Monday, 24 September 2012

You're the best person to write this piece because ...

I was contacted by a writer who'd come up with an idea for an article for a local magazine, however, her tutor felt that the idea was something staff writers were capable of producing.

It struck me that perhaps the tutor in question may have had a background in newspapers, because publications like The Times, The Daily Mail and The Sun all have staff numbers that Boat Spotters Monthly can only dream of!

Having looked at this student's idea, whilst it could work for her local magazine target, I also felt that it could work for a national magazine too. But, another point I wanted to make here is that whilst the other tutor felt the idea could be written by a staff writer, sometimes it is not your idea you need to sell, but your experience. Why are you the best person to write this idea? Your experience gives you an insight into the idea that a staff writer might not be able to bring to the piece.

A few years ago, I sold an article to The Daily Express financial pages. It was about the benefits of saving a small amount of money each week for Christmas through a Christmas Savings club. Now, any staff writer is capable of researching and writing such a piece. However, the Daily Express commissioned my piece because of my experience with this subject:

  • For three years, I ran a Christmas Club at my place of work,
  • Not only had I set up the Christmas Club, but I'd also 'sold' the idea to my work colleagues, therefore I knew how to sell the idea to the readers, too,
  • Drawing upon my experience, I could give advice to readers about how to set up their own group and the steps they needed to take to ensure the club's probity,
  • I could also contact past members for quotes.
So, remember. It's important to have good ideas, but think about why you are the best person to write the article. That's where you can have an advantage over the staff writer. No editor is going to turn away a great idea offered by the person with the right experience. So, what are you waiting for?

Good luck!

Monday, 17 September 2012

It All Begin With A Passing Comment ...

I was walking (make that staggering) back down the mountainside from the Lakeland tarn in this photo, when a walker coming the other way said, "Caught anything?"

At first I was slightly puzzled, because I had my camera bag slung across my back and the legs of my tripod were fully extended and resting across my other shoulder. Then it suddenly dawned on me ... the tarn I was walking back from is popular with fishermen, and this walker had probably seen my tripod, assumed it was a fishing rod, and thought I'd been fishing. We chatted briefly, and then as I wandered back down the mountainside I began seeing similarities between the sport of fishing, and the 'sport' of photography. We both end up standing around for hours trying to capture something and our perfect prey can elude us quite easily. And then there's all the equipment we photographers like to have - chat to any fisherman and they'll also explain about the need to have the right rod and tackle.

By the time I reached the car park a whole article had formed in my mind, and I quickly jotted down my thoughts.

Two days later I was wandering up another mountainside, and the weather was changeable. In the space of ten minutes seven people coming back down the mountain passed by, and they all said the same thing: "Did you see that wonderful rainbow behind you?" (Funnily enough, because it was behind me, I didn't.) Hence, the incident became another example in the fisherman/photographer article about the 'one that got away'.

And then after one particularly exhausting day on the mountains, I felt I deserved a cup of tea and a slab (yes, a slab, not a piece - I had walked nine miles) of flapjack, so I stopped off at a cafe near the car park, and sat outside to enjoy my rewards for conquering the view. Within minutes my flapjack was under attack from the local chaffinches. "If those bloody birds were human, they'd have hoodies and ASBOs," said a descending voice from the adjacent picnic table (his plate was empty too). A chaffinch with a hoody and an ASBO ... hmmmm, out came my notebook and pen again.

So in the space of a couple of days people making passing comments have helped me to produce two articles. Never dismiss anything people say to you. You never know where it might lead. At the time, it might not make sense, but as writers, these passing comments can be little idea gems. It can all begin with a passing comment, but as a writer you should never let it end there!

Good luck!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Morning Pages

For the past few weeks I've been using a technique that's been quite revealing. It's called Morning Pages and is a technique suggested by artist and creative writer, Julie Cameron.

In it, she suggests that when you wake up, you pick up your pen and notepad and write three pages. What you write is down to you. It can be writing-related, it can have nothing to do with your writing ... but you just have to write three pages in your notebook.

The idea is that, if nothing else, it clears your mind of all the clutter that has accumulated overnight. You might, for instance, wake up thinking about all of the things you've got to get done today. Well, if you've written them down in your morning pages then you've cleared them out of your mind, thus emptying it of any worry. Your creative writing time is now more likely to be creative.

Hopefully, though, some useful thoughts will come to you whilst you're writing. And this is what I've found has happened to me. Yes, I've written some pretty awful drivel, but dotted throughout these words are the occasional useful thoughts that have helped me develop several ideas, or seen a new idea show itself. Over the period of a week, I found names for two characters I want to put in a short story, and I know what the opening scene is - without really 'thinking' about it. I've also identified a couple of article ideas from this stream of consciousness too.

Like any technique, this is something that I've adapted to suit me. There's one suggestion that you should only write on one side of the page in your notebook. Then, when you come to read back what you've written, you have the opposite blank page to jot down any thoughts. I tried this, but I found there were some pages where I was making lots of notes, and others where I hardly made any notes at all (because what was on the other side was complete drivel!). So, instead, I write my three pages consecutively and then summarise the points on the fourth page, which works better for me.

Writing your stream of consciousness, first thing in the morning, feels strange at first. But give it a try. You can write anything ... but write something. Here's an example of the first few lines of one of my morning pages:

Okay ... so what am I going to write about this morning then? This pen's naff. Is it runni ... ah! That's better. New pen, and one with ink, that'll make things easier when I actually think of something to write! It's a good job I have pens lying all around the place everywhere. That's probably because I'm a stationery fan - aren't all writers? Why are writers such stationery addicts? Why do we go all of a quiver over some Post-It Notes and a couple of biros? What is it about an empty notebook that fills us with excitement ....

And so it went on. As you can see, I wasn't exactly writing Booker Prize-winning prose, but that's not the point of the exercise. The aim is to clear your brain of thoughts, some of which might prove useful. Looking back over the past few weeks whilst I've been doing this exercise, I've got something out of every set of morning pages. It might only be a character's name, although sometimes there's been a couple of article ideas. But, there's always been a useful nugget in there, somewhere.

So, why not give it a go for a week? Do it for a month and you might create a new habit! And of nothing else, at least when you get up, you can do so knowing you've actually done some writing already today!

Good luck!

Monday, 3 September 2012


I've just got back from a weekend of tutoring at the NAWG (National Association of Writers' Groups) Festival of Writing, which was held at Nottingham. (Spot the busy souls in my workshop here, clutching their heads, as they search for inspiration - so don't ask what the whisk is for!)

Whilst events like this are great opportunities for meeting up with old friends, it's also a brilliant way to make new friends and meet up with up with other like-minded people. In fact, on Friday, the day of arrival, there were many times when I was able to put a face to name I recognised from Twitter, or Wordpress, and other blogs that I follow.

During lunch on Saturday, I was chatting to some of the other delegates about why they'd come to this event, and a handful of them mentioned that this was the first such event they'd been to. Suddenly, a whole new world was opening up to them! For years, a couple of them had just been writing on their own, trying to make progress with their writing by reading articles and books on the subject. Some had even joined writers' groups to meet up with other writers, but writers' groups vary in size and quality. Some are excellent, but the drawback is that they may only expose you to the writing genres that other members are interested in. It wasn't until they'd come to something like NAWG's festival, that they realised there are so many writers - people with the same interest!

I could see that, to these people, a whole new world was opening up to them. They were busy sharing experiences and learning new things to try to take their writing further. No longer did they feel alone.

If you've never been to such an event, do try one out. Writing festivals and workshops might last for a day, a weekend, or a week. Yes, it can be difficult trying to fit it in around family life, but there's usually an option that you can fit to your particular circumstances. Whilst the NAWG festival operated over a weekend, many delegates attended for the one full day - Saturday, as a day delegate. That's something that other festivals and holidays often offer.

And, not only might you learn new skills and ideas, you'll also make lots of new friends - people you can keep in contact with in the future, if only by email or phone. Make one of these events a goal in your writing life. Set yourself the challenge of going to one - and perhaps even trying to pay for all, or the bulk of it, by selling an article, or two, or a couple of letters and fillers. By doing it that way, your writing is paying for your treat then!

Here are a few workshops and courses for you to ponder, if the idea takes your fancy:

The Gleanings, Shropshire. 22nd & 23rd September 2012.
Writing for the Magazine Market with some bloke called Simon Whaley. A look at writing letters, fillers, articles and short stories for magazines.

Chez-Castillon - Is There a Book In You? with Jane Wenham-Jones - a 5 day course taking place in October. (Note: Jane told me at the NAWG conference that there had been two cancellations, so there are now two places available on this particular course.) The course is also running again in April 2013. More details at

Relax & Write: Weetwood Hall, Leeds - A variety of courses running over the weekend of 26th - 28th October:

Write Better Poetry with Alison Chisholm
Writing Crime with Passion with Nick Oldham
Effective Self-Publicity with Malcolm Chisholm

In November, 9th - 11th, at the same venue:
Short Story Success with Linda Lewis.

8-10th March 2013 - Weetwood Hall, Leeds:
Write About Your Life with Alison Chisholm (by that I mean that Alison Chisholm will teach you how to write about your life - you don't need to have lived with Alison to go on this course!)
The Writers' Treasury of Ideas with Linda Lewis
Discover Travel Writing with some bloke called Simon Whaley!

Caerleon Writers Holiday - July 2013, Caerleon, near Newport, Cardiff.
Six days of workshops, talks and writing events. Workshops on writing fiction, non-fiction, novels and more.

Swanwick Writers Summers School - August 2013, Swanwick, Derbyshire.
Six days of workshops, talks, and other writing events - and many discos, too!

I hope some of those whet your appetite.

Good luck!