when young may intend to follow the same career. Nulla dies sine lineâ [Not a day without a line]. Let that be their motto. And let their work be to them as is his common work to the common labourer. 

Now, a little more than 130 years later, Lee Child is joining Trollope in sharing his less-than-romantic writing process with the world. I strongly suspect that he will respond to any critique of his productivity with, “Millionaire, don’t care,” but I suspect nearly as strongly that there won’t be such a critique.

Child is already firmly fixed in the minds of critics as a genre novelist — which means he is less subject to critical snark. But also, we are no longer shocked to hear that writers follow 18th-century English writer Samuel Johnson’s advice: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”

Indeed, lately readers are far more likely to excoriate their favorite writers for not producing new works fast enough. I think Trollope might have enjoyed that.

I know he would have been at his desk at 5:30 tomorrow morning, writing. I suspect Lee Child will be as well. After all, there’s work to do.

Note:

This is Trollope’s accounting of his novels and what each one earned:


(Written by Sarah Skwire) Published under Creative Commons. Attributed to Foundation for Economic Freedom.

5 Common Blog Writing Mistakes

Catching a person’s attention with the written word is becoming increasingly difficult in a world filled with visual, easy to access content. The competitive world of vlogging has flooded the space where writers once dominated in their preferred format.

But fear not. Craft your articles carefully and audiences will engage. Just be sure to avoid these five pesky mistakes that turn readers off and apply some of these rules.

EASILY CONFUSed WORDS

This is perhaps somewhat obvious to most, and seasoned writers wonder why those who mix the “Its” with the “It’s” continue to write—but you have to start somewhere.

Even for those who have written and published near on a decade or two, the occasional slip up occurs late at night.

The solution? Proofread and edit – after you’ve walked away from the piece. Give yourself a breather, go for lunch, take a nap, or indulge in some exercise before returning to the laptop to look for the obvious ones:

Its is the possessive of “it.”

It’s means it is.

There refers to location.

Their refers to possession.

They’re means they are.

Your is the possessive of “you.”

You’re means you are.

Effect (noun) means the effect experienced by an action.

Affect (verb) means the action that caused the effect experienced.

MISPLACING THE COMMA

To comma or not to comma, that is the question. When do we use it? Do we overuse it? Do we forget to use it? Do we ignore it?

Here are a few basic rules to keep your commas in place:

Rule 1: Use commas before “and”, “but”, “yet”, “so” and “or.”

The interior of a modern car is relatively quiet, but it is not soundproof.
Human existence depends on food and companionship, and these two factors are closely inter-related.

Rule 2: Always use a comma after an introductory phrase.

By 1803, Sydney had a regular produce market.

Rule 3: Use commas to set off phrases without changing the meaning.

Being a fast reader, she completed the test in the allotted time.

Rule 4: Use the comma between 2 or more coordinate adjectives.

The helicopter, with its spotlight, circled above.

Rule 5: Use the Oxford comma before the coordinating conjunction in a series of three or more items where there is a relation between words or groups of words.

Gerry is a handsome, brave, and kind man.

Mixing Tenses

Check the tense used in your work and ensure it’s consistent throughout. Using passive voice contributes to these problems.

Past tense: Lost, stole, threw, worn, won, written.  

Present tense: Losing, stealing, throwing, wear, win, write.

LACK OF ORGANIZATION

Writing is about pinning ideas down in a logical and well-connected format. The audience shouldn’t require a degree to unravel your thoughts, no matter the subject. Make it concise by using these basic rules while keeping word economy in mind:

Have you:

Introduced the topic?

Clarified the paragraph’s intention?

Checked for transitions?

Employed word economy?

Create an Outline: List, question, and map out the chosen topic. Have a firm introduction, body and conclusion.

List each paragraph’s intention: Map out where you want to take the paragraph. Stick to one topic per paragraph and treat it as its own story.

Check for transitions: Does each paragraph flow logically to the next one? Check for topic sentences at the beginning of paragraphs, construct your thesis, and employ an overall ease of transition.

Word economy: Cluttered, lengthy sentences tend to lose the reader and engage in passive voice. Try a minimal approach. Use one word where you’ve used three, and keep it simple. No one likes a showoff.

PASSIVE VOICE

Every writer has an Achilles heel and the passive voice used to be mine.

Active voice: A passing yacht rescued the survivors.

Passive voice: The survivors were rescued by a passing yacht.

Past and present tense plays a huge role in how passive voice plays out, but it can be sneaky too.  Worthy of an entire book, here are a few rules to avoid passive voice.

Eliminate “to be” and avoid lengthy, inflated sentences.

Use active verbs like must deliver verses the passive must be delivered, or he writes versus he had written.

The active voice does something, while the passive voice indicates the subject undergoing an action.

Chances are, if you’ve blundered on these mistakes more than once in an article, a savvy reader will unlikely return.


This article is a free and open source. You have permission to republish (5 Common Blog Writing Mistakes) under a Creative Commons license with attribution to TS Books

7 Tips for Millennials Who Want to Write a Book

Every generation faces unique challenges, especially now in the publishing space.

(Written by Remso W. Martinez)

I know many people who want to write a book, and that’s where it ends. They want to write a book, but they either don’t put in the work to turn this dream into a reality, or they give up somewhere along the process. This is a constant problem in the publishing world, but millennials are uniquely advantaged to become the generation that publishes more books than any other in human history.

The ability to research, the tools to write, and the resources to publish and build a brand are more accessible now than at any other point in history. So what is in our way? What unique obstacles will potential writers encounter that can either harm them or help them?

study from 2016 tells us what we already know: Millennials are distracted by their phones. They are distracted in the classroom, behind the wheel, and are even replacing face-to-face communication with a screen out of pure convenience. I’m not here to bash phones—ultimately, humans are choosing to enable these behaviors, and phones are just the outlets.

If you want to commit to something as hefty as writing a book, you need to place limits on yourself and build some personal discipline.

Trust me, your phone won’t walk off, and the world won’t end if you ignore Facebook and Twitter for at least an hour.

This means putting the phone away, disconnecting from the internet on your laptop if you have to, and dedicating a consistent block of time to writing your draft. Your only thoughts and focus should be on your manuscript.

Trust me, your phone won’t walk off, and the world won’t end if you ignore Facebook and Twitter for at least an hour.

The internet is a beautiful monstrosity and a terrifying masterpiece, and we are the first generation to be completely fluent in it. From online masterclasses to YouTube tutorials, writing cooperatives, and tools to help you while you are actively writing, there is no question or challenge you could face that someone hasn’t encountered—and overcome—that hasn’t already been addressed.

Also, for non-fiction works and even research, the ability to contact subject matter experts, witnesses, and other key people necessary for you to get the full picture is as easy as a click of a button. Your ability to craft a well-rounded, thorough book isn’t just possible—it’s real, it’s easy, and it’s as accessible as making a quick search on your phone.

Having a body of existing work isn’t just needed to convince publishers you are serious; it’s also necessary in order to convince your readers you are actually someone worth listening to. You don’t need much to earn some credibility; you just need to show readers that you were contributing to your field prior to writing this book. There are plenty of blogs, outlets, and opportunities for even “Letters to the Editor” where you can get published. Even if you have to start your own blog, podcast, or website, anything is better than nothing.

The same principles apply to fiction, too. Have you published fan fiction on a forum? Have you entered a short story contest? Do you blog about a television show or a comic book series? Everything adds up and is necessary for long term success. This will help you when you need to find an audience to market your book, too.

Don’t write like you text or talk to your friends. Period.

I hear from professors and editors all the time that well-intentioned people will use shortcuts as they write. “JK” and “LOL” don’t have a place in your book unless you’re writing dialogue. Discussions of new websites, apps, and technology are always going to be alien to some people despite their age. When writing, even for a targeted audience that might understand your professional vernacular, you have to assume your reader knows nothing.

Using discretion, you might need to explain what TikTok is. (I’m 24, and I still don’t understand TikTok, so do me a favor and explain it.)

This isn’t a problem just for millennials; all generations talk a different “jive” so to speak, so keep this in mind regardless of whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction.

The broke millennial stereotype isn’t even that; it’s a part of reality for many of us. Specifically, if you are self-publishing, you’re going to have to pay for editing (multiple times), copyright, cover art, marketing, and all the other random expenses that always seem to take more cash from your wallet.

Your readers and customers don’t care about your life circumstances. They want a quality book, just like you would expect if you were buying one.

I worked as a mall cop just so I could funnel that money back into my book, so you can easily drive for Uber or even curb your spending. Besides, if you hustle, you could potentially make that money back and eventually walk away with a profit.

Understand that age discrimination is a real thing, and being in your twenties and writing a book looks more like an unrealistic passion project than something that will result in a final project. Now is your time to prove this perception wrong.

There are plenty of outlets and organizations that want to boast about having the next intelligent, fresh face who can be the future of their field. Sometimes it may be patronizing, but as anyone in business or even Hollywood will tell you, if you got it, work it.

Don’t do anything you’ll regret years from now just to make a quick but or get five minutes of attention, though this is easier said than done in hindsight. Seek counsel, look to others in your field, and remember that once you publish a book, you are a public figure. How you push your product reflects on you, and how you carry yourself reflects on your product, too.


Published under Creative Commons. Attributed to Foundation for Economic Freedom.

Struggling as an Author? Success Depends on Marketing More than Words

Publishing in a world today, where the market is saturated by wannabes and talent, is growing increasingly difficult. Navigating your way around the industry has never been more difficult, contrary to all the self-help blogs out there.

Instead, the contemporary publishing industry is a diverse environment of complex trade sector trends and arising challenges, something that most self-published authors struggle to grasp. Despite this, the author as publisher must consider marketing trends and professional networks if any moderate amount of success is to be achieved. How these networks and practices influence the role of marketing (one of the single most important strategies to guarantee author success), coupled with the author’s role in promoting the book, and how product placement sees the book into the hands of a ‘gatekeepers’ will inevitably determine success.

It’s a long-winded process, with no short cuts available. What was once an industry of traditional printing, publishing, and bookselling, straightforward in its procedures, is now a series of complex relationships interdependent with one another—and difficult to negotiate.

Vying for market and customers in an exceedingly competitive industry equates no longer to the publishing industry being a ‘straight-forward’ author-publisher-distributor relationship. The new trends and challenges are unprecedented, and with price wars between billion-dollar franchises like Amazon, Kmart and Walmart selling books below cost to entice customers through doors, the logistics of publishing an author to success are becoming increasingly challenging.

Once Upon A Time…

The contemporary publishing industry trends traditionally relied on several interwoven industries, but with the event of technology, some of these are changing. Publishing is and has only ever been one part of the complex relationship (though integral) of producing a text, whereas printing, the logistics of marketing, distributing and bookselling—whether digital or in bricks and mortar stores—and the authoring of the book also play crucial roles in the success of publishing.

The publishing world has long engaged with agents, proof-readers, editors, and marketers, as well as sales representatives, illustrators, and publicists, but not until recently has the industry directly engaged with its consumers to survive. A move driven largely by independent publishing.

The importance of the publishing companies’ engagement with the consumer—and this includes the self-published multitasking author who dons the publishing and marketing hats—is vital for success. By treating the publisher as the gatekeepers to young readers, librarian Karys McEwen stresses that marketing is vital for generating genuine interest, and influences the type of book purchased for the high school libraries she works in.

Ventura Press publisher Jane Curry agrees that marketing is the crux of the industry. The publishing business exists purely to make a profit. The bigger you are as a publisher the more likely profits are made.

It is a common theme within the industry no matter who you are. The contemporary publishing industry now pushes the smaller and medium-sized publishers into increasingly niche markets, to compete against global giants like Penguin Random House and Hachette. Only the most switched on independent publishers succeed.

The book selling industry is depressing. It isn’t for the faint-hearted, and sometimes talent simply doesn’t count as much as the marketing.

However, it isn’t all bad news for the author. The development of new media flooding the market has a silver lining, explains editors Anabel Pandiella and Tom Saras. They highlight how professional networks are reliant on collaborations which result from new media, and how streaming platforms and well-placed entertainment magazines enhance this. Reflecting on their collaboration with Who magazine to “host book clubs for Who readers”, Saras saw an increase of author’s sales. Pandiella, who promoted a novel by partnering with an SBS streaming platform, also saw an increase of up to 30 percent in author’s sales. Professional book publishing networks are essential for success.

However, in the current climate of self-publishing—a result of publishing due largely to discontent in earnings and the inability to secure a publishing contract—presents the question of what remains of the role of the author?

Tasked to doing most of the work themselves, the evolution of large-scale self-publishing has changed the face of the author’s role in publishing, even in a traditional setting with a publisher. Editing, marketing, and the author’s ability to maintain their own webpages, and other digital promotion is now commonplace for authors of any fashion. The alternative self-publishing mode has created a publisher’s requirement that an author must have some proof of ‘membership’ within the literary community through these tools and networking, even if it is minimal.

The role of the author in marketing is crucial to the success of sales. The author’s “genuine” involvement with their books when marketing on social media platforms, attributes some publishing success to the author’s display of authenticity for the public to identify with. This becomes more important if what Pandiella suggests is occurring with notable consumer interest dropping away from the Internet and digital marketing.

The saturation of digital marketing creates a difficult online environment for marketers and publicists to negotiate; suggesting the importance of a ‘personable’ author to boost revenues via social capable—an approachable author online and off. The crucial role of publishers—large and independent ones—in promotional capacity is essential.

The author’s role is to maintain the professional networks within the publishing industry and to maintain them in a rapidly evolving publishing environment.

The 4 Pillars of Good Writing

How to “deschool” your writing.

Which hard skill do recent college grads lack the most? In 2016, PayScale.com asked employers this question. The top response was “writing proficiency.”

Wow. Our education system teaches few practical skills, but it does emphasize writing. So what gives? Incompetent teachers? Unteachable students?

Actually, the problem for many college graduates is having absorbed their academic training all too well. The challenge for them is to unlearn the bad writing habits picked up from 16-plus years of school.

Doing so takes the right approach, but it also takes work. An article can’t teach you good writing. At best, it can teach you how to teach yourself to write well. So, I won’t offer much style advice. Instead, I’ll explain the mentalities and practices that are most fundamental for becoming a good writer, and that are also most missing among young writers, as I’ve found as an editor and writing coach.

As a student writer, your job was to perform according to specifications. A successful essay was one that jumped through the right hoops as defined by the assignment requirements and grading rubrics. It also demonstrated that you had done the reading and attended the lectures.

Real-world audiences are looking for a good experience, not a “correct” performance.

But as a real-world writer, you’re now in the experience business. Your job is to show your readers a good time: to intrigue and inspire, to enlighten and engross, to please and provoke. You’re a dealer in fascinating ideas and satisfying arguments, a purveyor of a-ha moments and epiphanies.

Now you’re writing for readers, not graders. Real-world audiences are looking for a good experience, not a “correct” performance.

But to offer a good experience, you must be able to recognize one. Every good chef is to some extent a connoisseur. Similarly, to be a good writer, you need to be a discriminating reader. To produce quality writing, you must be able to appreciate it when you read it and to distinguish it from mediocre or poor writing.

How does one become a connoisseur of food? Through practice: eating a lot of dishes, especially delicious ones. How does one become a connoisseur of words? Again, through practice: reading a lot of books and articles, especially ones you love. To be a good writer, you need to be an avid reader.

I myself only blossomed as a writer after I rediscovered my long-lost love of reading.

College students read a lot. Why doesn’t that make them good writers? The problem here is that it is mostly compulsory. There is no space to seek and discover what kind of reading experiences you love if all your reading time is taken up with stuff you are assigned. You cannot make someone a connoisseur by force-feeding them.

Your reading diet needs to be voluntary if it is going to help you figure out the kind of writing you love. Find a topic you are curious about, look for some well-reviewed titles on Amazon, and dive in.

I myself only blossomed as a writer after I rediscovered my long-lost love of reading. And that only happened after I graduated from college and was no longer tied down to a syllabus.

It was only after being able to recognize excellent history writing that I was able to produce it myself.

My first post-grad reading love affair was with books about history. I became obsessed with learning the story of human civilization, from ancient Mesopotamia to the present. Through pursuing this passion, I developed a discriminating taste for history writing.

Later, I started writing historical vignettes of my own. These were published on a major website and garnered admiring comments from readers. This was my debut as a published writer.

It was only after being able to recognize excellent history writing that I was able to produce it myself.

In your first draft, when you are initially hammering out your sentences, good taste will be of some help. But where it really makes a difference is in self-editing.

Be picky with your own prose. Demand quality. Now that you know what you like, go back and edit your own writing until you enjoy reading it: ideally until you love it.

Take as many editing passes as needed to carve the piece into something you’re proud of.

Rearrange sections to ensure a logical flow. Reword awkward phrases. Add creative flourishes, like a vivid metaphor or a delightful turn of phrase. Make the wording musical to your mind’s ear. Tweak and fine-tune. Take as many editing passes as needed to carve the piece into something you’re proud of.

Above all, prune. If you’ve recently graduated from college, your writing is probably way too wordy. Minimum word counts have trained you to pad your prose.

Here’s a worthwhile exercise: next time you write something, try cutting its word count in half. Comb through every passage and ruthlessly delete anything that doesn’t clearly contribute value to the piece.

Is that paragraph a digression? Remove it. Would your meaning be clear without that adverb? Zap it. All that verbal foliage will only drag the reading experience down. Once you trim it away, your piece will be much more brisk and enjoyable.

The more frequently you write, the faster you’ll improve as a writer.

No amount of tips and tricks will make you a good writer. It is not a matter of adopting the right formula or following an expert’s dos and don’ts. Ultimately, it’s up to you to teach yourself how to write well through experience and self-evaluation. Most best practices can only be learned through actual practice.

And as with any form of training, you have to get your reps in. The more frequently you write, the faster you’ll improve as a writer. Start a blog with Medium.com or WordPress.com. Challenge yourself to write and click publish every day for a month.

Share your posts on social media. Occasionally review your older posts and notice how your writing has evolved. Identify flaws that seem to be persisting or virtues that seem to be missing. Push yourself to improve every week. If you do that for a month, you are certain to be a much better writer than when you began.

Why not start today?

Reprinted from the Praxis blog.

Dan Sanchez
Dan Sanchez

Dan Sanchez is the Director of Content at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and the editor of FEE.org.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

The Dystopian Novel that Foresaw the Nightmares of Socialism

By Bryan Caplan

Decades before the socialists gained power, Eugene Richter saw the writing on the wall.

In the mid-nineteenth century, a new political movement arose: socialism. Germany was its epicenter. The German Karl Marx was its leading thinker, and the Social Democratic Party of Germany its leading organization. The socialists denounced capitalist inequality and argued that the obvious solution was government ownership of the means of production.

From the outset, many questioned the practicality of the socialists’ solution. After you equalize incomes, who will take out the garbage? Yet almost no one questioned the socialists’ idealism. By 1961, however, the descendants of the radical wing of the Social Democratic Party had built the Berlin Wall—and were shooting anyone who tried to flee their “workers’ paradise.” A movement founded to liberate the worker turned its guns on the very people it vowed to save.

Who could have foreseen such a mythic transformation? Out of all the critics of socialism, one stands out as uniquely prescient: Eugene Richter (1838–1906).[1] During the last decades of the nineteenth century, he was the leading libertarian in the German Reichstag, as well as the chief editor of the Freisinnige Zeitung. Seventy years before the Wall, Richter’s dystopian novel, Pictures of the Socialistic Future, boldly predicted that victorious German socialism would inspire a mass exodus—and that the socialists would respond by banning emigration, and punishing violators with deadly force.

The mass exodus:

Useful people, and people who had really learnt something, went away in ever-increasing numbers to Switzerland, to England, to America, in which countries Socialism has not succeeded in getting itself established. Architects, engineers, chemists, doctors, teachers, managers of works and mills, and all kinds of skilled workmen, emigrated in shoals. The main cause of this would appear to be a certain exaltation of mind which is greatly to be regretted. These people imagine themselves to be something better, and they cannot bear the thought of getting only the same guerdon as the simple honest day laborer.

The emigration ban:

A decree has been issued against all emigration without the permission of the authorities.… Old persons who are beyond work, and infants, are at liberty to go away, but the right to emigrate cannot be conceded to robust people who are under obligations to the State for their education and culture, so long as they are of working age.

The deadly force:

Under these circumstances the Government is to be commended for stringently carrying out its measures to prevent emigration. In order to do so all the more effectually, it has been deemed expedient to send strong bodies of troops to the frontiers, and to the seaport towns. The frontiers towards Switzerland have received especial attention from the authorities. It is announced that the standing army will be increased by many battalions of infantry and squadrons of cavalry. The frontier patrols have strict instructions to unceremoniously shoot down all fugitives.

Lord Acton and F.A. Hayek have inspired the two most popular explanations for the crimes of actually existing socialism. While Acton never lived to see socialists gain power, their behavior seems to perfectly illustrate his aphorism that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”[2] For all their idealism, even socialists will do bad things if left unchecked. Hayek, with the benefit of hindsight, suggested a slightly different explanation: under socialism, “the worst get on top.”[3] On this theory, the idealistic founders of socialism were gradually pushed out by brutal cynics as their movement’s power increased.

Richter’s novel advances a very different explanation for socialism’s “moral decay”: the movement was born bad. While the early socialists were indeed “idealists,” their ideal was totalitarianism. Their overriding goals were to engineer a new society and a New Socialist Man. If this meant treating workers like slaves—depriving them of the freedom to choose their occupation or location, forbidding them to quit, splitting up families without their consent, and imposing draconian punishments on malcontents—so be it.

Richter admittedly presents some of the socialists’ uglier policies—increased work hours, stringent rationing, massive military spending, corporal punishment—as slippery-slope responses to deteriorating conditions. But many of their worst offenses happen early in the novel, and Mr. Schmidt, the book’s socialist narrator, happily supports them. In chapter 6, workers lose the freedom to choose their line of work. Schmidt’s reaction:

What has the Government to do in order to bring their scheme for organizing production and consumption into some sort of harmony with the entries made by the people? Should Government attempt a settlement by fixing a lower rate of wages for those branches which showed any over-crowding, and a higher rate for those labors which were not so coveted? This would be a subversion of the fundamental principles of Socialism.

In chapter 7, the government imposes internal passports to prevent farmers from moving to the greater comfort of the city. Schmidt’s reaction:

It would unquestionably have been better if those regulations which have only just been issued had been issued at the very first. According to these regulations no one can now temporarily leave his place of residence without first providing himself with a leave-of-absence ticket; and no one can make a permanent removal without receiving such directions from higher quarters.

In chapter 15, long before conditions become desperate, socialist Germany bans emigration—and threatens fugitives with death. Schmidt’s reaction:

Socialism is founded upon the principle that it is the duty of all persons alike to labor, just as under the old regime the duty to become a soldier was a universally recognized one. And just as in the old days young men who were ripe for military service were never allowed to emigrate without authority, so can our Government similarly not permit the emigration from our shores of such persons as are of the right age to labor.

What inspired Richter to make these grim—yet uncannily accurate—predictions about the “socialistic future”? The most plausible hypothesis is that Richter personally knew the leading socialists from the German Reichstag, and saw them for what they were.[4] I submit that he repeatedly peppered the socialists with unpleasant hypotheticals, from “Under socialism, who will take out the garbage?” to “What will you do if skilled workers flee the country?” When socialist politicians responded with hysteria and evasion, Richter drew the natural inference: “If this is how these ‘idealists’ deal with critical questions before they have power, just imagine how they’ll deal with critical actions after they have power!” As Richter’s proxy explains in the novel’s climactic speech,

In endeavoring to get rid of the disadvantages of the socialistic method of manufacture, you place such restrictions on the freedom of the person, and of commerce, that you turn Germany into one gigantic prison.… To those in jail there was, at least, the possibility of an act of pardon, which might some day open a path to liberty, even to those who had been condemned to life-long imprisonment. But those who are handed over to your socialistic prison are sentenced for life without hope of escape; the only escape thence is suicide.

Despite their intuitive appeal, the Actonian “power corrupts” and Hayekian “worst get on top” theories of socialist moral decay seem inferior to Richter’s “born bad” account. Power does indeed lead politicians to betray their ideals, but from the standpoint of nineteenth-century socialism, the real “sellouts” were the moderate Social Democrats who gradually made peace with the capitalist system. The worst do indeed get on top in totalitarian regimes. But if the early socialists had not intellectually justified extreme brutality, their movement probably wouldn’t have attracted the many sadists and sociopaths who came to run it. Only the Richterian theory can readily explain why the most devoted surviving child of German socialism grew up to be the prison state of East Germany: self-righteous brutality was the purists’ plan all along.

Decades before the socialists gained power, Eugene Richter saw the writing on the wall. The great tragedy of the twentieth century is that the world had to learn about totalitarian socialism from bitter experience, instead of Richter’s inspired novel. Many failed to see the truth until the Berlin Wall went up. By then, alas, it was too late.


[1] For excellent discussions of Richter’s life, thought, and influence, see Ralph Raico, “Eugen Richter and Late German Manchester Liberalism: A Reevaluation,” Review of Austrian Economics 4 (1990): pp. 3–25, and Ralph Raico, “Authentic German Liberalism of the 19th Century,” Mises Daily (2005).

[2] Acton-Creighton Correspondence, Letter 1.

[3] F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), pp. 148–67.

[4] Bismarck’s Anti-Socialist Laws (1878–90) made life difficult for the Social Democratic Party of Germany, but never imposed an outright ban. The party bottomed out at nine seats in the Reichstag in 1878—and jumped up to thirty-five in 1890 when the Anti-Socialist Laws lapsed.


Published under Creative Commons. Attributed to Foundation for Economic Freedom

40 Ways to Exploit Facial Expressions in Your Writing

writing facial expressions

You’ve finally finished your first draft of the next magnificent, ground breaking novel. Give yourself some credit and congratulate yourself. Authoring a book isn’t for the faint-hearted, and it’s a task most people never achieve.

Unfortunately, getting the story down on the proverbial piece of paper is only half the battle. Your first draft will be crap—there’s no getting around it. And that’s okay. But it means your WIP requires a lot of editing, much re-reading, and a lot of dust collecting as it sits in a drawer for weeks to bake—you need to do this for a fresh editorial perspective.

If you’re doing the right thing by your work (and yourself as a writer), the time spent away from your completed draft is time you’ll spend researching. You’ll need to research basics like do I really capitalize that noun or not; what makes a verb an adverb; the oxford comma placement; and general narrative structure.

But most of all, you’ll want to scrutinize your writing faults.

THE EYES/BROWSMOUTH GESTURESFACIAL EXPRESSIONSTHE SKIN
He winkedHer jaw droppedHer expression dulledHer face flushed
Lines etched his browHis smile fadedHe scowledHe paled
Tears filled her eyesHis jaw clenchedShe cocked her headExcessive makeup
The lack of eye contactShe smiled half-heartedlyThe smile reached his eyesBeads of sweat formed on his face
He closed his eyes and sighedHe gave a Cheshire Cat grinHer puffy faceThe smile dimpled his skin

More common than not is the writer’s habit of conveying dull facial expressions for their characters. “He looked/she looked” isn’t satisfactory, I’m afraid. The odd raise of the eyebrow is okay, but it’s not telling me a lot about yourself other than you’re reading this with a slight pang of curiosity.

I want to read about scepticism, vindictiveness or anger, and have it used as a solid dialogue tag or descriptor for a larger scene. Show me the traits, their temperament, and their fears.

Make your characters human.

To catch and hold a reader’s attention, your characters need to experience the life you’ve placed them in. Show their embarrassment with the crimson colour of their skin. Did their face harden as a result? Did recognition dawn on their face as terror overtook their fleeting glance, while their side-kick’s face contorted and twisted in terror?

Or maybe their face simply went blank. [insert crickets chirping].

HAPPINESSHOSTILITYFEARSHAME
Broad smileVein throbbed in neckShaky smileBiting of lip
WhistlingSnarlingBlinking rapidlySwallowing hard
Sparkling eyesSideways glanceDarting glanceSweating
WinkingFlared nostrilsPale featuresGlancing away
LaughterSneeringTrembling featuresDownward gaze

Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick and Stephen King are masters of character expression (and great reads). Study the greats while you distance yourself from your draft. Get a fresh perspective for when you do your first line-by-line edit.

And remember, context is crucial for conveying expression; and writing is far from easy.

So, if you want your audience’s nose to flare with anticipation and not bore them with two-dimensional nonsense, then clench your jaw, nibble on your bottom lip and look heavenward as you contemplate the descriptors for your editing kick start.

A Beautiful Mess

The world of words is a scary place when laid on a platter for everyone to feast upon. Not only that, it’s unglamorous, lonely, and equates to a low level of pay for the rate of hours put in. Too much coffee is consumed, marriages end in divorce, and your kids end up in a strange haze of detesting you as they honestly sing your praises.

Sitting here at my desk, late at night, a single kind of co-parent – the kids are in bed and I’ve just hit the 31 thousand word limit I’ve set for myself this month – I’m contemplating a crossroad.

I’m surrounded in a chaos of books, strewn papers and incense; I love what I see. There’s a world map angled on the wall, two cats curled by the fire, and the candlelight flickers as I write. For two months I have confined myself to my desk, tasting for the first time the life of an uninterrupted writer. It is bliss.

In around 56 hours that two-month bliss will abruptly end. I am to return to the mundane; and although I can afford to live off my writing alone, I choose for the moment to return. I’ve never been good with uncertainty – growing up in poverty has that effect – but really, if I’m honest, it’s only in the last two weeks, you see, that I’ve accepted myself as a writer.

For three years I have been a paid writer, and technically if you count my first royalty cheque from Amazon, that takes me back seven years. But it’s only now that I can accept it as truth. And I ask why?

At the newly hit age of 40, maybe I’m having a midlife crisis. Or maybe I’ve just realised that if I’m on a good wicket, judging by maternal genetics, I’m already halfway through my ‘young’ life. That I’ve only realised it’s okay to be a ‘paid’ writer may have something to do with me opting for the misery that is ‘real’ and stressful work.

I’ve given myself a set deadline to resign from the ‘other’ soul-draining job. I think by then I can come to terms with the fact that no matter how much I beg myself, I will always . . . be . . . a writer.

Copyright © 2019

Diary of a Dystopian Writer

Dear Diary,

We’re strange creatures. We lock ourselves away, isolated from the real world, yet go a million miles per hour, delving into the pretend one. Rarely does the wordsmith receive understanding from the outside; only acceptance, tolerance . . . and the obligatory: but they’re a writer, as though it explains the obvious.

Writers, I think, are inherently hyperactive. Hyperactive with a splash of the neurotics. Those who aren’t writers will disagree. We resemble that of a sloth in the mornings, hunting out our first caffeine hit with the grace of a moss-covered creature. We then retreat to our cave, slowly experiencing the ritual metamorphosis, until we resemble something closer to a primate. By nightfall, the writer is a standoffish human form – a sight to behold; it’s a remarkable transformation—or so I’ve been told.

Let’s face it: writing, as a career, is one of the more mentally dystopian, draining, contemptuous acts a single person will ever embark on. It isn’t an easy career, and by all means not an easy choice. Much like our fellow tortured artists—painters, musicians, photographers—we’re outsiders looking into a world, desperate to understand the cogs and wheels turning beneath the madness. We clutch at what we know, with it sometimes slipping through our fingers. (Notebook, anyone?)

From this desperation we search every corner and every nook of our mind, trying to determine what it is to be human. Facial expressions, traits, environmental settings, secrets, how one speaks, mannerisms, stressors and reactions, suffering, misery, pain, excruciating death . . . to write is to be human. To create is divine.

And then the lone writer will constantly haggle with their inner being, nag at, doubt, accuse, and often hold such ridicule for oneself: Are we good enough? Are our thoughts worthy? Do we matter? The furball-so-called-writing companion on the desk is staring at me again . . . Am I talking out loud?! Am I paranoid? You examine the pros and cons, ins and outs of the world and then you doubt yourself even more.

And then there are those writers who routinely sit for 8 hours, produce their word count and sip iced water . . . really? [enter crickets chirping]

Then you edit, you censor, you rewrite—only to decide the original is more fitting—you pace your study, you publish, you retract, you publish again; you drink more coffee, pat the cat, and go to bed.

But you don’t sleep. Your mind wanders to your characters, your writing, your words, your day, and whether Good Charlotte will break up when they’re in their 70s? What moisturiser does Gerard Butler use and can I have some? Incessant randoms continue to haunt your Z’s until the alarm clock yells ‘Wake Up!’ only for the writer to start their day again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

A lot of writers are divorced, are hermits or have married other writers (or musicians—a strange co-existence in itself). Their children usually go on to other artistic ventures, only because they were forced in childhood to befriend their make believe worlds out of loneliness; rejected for the wordcount. That, or they practice accounting.

It is what it is, folks. But before you poke fun at the writer next time, spare a thought for their poor soul. The writer didn’t choose this wretched path. It chose them.

Now, do I hit publish or pat the cat instead?

Copyright © 2019