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Being rich is undeniably fun. In many cases it is also well-deserved, acquired through hard work and excellence in one’s trade, there’s no question about that. But are there any limits to how rich can one get? Not in a numerical sense, obviously, but rather in subjective perception of one’s life quality. Is a person with 1.1 billion pounds really 10% happier than the one with only a billion or is it just greed?
Taking this thought further one might ask at which point pleasuring a single human being starts being less useful for the society as a whole than satisfying basic needs of the many. Populism, you shout, but hold your contempt for this article just a while, for this article will not be populists, but strictly economical. Let’s assume that the rich person we are talking about is deservedly rich (to nip in the bud all the moral issues) and not greedy (putting money in a vault like Scrooge McDuck is obviously harmful to economy growth). Let’s also take into account all the jobs our Richie Rich both directly and indirectly through his travels, shopping, etc. and ask a question what happens to the money left. Wouldn’t it be better for the society if this overabundance of money was actually working for economy growth? Yes, yes, I know there are banks, investment funds and charities. They are all better than nothing, but terribly inefficient. So how rich does one have to be to become a liability for the society?
Let’s start with world’s average income. Have you heard that one-third of the world’s population earn less than $2 per day while a median household income in Maryland is nearly 100 times more? Do you think it’’s true? Well, the answer is not as easy as a simple “yes” or “no” (although definitely $72 483 is a true median household income in Maryland for 2014). Apart from that, is the $2 part of the statement really that bad? Imagine a man who won a million dollars in a lottery in 2013 and travels the world in 2014 not earning a dime. His income is $0 and he’s still doing great. Statistics can be deceitful. Income data is meaningless without information about wealth. So let’s unravel the mystery and explain the numbers.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to measure directly and we have to deal with a well-educated guess rather than hard data. The best way to compare different currencies is to make the comparison in PPP$ (Purchasing Power Parity dollars) per year. This unit means dollars as earned and spent in the USA (and more specifically in Nebraska – currently the most average state income- and price- wise) and eliminates most doubts of exchange rates and local prices disparities. Furthermore, there is only scarce data describing the actual wages, so I will present you GDP per capita data instead where needed (Gross Domestic Product per capita shows how much money was made by a country per one citizen). Still, taking into account the difficulty of the task, we should be happy to have any numbers to chew on and finally shed some light on the problem.
Best data so far was provided by International Labour Organisation and comes from 2009 when the average wage amounted to around 17 760 PPP$ (Purchasing Power Parity dollars) per year. This unit means dollars as earned and spent in the USA (and more specifically in Nebraska – currently the most average state income- and price- wise). Unfortunately, this was calculated with data collected from only 72 countries (out of 196 existing – if you count Taiwan). The most notable exception is Nigeria, the world’s 20th economy with a population of 175 million people. Another very important fact is that ILO measures wages rather than income. What’s the difference? Wages are paid to employees, income is generated also by farmers, pensioners and the self-employed.
According to ILO data, the highest average wage in 2009 was paid in Luxembourg (49 068 PPP$/year) and the lowest was reported in Pakistan (3 060 PPP$/year). This makes the lowest reported average wage equal to 8.38 PPP$/day. Not a lot, but over four times more than the dreaded 2$/day. Pakistan, however, is on 134th place (out of 187) according to the International Monetary Fund 2014 GDP ranking (denominated in PPP$). When we compare Pakistani GDP of 4736 PPP$ with that of the 187th Central African Republic (607 PPP$), we can assume that in Central African Republic the average wage is in fact around 1.075 PPP$/day (7.75 less than in Pakistan). There are actually seven more countries with the average wage probably below 2 PPP$/day (in ascending order Congo Democratic Republic, Malawi, Liberia, Burundi, Niger, Mozambique, Eritrea). All those countries are populated by 151.8 million people. Obviously, that’s a lot of poverty, but hardly a third of the world.
Alas, what’s troubling in the ILO report is that the combined amounts of the last ten countries add up to only 42 996 PPP$ – not even 90% of Luxembourg’s wage. When you look at the IMF 2014 GDP report, the disparity is even clearer, with last 157 countries’ figures adding up to roughly the same amount as the leading Oman’s 143 427 PPP$.
Thus, we now face multiple wealth accumulation processes. In the developed countries the wealth disparity is reversing, especially after the 2008 financial crisis, while it is gaining more momentum than ever in the developing economies, and staying roughly the same in the poor societies. Meanwhile, if we look at the world as a whole, the wealth gap is becoming larger every day. In other words – the rich get rich, the poor stay poor with very little in between.
To picture the problem let me refer to Oxfam studies published in the beginning of 2015. Defining wealth as all the assets (realties, cars, home appliances, gadgets, cash, etc.) minus all the liabilities (mortgages, debts, loans, taxes, bills, etc.) Oxfam claims that it takes only $3650 (roughly £2350) to be better off than half of mankind. Unfortunately, this in itself is nothing to brag about, as Oxfam states the bottom half owns roughly only as much as the world’s 85 richest people.
(It is sad to say that myself, I belong by far to that bottom half. Thus, I encourage you to buy my books to help me change that. If you like a good story you won’t be disappointed.)
For many years, wealth disparity was a local problem with the rich countries producing sophisticated, costly, technology-based goods for their societies and the poor economies concentrating on simple, cheap, labour-oriented production. The game began to change in the second half of the XXth century with the globalisation of crude resources markets (coal, oil, tungsten, etc,), but at the turn of the centuries globalisation went a step further. In XXIth production is global and so the problem of wealth disparity became global as well.
The first aspect of this issue is relativity. If you are living in the EU (~25.8% of world net wealth), North America (USA + Canada – 27.1%), Australia (~1%), one of the Far East Tigers (Japan ~10%, South Korea ~1.3%, Hong Kong ~0.9%, Singapore ~0.3%, Macao ~0.3%, Taiwan + Brunei ~0.05%) or the oil-abundant countries of the Middle East (~0.8%), chances are that even being relatively poor you are still much better off than 99% of all the people elsewhere. With only this crude geographical differentiation, it turns out that 17.22% of the world’s population hold 67.55% of the world’s wealth.
Another thing is local disparity, which is greater in places not mentioned in the paragraph above (with the exception of Hong Kong and USA) with Russia leading this infamous ranking, followed by Turkey, Indonesia, Phillippines, Thailand, India, Egypt and Brazil closing the worst ten.
Why should we care about all that? Well, with the globalisation of economy the poor are striking back. No, I am not talking about a global revolution or a World War III, I am talking about the inevitable processes that are slowly undermining the well-being of our society: pauperisation and decline of the middle class and corporatisation of the market. This happens because an old-fashioned economy model, which was based on a strong middle class and local small and medium businesses, is being replaced by a corporate, global one.
At the moment, the global production, held by transnational corporations, is migrating from the rich societies to the poorer ones following cheaper labour. The actual production process takes place in the countries with the lowest labour cost possible, and middle-grade jobs like customer service call centres and accounting services are outsourced to countries like India or Poland, where education is funded by the state and the labour costs remain relatively low. This significantly lowers the corporate production costs making it increasingly difficult for any local company to compete with them. Only highly specialised industries, requiring extraordinary skills or inseparably connected with their region, remain.
Thus the employment market changes. Instead of a well-balanced mix of various low grade and entry level positions, a vast middle class and a few rich top managers and business owners we face a different reality. Simple, difficult to move, jobs (sales, hospitality, construction) are sparser and less diverse causing more people to apply for entry level positions offered by the state or the corporations. This in turn reduces the wages pushing the basic and low management jobs down from middle-class level to little more than minimal wage level.
The middle class (defined as those, who earn more than ⅔ of the local median and less than three times as much) shrinks even further, because a vast number of middle-grade jobs decrease in number or disappear (qualified workers, local small business owners, artificers). In addition to that, strong polarisation trends in the free trades (read about it here) push many artists and writers out of the middle class either into poverty or wealth (unfortunately mostly the former happens). Finally, there is an upward flow from the upper middle class to the rich, caused by an increase in top management positions, increase in importance of certain trades (software engineers) or wealth accumulation.
This process is already visible in the USA where between 2000 and 2013 middle class shrunk from 0,3% of the population in Wyoming up to a whopping 5.7% in Wisconsin, with Ohio, Vermont, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota, Georgia and both Carolinas around the 5% mark. Moreover, whilst the average pay (inflation adjusted) in the USA increased by around 6%, the median recorded a 0.5% decrease. This means that regardless of the wealth disparity improvement after the 2008 crisis, the US economy shares the world’s tendency of income polarisation, which, if unaddressed, will quickly deepen the problem again.
Another conclusion is that raw data fed to the public need to be constantly processed and commented upon to extract the true picture of the global economy as well as national ones. Otherwise we will fall victim to a dangerous pattern of hidden economic dichotomy, when although the main general economy figures (GDP, average wage, unemployment and inflation rates, etc.) remain strong, they stop reflecting the lives of ordinary citizens, who become more and more impoverished. Beware, because the symptoms can already be seen.
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For nearly three decades now, climate change has been a hot topic of an ongoing public debate. The debate itself evolved, starting with cries of imminent doom for all mankind in the late 1980’s, through tales of unprecedented, unforeseeable, and unstoppable wild weather incidents (storms, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc.) at the turn of the centuries, to be finally hushed by a global economy crisis of 2008, when humanity discovered other threats to its well-being. With the crisis more or less over, the climate change debate reemerged in a more civilised form of real scientific arguments and long-term government policies, ceasing to be merely a popular bandwagon of easy publicity for celebrities and a lucrative fundraiser for numerous NGOs.
Being 35, I am a representative of the first “ecologically conscious” generation. Regardless of our personal viewpoint of the matter, either demonising or dismissing the human impact on the long-term, global climate processes, we are the first generation raised with this issue present in the background of our perception ever since we were old enough to understand any of it. This makes us responsible to know what we are talking about.
The Essence of Global Warming
So is the climate changing? Definitely so. Global warming is a fact. It started around 1850 and for the moment seems to have stopped in 1998 with no significant change until now. This, in itself, would not be dangerous at all, because a natural cycle of warm periods interrupted by more or less severe ice ages (last one, known as medieval little ice age, took place from 1350 to 1850) has been occurring for millennia. Unfortunately, current rise of temperature is about twice higher than the highest peak of the previous cycle, which was around 1000 years ago (amplitude of 1.7℃ so far, compared to 0.85℃ in the previous cycle), so it is safe to say that something is amiss. Especially that most of this gap falls to only one side of the average, with only about 0.1-0.2℃ lowering of the lowest temperature of the cycle and the rest adding up to excessive warmth. Let’s take a closer look at the most important processes relevant to this climate change.
ASPECT 1: Earth’s Magnetic Field Polarisation Change
The least publicly acknowledged phenomenon contributing to global warming and yet arguably the most influential is the change in Earth’s magnetic field polarisation, which we may be unknowingly experiencing. This happens on average every 450 000 years. Earth’s magnetic field polarization diminishes (becomes less dipolar and more multipolar) by as much as even 95% and then the poles (North and South) switch places (this is a rapid process – it is agreed that at its peak the poles can move as fast as 6° a day). This process is now long overdue, with the last one having occurred around 750 000 years ago.
Moreover, we are currently experiencing a vivid (in geological terms) change of Earth’s magnetic poles position and strength. The North Pole is now drifting westwards from northern Canada towards Siberia at a dashing speed of over 40 km/year (compared to only 10 km/year at the beginning of the XXth century. Meanwhile, polarisation decreased to only 35% of its peak strength about 2000 years ago with nearly a quarter of this drop happening within last two centuries. These processes have three major effects that influence our climate changes.
The first factor is a reduction of high energy particles (or GCR – Galactic Cosmic radiation) caught by our planet’s magnetic field. Don’t worry – they are all caught by our ionosphere, but at a price – a secondary radiation occurs in the lower parts of our atmosphere, which, being harmless itself, heats the atmosphere.
The second effect is lowering of the whole atmosphere by around 5 km so far. This results in less high altitude clouds reflecting sunbeams and more low altitude clouds insulating the Earth. Another possible side effect of this phenomenon is a slight global rise of atmospheric pressure causing higher air temperatures. It is generally agreed that this aspect of Earth’s magnetic field depolarization accounts for at least 14% and maybe as much as 50% of the whole global warming (defined as a rise of global mean temperatures).
The third result is not directly connected to global warming but is definitely a part of the climate change debate. Due to abrupt changes in magnetic field flows, extreme weather phenomenons occur more frequently. This is especially true for overabundant rainfall, strong winds and thunderstorms. This effect is also magnified by the rising temperature.
Before we move on, it is important to also mention an increase in Earth’s seismic activity, which is strongly correlated with magnetic field changes, although the causality links have not yet been agreed upon (i.e. it can be a different result of a common cause, but also a cause or a result by itself). Apart from unexpected earthquakes and tsunamis a crucial aspect of increased seismic activity is a possibility of triggering a supervolcano incident. The most known supervolcano cell is the Yellowstone National Park, responsible for 4 of 10 greatest eruptions known to us (3rd, 6th, 7th, and 10th), each of which triggered an ice age and resulted in numerous species extinctions. Yellowstone erupts fairly regularly, every 650 000 years with the last eruption around 640 000 years ago. Normally we shouldn’t be too concerned about it, but the abnormalities in the magnetic field flow might trigger a premature incident. If that happens, global warming will definitely stop being a problem to worry about.
ASPECT 2: The Solar Cycle
Another process fully beyond human control is the solar cycle. Currently we are quite far past its all-time high, which took place around 1950 as well as past the local peak, which occurred in 1990, but still we are experiencing 20% more solar activity than the average for the 1850’s. Excessive solar energy reaching our planet is generally agreed to be responsible for at least 15% of the extra temperature rise and may account for as much as 40%.
ASPECT 3: Data Discrepancies
Let’s move on to another aspect of global warming, this time manmade, the urbanisation. Whilst its effect on air temperature is obvious and has already been measured, the data is often misinterpreted. Air temperature undoubtedly rises faster in big cities than in small villages, e.g.: New York’s mean temperature increased by over 2.5℃ (over 4℉) in the last 200 years compared to only about a 0.6℃ (little over 1℉) rise in Death Valley. What we seem to overlook is the fact that these local nodes have little effect globally, yet are a big chunk of the collected data (there are statistically more weather stations in cities, because they are easier to maintain and can be used for commercial purposes, i.e. press, TV, internet weather reports). Data insufficiency and methodology discrepancies may account from 0 up to 10% of the temperature rise.
ASPECT 4: Greenhouse Gases
The last factor taking part in the global warming are the greenhouse gases, which unjustly have a pretty bad public reputation. The truth is that they make life as we know possible on this surprisingly cold planet, heating Earth’s surface by a whopping 33℃ (59,4℉) and making it inhabitable by pushing a somewhat unbearable average temperature of -19℃ (-2.2℉) to a much more appreciable 14℃ (57.2℉). Although the most abundant greenhouse gas is water vapour responsible for up to 85% of the greenhouse effect, we can step over to the next gas, because humidity of our atmosphere is constant, beyond human control, and does not matter in our debate.
Next in line is carbon dioxide (CO2). Since 1750, CO2 levels have risen by 40% from 280 ppm (parts per million) to 392 ppm, which is the capital argument of all the “eco-fighters” that this is the main culprit behind the global warming. It is argued that the rise in carbon dioxide levels directly translates to the excessive rise in temperature and because CO2 represents roughly around 10% of the greenhouse effect (3.3℃), the documented 40% rise of its abundance more than explains the 0.85℃ extra rise in temperature. This train of thought is simplistic and can hardly be called scientific, but it is popular because the calculations not only seem plausible at first sight but also absolve us of lack of knowledge about any other processes shaping our ecosystem, giving humanity a false sense of control over our planet. Meanwhile, whilst being undoubtedly responsible for some part of the global warming process, CO2 is not even the worst greenhouse gas. Enter methane…
Methane (CH4) is also called a natural gas because you can also find in your own farts (abundantly). It is also a common fuel and a byproduct of the ubiquitous decay of dead organic matter. Unfortunately, it is also quite a potent warming agent as 1 particle of methane carries about 72 times more greenhouse effect potential than a particle of carbon dioxide. Within the last 265 years, levels of methane abundance in the atmosphere rose by a fraction over 170%, although on the whole this gas is about 225 times less abundant than CO2.
Carbon dioxide and methane are both natural gases and it is very difficult to prove beyond doubt that their rise of concentration in the atmosphere is purely man made. Burning fossil fuels, industrialisation and cattle herding are undoubtedly to blame, but as I mentioned earlier recent years were overly abundant in seismic activity releasing enormous amounts of these gases into atmosphere with every volcanic eruption (8 notable incidents since 1750, twice the average for the documented two millennia). It is also worth mentioning that current levels CO2 are relatively young, as they were still around ten times higher only 400 million years ago (around 8% of Earth’s age).
The greenhouse effect is also partially self-propelling. Because of the rise in air temperature icebergs detach from polar ice caps more often and after drifting to warmer regions, melt completely releasing vast amounts of additional CO2 frozen in ice into the atmosphere.
Unfortunately, mankind has also created its own greenhouse gases that are unmistakably chemical: the CFCs, HCFCs, sulphur hexafluoride and a greenhouse effect superstar: tetrafluoromethane. The last one is not really a threat being very scarce, but its particle carries over 5200 times more warming potential than a particle of carbon dioxide and lasts for 50 000 years. The first three are the dark remnants of casual environmental neglect of the 1980’s and are being phased out at the moment with CFCs already virtually out of use and HCFCs to follow by 2030. All together these gasses add up to around 1200 ppt (parts per trillion), which make them about 1350 times less abundant than methane and about 300 000 times less abundant than carbon dioxide, yet they are responsible for as much as ⅙ of the impact CO2 has on our climate. The bad news is they will be around for a long, long time and there’s nothing to blame except our own stupidity.
But let’s return to the original question: Is climate change our fault? The answer is not simple in any way. Most probably to some extent climate changing processes are accelerated and enhanced by civilisation, but it is also undeniable that those processes would progress naturally even if we were not around. To fully understand our impact on the ecosystem we should probably diverse our answer into three time-frames: immediate, short-term and long-lasting.
Immediate effects are those we see all around us. Changes that happen within a generation. Those were extremely harmful from the start of the industrial revolution in 1750 until the end of the XXth century with the globally darkest hour in the 1980’s. We survived, heard the wake-up call and took action. What is definitively positive is the change in our mental approach to ecology, energy preservation, and resource management, e.g.: within last 25 years the deforestation of the Amazon decreased more than fivefold (from 21 150 km2 in 1988 to 4 840 km2 in 2014). Our air is less polluted and our rivers are cleaner than they were a quarter of the century ago. By our, I mean Australia, both Americas and Europe. Change is much slower in Africa and possibly even reverse in Asia, although 2014 was a remarkable year with China’s pollution emission lower than the previous year for the first time in history.
The short-term effects are those lasting anything from fifty to a few hundred years. Unfortunately, some of our pollutions will be with us for even longer. Changing our fossil based power system to renewable sources of energy, reducing CO2 and CH4 emissions and severely punishing hard, chemical pollution will definitely make our lives and the lives of our offspring better, but it is crucial to acknowledge two very important conditions of these actions. First of all they need to be global. Being a Polish citizen, I am proud to say that the EU is the avantgarde of ecologically conscious, long-term, government policies, but if EU’s legislation is not matched by USA, Canada, Australia, Russia, India, and China, it will serve little or no purpose globally, while being extremely strenuous economically for our local community. And so we arrive at the second condition: economic viability. Ecologically conscious legislature must keep a rational profit/cost ratio without giving in to extremists from either side of the debate. After all, we should strive to better our lives with as little negative impact on our environment as possible, not to serve the environment at all cost.
Finally, we come to the long-term impact of humankind on our planet. In geology terms, long-term means millennia, if not hundreds of them. 250 years of our industrial activity are nothing more than lighting a match next to a floodlight. Sooner or later the Yellowstone Supervolcano will erupt bringing us decades of severe winter and obliterating the global warming process. While it does make us feel better to think we have the power to change our planet’s processes, we are far from it. At this moment, we are merely capable of making our own lives better or worse by exacting minuscule changes in the global, temporary landscape. Thus, although we should continue to use Earth’s resources wisely and strive to alter our ecosystem as little as possible, we should remember we are doing it for our own good and not some mystical “tired mother Earth”. Earth is fine, do not be too proud in your claims.
Summing up, it is important to notice that both points of view of the climate change debate are biased by certain groups of interest. One side is driven by scientific grants financed by NGOs for which no imminent ecological threat means no fundraising edge, whereas the other is constantly fuelled by traditional power corporations for which any action changing the status quo is potentially dangerous. Thus, it is essential to filter out emotionally charged arguments and take an impartial look at the hard data and study the true nature of climate change, remembering that today our fear is used to raise money for the well being of countless NGOs whilst indifference serves lowering corporate costs.
Another way of looking at this matter is realising that today we learn so much about our planet thanks to the eco-alarmists of the 1980’s while every year we are more capable of surviving a truly apocalyptic natural disaster thanks to corporate research and development departments. They are both necessary even if to an unbiased bystander they may seem as necessary evil.
The bottom line is: we need to adapt. Global warming may continue even if we proceed with all the proposed limitations of pollution and greenhouse gases emissions. Thus, we need to look forward and be prepared to act.
If you want to know more here are some useful links:
I am a full-time writer and I would greatly appreciate your support.
With over 1 000 000 new books published this year worldwide (by May 27 according to http://www.worldometers.info/books/) and about ⅓ them in English we live in a golden age of literature. Even taking into account that many of ISBNs refer to the same titles (each version of the book, eg,: print, EPUB, .mobi, .pdf, etc. gets its own ISBN) it is safe to say that an English-speaking reader has at least 120 000 new titles at his/hers disposal. Consider this number for a while. Let’s assume that an avid reader is able to read 3000 books in his/hers life (one book per week for 60 years). That means English-speaking readers got 40 lifetimes of reading material within last five months alone.
Moreover, regardless of an unprecedented surge in the number of new titles published, overall book sales are shrinking. At this moment, an average book is sold in only 250 copies with less than 5% of the titles exceeding 5000 units sold. Publishers adapt by offering more titles in smaller editions and authors adapt by writing short, action-packed novels.
Another factor is fierce competition from self-publishers. While within the last 15 years the number of new books/ebooks published increased tenfold, the number of publishers with more than 200 new ISBNs (International Standard Book Number) rose by a mere 50%. This means most of the new titles available on the market are self-published. Tools provided by online ebook distributors like Amazon and Smashwords allow costless publishing for everyone giving “power to the people”.
For self-publishers with a rudimentary knowledge of a supply/demand economics model, a natural instinct is to offer their books for free in the hope of building an audience for their future titles. As a result about 15% of all titles are available at no cost whatsoever (based on Smashwords.com data for ebooks only). Keep in mind that it equals to about 360 years of reading for a very dedicated reader.
The inevitable result of both factors is a slump in the average quality of a published book. This leads to a paradox: with all the titles to choose from, people turn to well-known writers for quality, which creates a strong polarization of the authors’ earnings spectrum with a handful of lucky multimillionaires and a legion of skillful but severely underpaid pretenders.
So is it really a golden age of literature or merely a false impression of one? There actually is a third option. The democratization of storytelling, no matter how confusing for casual readers, paves the way to a true revolution in literature. When the market settles, the easy access to publishing combined with a set of trustworthy rankings to point to valuable content will result in a variety of better choices for a reader.
The good news is, the market is maturing right before our eyes and is now ready for the quality shift to follow the first few years of rapid growth turmoil. With storytellers’ desires to publish saturated, it is time to regain the trust of readers and even the inequalities. The most important responsibility is with writers themselves to provide extraordinary content, but it is up to all of us to promote well-published books among our peers and punish the disappointing ones with bad publicity.
Publishing is just the first step in a cultural revolution, ebook files being the smallest and easiest to make, but the same patterns will emerge in music, films, and gaming. Even now there are numerous albums distributed solely online, Youtube and Netflix are becoming more popular than television and indie games take over Steam and PSN. Those markets are a few years behind publishing but will revolutionize the culture we know today. All we need is quality.
I am a full-time writer and I would greatly appreciate your support.
Ever since the 80’s, reality becomes more complicated faster and faster. Being generally knowledgeable has already become impossible for an average person. Our fields of expertise are inevitably shrinking as more detail is added to the database of mankind’s knowledge every day. There is just too much knowledge.
A few hundred years ago people like Leonardo da Vinci and Nicholas Copernicus were able to learn a vast majority of the whole knowledge accumulated by mankind. A few decades ago, the likes of Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman and Stephen Hawking managed to become experts in their field while being not-overly-ignorant of other branches of science and the current affairs around them.
On the other hand, an average person twenty years ago was pretty much ignorant about everything except his/hers very narrow margin of specialization. What’s even more important, he/she had no means to access any new knowledge without a certain articulated intent, considerable effort and often high cost.
But now… we’re in the Matrix. Remember the scene when they need to fly a helicopter and Trinity asks Tank to load a program straight to her brain allowing her to do just that? The whole procedure takes only a few seconds. Of course it’s not that easy in real life, but the general idea is already there
Pretty much all there is to know is already on the internet. And it’s not some arcane knowledge to find it either. Search engines allow you to ask more and more complex questions in a natural way. Only a moment ago, I entered “who does Trinity ask for helicopter flying program” into Google search box and there I was with the answer just a split of a second later. Just like Trinity.
Free your knowledge
Every day you ask an endless stream of questions: Which movie to watch? How to cook spaghetti? Which wine is best with Italian cuisine? How to fix the toilet? How to start writing a book? How to make it good?
Is there a way to know all? Of course, you use it every day – it is called the internet. If you are connected (and you are for most of the time), all human knowledge is just a click away. Remember how many times you learned new skills within minutes? One click on the search button and suddenly the world suddenly is not so scary anymore.
That is why we all have a debt to pay. Every one of us should contribute to this unprecedented database of human achievement by sharing his knowledge. Yes, sharing. For free. Pay your debt by letting everyone learn what you have learned.
The most powerful argument for sharing your knowledge is the ethical implication behind it. Imagine all those people in third world countries who can’t afford to get a proper education. Google gave them Google Translate to let them understand you (more on Google coming up), now it’s your turn to give them strong, reliable content. Empower the people and let them apply what you know to their lives. Whether you show them how to assemble a notebook or simply tell them the best recipe for pancakes, their choices will broaden even if they decide not to follow your advice.
Another strong point for sharing your knowledge is simple vanity. No matter whom you teach, they always end up being more like you. Obviously if you teach philosophy it will have a far greater impact on people’s minds than teaching them how to clean a carburetor (although teaching them what a carburetor is may prove really mind-changing). Regardless of the subject though, you will have the sheer satisfaction of being smarter than your students, which is a quality in itself and should make you start a blog, vlog or at least a Twitter account right away (follow me there while you’re at it).
It takes some effort, but it’s worth it. Think about it. Imagine how perfect this world would be if everyone learned how to be a little bit more like YOU. So start making it happen with one post at a time, reader by reader.
What’s in it for you?
But let’s not get carried away by the catchy phrases of ethical nature. Obviously I could point out how satisfying it is to help others and how important it is to make the world a better place, but the twisted point of my article is to convince you that ultimately it’s just good business.
Consider it from a more practical viewpoint. By letting everyone learn your skills, you also let them learn you are an expert. If your knowledge is worthwhile, useful and understandable, you will definitely benefit by sharing it. It may be a new client who decided to trust you seeing you knew what you were talking about, a new job offer from someone who read your article and was impressed or perhaps a new business proposition. Thus by making the world a better place you simultaneously make a better place for yourself in it.
Most of you will probably say, that sharing your knowledge creates more competition on the market, but while it seems like a good excuse not to do anything, it’s also just NOT TRUE. Remember that the people who just want to learn, will learn regardlessly, just not from you, but the people who just want someone knowledgeable to help them will not know that you’re the expert to turn to. Besides, the more people see you as an expert with valuable knowledge, the more valuable this knowledge becomes.
Whatever happens you just can’t loose. Start by sharing this article with all your friends. Sharing is fun. Try it.
I am a full-time writer and I would greatly appreciate your support.
Every now and then you face an assignment involving some sort of writing. It may be an essay in college, an instruction for your subordinates or a presentation for your business partners. You sit down, open your laptop, start a new document and… nothing happens. You find that in just a few seconds your mind has turned from a fruitful spring of ideas into a barren desert. Sitting in front of an empty page and wondering how to start is far more common than you think and occasionally happens to even most experienced writers. Thankfully, I don’t think a blank page is scary at all and I hope you will stop too after reading this post.
Starting strong is not just a writers’ problem though. It’s just as important in business and education. No matter whether your audience consists of your subordinates, managers, students or clients – you have to pique their interest before they turn away. The ugly truth is, in today’s fast moving world, streaming information edited like an MTV clip, you just can’t afford not to start strong. The alternative usually is talking to an empty room. Even if your story is brilliantly written, your essay most insightful and your product a technological breakthrough, most of your audience WILL turn away if you fail to interest them from the start. Thus, you rightfully feel pressured to come up with a catchy starting line, because you fear, if it doesn’t immediately grasp the public’s imagination, your work will wallow close to non-existence.
Starting new work is always difficult, but for a writer it bears even more gravity. Remember all those times in your local bookshop you have browsed through random books reading just the first paragraph to decide which one to buy? Authors are painfully aware of this process, while being also strongly affirmed in their beliefs by editors, agents and fellow writers, who amongst themselves cherish the opening sentences of great novels, claiming you should write the first paragraph of your story with meticulous care, as it is paramount to your success. All this adds to the enormous pressure to start strong, causing panic in a lot of the inexperienced authors across the globe. While I concur that the quality of the first few paragraphs is of extreme importance (and will guide you how to achieve this), I also shamelessly admit that I don’t remember ANY of the first sentences of the many books I have read. Do you?
Still, even if your product, service or concept is groundbreakingly game-changing, making your audience bored will seriously slow its popularization and/or understanding. I can honestly say I have already lived through all those situations and thus, I give you a short guide to starting strong. The following recipe will allow you to start writing without experiencing the torments of facing an empty page for hours with no effect. Of course, you can write the beginning in many different ways, but following my tips will give you a plethora of safe possibilities, on which you can build your further excellence.
The most obvious piece of advice is not to worry about the emptiness of the page in front of you and just write whatever comes to your mind to make the page less empty. There will definitely be time to make amends and edit the written text. You can even start in the middle orf write the ending first. Divert your focus from your opening and jot down a few lines from different parts of the story and various angles. I know it’s easier said than done, but it works (especially if you have taken some time to structure your work – how to do it will be the subject of another post). Of course this doesn’t solve the problem of starting strong, it helps with an empty page though. Now, let’s get back to writing a strong beginning.
Always start with some action. Starting strong means starting with an event. Remember Alfred Hitchcock’s saying that you should start with an earthquake and then mount the pressure. Think of a dynamic situation, which will expose the wanted traits in the course of its action. However mundane or menial, it is always better than even the most innovative description. Trying to describe an unfamiliar character, product (service) or concept without easing your audience into context is confusing and discouraging. In general, think about a situation describing a transition between the unsung past and a well written future. The next step is to identify the core subject of your work. Usually it will be the main character, the problem (concept) or the product (service). Now imagine an average Joe and think how this total stranger should perceive your character/problem/product after reading your introduction. Choose three to five essential characteristics and write them down in short, simple sentences. Try to fit the sentences into the action, matching them with the activities that best expose the characteristics they are about. So, the scene is set and the story is in motion. What you need for the final touch on your introduction is something to pique your audience’s, interest, a hook. Make your readers participate emotionally in your text. Show them a danger, a conflict or a promise. The more emotional charge, the better. Finally, when your audience is emotionally engaged in your story, make it known that you hold the solution hostage. They will have to read read on to learn it.
A good opening for a science paper would be about the event, which made you interested in the problem in the first place. Dr Frankenstein could start his lecture like this “On one dark and creepy, stormy night I was doing an autopsy in the city morgue when suddenly a lightning struck the body on the slab, through an open window. Could it be it? Could electricity hold a key to the gate between the realms of the living and the dead? This epiphany led me to a breakthrough in my research…”
Another way would be to show the background of your problem. A good, although obviously comically extreme example of this strategy is shown in “The Big Bang Theory”, when dr Sheldon Cooper tries to explain the string theory to his layman neighbour Penny by starting with an explanation how physics research began and narrates along the lines: “It’s a warm summer evening in Athens c.a. 600 BC and you’ve just finished your shopping on the local agora…”
In business, a safe and effective way to start, would be to describe how arduous living/working/relaxing was before your product or service. Typically you’d achieve it by painting a picture of a random person struggling to achieve what your product/service/innovation helps accomplish effortlessly. “Remember how difficult it was for you to grow a beard? With our new beard seeds its easy…”
If your text or presentation is marketing oriented, you can also start with a good, old, John Lennon’s classic “Imagine” A direct call to action forces your audience to stay with you and follow your lead, so… “Imagine yourself in front of an empty page. The assignment is due tomorrow, but you have made no progress. Writing has always been scary, but this time you really start panicking. Well, panic no more. All you need is G..H. Guzik’s post about starting strong and you’ll feel empowered…”
If you wish to know more about business writing, express it in a comment and I will surely devote one of my next posts to this subject. Having several years of experience in business I could elaborate on the important features of a good business presentation or a marketing teaser, but since my current area of expertise is creative writing, let me concentrate on starting a novel or a short story. Now, let’s get back to guiding all lost souls through the perils of their first paragraphs with more specific advice.
Some authors (especially those writing action and mystery) argue that starting with a twist, e.g. a background character only remotely connected to the main plot or with an unexplained event that fits into the main story pattern, but becomes understandable only after a solid part of the book, seizes interest. This may be so, but it also inevitably creates confusion. If the beginning isn’t written masterfully, it only discourages readers and even if it is, you still need to fit it neatly into your story for the audience to put the pieces together.
Read the beginning of Michael Crichton’s “State of Fear”. It pushes your patience to the limit, but the scenes are narrated cleanly keeping a brisk pace and finally reward your intellect with an “Awww* when you find out how relevant they were to the story. Alas, unless you write like Michael Crichton, it is safer to keep it simple. So far you have pictured your main character in your head and chose two or three main features of her/his character you wish to expose. Now find an event to open your narrative. You should aim for an action defining transition, one that symbolically divides the past from your story:
- beginning or finishing a journey, e.g. ship sailing into port, plane landing, exiting a motorway, etc.
- entering or exiting a building, a forest, a town, etc.
- quiet before a storm, e.g. troops awaiting battle, a girl before a date, a sportsmen in a locker room, etc.
- finding, losing or winning something, e.g. a bet, an artifact, information, money, etc.
- meeting or bidding farewell to someone, e.g. at an airport, bus station, in a restaurant, etc.
- someone’s birth, graduation, wedding, death, funeral, etc.
In creative writing you can safely turn to typical opening scenes without a risk of falling into a cliché trap, if only your writing keeps the scene interesting, some scenes though are so cliche you’d do better to stay away from them:
- waking up
- gathering herbs
- dining at an inn
Obviously cliches can be well placed and well written and I am far from claiming that they are useless. If you want to get to know more, be sure to come back to my blog site. One of my next posts will be fully devoted to cliches and how to avoid them or exploit them.
Having said all of the above the only thing left for me to do is wish you all the best of luck in all your strong starts. By now you should be able to ease into any document with a few slick, well-pointed and interesting paragraphs. If my post helped you in any way, don’t forget to share. In fact, share this post regardlessly on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and any other network you can come up with and help a starting writer start strong. If you didn’t like my post, share it anyway,, exen only as a negative example.
I am a full-time writer and I would greatly appreciate your support.
So, you want to be writer… You will have to spend endless hours polishing your command of language, patiently put your stories together to make them into a logical tale and bear the frustration of nobody caring about your work. If you endure the strains, though, your stories will make the world a better place and you will get your chance to become a really successful writer. All it takes is hard work and discipline… but in the words of a song from an old, classic movie “Bugsy Malone” – “you may as well quit if you haven’t got it” (the line was about boxing, but it works for writing as well).
Having just started my writing career I don’t want to sound condescending, but I believe there are some points I need to share. I have tried quite a few jobs in my life and writing is by far the most difficult one. It is also by far the most rewarding, although definitely not in the financial sense at first.
If you still want to be a writer, here are some starting tips:
- don’t quit your job unless you have other means of supporting yourself and your family for at least two years – writing is not a well-paid job, especially at the start of your career. It takes roughly one month to write 20 000 words of text and another one to have it properly corrected, edited and rewritten if necessary. Thus, it will take at least a year to publish your first full-length book.
- read a lot – somebody once said that the problem with today’s writers is the fact that they start writing after reading a hundred books instead of a thousand. The more you read, the better your writing will be.
- write regularly, but edit your work after at least a week – however talented you might be, you have to develop a habit of writing and working on your texts and everybody needs some perspective before reviewing his own work, hence the break. And forget about the popular quote misattributed to Ernest Hemingway to write drunk and edit sober. You should always work sober, and if you need a drink, get it as a reward for yourself after finishing each chapter of your book.
- don’t be shy – show your work to your friends and family and get their feedback. Work with them to better your style, vocabulary and storytelling. Remember that writing is a craft and needs to be practiced and bettered, for writers are not born, they are made.
- be patient – if your work is good it will be noticed sooner or later and everything you have written stays written and gains value as you become more popular and remember that it is much better to publish a text that is good and finished than to publish it prematurely.
I am a full-time writer and I would greatly appreciate your support.
While preparing to publish my first book, I decided to start a blog site. Why? To be able to communicate to my readers without the fictitious ensemble of literature. This will be blunt, direct and definitely not politically correct.
Mostly I want to make this site about my way to becoming a skilled writer. Not only about the how, but also about the why.
I am not saying that there will be no bigger issues here. After all, we are all influenced by big games, big politics, and big money, but I will try to focus on the most humane aspects of all of those. See what they really mean to people around me and around you. To all of you out there: Hello, thanks for reading.
PS. As I said there will be nothing about books (or at least my books) here, so for that go to my facebook page.