Monday, 30 May 2011

Notebook Jottings

You do have a notebook don't you? EVERY writer should have a notebook with them at ALL times, in order to capture that important idea, before it disappears into the black hole that also resides in our brain.

But, do you use your notebook properly?

For a writer, a notebook is an ideas album and a memory log. If you write down everything that comes to mind, you are creating a physical representation of all of your thoughts and ideas. Jot down everything:
  • Ideas
  • General thoughts
  • Things to do
  • Dreams or goals that you aspire to
  • Your experiences
Don't worry about how you might be able to use this information. Your notebook is simply the collection tool. Once you've written it down it is there to refer to at some point in the future. Possibly later on today, but then, maybe not for many years to come.

Writing regularly in a notebook helps a writer to develop their own style and voice. It's the regularity that improves a writer's communication skill. Even the action of writing something down can make it more real. Jot down your dream and it's there for you to see on paper. It's the memory-jogger, that just might spur you on to take some action to achieve it.

Of course, it's important to take time to read through your notebooks. Remind yourself of your thoughts and ideas. This action can spark off more ideas in itself. The other day I was looking through one of my old notebooks, and as I flicked through the pages, I came across three, separate, short phrases, each of which went on to become titles of books I have had published. It's exciting seeing an idea you had many years ago and then realising that because you jotted it down in your notebook, it grew to become something exciting!

So, what can a writer do to make the most of their notebooks?

  1. Date your entries. I use one page per idea / thought / comment. I put the date in the top left hand corner. In the middle of the page, at the top, in capitals, I put an encapsulating word or phrase, followed by a brief description - ARTICLE IDEA - Time Management, SHORT STORY - Fridge Thief. This helps me when I'm looking through my notebooks. Sometimes, if I am looking for something in particular, I may remember roughly when I made the comment, so the date helps narrow the search. Or, I may remember it was an article idea, so I simply flick through for my ARTICLE IDEA headings.
  2. Write in it regularly. Jot down ideas as they occur (so small notebooks you can carry around with you at all times are useful here). However, it's also useful to sit down for five or ten minutes at the end of the day and make a note of your thoughts about what has happened today, or any comments about things that have happened today.
  3. Don't give yourself any rules about what can and can't be written in your notebook. It's your notebook, you can write ANYTHING in it!
  4. Be truthful. Write down your innermost thoughts. Get down on paper what you are really thinking. You may encapsulate a feeling or emotion that you can use in a short story or novel at a later date.
  5. Remember your senses - especially when you're away from home. Write down sights, smells, tastes, sounds and things that you've touched.
A notebook is just as important a tool for a writer as a keyboard. The more you use it, the more effective it will be.

Good luck!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Every Action Has An Equal And Opposite Reaction

When a chef puts a frying pan onto a burning gas stove, it gets hot. When a chef puts some ingredients together, a culinary dish is created. When a chef drops and egg, he makes a mess on the floor!

The old laws of science still apply - for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

I was thinking about this the other day when a student commented that she wanted to get to the stage in her writing career where she could switch on her computer one morning and find an email from an editor offering her a commission.

I too like days like that! They do happen - but as Newton's law says, in order to get that reaction, first you need to undertake some action yourself. In order for an editor to email you with a commission, you need to tell the editor that you exist and offer him, or her, an idea that they can't resist.

Next month, an article I was commissioned to write will appear in an American magazine. It took two years to get that commission. First of all, I obtained a couple of sample issues of the magazine so that I could study it. Then I emailed the editor with three ideas. They were rejected. So, I emailed three more article ideas. They too were rejected. So, I emailed another three ideas, two of which were rejected, but one was accepted.

In order to get that 'reaction' of a commission - I had to take some action myself. In fact, I had to take quite a lot of action, in order to get the reaction that I wanted. (My first action - three ideas - were rejected, so the rejection was a reaction - just not the reaction I was looking for!)

It may seem obvious to some people, but as with so much in life, if you want something to happen, it is down to you to do make it happen. That is so true of writers. If you want to have a novel published, you have to write one first. If you want an editor to commission you, you have to pitch them first.

There is a saying in the world of fiction that Drama never comes knocking on your character's door - your character has to knock on Drama's door. In other words - your character needs to take some kind of action, that will generate the drama to unfold.

Next time you want something to happen in your writing life, think first about what sort of action you need to take to make it happen. Then do it!

Good luck.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Make the Middle your Beginning

Your beginning is not always the beginning. Sometimes your middle is the real beginning. Let me explain.

On Friday I marked a few assignments, a couple of which were improved by cutting the beginning. This is a common problem for both non-fiction and fiction writers, I've found. Even if you sit down and outline your article or short story and are happy that your beginning, middle and end are correct, when it comes to the actual writing process, beginning the beginning isn't always easy. And in my opinion, those writers who don't plan or outline their writing suffer from weaker openings even more.
Sometimes when we write, even if we have planned that opening, it takes us a while to sort out our opening sentence. Until the process of writing has actually begun, it isn't always easy for our brains to be clear about what it is we actually want to say. So, we begin writing something and after ten or fifteen minutes, suddenly the fog inside our brains lifts, and the focus becomes apparent - we know exactly what we want to say and how we want to say it. That's when the words begin to flow.

Writers who are starting out are then pleased when they have reached the end. That's it. Their article or short story is written. But as the maxim goes, although writing is hard, it is the rewriting that makes a piece. Editing is important. When you've finished your piece, put it aside for a while and when you come back to it, try the following:
  • Read your text through once, without making any amendments, or correcting any spelling/typing mistakes.
  • Read your text through again, but this time, start at paragraph three.
  • Read your text through again, this time starting at paragraph four.
This technique can be quite enlightening. What you might think is a paragraph approaching the middle of your article, may well provide a much stronger beginning. And if you read through your text starting at your new beginning of paragraph three, or four, often it is surprising how little information is lost (if any) simply by deleting the first two or three paragraphs. Often your new opening paragraph grabs the reader's attention much more effectively.

Next time you write something, try this technique. Deleting the first two or three paragraphs can lead to a dramatic improvement to your overall piece.

Good luck.

Monday, 9 May 2011

What Does Your Newsagents Say About Your Neighbourhood?

Have you stopped to look at the magazines on your local newsagent's shelf? And when I say look, I mean really look.

I raise the question, because last week, a friend and I were in a large branch of WHSmiths, in one of my local towns, and we were browsing the shelves, as any writer does. And what we found ourselves doing was moaning, yet again, because for some inexplicable reason the Annoyance Fairy had paid a visit again by re-arranging the entire magazine department. Where the Women's Magazines once stood, was now Gardening, the History section was now Computer Games, whilst Travel had got up an left only to be replaced with Guns and Shooting.

However, it transpires that the Annoyance Fairy had done us a favour. Before, we would simply browse the shelves where our preferred markets could be found, but now, we had to take our time and really look at the magazines. And it was quite revealing.

Take a closer look at the photo in this posting. You'll see that there is a selection of magazines arranged on the shelf here, but look at the label at the bottom of the shelf. What's the subject matter of these magazines? Can you see? Yes, that's it. Take a closer a look. Yes! Your eyes are not deceiving you! It says 'Tattoo'. My local WHSmiths has an entire section devoted entirely to Tattoo magazines! We counted 13 titles with the word Tattoo, or Skin, in the title and there were also a couple of other Tattoo-associated titles there too.

Now this is not a market I had ever considered before ... mainly because my body is tattoo-free, but clearly in this local town there is a huge readership who are interested in this subject. (In fact, as we walked around the rest of the shops we began playing a game - spot the Tattoo magazine reader!)

I came away with several new magazines I hadn't seen before, including one tattoo periodical, purely because on this occasion I had stopped to take my time to actually look at the titles on ALL of the shelves. And when I come across a new magazine, immediately the ideas begin flowing. Especially for the tattoo publication.

Perhaps I need a tattoo first, so that I know what I'm talking about. What do you think I should go for? A huge eagle on my back? A Celtic Knot on my calf? Or a snake wrapping itself around my arm?

In the meantime, nip into your local newsagents and take a good look on the shelves (top and bottom). What do your newsagent's shelves say about your home town? And could you write anything to entertain them?

Good luck!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Getting Your Facts Right

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Newspapers occasionally get things wrong. Usually it's somebody's age (Simon Whaley, 82,) and when this mistake is made it's usually offensive (older), rather than flattering (younger).

But, recently, Australia's Weekend Courier-Mail got more than someone's age wrong.

100 Stories for Queensland is a charity anthology, proceeds of which will go to the Queensland Premier's Flood Appeal. To generate some publicity for the upcoming  publication, the organisers interested the Weekend Courier-Mail in an interview, which was published last weekend. What was printed though, was not what the organisers were expecting.

Click on this link here, to see some highlights of what was printed, followed by Jodi Cleghorn's clarifications. It's quite shocking how wrong they got it! And I would encourage you to read it - not only to see the horrendous errors made, but also to get a clear idea about what the anthology is about and trying to achieve.

The good news is that the eBook version is available now for download. Click here for details. It contains 100, uplifting or humorous stories, (including one of mine!) and will also be available as a Print on Demand book in the next few days.

If only the Weekend Courier-Mail put as much editorial effort into their text, as Jodi and her editorial team did with this anthology!

Good luck!