Cause, Effect, Solution: 2.0

Another essential piece of the puzzle – a detailed look at the repercussions of illiteracy.

Last time, I outlined some of the main causes of global illiteracy, such as a lack of books in children’s native language and an equally dire lack of teachers sufficiently trained to encourage reading skills development. Today I would like to delve into the far-reaching impact of illiteracy on millions of lives.

The consequences of this issue:

  • Children whose interest and ability in reading has been neglected during their formative years face severely limited future opportunities in terms of education, employment, personal wealth and growth.
  • As a result, they cannot effectively contribute to society or the economic development of their home country, and their family cannot escape the cycle of poverty for another full generation.
  • Literacy can empower various social groups – such as women and marginalised minorities, yet if these segments of society remain illiterate, they face further oppression and loss of independence.
  • Moreover, literacy is strongly linked with education regarding safe-sex practices, and the lack thereof can increase such risks as HIV or early marriage, and unwanted pregnancy.
  • Studies indicate that illiterate youths and adults experience life-long powerlessness, shame, and ultimately resentment towards education or situations which require reading and writing skills. Children growing up in such households can absorb such sentiments regarding education. This is a potential trap for every illiterate person and can further drive this multi-generational crisis.

Finally, on a more personal level, relevant even to those of us fortunate enough to live in developed countries, ask yourselves these questions: How does an illiterate person pay the bills or secure housing? Make educated medical decisions or manage insurance? How does one improve their children’s future or support them in their education? Clearly, the effects of illiteracy are far-reaching and potentially crippling for both individual and societal development. Remember: this issue affects over 800 million people globally!

My final update will be centred around the concrete actions taken by literacy charities to solve this problem. Understanding how our contributions are helping can be truly inspiring!

I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this sequel to my SeriousTM TED talk.

AS

Cause, Effect, Solution: a Series

Jumping on the bandwagon of Gen-Z activism here, but I do have an important issue to share.

I’d like to step away for a moment from the happy-go-lucky casual tone of my blog posts and bring a truly global problem to your attention. No, no: I won’t be talking about the Earth’s climate here, my apologies for dashing your expectations. Instead, I want to focus on a less polarising cause: namely, world literacy and the lack thereof.

I have already written about the wider statistical data and extent of this issue, but I would like to expand on the causes and consequences of global illiteracy through a series of awareness updates. Throughout, I will be referencing info from the Room to Read non-profit I have chosen to support.

The problem, in plain words:

  • As of this moment, over 100 million children worldwide are illiterate, and so are an estimated 750 million youths and adults.

First and foremost, we must be clear on the reasons behind this global problem.

  • It all begins during a child’s formative years. In less economically developed countries, educational systems are often unable to provide children with age-appropriate books in their native tongue. According to Room to Read: ‘books for early readers are often limited or nonexistent in the countries where we work’.
  • Classrooms and schools in the world’s poorest regions are overcrowded and ill-suited for safe education of young children. Teachers lack the methodologies to adjust their teaching for beginner readers.
  • Once a child has acquired basic reading and comprehension skills, their further development cannot be supported due to a lack of libraries and trained librarians – a problem interconnected with a similar scarcity of schools and teachers.

The causes of illiteracy are numerous and complex, and this multigeneration humanitarian crisis demands a range of solutions targeted at each aspect of the issue.

I’d like to expand on a number of answers to the problem in future posts. For now, I’d like to welcome all of you to supporting this cause and contributing to Room to Read’s efforts, either via donation to my fundraiser portal or by sharing this and spreading awareness. Every little helps!

Next up, I’d like to focus on the implications of this problem, and finally give a detailed overview of steps undertaken by educational non-profits to combat illiteracy. Stay tuned!

Thanks for coming to Part One of my blogger TED talk.

AS


Blank Page to Book in 10 steps.

With lessons learnt by a rookie who has no business giving pretentious advice:))


1.      Come up with a concept

Cross it out, come up with another, and so on, until you land on something that is original/interesting/inspirational/visionary/insert-another-positive-adjective from your Pinterest feed. This step depends largely on your genre. Make sure to find someone as a sounding board for your ideas, ideally someone either well-read or an expert in your literary field of interest. Wouldn’t want to reinvent the wheel or write the second Fahrenheit 451.

2.      Mould your characters

Using real people is the easiest and most entertaining way to create multidimensional (anti)heroes, though you might need some descriptive camouflage skills to prevent a mob of Facebook friends coming at you with pitchforks. An important tip: keep track of technical details, including hair colour, freckles and anger issues, and use them effectively when building plot. Little memorable quirks are essential for future reveals, such as where the audience can recognise a spy while your story’s characters are oblivious. As for creating believable descriptions, online lists of character-building questions are invaluable for this step. Inane questions like “What’s your protagonist’s favourite kind of fruit cake?” and “Would you rather work with your family, friends or soulmate OR alone? ” re:Buzzfeed may not be quite it, but any and every little detail should be considered when writing personalities as complex as your own.

3.      Concept + characters + plotconflict = story

Pretend you are at once god and the characters’ invisible drama-queen instigator friend. You will be returning to this step of the algorithm many times over, especially if you decide to get developmental editor feedback. In all seriousness – this is the hardest part. My best advice would be always to keep track of the changes your characters go through, as well as to build up your readers’ expectations (and temporary anxiety issues) as the story progresses. Tension is the key to an audience’s investment in the plot’s resolution.

4.      Write

Enough said. Put some time aside for this.

5.      Petition for feedback and, hard as it may be, embrace criticism

Taking any professional advice and accepting that your story skills or ideas may not be perfect is another hard truth in writing. My own experience essentially comes down to this post, but if I were to add to it in hindsight, I would state that this is the stage where at least 50% of your growth occurs. Both as a writer and as a human (performance feedback leads to improvement, leads to eternal zen yada yada yada, as personal coach influencers would have you believe). In all seriousness, though, do ask for criticism, be it from your editor, your beta readers or close friends/family. Any outside opinion is invaluable to understand the “what now?” and “what next?” of your writing.

6.      Rewrite

Edit, edit, edit. With coffee and procrastination in between. Rinse and Repeat.

7.      The Oxford comma phase

This is where your proofreader will cycle through all the 5 stages of grief, and then some. I do recommend not limiting yourself to vague editor advice on this one: get concrete, detailed help, preferably from an experienced writer. This bit of advice may seem both obvious and rather costly, but the sad reality of (self-)publishing is that books with gross and numerous errors are a more severe faux-pas than Crocs at a gala, at least from my experience.

8.      The title

Write a list of 50 ideas, cross them all out, and rip the paper in half. Keep at it until one sticks – it should be true to the book’s genre, its contents, message and tone. Quite a few boxes to tick, but your title and cover are what the readers first see of your book, both in print and online. A quirky but valuable tip: Google potential titles and look them up in your genre on Amazon. Don’t publish ‘The Martian’ a second time, literally.

9.      The cover

Two simple choices: hire someone or DIY. I chose to design my own cover, and while the process can be seen here, it wasn’t as simple as a 16-second condensed video time lapse. It is actually much the same as your novel itself: concept is vital, before you start on the layers and brush strokes. Sketch and brainstorm, or discuss with your cover artist, until the images truly add to your book’s content. I do so hate being a conceited commercialist, but keep in mind that your work’s appearance is a key selling-point to readers who know nothing about your story. Aim to hook your audience with your cover, same as you do with your words on a page.

10.  Your Initial Public Offering

This one is a metaphor for your book launch. There is a lot of personal acceptance that goes into the decision to release your baby novel into the world. Especially if you are using your own name. Especially if it’s your debut. Lots of herbal tea, comfort food and self-reflective meditation is generally involved in taking the leap. Be brave. And after your book gets out there, the IPO stock market analogy becomes, in truth, quite literal. Your readers are your shareholders. Their reviews determine your offering’s value. So the clear goal of a book-writing startup is to make your novel the best possible product, starting with Step 1.

Good luck on the winding, yet ever-so-gratifying, road to a finished book!

AS

Waterdown!

After months of writing, editing, drawing, and creating the launch of my personal startup is here.

My novel is now, for the first time, available on Amazon as an e-book. I’m gearing up to finalise transfers to a number of other platforms like Apple Books. This couldn’t possibly be more exciting – especially after the self-paved path that led me here, full of the coolest discoveries, as well as much learning.

Yet the most important question now is:

“What’s Waterdown?”

I’ve already published a snippet of my novel’s narrative, but here is a more comprehensive synopsis.

Geo Spears thought her legacy would put her above humanity. She had created Fusion A.I., the superintelligence that saved mankind from itself. Poverty, pollution, crime and war—all gone. The solution was simple—people’s minds just had to be whitewashed… watered down.

By 2135, few human wants, wishes, instincts or memories remained. But this was also the year Geo Spears’ longevity treatment failed. She had weeks to live, at most. Cast out by Fusion and faced for the first time with mortality, her past betrayal of family becomes entangled with the present of those she learns to hold dear. Geo is confronted with the true cost of her A.I. creation. And the one remaining path to absolution.

I do hope you’re interested — especially after you’ve witnessed all the twists and turns of Waterdown’s journey from blank page to ebook.

One last thing: I’d like to reiterate that all proceeds from sales will go straight to my Literature for Literacy fundraising page.

So without further ado, check out Waterdown’s Amazon link – I would love to hear your feedback!

AS

A little teaser…

Self-check over: authorized

Patient: Ford, Scott

Born: 05/30/2130

Gender: Male

Complaint: dizziness, headache, nosebleed, vertigo, physical imbalance, nausea

Diagnosed with 3D-neurotransmitter scanner 42b1

Assisted by MedBot Hb3a

Diagnosis: Deliberate Deceleration Device not detected. Additional verification scans completed: two. No changes in state of patient. No 3D or 3D effects.

Warning! 3D functionality not detected.

Please report to the community Medical Center of your Living Complex (#45) so that your health can be fully assessed by a human health professional, and your 3D reinstated.

<sike>

Scott blinked. Then stared some more into the middle distance. Glanced again at the fateful warning displayed on the holo. He sat up straighter in the medical exam chair, surrounded by the faint, calming buzz of MedBots circling him, cleaning the equipment. An even fainter vibration, almost soundless, ran through the lacy thinner-than-hair electrodes feeding along his scalp as if they too were alive.

A query repeated three times wasn’t lying. He frantically felt around in his thoughts again, trying to reach for information that was previously so readily available to him. Addresses, data, some work-related memories. All he remembered instead was the encounter with the Boogeyman, his morning illness, the vertigo on the rooftop. Other recollections seemed behind a wall of milky glass, and yet some were becoming startlingly sharp. His childhood, weird little details: school; college; stupid jokes from years ago…

Scott’s head was spinning, but he was certain it wasn’t residue from his brush with height sickness. The smooth wires kept curling and uncurling along his hairline, sending signals, searching for a Device inside his head—a nanobot that was no longer there. Scott’s lungs felt suddenly too-empty, his head too-full of odd thoughts running too-fast, as if part of some unnatural illness.

He was no longer a proper Temporal. The 3D that had set the boundaries, the space for his memories, was gone. His thinking… his thinking was different. The electrodes moved like snakes, while Scott breathed heavily, trying to pinpoint what made his new reality so strange. Not one thought was repeated. Instead, his brain shone with stark clarity as if brand new and ready to learn an endless stream of data without forgetting. Fred’s circular questions, the meals always the same and so bland—it all came together in a grotesque image of the Devices’ real power over mind, body and will.

“Aw, mannn…”

Scott grabbed at the wires, dragging them away from the surface of his head. A few snagged behind his ear and he scratched at them desperately. He needed to delete the medical data, any records that his brain was now different. But before he could swipe at the holo, a door to the First Aid room slid open.

“No, wait!” He’d be turned back for sure; the diagnosis had sounded some kind of alarm. There was no real escape.

He expected anything but the apparition behind the door that told him to stop. It was a girl, of some 15 years old, with two tall tufts of auburn hair on either side of her head. Grey overalls, still in school. She snuck around Scott, who still stared at her dumbly, hands frozen in front of him, as she finished deftly unhooking him from the scanner, her hand doing an odd little twitch on the buttons.

She then moved to the other side of the holo, staring into Scott’s eyes through the blueish three dimensional screen. She did a complicated hand gesture, and the message, with all data pertaining to Scott’s diagnosis, vanished.

“That’s that. Welcome to humanity, Scott Ford.”

It’s International Literacy Day!

… What better date to open the floodgates of my new social media focusing on Literature & Literacy.

What do books mean to me? Brief thoughts.

I’m a story-teller as well as a story-reader. Books become friends, mentors and therapists, and my own book has become a brainchild for me. No matter which way you choose to interact with stories, once you start reading or writing, you learn, love, imagine more things than you could in a story-less lifetime.

A Harry Potter book can make you believe in magic, experience flight on a broom and, fun fact: according to this post, it can even help you master a language!

Which is a not-so-subtle transition to the next section of my brief thoughts.

UNESCO’s conference topic for today is ‘Literacy and Multilingualism’.

While UN’s leaders and participants explore policies and objectives to expand “mother language-based, multilingual approaches to literacy”, I’d like to briefly reflect on how books and languages have expanded my own horizons.

I am fortunate enough to be native in 3 languages and proficient in a fourth. Each one’s alphabet is different. There’s the “P” that can mean both an R and a P depending on the language, there’s the “Ř” which is an impossible sound to imitate in English (“rzh?” “rsh?” “zrh?”) and there’s the wonderful letter “Q” that should be written instead of the word queue when talking about lines of people, but for some reason isn’t…

Just these few examples provide sufficient evidence that reading and writing in a language only slightly different to your own can be rather complex. But what if your native language uses logograms? Or any other script but Latin? Learning the meaning behind letters and characters can become much more difficult then.

Personally, I started really learning languages as soon I was able to speak, which has given me the advantage of becoming fluent, fast. I’ve been provided with fairytales and textbooks to help me on my way. The reading I have done in each language has brought me a deeper understanding of the words’ meaning, their synonyms and sometimes etymology.

But imagine that your only chance at an education is an un-inclusive school where you don’t speak the language of instruction, even if it’s in your country… What if you have no proper books to practice your reading… Or no proper teacher…

Although I’m not attending their conference, I have every faith that UNESCO will come up with solutions for global illiteracy in the context of multilingualism. And there’s some simple advice for you and I: we can all do a little to help.

Happy International Literacy Day!

AS

Can you read my book?

Because there is no point in writing a novel if half the world won’t ever be able to read it.

Over 260 million children are out of school.

750 million people are illiterate, of which 100 million are children and youths – the world’s future.

43 million adults in the U.S. only possess basic literacy skills. That’s 1 in 5 people.

I am far from being an expert on data, education or humanitarian work, yet I firmly believe that:

This is a global issue that everyone should be aware of.

Literacy rates are lowest in the least developed regions of the world, and there is severe gender disparity, with young girls, on average, getting fewer educational opportunities than boys.

Illiteracy and lack of education results in the inescapable cycle of poverty and child labour. Young girls who don’t enroll or finish school are forced into child marriage and have a higher chance of contracting HIV. None of those 100 million illiterate children can contribute to their communities and bring constructive change.

I urge you to read the research and data gathered by UNICEF. Especially because you can read.

The statistics are shocking, but what do we do? 

Personally, I’ve been fortunate in my upbringing and education and I want to use my opportunities to bring the same to those in need.

There are numerous charities working on solving the problem of illiteracy – through donations, training school staff, building schools and ensuring students can learn safely and finish their studies. There are links to quite a few organisations down below, but personally, I have chosen to contribute to one of Room to Read’s projects.

I am starting a donation page for this non-profit, to which I hence pledge all proceeds from the first year of sales of my book. A loud proclamation, I know. Yet, even more essential to raising the money I can, is raising awareness.

Please head over to my own Room to Read support page (coming soon), even if you are unable to contribute directly, I encourage you to take a look at all their work and successes in promoting literacy.

Literature for Literacy.

AS

It’s done.

We’ve come back full circle.

My novel is edited, rewritten, proofed and being formatted as we speak. It’s September. And November is National Novel Writing Month. Oh no.

I won’t be writing another book so soon, though. There is a new focus I would like to add to my blog, one that I hope will kickstart an important discussion among readers and writers alike. Stay tuned.

Thank you for this journey.

AS

Sssss… Stress or success?

I really wanted to write that four-letter word that starts with S.

Because I’m in the editing phase now. Progress is nice. But rewriting is not a job for the weak.

Lesson 1: Be humble. Be prepared for hard truths. Editors or beta-readers will inevitably point out weakness after weakness. Even if you desperately want to throw all their criticism overboard and sail the seven seas of Barnes & Noble, Kindle Store and Apple Books on your own, don’t do it. A renegade isn’t a good look for a writer just learning their craft.

Personally, I, to quote one of my editors, “took their comments and ran with them”. Which means that I’m changing a lot of stuff. It takes a great deal of patience and even more coffee to go through with throwing things away and rewriting the rest. Often, it will make you want to yell into the void, incidentally my second favourite pastime after writing. Call constant frustration an occupational hazard. But it will be worth it. 

Sometimes, your editor won’t know what’s best. And sometimes you, as the author, are allowed to say no to suggestions. You can argue your case, but respect those who know all the industry’s ins and outs.

Lesson 2: Be brave. You’ve finished an entire story, be it short or long. That’s already a big achievement. Find the fragile essence of your narrative and stay true to it. Focus on the what and why, and the how will come, even if it’s only in the third or fourth edit.

Sssss… Soldier on.

AS

Shortest blog post ever.

After the last three, which totalled over 1k.

I don’t like to ramble. Even so, my first draft was 10,000 words longer than my second version. Cutting away paragraphs hurt, but a reader abandoning my very slow novel would have hurt worse.

Keep your mind (and eyeliner?) sharp and your pen (cursor?) sharper.

AS

It’s a job.

Time for brutal honesty now: it’s April and deadlines are coming.

Making time for writing has been harder and harder, while my various exams are ever closer. Who am I kidding, I’m still going to panic and cram a week before my tests, but the pile of responsibilities is becoming a mountain.

I know I’ve already talked about never stopping writing and here I went against my own advice. Classic, AS, classic.

The facts of the Case of The Absentee Writer are as follows:

  • 2 weeks without a word added to the manuscript
  • Email to editor still unwritten
  • Cover is just the bare bones of several sketches
  • Would-be-author nowhere to be found
  • But blog mysteriously updated (somehow seems easier to write this sad story of my life than the seriously cool novel I should focus on instead)

I’m guilty as charged in the sense that it’s my own fault there’s been no progress with the writing. Somewhere between 30 and 40k words, it’s become a part-time employment venture with very few benefits and no free workspace coffee or office supplies. Writing needs time-investment, energy, your sweat, blood and tears. You need to get it done. There are deadlines.

Now I’m getting back to it, catching up and moving forward.

It will be a job. But don’t allow it to become just a chore.

AS

How to make time… and keep making time.

TL;DR Keep at it, rinse and repeat. Eventually, the word-count will add up.

I’m still in high school at this date and time. Miserable experience, I know. The long and the short of it is that I can’t write regularly. There’s sports and homework and tests and compulsory reading and the texts from friends on a Friday night that roughly translates to “u busy? lets hang lol” (atrocious punctuation included). Now, my friends are great and all, but you can’t exactly stop and tell them that: “Actually, guys, I want to stay in and work on my dorky sci-fi novel.”

No, you can’t. Same as you can’t seem to say no to your teachers or employers or even your family. All that’s left to do after the clock runs down is to say no to yourself and your projects and go to bed, hoping that the next day you will write at least a few pages.

Writing and finishing a piece is a tough job which takes time, I absolutely know and understand. But you know what will be a tougher and longer job? Rewrites. Edits. But more on that later.

Because, you see, it is physically impossible to edit a blank page with 0 words in the bottom bar of your Word document.

The blinking cursor is intimidating for sure. Get yourself a timed 5, 10, 20, 30 minutes a day. Go! Write the worst nonsense you can, but don’t stop, don’t let a 1-day gap between writing sessions become a week, a month, a story lying in your proverbial drawer, gathering dust. Or, you know, in your head or the Notes app on your phone.

I’ve been there. School and a lot of Stressful Stuff™️ inevitably got in the way. I stopped writing for almost a month. What used to be fun became a mountain looming above me – I was beyond late for all sorts of editing and re-writing deadlines that I’d set myself. The ‘write 20k this week or die’ alert from your Google Calendar is the stuff of nightmares, I’m sure you’ll agree.

What helped with both the stress and my slow progress was coming up with ideas and little story notes while I worked on my other commitments. At school, on the subway, buying groceries. When I re-read them, the world and characters I was building all along became richer, more thought-out and real.

Never stop thinking about your manuscript, finished or not. If you’re too busy to write, get inspired by the things keeping you busy. Being afraid of not writing enough, or not writing well isn’t a valid excuse.

See you after that great writing sesh.

AS