Monday, 27 August 2012

Where Do You Write?

Where do you write? This is a photo of my desk, where some of my writing is done. It's where most of my administration stuff is tackled: emails, chasing for payments, research and the like. 

But, when I'm in 'the zone' I can sit at my computer and bash away at the keyboard for hours, because it's my space. I know where everything is and most of what I need is all at hand.

Having your own dedicated writing space is important. You don't need your own study (one day I will have one - this is the corner of a bedroom). But it's great if you can have somewhere that you can call your own writing space. This will help you get into your 'zone' more quickly, too. 

We are, generally, creatures of habit. Sitting down at roughly the same time, in the same place, on a regular basis, helps to train your brain into thinking, "hang on, he wants me to go into the zone in a minute." And having everything to hand means there's less chance of being encouraged to step away from my space ... thus being distracted by something else!

I mentioned that my space is a corner of a bedroom - and one day I will have my own study.  But that doesn't mean to say that I don't make little improvements from time to time. Whenever you have a writing success, treat yourself to something for your writing space. Over the years I've upgraded my desk, added more shelving and bought space-saving devices so that I can have stuff to hand. My writing space isn't perfect, but it's getting there. (I'm still too far away from the window for my liking, but that's not a problem that I can overcome at the moment, and I hate having my back to the door, too.) But the point is this: not having the perfect writing space isn't stopping me from writing.

As long as you can find somewhere that you can call your writing space: whether it be a comfy chair in the shed where you can sit with your laptop, or pen and paper, or the cupboard under the stairs, look for somewhere that feels right for the moment. It doesn't have to be perfect: perfection comes over time. I know people who write in attics, in conservatories, in sheds, in summer houses, in kitchens, and at the dining room table. But what they all have in common is when they get there, it's the place that feels right to write at the moment.

Think about where you write. Is it the right place, or could you find somewhere else? Have you tried working in other places in the house? Just because where you write now is where you've always written, that doesn't mean there may not be a better place in the house that you should try. Why not give it a go? (Perhaps sitting in the car would work better, if the kids are running around causing mayhem in the house!) Because when you feel like a writer, sitting down to do some work in a place that feels right for writing, you're more likely to do some writing!

Good luck.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Powering Down

The first draft of this post was written with pen and paper. It wasn't out of choice but necessity - at the time I was experiencing a power cut.

These days, power cuts are rare (we use to get them quite frequently), but they're also annoying, yet exciting. They're annoying because they have a knack of occurring just when you don't want them to (not that anyone 'wants' a power cut), such as when you want to be connected to the Internet to write a blog posting (whilst the laptop may have a battery, the router, connecting you to the Internet, doesn't).

They can be exciting, though, because they force you to work differently. (I can still make a pot of tea by boiling water on the gas hob, IF I have some matches to light the gas!)

So, because I was powered down, I took myself away from my desk, collected my pen and notepad and went for my usual walk. About half way around, down a quiet country lane, is a wooden bench, where I sat down.

Out came my pen and notebook. Just at that moment, two article ideas popped into my head. I jotted them down and then began expanding one, to produce an outline.

I also took some time out, jotting down my observations from this viewpoint. It's an exercise I like to undertake every so often, but I don't get the chance to do this as often as I'd like. I like to focus on the smaller details of life: the red-tailed bumble bee that searched several dandelion flowers for nectar, by landing on them and going around each flowerhead in an anti-clockwise direction. (Why? Does this mean bumble bees are left and right-handed like us, albeit that they don't have hands ... but you get my drift!) And then there were the two buzzards, flying above Wenlock Edge, mewing and calling, twisting and soaring, as if the mother was teaching the juvenile life skills. You never know when small observations like this will come in handy for future ideas, or writing.

And then I realised that this experience would make an ideal blog posting - so I penned my basic outline, before finishing my walk.

When I arrived back home the power was back on. (It was probably restored the minute I stepped out the front door to do my walk!) But I don't mind. The exercise of powering down had still been productive. I'd still achieved what I'd set out to achieve before the power cut (drafting my blog post); the power cut had merely forced me to go about it in a different way. But it also generated a couple of other article ideas.

So next time you get a power cut, don't curse. Use it as an opportunity to think and work differently. Alternatively, why wait for a power cut? Simply power down yourself, once in a while. Who knows where it may lead?

Good luck.

Monday, 13 August 2012

It's Your Voice That Identifies Your Work.

Last week, I came across a piece of student's work which wasn't what it purported to be. It wasn't the student's own work. In fact, after a bit of investigating (although it wasn't exactly a taxing piece of investigation) I found the website where they had 'lifted' the material from. I say 'lifted,' I could have used the words: stolen, copied, pirated, poached, cribbed, or, as the Oxford English Dictionary also suggests, nicked.

I wasn't going to write about this incident, because I didn't want the student to feel that I was vilifying them. However, it also struck me that perhaps there are students who are unaware of what plagiarism is, and therefore a short piece on the subject was valid.

Plagiarism is where somebody takes the words that someone else has written, and then passes off those words as their own work. It can infringe copyright, and other rights, and it certainly infringes moral rights.

There's a phrase sometimes bandied about within the writing world that "using one source of information is plagiarism, whereas using two sources of information is research." Let's be clear about this. Plagiarism is where the words written by somebody else have been copied by another writer who makes out that they've written those words. (That's what the student was effectively saying to me - as a tutor, when someone says, "here's my assignment," I assume they are the one who wrote the words. The student did not say, "Here's an article written by someone else.") If you're undertaking some research and find a sentence, or two, that encapsulates the essence of what you want to say, you can use those words, as long as you indicate that these words are a direct quote and you attribute that quote to the person who wrote those words. When you attribute something, you send a clear message to readers as to who those words belong to. Copyright laws permit the use of quoted text, as long as the amount quoted is reasonable - and defining 'reasonable' is often where the lawyers come in! But, in most cases, quoting a couple of lines from a book, or play, would be deemed as reasonable, but quoting an entire article - which is what my student did - is not.

When we write, we produce written words in a particular order. The way we order and punctuate those words helps to create our style, or our voice. We all have our own voice, and therefore it should be remembered that when you copy someone else's words you're also copying their voice. I have hundreds and hundreds of students, but despite this, as soon as I began reading this student's work, I immediately realised that the text did not have that student's voice. That's what set the alarm bells ringing. A little more scrutiny highlighted some inconsistent spelling errors too. All I had to do was copy a couple of sentences and then paste them into Google, and lo and behold - the source of the entire article was brought up on the screen.

For Writers Bureau students, if there's a question on an assignment that you don't like, or you can't do, or you don't know how to tackle it, then please do get in touch with your tutor. We can usually sort something out. Don't think about plagiarising someone else's work, just so you can get this assignment done and move onto the next. You might think that only your tutor will see it, and that's okay because you have no intentions of sending it off to a real editor, but that's not the point. By copying someone else's work and then sending it to your tutor (making out that you wrote it) is lying to your tutor. How would you like it if someone copied your work and made out that they'd written it? You'd feel pretty miffed!

Every word you write is written in your voice. It's part of what makes you the writer that you are. Be proud of your voice.

Good luck.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Edinburgh MagFest

Thanks to Mary Strick for bringing this to my attention.

If you're in, or around, the Edinburgh area on August 26th 2012, why not pop along to one of the workshops being run by the Edinburgh International Magazine Festival?

It's being run by the Scottish division of the Professional Publishers Association at the Our Dynamic Earth conference venue in Holyrood Road, Edinburgh.

Whilst much of it is only open to PPA members, there are two workshops that are open to the public, one of which is entitled: How To Get Published and runs for 90 minutes on 26th August from 16:00 to 17:30. A panel of editors will offer advice and tips about how to get published in a variety of magazines. Further information can be found here: http://www.magfest.co.uk/workshops

To see more information about the editors on the panel (People's Friend, Dumfries & Galloway Life, Huffington Post and to book (£45) click the following link: http://www.magfest.co.uk/workshops/How_to_get_published.aspx

Good luck!