Monday, 31 January 2011

Writing As Therapy

When I was 16 years old, my parents separated and my Dad moved in with the woman who was to become his second wife. It was a difficult time for everyone involved and in those early days the separation was all that anyone could think of.

At the time, there were only a few weeks to go, before I sat my O level exams and it was important for me to sit down and get back into 'revision mode'. But I couldn't, because all I could think about was our current family circumstances.

However, the writer inside me urged me to pick up a pen, so I did. I decided to write a letter expressing all of my feelings. It was one of the best things ever did. (It was also one of the worst things I ever did, because as a naive 16-year-old I didn't think about what the consequences were of posting the letter!) The act of sitting down and writing the letter enabled me to clear my head. Once it was written, I was able to think about other things ... like revision.

It's something I still do today with my writing. Sometimes, I find I'm not able to get on with the project I want to, because I'm thinking of something else. At the time though, whatever it is that my mind is thinking about, isn't always clear. Other writers may think this as Writer's Block, but I don't believe in the dreaded block. This is because my solution to this difficulty is to sit down and write!

So, whenever I can't get started on the writing project that I want to, I pick up a pen and notebook and I start writing a letter. It's a letter to myself, and in it I simple start by saying, For some reason I can't get started on XXX project and it's annoying me. Perhaps it's because of .... and I let my mind wander freely.

Sometimes my letter produces an interesting response. Perhaps there is a family issue that needs dealing with. Or perhaps I have a couple of other ideas floating around in my head and I just need to spend time jotting down the ideas, so that they don't get forgotten and I can come back later to them.

But after about 20 minutes, my mind feels clearer once more, and I'm ready to get working on my writing project again.

I've learned my lesson - I don't post these letters - they stay in my notebook. But I know that writing a letter to myself can get me writing again. Writing is therapy and it can help us to recover our minds. It's one reason why personal diaries and journals can be so effective for a writer.

So next time you feel stuck and unable to settle down to write, pick up a pen and notebook and undertake a little therapy. Write a letter to yourself. Tell yourself what it is you are thinking. You might be surprised by what you reveal. It may also motivate you into cracking on with your other writing projects too.

Good luck.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Outlining the Outline

I was marking an assignment over the weekend, when I came across one student who was having difficulty outlining the article she wanted to write. In the end she'd skipped this bit and written her article. However, she hadn't. She admitted it had taken her three attempts to finish it.

When we get an idea, the urge to write the article can overwhelm us. Don't! It's important that you have a clear idea as to whom you are writing it for. You need to know your target market and therefore, your readership. Only then can you begin to angle your idea to make it of interest to your intended readers.

If you're unsure as to whom you want to target, think a bit more about your idea. What is it that you want to say? What do you want readers to learn from your article? This may help you to identify who your idea is aimed at.

For example, if you have an idea about how to take better photographs, what are your tips going to be? Will they be tips that a professional photographer will use, or those that a family member might use when snapping their children playing? Get this clear in your mind, and you can then start searching for magazines that these readers might buy.

When it comes to outlining the article, think about everything that you want to say. Forget about a beginning, a middle and an end for the moment, just jot down everything you feel is important at the moment. What are those tips? List them. List every one of them. (The last thing you want to do is forget one of them!)

If you need to do some research, then think about the questions your reader would ask:
  • Do I need a special camera?
  • Do I need a special lens?
  • What are the benefits of having a tripod?
  • How should I frame my picture?
And so on.

When you've listed all of your tips, or questions, start playing about with their order. Sometimes you might find that one particular question more naturally follows after one further down. Or perhaps, for a reader to understand one tip, they need to comprehend another tip earlier.

Do this, and you'll slowly begin to produce your article's outline. This may be infuriating when all you want to do is get down and start writing, but it will help you in the end. It will enable you to produce a more coherent article.

Outlining can be difficult when you get started, so a useful tip is to create an outline from an existing published article. Sit down and read the article in full. Then read it again, but this time, summarise each paragraph in one sentence. Then on the next line, write a sentence that summarises the next paragraph. Do this for the whole article and you'll produce a basic outline. If you can, try this technique with different articles from different magazines and you'll start to see a pattern which you can use in your own pieces.

Outlines are worth it, because they make your articles stronger, well-argued and more entertaining for the reader.

Good luck!

Monday, 17 January 2011

100 Stories for Queensland

It's impossible not to have heard about the horrendous flooding that has been taking place in Australia, and now here's a project where writers can play their part in helping with the immense recovery process.

Following the huge success of the anthologies, 100 Stories for Haiti and 50 Stories for Pakistan, an anthology of 100 stories will be produced, which will be sold to raise money for the Queensland flood victims. 100% of the profits from this anthology will be donated to the Queensland Premier's Flood Relief Appeal.

100 Stories for Queensland is headed by Brisbane resident and co-owner of eMergent Publishing, Jodi Cleghorn, and UK author, Trevor Belshaw. The management team is made up of Maureen Vincent-Northam, David W Robinson and Nick Daws who all worked on the Haiti and Pakistan anthologies with McQueen. They are assisted by a growing band of 20 volunteer readers and editors from across the globe. McQueen is working behind the scenes, organising the audio book and podcasts in conjunction with UK author and podcaster Em Newman.

The deadline for submissions is Friday 28th January, and submissions should be made electronically, via the SubmishMash website (http://100storiesforqueensland.submishmash.com/Submit)

Stories should be upbeat and generally positive, and can be in any genre, and must be between 500 and 1000 words in length. Further rules can be viewed at the SubmishMash website address above.
If you enjoy writing fiction, then give this a go. It's a tight deadline, but that's not a bad thing because it will help to focus your mind! There's just over ten days until the cut-off for submissions, so there's still time to plan an approach.

  • Spend a day creating and developing an idea.
  • Over the next three days, produce your first draft.
  • Put it aside on day five and ignore it.
  • Read it through on day six and undertake an initial edit.
  • Ignore it on day seven.
  • Review and edit further on day eight.
  • If needs be, put it aside again for another 24 hours.
  • Day ten, make one more read-through to check for errors and then submit it.
Submitting an entry is a great way to create a new short story, get experience of working to a tight deadline, and offer you an opportunity to help people cope with the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Good luck.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Competition - Win A Paid, 12 Month Blogging Contract

I've just heard of the following competition from Candis magazine, where they're looking for a new blogger. The prize winner will be required to update their blog at least twice a month for a 12 month period, for which they will be paid £150 per month.

Details are as follows:

Would you like to share your news and views with thousands of Candis readers? Then enter our competition to win a 12-month writing contract for our website!
For the past year our fabulous Candis blogger, Melanie Crabb, has kept us entertained with stories of her hilarious family life. Her blogs have gained a huge following - and now it's time to appoint her heir. So we're looking for someone special to take up the metaphorical pen and bring us a brilliant new blog.

The winner will be profiled in a future issue and win a 12-month contract to write for the Candis website. And you'll be paid for your efforts - our winning blogger will get £150 a month for the full year!

If you can craft your day-to-day life into sparkling prose, and know one end of the keyboard from the other, we want to hear from you. Ideally you will be immersed in family life, with children of all ages, and you'll be happy to tell us all about them - not to mention the rest of the family. You might be a mum or a dad, grandma or grandad, married or single, and you might go out to work or be a stay at home parent. Either way we want to reflect the kind of family life that other readers will recognise with (and even sometimes sympathise with).

Whatever you have to say and however you say it, if you think it will entertain and enlighten us then we want to hear from you!

*Terms & Conditions: Closing date for entries is 31st January 2011. The judges' decision is final. The winner will be required to update their blog at least twice a month. Winning payments will be paid monthly for the duration of the 12-month contract.

See: http://www.candis.co.uk/blogcomp2011?utm_medium=email&utm_source=Newhall+Publications&utm_campaign=Blog+competition+Feb+2011&utm_content=blog&dm_i=CTQ,CA8P,1VR2E2,YT9Z,1 for more information.


Good luck!

Looking At Things From A Different Angle

This is the view looking across the market town of Ludlow, Shropshire. It's not a view that many people see, because they're too busy wandering along the streets below. I like this picture, because it's taken from a different angle - it's not a viewpoint that we're used to seeing. To see Ludlow from this angle requires a bit of effort. To reach it, you have to climb 200 steps, in a tight, confined space, and if that doesn't put you off, the warning at the foot of the climb advising those with a heart condition not to undertake the climb, probably will.

It's always worth considering a different angle with your writing too. Like climbing those 200 steps, it may involve a bit of effort, but it's usually worth it. Too often, when we think of an idea, we use the first one that comes to mind. We tend not to look around to see if it is the best angle, we simply go with the initial idea. It's the different angle that editors and readers love. It may not be entirely original (I am not the only person to have seen Ludlow from this viewpoint, after all), but it'll be more original than the angle that everyone else is taking.



October 2005 saw the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. From March 2005 onwards, I was inundated with articles students were writing, which they were hoping to place in magazines to co-incide with the anniversary. Many of these articles recounted the facts about the battle and Nelson's death. On the whole, most of these articles were perfectly good, well-written articles, of publishable quality. But they were all from the same angle.

Another student was clearly thinking about the Trafalgar anniversary, but instead of going with the obvious angle, he decided to write about Nelson's mistress, Lady Hamilton. For her, the Battle of Trafalgar and Nelson's death was a life-changing moment, and not for the better. It marked the start of her decline into debt and drink.

The article stood out because all the other articles focused on Nelson, but this one didn't. The writer had chosen a different angle about the Battle of Trafalgar. Faced with a deluge of articles on the same topic, an editor is more likely to pick the one that looks at the subject from a different, more refreshing angle. (Remember too, this happened nearly six years ago, and I can still remember the article in question, such was its difference.)

The same goes with fiction. If a story isn't working well why not take a look at the character's viewpoint you are using? Would it work better from a different character's perspective? If you're story is about a first date, most writers may begin with the women's point of view. Some may go from the man's perspective. But why not use the waiter who is serving them their meal instead? Or the taxi driver who is dropping them back to their respective addresses ... or is he?

Next time you sit down to write something, just stop and think about your angle. Are you making the obvious choice? If so, try to put in a bit more effort to come up with something completely different. You may be surprised with where it takes you.

Good luck.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Just Do It!

Hello and happy new year to you all! I'm posting this later than planned because I've been away for a few days. It was all rather last minute, but it was great. For various reasons we've never been able to go away for New Year, but this year, the opportunity arose.

At 4pm on Wednesday 29th December, we had no plans to go away. We were planning on having a day trip to the Lake District the following day (it's three hours driving each way) but I was a bit concerned because of the amount of fog that was forecast. Which is when I had the idea - why not see if I could book a couple of nights in a self-catering cottage, travel up on Thursday and come back on New Year's Day? Then I began thinking about it a bit more, and another little voice told me to stop being silly. People book holiday accommodation for Christmas and New Year months, even years, in advance. There was no point.

Yet the idea wasn't letting go. Go on! Give the agency a ring, it kept saying. So I did. And guess what? They had one property available. I only wanted it for two nights, but the agency said they couldn't let it for two nights - or rather - they could, but they'd have to charge me the short break price, which is for three nights. Then the agency said that for an additional £15 we could have the cottage for four nights. Sold! So, within 30 minutes of having the idea, the accommodation was booked and all sorted, and at 8.30 the following morning, I was on my way up to the Lake District.

As we say goodbye to the old year and hello to the new, everybody looks back at what they have achieved in the last year and plans what they hope to do in the next. But we should also remember, that whatever it is we plan to do in 2011, it won't happen unless we get off our backsides and do it.

So if 2011 is the year that you've decided to get ten articles or short stories published, or to write the first draft of a novel, or to try to get an agent, remember that none of this will happen unless you get off your backside and do something about it. Don't sit there thinking about what are the chances of your idea working. Sometimes we can think too much. Just do it! It's the only way to find out. If you want to target a new market, then do it. If you want to go to a literary festival, then do it.

We had a lovely time in the Lake District; it was a wonderful way to begin the new year. I'm so glad I picked up the phone to the self-catering agency.

Whatever your dream is for 2011, don't think about it too much. JUST DO IT!

Good luck.