Monday, 26 September 2011

Remember - It's A Craft

I was marking a couple of assignments over the weekend and I realised that two of them had been sent to me too early. The market analysis was not as in-depth as it could have been, not enough thought had been given to the article topic, nor to the editing process. One article even ended in mid sentence.

Now, don't get me wrong, I quite understand students' keenness to want to get going, writing and submitting. But it made me think back to the last country show that I went to, where I saw a man, sitting at his stall, working on his latest leather gift he was creating.

With his small wooden mallet, he hammered the punch into the leather he was working on, stopped, blew on it three times, before rubbing the tips of his fingers across the newly-created indentation. Then, he turned the leather over, rubbed his fingers across the braille-like mound he'd marked, before turning it back over and repeating the process. Only when he was happy with each indentation, did he move onto the next step.

At what point did this craftsman feel that he was starting to craft something? When he picked up his mallet? When he picked up the punch? When he first felt the indentation with his fingers? Or when he had the idea of what he was going to create?

It's easy to see the craft of writing beginning with the moment when you start writing, or at least, editing. But actually, the craft of writing begins with the idea, the angle you decide to take, and then how you will develop that idea for the market you've identified. The craftsman, here in this photo, spent time selecting the piece of leather he was going to use, in the same way that we should spend time selecting the idea that we are going to develop.

When the time comes for you to send off your article to an editor (or your tutor) think about it instead as a piece of physical artwork, like the leather goods this craftsman has on his stall in the photograph here. Are you really happy with it? If, instead of sending your text in an envelope, or via email, you had to place it on stall in a marquee at a country fair for passers-by to purchase, would you still have confidence to put it out on display? Would you be proud of your creation? A craftsman (or craftswoman) only put out their best work on display for others to buy. As writers, we should be striving for that attitude too. Whether it's a letter to a magazine, an article, short story, or novel, only when our work is the best we can possibly make it.

Good luck.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Have You Hearst The News?

When readers go to their local newsagents and pick up a magazine, most people are not concerned with the company that publishes it. But earlier this year, in the UK, there were a few changes taking place behind the scenes, and some of the implications are beginning to filter through now. It's something many students need to be aware of, but if you're doing your market analysis properly, you should already have spotted some of these subtle changes.

Hachette Filipacchi, publisher of Elle, Elle Decoration, Psychologies and Red was bought by a company called the Hearst Corporation. Hearst also own the National Magazine Company, publishers of titles including Best, Company, Cosmopolitan, Country Living, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Harper's Bazaar, Prima and Reveal.

Hearst are now in the position where they can claim that their publications reach 33% of UK adult populations and 47% of the UK's women.

For those of you sending articles by post, check the Contents page for new contact details. Instead of addressing your letters to Best at the National Magazine Company you need to change it to Best at Hearst Magazines UK.

Those submitting and pitching by email will need to use new email addresses (although old email addresses will automatically re-direct for a while - but why not get it right first time?) Email addresses will be firstname.secondname@hearst.co.uk.

There have been a few casualties. She and Cosmopolitan Bride have ceased publication.

So, next time you buy a magazine you feel you are familiar with, just check out the contact details and confirm that you're using the correct company name or email address. It's a small detail, but small details matter.

Good luck.


Monday, 12 September 2011

Never Lose Your Nuggets!


Today’s posting follows on from last week’s post about allowing yourself to write freely for your first draft. The first draft is not the place for perfection.

You may have heard of the phrase to kill your darlings. This is something that every writer comes across as some point during the self-critiquing process, when they are editing the text created in that first draft. There are times when everything comes together perfectly. The ideas flowed, the style is there and the words have rhythm. When you read that piece of text to yourself you experience a warm glow – this is what being a writer is all about, you tell yourself.

Unfortunately, those best bits, also known as your darlings, are not always appropriate for that particular piece of text. On the occasions when you need to cut excess wordage from your work, often it is your darlings that your deleting knife should be wielded at, but because of the emotional attachment you have to those phrases, you end up trying to delete everything else apart from your darlings. This is because the writer fears that they are throwing away their best work.

Now, as a writing tutor, I’ve always told students that nothing in this game is wasted. Accepting that a darling needs to be culled from a particular piece is a huge step for a writer to take in their learning journey, but it doesn’t mean that you have to throw it away, permanently. You can, and should, keep it.

One of the books I’m reading at the moment, (I often have several on the go at any one time) is The Secrets To Writing Great Comedy by Lesley Brown. (Hodder Teach Yourself - ISBN: 978-1-444-12892-5 - £12.99) In this book, Lesley refers to this moment of knowing when to kill your darlings, except she doesn’t refer to them as darlings, but as gold nuggets. And just like gold nuggets, their value can increase over time. There may come a moment when you are writing something and you suddenly remember that nugget of text that you had to cut from one piece, which would now fit a new piece you are currently writing. And, sometimes, that nugget of text works better in this new context than it did in the original piece for which you wrote it. Your nugget has appreciated in value!

When it comes to the editing process, forget the phrase kill your darlings, for this suggests getting rid of it, never to see it again, which isn’t true. Learn to accept that there will be times when you need to cut the bits of writing, that you enjoyed writing the most, from your current writing project. But understand that you are not killing something off, merely putting into your own private safe another gold nugget that might appreciate in value at some point in the future, and pay better dividends than it would now.

Look after your nuggets!

Good luck. 

Monday, 5 September 2011

First Draft / Final Draft: Two Very Different Beasts


It doesn’t matter whether you write articles, short stories, fillers, novels, non-fiction books or even blog postings … the first draft is exactly that … the first draft. It could be the first of two drafts, or the first of two hundred, but beginner writers need to understand that the first draft is never the final draft.

Many new writers don’t always appreciate this. The sheer euphoria at completing a first draft often has beginners reaching for an envelope and some stamps, or for a new email message, in order to send off their newly created piece of work. But this is not the right time. Writers are commonly told that the editing process is vital and that great writing isn’t written, but re-written.

Learning to accept that the first words you write won’t necessarily appear in your final draft offers many benefits:

1.     It frees up your writing. Many of us were taught at school to write properly. (Some weren’t, but that’s another blog posting!) Sometimes though, this instils in us the desire to get our words right from the start. It’s as though we were taught to get one sentence right, before we began writing the next. This kills creativity. It kills the writer’s early voice. Accept that the first draft is never the last and therefore you can be free to write what you want to write. Ignore grammar. Ignore punctuation. Get your thoughts down on paper, whilst you remember them! You can get the grammar and punctuation sorted later!
2.     Pooh-pooh Perfection. In the same way that a first draft allows you to forget grammar, punctuation, and even spelling, don’t get hung up on finding the right word. At this stage, any word will do. Sometimes we think that a multi-syllable word shows off our writing prowess, but coming up with that right multi-syllable word isn’t easy. So, don’t worry about it. Instead, opt for a simple word. Often, this simple word turns out to be the better word in the end, anyway.
3.     Ignore the logical left. It’s the left-side of our brains that deal with the details of life, and for writers this means the editing process. First draft creation is not the time or the place for left-brain interference. Let the thoughts and ideas flow from your right-brain. Nine of those thoughts may be completely naff, but if your brain needs to dump them on paper first, before producing the amazing tenth idea, then you need to get those first nine ideas written first!
4.     Ignore word lengths. The first draft is not the place to worry about word length. Just write. It doesn’t matter that you need to write a 1,000-word article or short story and your first draft is 3,000-words. It’s not your first draft that you’ll be sending off, is it? Once your first draft is complete, then you can let your logical left-brain jump into action and start culling.

Once a writer understands that a first draft is exactly that – a group of words that others will not see – it can free your brain from the restrictions of punctuation, grammar and perfection. And once you understand that you can throw perfection out of the window for the time being, you might surprise yourself at what you write in the first place.

Good luck.