Monday, 25 October 2010

Writing - It's Just Like Climbing Mountains

I began marking a student's assignment yesterday and their first comments were apologising for the delay in sending this latest exercise through. She was surprised at how much work was involved and how long it had taken her to complete it.

Many beginner writers believe that writing is easy. You just pick up a pen and sit down to write. Whilst this IS true, (there's no other way of writing, without actually doing some writing) what they don't realise is that that isn't it! There's a lot of honing and editing to endure before the text is perfect.

True writers are those who understand that writing is like mountain climbing. There are many who set off at the bottom, full of enthusiasm and raring to go. Then the incline gets steeper and suddenly the novelty starts wearing off. Out of puff, many turn around and return to the bottom, having underestimated the challenge ahead. It is the real writers who continue climbing.

A little preparation works wonders. When I climb a mountain, I plan my route in advance. I sit down and consult the map, looking for a suitable route up and and enjoyable route back down. I identify stages where I can stop for breath ... I mean ... stop to take a nice photograph. I try to gauge what time I should be at the summit to ensure I allow enough time to get back.

The same goes for my writing. I plan out roughly what I need to do. Where should I look to find out further information and background material? When is my deadline? Where should I be at each stage of my writing? In my own imagination, the summit of the mountain is the completion of my first draft. Getting the first draft written is always my challenge. Once I've done that, the editing process is all downhill! So, if I have a deadline of two weeks, then I will plan to be at my first draft summit by the end of week one.

Viewpoint 1
It's imperative that you plan these 'photographic breaks' on your climb. When climbing mountains, the view changes with every step you make. At the end of the day, or your writing time, stop and look back over what you've just written. Perhaps the path was harder going than it looked. But there's nothing to worry about now. You wouldn't drop back down a mountain at this stage and look for an easier path up, would you? You're here now. The next stage, is a new day, so look forward to the next viewpoint. How are you going to get there? Jot down a few simple notes to remind yourself when you're next back at your writing desk.

Viewpoint 2
At the end of your next day's writing time, stop and take another look at the view. Refreshed from your break at Viewpoint 1, you'll find it easier to get going again on the next stage, if you're clear about where you're heading. Mountain paths have a habit of getting steeper as you draw towards the summit, especially if it turns out to be a false summit. But no matter how many false summits I encounter on my climb, the fact remains - I am higher than I was before. As I progress to each viewpoint in my writing, I know that I'm further in my journey. I might wish I was at the top now, when I'm not, but I know the summit is closer than it was two days ago!

Viewpoint 3
As you near the summit, you get a better overall picture of what lies beneath you. You see the bigger picture now. It's tempting to start planning your descent, or the changes to your text now, because you can see it better from this viewpoint. But don't. You don't start descending, until you've reached the top. By all means, make a note of any changes to the path back down that you'd like to make, but don't make them now - now is the time for that final burst to the summit.

Summit - Hooray!
 First things first, have a break and enjoy the view! You've achieved the toughest part. Creating something new can be daunting, but the sense of achievement when you've created it is overwhelming! Remind yourself as you look back over your text, that back down at the bottom, none of this had happened. You've made it happen.

Enjoy the moment and share your news. Walkers share their experiences too at summits. Watch out for that nasty patch of stinging nettles by the third stile - they pounce when your back is turned! Tell other writers about finishing your first draft, and the view you can see now. They may offer you some helpful suggestions for your editing route back down to basecamp.

Then remind yourself of your route down. Do you need to make any changes to your path? Is there an easier track you can take? Can you take the path you planned or are you tight for time now? With some writing projects, deadlines can change as quickly as the weather turns on a mountain. Sometimes, it's necessary to get back down quickly, but you should always do so safely, don't take risks. Taking a short cut with the editing process can be risky.

Back at Basecamp
When you finally return to basecamp, you'll feel another sense of achievement. It's finished. You did it! Walker's celebrate a mountain climb with some completely unhealthy rewards - a drink in the pub, some fast food (well, faster than the climb up) or an entire packet of chocolate hobnobs. But that's okay, because they've worked hard for it. And writers who finish writing and editing their work should reward themselves too. It's what motivates us for tomorrow's mountain.

basecamp next week end, I'll be able to look back over this week and see what I've achieved. And because I've planned my route out beforehand, I know which summit I'm conquering this week.

Good luck.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Scrivener for Macs .... and Windows in 2011!

Those of us using Apple Macs have had the joy of using a programme called Scrivener for some time now. It was created by a writer, for writers, and it assists writers by allowing us to focus on the content we are writing and worry about the structure later. It works best (in my opinion) for large projects - the non-fiction books, the novel and the screenplay, although it can be used for any form of writing.

It's a great in that it allows you to store all of your research data and information (including pictures, soundtracks and movies) in the same file as the document you are writing.)

Scrivener is not a word processor, although it can do the basics of bold, italics and underlining, etc. Instead, it allows you to write a scene, or a collection of scenes, in any order that you like. What makes Scrivener better than a word processor, is that you can move huge chunks of text around, quickly, easily and without cutting and pasting. So, if you decide that scene 14 would be better as scene 2, you simply drag and drop. Here's how the programme is described by the developers:

Scrivener allows you to split up a long text into smaller, more manageable chunks (chapters, scenes, main points - how large or small is up to you) and to edit them independently or together as one long document. Its structural tools include a corkboard and an outliner for rearranging the constituent parts of your draft, so that you can plan your work in advance or get an overview and restructure it after the first pass. You can also refer to research documents (such as images and PDF files) by having them alongside your text as you work.

When your manuscript is complete, you can compile it into one long document for printing or for exporting to a word processor such as Microsoft Word. 

To find out more, visit the Scrivener website at

There's a great video demonstration available at
Why am I mentioning this now?
Well, the second version of Scrivener is about to be released for Apple Mac users, but in 2011, for the first time, there'll be a version for Windows users too. And, any Windows computer user who tackles this year's NaNoWriMo event (National Novel Writing Month in November) and successfully completes the required 50,000 words during that month (and gets their verification certificate) can obtain a 50% off discount voucher of the Windows version when it is released early next year. (A single license will be $40, so the voucher will drop it down to $20.)
To find out more:

Good luck if you're planning to do NaNoWriMo this year.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

How To Turn 3p Into £100

Just take a look at this cheque. Yes, that's right. Barclays Bank sent me a cheque for 3 pence. (It wouldn't have happened in my day when I worked on the 'Open and Close' account section.)

I closed an account and did they simply transfer the outstanding credit interest to my current account? No. They sent me a cheque. Ooh, I can feel the steam rising from your own ears as you read this! Infuriating isn't it? Not only have the banks made a mess of our economy, but they clearly have money to waste by posting cheques of 3p out to their customers. (Yes, it was sent first class.)

So, how many times have I told you that you should send off a letter to a magazine when you have something to say? Well, spotting an opportunity I decided to do just that and I wrote to Moneywise magazine. And guess what? It's their Star Letter in the October issue! And what's the prize for their Star letter? £100 of M&S vouchers!

So that, my dear readers, is how you turn 3p into £100.

Can anyone better that?

Good luck!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Where Do You Write?

This time last week I was taking this picture of Loweswater, in the Lake District, Cumbria. (Looking out of my bedroom/office window now, the weather is a little different.)

The scenery instilled calmness and serenity - it was certainly inspirational - I've still to type up the article I drafted with pen and paper at the end of that day, but the idea was inspired by this view.

As I've mentioned before in this blog, whenever I go away, I make a point of buying the local magazines and in one was an article about the writer, Hunter Davies. Hunter is a prolific writer, author and journalist and ghostwriter of many celebrity biographies including; The Beatles, Wordsworth, John Prescott, Wayne Rooney and Gazza. The article explained how Hunter Davies splits his year into two - he lives for six months in London, and for the other (sunnier) six months he lives in the Lake District. In fact, he lives here at Loweswater. (I'm jealous now.)

The reason I mention this is that here in the UK, British Summer Time ends in a couple of weeks and the clocks will go back an hour (fall back, spring forward - for those who can never remember) and this process reinforces upon us the onset of winter. It's a time when our habits change, and it's worth considering changing where you write. Now I'm not saying that you need to consider travelling like Hunter, from one end of the country to the other, but is where you write during the summer months the best place to write during the winter months?

During the winter months, daylight is scarcer and I much prefer working in natural daylight, so I move my desk next to the window in order to maximise the amount of time I can use this resource. (It's also where the radiator is situated, which is also a bonus!) Spend a few minutes considering your writing environment. I don't like using the darker evenings and the colder weather as an excuse not to write. Like Hunter, I find moving to a new writing place, even if it is from one side of the room to the other, the start of a new phase. It reinvigorates my excitement about sitting down at my desk each morning to work. It's different. And then just as spring takes a hold again, in preparation for the coming summer, I'll move back across to the other side of the room.

Hunter Davies is in his mid-seventies now, and shows no signs of retiring. (Isn't writing just the best job in the world anyway? Who does retire from writing?) Having a summer writing place and a winter writing place could be just what you need to maintain your inspiration levels. You may have the opportunity of moving further than me - perhaps into an adjacent room. However limiting your opportunities are, take a few minutes to consider your options. It could reawaken your creativity.

Good luck.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Nuturing the Realtionship

Last week I blogged about sowing your seeds continuously, and those who do will be rewarded when a seed suddenly flowers unexpectedly. A couple of days ago, one of my students, Dave, wrote to update me of his efforts. For those of you who follow regularly, Dave is my student who regularly submits jokes to That's Life's 'Rude Jokes of the Week' slot. He's just seen his 60th in print (yes, 60 jokes at £15 a time totals £900 - so he's laughing all the way to the bank.) He definitely knows where to sow his humorous seeds anyway!

However, Dave has also been submitting articles to a variety of magazines, including one of the railway publications. He's been sending work in on spec, and the editor has liked what Dave has written, asking him to continue sending in material.

When he spoke to another member of the editorial team a few days ago, they told him that the editorial staff were due to get together some time this month to plan out the issues for the coming year. At first Dave considered this to be bad news - if they knew what they wanted for the next 12 issues, any ideas he had might not fit in.

However, when a magazine plans out the future, they don't decide at that one meeting what is going to be on every page of every issue for the next 12 months. They tend to plan a theme, identifying specific ideas for some specific pages within the magazine. Effectively, they create an editorial calendar, which is often used by the advertising department to sell advertising space. (If an issue is going to be focusing on Railway holidays, then the advertising department will approach holiday companies that offer railway holidays inviting them to advertise in this specific issue.)

But, now that Dave has a relationship with the staff at this magazine, he's in a position where he could ask for a copy of the editorial calendar when it's been created. That way, he can 'twist' his ideas to fit the theme of a specific issue. By approaching the editor by email with an idea (and remember, the editorial staff now know him), his chances of success are greater, if he's pitching an article idea on a topic that the magazine wants to cover.

Sometimes a relationship with a customer (yes, the magazines and publishers are your customers - and remember - the customer is always right!) needs some careful handling. But nurture it correctly and it could blossom into a rewarding relationship.

Good luck.

Friday, 8 October 2010

UK Reader's Digest Competition - Watch for Copyright

The UK edition of Reader's Digest is running a competition for a 100-word story. The story has to be 100 words exactly. Stories of 99 words will be rejected.

The story that appeals most to the panel of judges will win £5,000, with the two runners up winning £100 of book tokens. All three will be printed in the Reader's Digest.

However, you should always read the terms and conditions of a competition.

Further information can be found here.

Full details of terms and conditions can be found here.

NOTE: "Contributions become world copyright of Vivat Direct Ltd (t/a Reader's Digest)." The terms and conditions of this competition state that the copyright of ANY ENTRY SUBMITTED INTO THE COMPETITION will become the property of Reader's Digest and its parent company.


I just wanted to clarify that it is not the writers of the winning entries who lose their copyright - but every writer who submits an entry who will lose their copyright in their creation.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Sowing Seeds For The Future

There are times with this writing game when you may feel that all of your efforts are being ignored. You send off a submission ... and hear nothing. You query an editor with a great idea ... and hear nothing. However, all of these actions are not wasted. You are, in fact, sowing possible seeds for the future.

Last February, I approached an editor with an idea for an article about the Long Mynd Hike, which takes place, here where I live,  during the first weekend of October. Hikers set off at 1pm on Saturday from the centre of the village, and within 24 hours have to walk the local hills - a circular route of 50 miles (80km) which includes over 8,000 feet of climbing. These sorts of events tend to take place in our National Parks, but the Long Mynd Hike takes place less then fifty miles from Birmingham City Centre. Having chatted to one of the founder members of the hike, I could offer an interview and background piece.

But I heard nothing.

After two weeks I approached the editor to enquire whether he'd had an opportunity to consider my idea.

I still had no reply.

So, two weeks later, I made another enquiry, by email.


At the end of April, I made one last ditch attempt and telephoned the editor, but he wasn't there. I left a message, but he did not ring back.

It seemed that this seed had fallen on stony ground, however that was not the case. In the middle of September I received an email, from the editor I'd originally approached back in February. Could I help him out? Another writer had let him down at the last minute and he desperately needed a feature to fill several pages within the magazine. The idea that I had proposed back in February would fit neatly, but (and here comes an element of the freelancing world that may seem a little unfair in all of this) could I produce the article within the next 24 hours?

Now, novice writers may see this as unfair - I'd originally approached the editor six months ago, and if he'd made the decision then, I could have had a couple of months to produce a fantastic feature, and now all I had was 24 hours to produce a fantastic feature!

But, back then, the editor didn't know he was going to have a problem with a piece in this issue and I saw this as an opportunity to show an editor that I could be relied upon. It was hard work, but I did it, and within the deadline. And, I saw it as bonus work too. Because I hadn't heard from the editor about my original submission, I'd written off this idea with this market.

And that's how freelance writing works sometimes. You may send off ideas and submissions but not hear back straight away. That doesn't matter, because sometimes those seeds do go on to germinate, and when they flower, it is always a beautiful surprise.

Incidentally, if any of you fancy climbing a total of 8,000 feet and walking for 50 miles around the Shropshire countryside, you may be interested to know that the quickest entrants achieve all this within nine hours! 

Good luck.