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The Internet is a Writer’s Best Friend

Black Lotus

Children's author Kieran Fanning shows you how to use the internet to your best advantage as a writer - and why it doesn't have to be the enemy of productivity. 

A lot of writers complain that the internet (especially Twitter) can be the enemy of productivity, and indeed it can become a time vortex where hours are Rip Van Winkled away, but I have found it to be an indispensable tool for the following reasons:

1. Research

Yes, I know what you’re going to say – Wikipedia is not always accurate. But neither are books or people, as Roald Dahl discovered when he tried to find out the heartbeat of a mouse. ‘It seems that I have been misled by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species,’ he wrote. ‘A zoologist has checked that the mouse beat is about 150 per minute.’ Later, Dahl wrote, ‘New and incontrovertible evidence has come to me that the heartbeat of a mouse varies between 350 and 500 times a minute. This from a book called The Biology of the Laboratory Mouse.’ So he eventually got a correct (almost) answer but when I think of the effort he must have spent to arrive at this truth I wonder what he might make of the internet. A Google search returns 699,000 results in 0.46 seconds, the first three of which say a mouse’s heartbeat is somewhere between 500 and 600 beats per minute. 

2. Critiquing

You’ve spent so long working on your manuscript you can’t see the wood from the trees anymore. You need an objective, fresh set of eyes to read it as a reader would. It’s no use asking family or friends because no matter what they say, they won’t be impartial. Are they really going to tell you that the manuscript you’ve been working on for years is rubbish? No, they won’t. And will they really put care and attention to detail into their readings? Probably not. What you need is a group of strangers who are also writers. 

Welcome to the world of online critiquing. There are many sites which offer such services but the one I use is a community of international writers, many of whom are aspiring to be published. This gives you a varied readership which cannot be achieved with friends or family; and because these ‘critters’ are also writers, they (most of them) know a thing or two about the craft. This means they will probably put huge effort into their critiques because they are hoping for return critiques of the same standard. So it’s a win-win for all. 

Time and time again I was bowled over by the kindness of these strangers. For example: one of my critique buddies wondered if a knot and rope manoeuvre one of my characters performed would actually work. Whether it would work or not didn’t really bother me, but it bothered this guy.  So much so, that he re-enacted the manoeuvre with climbing equipment in his own home! And posted photographs and a blog post online!

3. Email 

How great it is to be able to knock back and forwards many editorial emails a day without having to wait a week for a reply. And no need for stamps and envelopes either. The downside is that when I’m rich and famous nobody will be able to quote letters to my editor in an article for Writers & Artists!

4. Google Maps 

The last section of my novel features a chase scene across New York City. Now if you can’t go there in person, Google Maps is the next best thing. ‘Street View’ allows you to virtually wander across Times Square and discover gems that you wouldn’t see by looking at an ordinary map. I virtually stumbled across a quote above the door of the GE Building in Manhattan – ‘Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times’ which I was able to use in my story. Thank you, Google Maps!

5. Forums

I needed somebody to check the Japanese which I had translated from English using Google Translate. I posted my request on a writing forum and soon found a brilliant girl who checked it all, for free!

6. YouTube 

If you can’t visit a mountain in Japan or a favela in Rio de Janeiro, watch a video.

7. Twitter 

I tweeted a question about possible venues in Dublin for a book launch, and I received brilliant suggestions in seconds.

8. Community 

There is a huge community of artists online who are keen to connect and help others. When I discovered an amazing cut paper animated film I asked the artist if I could use some of his footage for my book trailer. I honestly expected him to say ‘no’. But guess what? He didn’t. Wow.

Despite complaints that the internet brings out the worst in people, I have found the opposite to be true. The generosity of strangers is alive and well online.

By day, Kieran Fanning is a primary school teacher who enjoys helping his pupils to write, illustrate and publish their own books.  By night, he writes his own stories, and has published a series of interactive puzzle books for children, as well as school textbooks.  He has an MA in Children’s Literature and lives with his wife and two children in County Meath, Ireland. THE BLACK LOTUS is his first novel. Find out more on his website and follow him on Twitter here