Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Pinterest: A Fiction Writer's Paradise by Catherine Czerkawska

Going bananas in the Canaries
I have a confession to make. I'm addicted to Pinterest. It is far and away the best form of displacement activity I've ever found. I can spend hours on there, gazing at other people's pictures and tinkering with my own. It's also a novelist's paradise.

As far as my fiction is concerned, I'm what has come to be known as a pantser rather than a plotter. I write by the seat of my pants and hardly ever do anything but the most sketchy of outlines. In fact I've always disliked people asking me for detailed outlines of proposed projects. I could never stick to them. I tend to know the beginning and the end of a novel or play, but write to find out how to get there. If I already know how I (or more precisely the people in the story) get there I become bored and give up. I know, because I've done it a few times, on occasions when the people I was working with - mostly agents - demanded ever more highly refined outlines. By the time I'd finished them, I would invariably think, 'Who cares? Not me,' and shelve the project.

Ice Hockey and a lot more.
Some pieces of writing have been so organic in their growth that even later drafts have stayed substantially the same, albeit polished and pruned. But structurally pretty constant. Not surprisingly, these have been first person stories involving a strong 'voice': Ice Dancing, The Physic Garden and a play called The Price of a Fish Supper which seemed to be transferred whole from my head to the page and was hardly changed at all in the process. I can only imagine that something goes on in my subconscious first.

Anyway, back to Pinterest. Statistically, Pinterest is frequented by far more women than men. There's probably a whole PhD project in there as to why that should be: what is it about women that makes them love to collect and share so many visual images and related thoughts? But really, the words are minimally important on Pinterest. It's the images that absorb, inspire and cheer.

I'm well aware that it's the Marmite of social networking. You either get it immediately and love it, or don't get it at all and loathe it. I love Marmite and Pinterest both. For those who haven't yet tried it, it's a very simple site to engage with. You make 'boards' and you populate your boards with pictures, your own images uploaded or pictures repinned from other people's boards. You can express preferences and interests so that what you see relates to what you like. You can 'follow' other people's boards and they can 'follow' you. You can browse beautiful images for hours on end. You can always find exactly what you are looking for to spark your imagination (it must be a dream for Creative Writing teachers!) and perhaps most important of all, from a writer's point of view, you can make the equivalent of the 'mood board' created by an interior designer. I'm sure interior designers must use it too, for their own more traditional mood boards.

San Sebastian de la Gomera
I've been creating one on there for my Canary Isles trilogy, the first part of which, Orange Blossom Love, will be published on Kindle later this month. It was useful in so many enchanting ways. It's a mood board for the books, allowing me to consider - in a way that no precise outline ever would - what the book is 'about'. I've built up these images on the board over a few months and when I've felt that I had lost the thread of the book, lost the emotional temperature of it somewhere in the middle of all those words, I only had to go back to Pinterest to feel refreshed and enthusiastic all over again. Yes, I would think, this is what it's about. I could also send a link to this board to the artist who is working on the covers for the trilogy, and he could instantly see what was needed, the emotion, the landscape, the tone of the books, the colour palette.

I also have a board on there called Textiles I love and since many of my novels reflect my own interest in antique textiles, that too is a source of ideas and inspiration. But there are - it turns out - masses and masses of textile nuts on Pinterest and it's very easy to connect with like minded souls.

Chinese Dragon
I also have a board called Heroes. In the interests of equality, I should have a board called 'heroines' and I probably will, one of these days. But I'm very fond of my heroes.

There are only a few rules. You don't pinch people's images for commercial use, and you need to be aware that if you upload your own photographs to Pinterest, which I do all the time, the potential is there for somebody to use them in ways you hadn't intended. But in practice, it works pretty well, since most of what you are uploading are quirky images connected with ideas, moods, objects, visual jokes.

Or publicity. Because this is another interesting - if tangential - use of Pinterest. If somebody sees a board for your novel, and identifies with the 'mood' of the board, with the images which you, as a writer, think represent the novel in some way, they may well go off and try the book.

I love this aspect of it, because it's far more subtle than the stream of 'buy my wonderful book + link' tweets which glide past my eyes every time I'm on Twitter. I've been using Twitter on and off for a couple of years, I quite like it for sharing quirky tweets and having the odd conversation. I've also found it useful for following certain events in the news when the BBC coverage proved to be woefully inadequate, and I've even sold some short stories as a direct result of a Twitter contact with an old colleague. But I've only ever bought one book on there as a result of a tweet from a stranger, and that was mainly because the tweet itself was so intriguing. (The book - called Prospero's Mirror - was good too!)

But I think Pinterest is a different matter and I also think its usefulness for writers has only just begun. It's a way of communicating with readers without getting into wordy debates, of contacting without the hard sell, of sharing visual stimuli. I know I've sold novels on there without even trying - just because some fellow collector or afficionado has thought 'ooh, antique embroidery' or 'ooh, Ice Hockey.'

I'm hoping that when Orange Blossom Love is published later this month, somebody might look at those images on Pinterest and think 'ooh, the Canary Isles, guitars, sunshine and a sexy Spaniard.' But if they don't I won't really mind. Sales via Pinterest are a small bonus. It's the sharing of lovely images and thinking about the ideas and emotions behind them that matters. I sometimes find myself wondering if that's why - on the whole - women like it more than men. There's a nebulous quality about it that's very engaging, but the men in my life do tend to want to pin things down a bit too much. Ironically, pinning things down on Pinterest is a wonderfully vague activity. Your set of personal associations with an image will be quite different from my set of associations with an image. And that's fine by me. Somewhere, in the world of the imagination, we may meet, nod to each other in passing, and move on.

14 comments:

Dennis Hamley said...

I agree about the 'pantser' because I'm one too, most of the time anyway. There's an interesting discussion about this in my interview with Linda Newbery and Yvonne Coppard in last Saturday's blog. It still works when you're writing against a definite and unalterable framework, such as the progress of a World War, because you're thinking about the characters first within a context. But when you're writing according to the context of a real life, as I am with my Coleridge novel, it becomes much harder. Pinterest is something very peripheral to me: at last, having read your blog, I have a vague idea of what it's about. Will I therefore use it? Perhaps not. My imagination is distressingly unvisual, as Kay often points out to me.

JO said...

I dropped by Pinterest once, and decided it would suck more time out of me than I wanted to give it. But I can see that working with images would prompt writing ideas -but still think I'll leave it for now. But thanks for your lovely pictures anyway!

Nick Green said...

I went away and read the Wikipedia entry on Pinterest, and three articles explaining it, and I think that finally I get it. It's window-shopping and gossip rolled into one. Web entrepreneurs never cease to amaze me with their ingenuity. (I'm not being ironic, either).

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Window shopping and gossip! Two of my favourite things. But seriously, most of what you see on Pinterest can't be bought although it can be appreciated. Dennis, you're right, it's harder for some forms of writing than for others to be a pantser, which possibly also helps to explain why some forms of writing don't really suit some writers. I've written one big piece of historical non fiction (God's Islanders) and although I loved the research I found the writing a trial. Every time I got to the end of a chapter, it felt as though I ought to be at the end of the book. Then I had to start all over again. It was such a slog and not at all the way I normally work.

Bill Kirton said...

I'm another pantser and I'm also on Pinterest (and a follower of yours, Catherine). So far, I've only experienced the displacement activity aspect of it and you're right, you can get led down fascinating avenues of lovely, quirky, challenging or just family-snaps type images. I've found, too, that looking at my own photos with a view to pinning them makes me approach my books in a different way - maybe I'm looking for a wordless way to convey what they're supposed to 'mean'. However it works, it certainly is a refreshing change from all the other word-based networks.

Lydia Bennet said...

I'm a keen convert to Pinterest. I came to it too late to use it to help plot my novels, though I may well use it next time - fascinating idea Catherine! However I've created boards for each of my crime novels, with photos of the real-life locations of the books, and related pix, in case readers would like to see them. I'm also creating boards for my sci-art installations, and it'll be handy to link to these from my in-progress new website, which I'm trying to keep reasonably lean and simple.

Chris Longmuir said...

Hi another pantster here, plus a newbie to Pinterest, but I agree with everything you've said, Catherine. One thing you didn't mention, and maybe you haven't come across it, but I've been invited to pin to other people's boards, among which are ones you can pin your book covers to. There is one that says no advertising, so that has to be respected, but others seem to welcome a bit of promotion. When I'm invited to pin to someone else's board I have a look first and then decide whether to accept or reject the offer. If you accept, that board appears among your own boards. I just thought it was a good idea because it's casting the net wider, although I haven't yet sussed out the process of inviting someone to pin on one of your own boards.

Penny Dolan said...

Have been thinking about investigating Pinterest, catherine, and I think you may have tipped the balance for all your writerly reason. Though you didn't mention "gossip"- or did you? - until it came up in the comments? I'll re-read your post to inspire me all over again.

Emma Barnes said...

I finally started exploring pinterest yesterday - so fascinated to read your article today. How intriguing that women like it more than men. We're always being told men are more visual...only in some respects then, I guess? ;-)

Catherine Czerkawska said...

I'm still learning about it myself - but yes, the statistics are surprising - far more women than men. I haven't been invited to pin to other people's boards yet, Chris, but have had a lot of people repin my pins. And then there are the live links to your website or blog which another friend just reminded me about ... I didn't mention gossip until it came up in Nick's comment - but it's true as well.

Sue Purkiss said...

I hate Marmite but love Pinterest. I've done boards for two of my books, and started a board with books I've read - but realised that idea may not work, unless I just put a selection on there. Will very probably use it for future work...

Dennis Hamley said...

Funny that. All I know about Pinterest is what I've read here. But I LOVE Marmite - and Vegemite too - so perhaps I should explore it a bit more after all.

Lydia Bennet said...

WAH nobody's invited me to pin! I had no idea this was a thing. So much to learn!

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Nobody's invited me either!