Ali Luke is one of today’s most sought after bloggers. She writes on her own blog, Aliventures, which concentrates on coaching new writers, while also contributing to a wide variety of personal development blogs right across the blogosphere.
Ali has recently brought out her first novel, Lycopolis, about a group of online gamers whose online games begin to eerily manifest in their real lives. As well as being a great read, the book evocatively explores the nebulous nature of reality itself. I highly recommend it.
Today, continuing our series ‘voices unscripted’ Ali talks to the unscripted self about life, how she got started, what drives her, and much more . . .
USS Hi Ali, when did you first start blogging?
Ali When I was an 18-year-old student. My blog was mostly about student life, and occasionally written while drunk. All evidence has now been obliterated from the internet...
I first started blogging seriously in late 2007: for several months, I’d been reading blogs like ProBlogger and I thought that blogging would be a great way to make money from two of my favourite things – writing and the internet.
USS What writers or bloggers inspire you most?
Ali Several writers/bloggers have generously given me their time: amongst them Charlie Gilkey from Productive Flourishing was an inspiration and support to me when I was finding my feet in the blogosphere, and Francis Spufford (author of several books, his latest is Red Plenty) was my tutor at Goldsmiths while I wrote my novel Lycopolis.
Other inspiring bloggers – Sonia Simone, Darren Rowse, Chris Garrett and Pace and Kyeli Smith. They’re all fantastic bloggers and also fantastic people.
USS Yes, they certainly are. Aliventures, your own blog, has changed over the years. When I first discovered it, oh it must be two, three years ago, it was solely a personal development blog. I find some of those blogs can be a bit preachy, but Aliventures seemed to speak with an honesty that came from a place of trust. Today you concentrate more on coaching up-and-coming writers. How did that move come about, was it a deliberate decision or something that happened gradually?
Ali You’re absolutely right – I started Aliventures around July 2009, and it was a personal development blog. It stayed that way for around a year. In 2010, I shifted to blogging about writing. It was a very deliberate decision (and not one I took lightly)!
I write for two personal development blogs – Dumb Little Man and Pick the Brain – so I already had an outlet for that material. I decided that I didn’t want to just blog about personal development on Aliventures – partly because I had the Blogger’s Guide ebooks aimed at bloggers and it made sense to write for that audience. When I started writing coaching, I shifted Aliventures to be a blog about writing. I got a new design too.
It was a fairly decisive switch: I’d blogged a bit about writing (in the context of personal development) and I still blog about some personal development topics, like time management, in the context of writing ... but basically, Aliventures is a totally different blog today from two years ago.
USS Yes, it’s nice to see how blogs evolve. Now apart from Lycopolis, your first novel, you’ve written a number of ebooks, such as The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing, The Blogger’s Guide to Freelancing, and The Blogger’s Guide to Irresistible Ebooks. Have you any plans for a personal development ebook, or to bring out a compendium of early Aliventures material? I know some bloggers have done that as a way of introducing older material to new readers.
Ali I actually did attempt a personal development ebook, but it was much tougher to market than my blogging ones, so I’ve not called much attention to it since shifting Aliventures to being a writing blog. I’m considering what to do with the earlier Aliventures material as I like what I wrote then, it just doesn’t fit too well on the blog as it now is.
USS I think an ebook “best of” would be a good seller. So, a question you’re going to get asked a lot (now that you’re famous!) How much of yourself do you put into your characters?
Ali More than I’d like to admit. ;-) Thankfully, I’m not famous yet...
I think every author puts a lot of themselves into their characters: after all, we only have access to our own thoughts, so it’s pretty hard to draw on anyone else. It’s tough to see some of your darker moments/thoughts/etc reflected back at you in your characters, but that’s what makes for powerful fiction.
The three main characters – Kay, Edwin and Seth – are probably the closest to me. I had to work hard to avoid Kay being simply “an idealised Ali” – she gradually took on her own characters as the drafting progressed. Edwin is pretty close to me as a 14-year-old, only male and wearing a bit more black. And Seth is an outlet for my nasty side. ;-)
USS Well, let’s hope we don’t meet him! I loved the fusion between the world of Lycopolis and the actual one of the players. The two seemed to bleed into each other effortlessly, almost before the characters themselves knew what was happening. To me it mirrored the metaphysical question about what is reality, where does our imagination end and ‘reality’ take over. Could it be that the world all around us is some kind of virtual reality, played out by a benevolent or capricious gamester? Or another way of putting it, are we dreaming this reality in the way we do when we’re asleep, believing everything is real? It’s something I ponder a lot, but maybe that’s just me! Have you ever thought about life like that?
Ali Ha ha! Yes, if only because I had to read Descartes when I was 17. (He postulates an “evil demon” that creates the entire world that we think we perceive.) And, of course, I’ve seen the Matrix...
I don’t think we’re characters in anyone’s game (not sure I could prove it, though...) I do think that the boundaries between “real” and “not-real” are blurred through the virtual. In Lycopolis, I deliberately constructed three levels of reality: the online game; the dreams about the forest; and the “actual” world. The Prince of Nightmares (the demon in the novel) gradually gets more and more power at increasing levels of reality.
USS Yes. I like the way you’ve merged those three levels. It certainly gives food for thought as to how we readily accept what’s in front of us as our ultimate reality. OK. Back to blogging. Today everyone seems to have a blog on ‘how to get rich blogging’, and there’s a lot of “how to” information out there, much of it concentrates on technique, it’s almost like someone’s trying to discover a formula. Am I right is saying you don’t just see yourself as a blogger, but as a writer? The distinction may be moot, but I think a lot of bloggers miss that, and as such (and I’m sure it’s not deliberate) don’t take the time to learn the craft of writing.
Ali Yes – in fact, I’d say I see myself as a writer first and foremost. “Blogger” to me is a type of writer, but also involves non-writing skills. I have the design skill of a stone, or I’d draw you a Venn diagram: imagine my “writer” circle overlapping with my “blogger” circle.
I get sad when I see “content” being treated as a mere commodity, something to get traffic or Google juice or ad clicks or whatnot. And trust me, blogging isn’t a good way to get rich quick! It’s a fantastic way to market a product or service – but your blog itself shouldn’t be your business.
USS It drives me crazy when I see ads put slap in the middle of the text. It’s so obvious why they want you on the page. And, another thing that’s missing from a lot of blogs is passion. I love Naomi Dunford although I haven’t seen her around for a while. You’re someone who writes with conviction. Can you talk a bit about the importance of passion in writing?
Ali Yes, Naomi’s taken a bit of a back seat recently. I know she’s had some personal stuff going on.
I think enthusiasm is important in writing; you have to care. At the beginning of my Creative Writing MA, I took a couple of (separate) short stories to show two different tutors. Both tutors were quite different as people and as writers – but they both told me that my writing was all head and no heart. I got started on Lycopolis after that, and I was finally writing fiction that really meant something to me.
Writing with conviction takes a certain amount of confidence, not only in your subject matter but also in your ability to write. I’m lucky that writing comes easily to me and that I love it. Even so, I’ll sometimes be anxious about a particular post that seems too personal or too vulnerable – only to find that readers love it.
You can certainly write something without putting much passion or enthusiasm into it, but if you’re going to work on an extended project – like a blog or a novel – then you really want to pour as much of “you” as you can into it.
USS Recently I wrote an extended post called ‘What Do We Mean By Spirituality: A New Perspective’, in which I talked about the difference between spirituality and religion. In a nutshell it says that religion relies more on rules while everyone is spiritual (whether they realise it or not) and that’s something we can develop and it’s always up to ourselves. Would you describe yourself as spiritual or religious, or perhaps you have no interest in the subject. Do you resonate with something beyond the physical and material boundaries, and if so how does that give meaning to your life?
Ali I don’t normally describe myself as spiritual or religious, though by most people’s definitions, I think I’m both. Neither word fits too well with how I see myself, though.
I’m a Christian (from both upbringing and personal conviction) – I don’t think I’ve written about that on Aliventures, because it’s never been directly relevant to what I’m posting. My faith underpins a lot of what I do, though; it gives me a strong ethical framework that means I avoid some of the practices you’ll see in the online business world.
My faith has shifted a bit over the years and will probably continue to do so. It definitely gives my life meaning and purpose, because it makes me feel that I’m part of a greater whole and that I’m here for a reason. I sometimes have a hard time with the more spiritual side of faith – I like doing things, but I’m not so good at the feeling side. Perhaps that’s just how I’m wired!
USS I suppose we all get tied up in the doing at the expense of feeling, at least until it forces itself upon us. You mentioned Descartes above, I remember he was the guy who decided empirical evidence should be firmly the matter of science, while spiritual affairs could be left to the Church. A handy convenience at the time, perhaps, but which led to one of the greatest dichotomies in the human psyche.
Ok, to wrap up let’s say something about motivation. Getting momentum going is one thing, but for many a greater challenge is sticking to something they’ve started. You cover this topic in Eight Simple Ways To Make Change Stick, in The Change Blog. One of the points you make in that article is to ‘tell other people about your goal’. I’ve always found this a good way to help me achieve a goal. It’s like when I make a commitment with another person it’s harder to break it than if I tell no one. I can’t easily back down, at least not without looking pretty silly. Is keeping motivation important to you? And how does Ali Luke keep motivated?
Ali Motivation is crucial – a lot of what I do doesn’t involve instant pay-offs for success (or punishments for failure!) so I need to be able to stick with my projects over the long term. This is definitely something I’ve become better at over the years.
I find that I’m most motivated when I’m on top of things, so I’m quite organised and I have a bit of a tendency to live in the future rather than relax in the present. I’ve always been a high achiever and a bit of a perfectionist – I guess I’m motivated by continuing to achieve new things and reach new goals.
Other people definitely motivate me. I get some lovely emails and comments from my blog readers, and that means a huge amount. Sometimes when I write a blog post, I’ll have a particular reader in mind, someone who I hope will find it useful and encouraging.
Writing is a very natural part of my life now; I feel out of sorts if I don’t write for a few days, and it’s become habit and routine – so motivation isn’t a struggle like it used to be a few years ago.
USS Great. Thanks Ali, and good luck with Lycopolis. Who knows, it could become the 21th century’s On The Road, speaking to the new, tech savvy, slightly detached, part emotionally insecure, gaming, emailing, twittering generation.
You can get Lycopolis at www.lycopolis.co.uk where you can also grab some sample chapters as well as other cool stuff. It’s available on kindle from Amazon for only $2.99 or £1.97. (If you don’t have kindle Amazon provide you with a free kindle app to your computer).
If you’re thinking of starting your own blog, or have just started one, check out Ali’s courses and coaching services at www.aliventures.com/coaching.
There is a voice that doesn’t use words - listen!
Reality is merely an illusion - albeit a persistent one.