Monday, 30 January 2012

How Much Time Do You Spend On One Idea?

How much time do you spend working on, or developing, an idea? This isn't an easy question to answer, because there are many different variables, but do you ever give up on an idea?

The reason I mention this today is because last week I finally managed to put together an idea I began working on last October, for a magazine article ... so that's basically three months of working on the idea to get it to a stage where I can now pitch it to the editor of my target market.

Now, obviously, I have been doing other work too, I haven't been working solely on this idea for three months, but it made me realise that some ideas take a little more effort to get them off the ground. How far do you go when developing an idea? Do you ever give up?

For this particular idea to work well, I knew I needed to get some quotes, as well as undertake some background research. This is one of those ideas where the quality of the quotes can determine its success. I didn't want to pitch my idea until I was sure that I could deliver a piece with great quotes.

For new writers, this can feel like a 'chicken and egg' scenario. It may seem difficult to get quotes if you don't have a commission. If you ask someone if you can interview them, many new writers expect the potential interviewee to immediately reply with, "Which publication are you writing for?" And yes, some do. However, I've always explained that as a freelance, I have several markets I'm considering, and most interviewees accept this. They don't know how the magazine world works.

I began researching the topic at the beginning of November, which gave me a few places to begin targeting for quotes. I sent off some emails enquiring if people would be willing to be interviewed. I didn't get one response! After a bit more research, I identified a couple more potential interviewees. I phoned a couple. One was never at their desk, two promised to answer some questions by email, of which one did, but their quotes were not as useful as I'd hoped, and the second didn't even respond, despite me chasing them.

After about six weeks of not getting very far, I sat down and considered what my other options were, and I came up with a few alternative ways of trying to find people who might be able to help me. I rang a couple and emailed a couple of others, and struck gold when one woman said she'd be delighted to help me.

The answers she gave to my questions were great and raised a few points on the subject that I hadn't considered. This meant a bit more research was required, and some more quotes were needed. Christmas and New Year came and went (this is a nightmare time for getting quotes because everyone is too busy panicking about Christmas - or not at their desks for two weeks - and then they need another two weeks to catch up, because they were off for two weeks!).

Eventually, with some occasional chasing, but not nagging, these people came back to me with answers and quotes that have enabled me to develop the idea into a pitch-able piece. The quotes have helped in other ways too. I now know what the best structure is for this idea, and I can tell the editor that I've obtained quotes from great sources for this piece, and I can use the names of my interviewees to help me sell the idea to the editor.

There's still a long way to go - I've still to submit my pitch (one of many things I'll be doing this week) and then I need to await the editor's decision. But I feel the time spent on this idea was worth it, because now I can see a useful angle for twisting the idea to fit an American market too, as well as my intended British market.

So, if things don't go to plan straight away with your ideas, keep working on them. You may just come across a snippet of information, or find someone willing to help you, that will make the effort worthwhile. Some ideas are a little more hard work than others. But, hopefully, they're worth it.

Good luck.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Turning Little Ideas Into Bigger Ideas

I'm currently reading Della Galton's "Moving On - From Short Story to Novel - a Step-By-Step Guide" and would recommend it to anyone interested in writing fiction, whether it be short stories or novels. Even if you only want to write short stories, Della's explanations of what makes a short story a short story, and what makes an idea better suited to a novel, will help clarify in your own mind, which ideas will work as short stories and which ones won't.

One point Della makes is that some short story ideas can be moved on to become novel ideas too. However, a novel is not a short story idea with extra words and description. It needs to have sub-plots, character development, and the action can take place over a far longer period of time.

Turning little ideas into bigger ideas is something that many writers consider. Non-fiction writers especially, are encouraged to consider writing a non-fiction book on a subject, if they've had a handful of articles on that subject published.

My first book, 100 Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human, has been moved on twice. I can trace its origin back to a short filler (about 75 words in total, I think) in a dog magazine. I moved this on to become an 800-word article for a different dog magazine, before moving it on again into a 5,000-word book.

If you dream of moving on to bigger projects, whether it's from short stories to novels, or articles to non-fiction books, why not look back through some of your smaller ideas? It's quite possible, that if they were successful in one format, with a bit of work and development, they could work in another, larger, format too.

Good luck.

For more information about Della's book, Moving On, click here.

Monday, 16 January 2012

What Goes Around, Comes Around

Having worked in local government, even if it was only for five and a half years, I can confirm that the phrase "what goes around, comes around," was said many times. It seemed that within a matter days of implementing a new policy, a decision would be taken to go back to the old way of doing things. And then there were the times when someone suggested a new system, to which someone else would say, "Oh yes, that's how we used to do it in the Seventies." It's as though policies, ideas and systems go full circle.

The same goes for magazines too. What goes around, eventually comes back around. I've just been commissioned by a magazine to do a walk I originally walked for them back in 2004. There are a couple of reasons for this: a) the route on the ground may have changed - footpaths get diverted occasionally - new houses get built where there were none before etc, but also b) the readership has changed.

There are some magazines whose readership 'churns'. They are designed to appeal to a reader at a specific stage of their interest in that subject. A magazine targeting photographers who are beginners will eventually lose their initial readership, because (hopefully) their readership has learned something from their pages and then moved onto more advance photography techniques - provided by a different magazine (but hopefully one produced by the same magazine company). What the magazine hopes to do is attract new beginner photographers to replace the ones who've moved on.

Now these new readers won't have read the articles in the previous issues, and they'll want to learn the same basic techniques. So the magazine will go back and revisit subjects it has tackled in the past. The new articles will reflect current trends and any new developments, but essentially, the same subject matter is being covered again within the magazine's pages.

If you've had articles published in the past, why not take another look at them? Can you update and refresh them? If so, look for a potential market first, but don't ignore the magazine that your original article was published in. If the subject matter was good enough for the readership then, chances are it might be ideal for today's new readership too. (Do undertake a proper market analysis though - some magazines occasionally 're-position' themselves in the marketplace - trying to attract different readers.)

And let's face it - if there's one thing writers would like to see coming around again ... it's an acceptance cheque!

Good luck.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Blogging Along ...

Here we are, one week into the new year, so how are your New Year Resolutions going? Was one of them to do more writing? If so, have you considered blogging?

Many of my new students say they're thinking of starting a blog, and I often encourage them to do so, for several reasons:

Create Habits
It helps you to develop the regular habit of writing, or creating something. A blog is something that should be added to frequently. Therefore, it can help you create a writing routine. Don't set yourself too big a challenge. It's not necessary to blog every day, although, you can if you want. The subscribers amongst you know that I update this blog weekly. Giving yourself a regular time to sit down and write your next blog posting can help you to train your brain into thinking, "I'm sitting at my desk/chair/favourite windowsill, therefore I'm about to write." The more often you do this, the easier it will become. (Incidentally, I happened to be watching Country Tracks on BBC 1 yesterday, where one of the presenters went to Barbara Cartland's house. There, the presenter learned that Barbara sat down to write at 1.30pm. Not 1.35pm. Or 1.40pm. But 1.30pm. So that's how she wrote over 600 novels ... by sitting down to write at a regular time ... 1.30pm!)
Develop Style
The more you write, the more your writing style, or voice, will develop. This changes, subtly, over time. If you can, look back at something your wrote several years ago and compare it to your writing of today. You may be surprised by how much it has changed. Writing regularly encourages you to explain things, which can expand your vocabulary, whilst also enabling you to develop how you express your ideas. Your natural voice will come through. If you always see the funny side of things, for example, then the humour will come through in your voice.

Have Something To Say
If you're going to blog, you need to have something to say. However, I want to clarify this further. If you're going to blog, have something to say to your readers. Think about who your readers are, or could be. My blog is aimed at my Writers Bureau students, and also any other budding writer who happens to stumble across it. (I hope!) You can pick any topic, or one of your hobbies, and choose to write about that. Select something that interest you. As you continue adding to your blog, sometimes you'll realise there's a germ of an idea there that can be developed into an article or a piece of fiction.

But what if you don't know what to write about? What if you don't think you'll have any readers? You will always have at least one reader ... you. Those who keep diaries often find it easier to write, because they're in the habit of writing regularly. But a diary needn't be a physical book. So, why not think of your blog as your diary? Use your blog to write about your day, your thoughts, your observations. A blog does not have to be a PUBLIC document. When you set up a blog, you can make it PRIVATE, so it is for your eyes only. And the beauty of blogging is that you can tag each post. So, if you remember writing in your private diary blog that you visited a stunning beach location, but can't remember when it was, all you have to do is search for the tag (keyword) that you may have allocated to that particular post (such as beach, holiday, inspirational view).

A blog is what you make of it. You can use it to talk to the world, or you can use it to record you own innermost thoughts, which only you can read. But if you want to get into the habit of writing regularly, a blog can be a great way of developing that habit.

Good luck.

(Most people create blogs using or Other blogging sites are available.)

Monday, 2 January 2012

Unashamed plug ... Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone! I hope 2012 is the year when you achieve many of your writing dreams, and that some of my ramblings on this blog will help to point you in the right direction.

You could say that 2012 has already begun in a positive way for me, because my latest book, The Positively Productive Writer (TPPW), has been published early. It's official publication date is 27th January, but the distributors have taken delivery of the book and so bookshops and booksellers such as Amazon, are now fulfilling orders.

TPPW is not a 'how-to-write' book - there are plenty of those about already. Instead, it's a 'how-to-stay-motivated' and a 'how-not-to-let-rejection-get-you-down' book. It's about understanding what your writing dreams are, and then breaking them down into achievable steps. I explain why you should not deal with a rejected piece the day you get it back, and instead learn to turn the rejection round into a positive experience.

For me, writing is not just about sitting on your rear end and producing words (which is vitally important), but also about having the right attitude. It's possible to coax ourselves into that right attitude. Having a positive frame of mind helps us to become more productive writers. I believe that productive writers can then become successful writers. (A writer who doesn't produce any words is unlikely to become a successful writer!) TPPW offers a variety of techniques and methods to remain positive and put you in the right frame of mind.

I would like to thank Diane Perry, Julie Phillips, Lynne Hackles and Vivien Hampshire, whose experiences helped to illustrate some of the points I wanted to make in the book.

I must also thank everyone who kindly reviewed the book. To read those reviews, click here.

Many of my regular followers will know that I can be a bit of a tenacious b*gger at times. Well, TPPW is published by Compass Books, who were the tenth publisher I approached. The other nine publishers rejected the book. (Top tip - remember that -   they rejected the book, they didn't reject me.) But, I didn't let those nine rejections get me down. I kept going. The tenacity within me kicked in. I kept submitting. And now my efforts have been rewarded. And if you subscribe to many of the writing magazines, then you'll have seen my name and The Positively Productive Writer crop up already (twice in the January issue of Writers' Forum, twice in the February issue of Writers' Forum, and on page 21 of the February issue of Writing Magazine and also in the next issue of The New Writer magazine.)

So, if you've made any writing New Year resolutions, or set yourselves a series of writing dreams to achieve this year, then The Positively Productive Writer could help you to make your writing dreams come true. And how positive would that be?

Good luck!