Monday, 29 October 2012

Forget NaNoWriMo - Try NaNoFiWriMo!

Later this week, hundreds of thousands of writers will be sitting down to start NaNoWriMo - NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth. It all kicks off on the 1st November and finishes at midnight on 30th November.

Well, why not forget NaNoWriMo and have a go at NaNoFiWriMo instead? Okay, I've just made that up, but NaNoFiWriMo stands for NAtional NOn-FIction WRIting MOnth.

If you've never come across NaNoWriMo before, the aim of the game is to spend November writing 50,000 words of your novel. Some writers get the 50,000 words written and then spend December working at a slightly slower pace to finish off their novels. The idea is that with 50,000 words behind you, by the end of November you're on the downhill stretch to finishing the novel, or rather the first draft of a novel, so you're much more likely to complete that first draft. I know of many people who have successfully achieved this, and this scheme can be an excellent way to get you writing.

But why write a novel? Why not write a non-fiction book instead? If those writing novels get their 50,000 words done by 30th November, they are two-thirds, or perhaps only half way through their novel. They still have between 30,000 and another 50,000 words to go in order to write a 'standard length' novel. But with a non-fiction book, 50,000 words is one of the commonest standard word lengths. So why spend November writing half a book, when you could write a WHOLE book instead?

Several of my non-fiction books are 50,000 words, including The Positively Productive Writer, Best Walks in the Welsh Borders, Fundraising for a Community Project, and Running A Writers Circle.

In fact, you could register for NaNoWriMo and write a non-fiction book instead. They don't check the content, just the number of words you write.

What works really well about NaNoWriMo is that non-writers get the concept. Tell someone that you're entering a competition to see how many writers can write 50,000 words in a month, and everyone understands. They also understand when you tell them that you won't be socialising much during November, because you're doing NaNoWriMo. Friends will acknowledge this, knowing that come December you'll be back on the social scene. You're not locking yourself away forever, just November! Even family members can cope with a bit of disruption, if it's only for a month.

So, to all of you out there who are taking part this year, whether you're writing a novel or a non-fiction book during the month of November, I have two words to say to you:

Good luck!


Monday, 22 October 2012

The Art of Slipping On A Banana Skin

This weekend I went to a workshop about writing humour. And it's not as simple as slipping on a banana skin.

It was led by Paul McDonald, author of The Philosophy of Humour (click here for Amazon link) and led to some interesting discussions about how to inject some humour into your own work.

Many people know that some of the best sitcoms (written in both the UK and the USA) are produced by a team of writers. It's because humour can be competitive. There's a phrase called 'Topping the Joke' where one person will try to come up with a funnier punch line than the previous one, something that is frequently seen on quiz panel television shows where the panelists comprise of stand-up comedians (who always seem to be sitting down ... but I digress.) One will say something funny, and another will try to come up with something funnier to get a bigger laugh, and so it goes on.

Whilst we can't all be part of a comedy writing team, being in a humorous mood can make us more creative, so it might be worth spending some time watching a few sitcoms to get you in the creative mood. But what makes something funny?

Paul McDonald suggested the following:


  1. Incongruity. (I've never written that word as many times as I did on Saturday's workshop!) This means something that is incompatible, or unexpected, from what we normally perceive, and features in most humour. Often, the punchline of a joke uses incongruity because what makes it funny is the joke leads us to one expectation and then the punchline is something completely different.
  2. Exaggeration. This can make things funnier. Or perhaps I should say exaggeration makes things SO funny, you'll laugh your head off, split your sides and force a fart from your bum.
  3. The Rule of Three. Having three things leads to repetition, which can be funny, especially, if each of the three elements use the 'Topping the Joke' theory and try to be funnier than the last item. Look at the final sentence in point 2 - there were three things listed there - laugh your head off, split your sides, and force a fart from your bum. I'm not saying that forcing a fart from your bum is funnier than the other two (because humour is subjective) but the rule of three certainly came into play there.
Editors like humour, so try injecting some into your next  piece of writing. 

Good luck.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Hello? Do You Remember Me?

I've had a couple of queries from students recently asking how long they should wait before they receive a response to their unsolicited submission. Unfortunately, the general answer is to wait as long as necessary!

Responses to submissions, whether they're submitted by post or by email, varies from publication to publication and publisher to publisher. Some are quite good at it, others less so (if they bother to at all). Some editors appear to deal with submissions in strict date order, whilst others give the impression that they sit down for a couple of days every three months and have a good clear out!

Generally, if the work you've submitted has been commissioned, it will be used quite quickly, because an editor will probably have commissioned it for a specific issue. But if you've submitted something on spec, I would certainly suggest you leave it for several months before you start chasing. When you do chase, be polite. It's usually simplest to ask an editor whether they can confirm that your submission arrived safely in their offices, rather than demanding that they make a decision upon your work right now. (No, is by far the easiest option for the editor.)  If they reply that they haven't received your submission then you have the option of enquiring if they'd like to see a duplicate copy, or whether you want to take your chances and rewrite the material for a slightly different market.

Some publications will confirm safe receipt and say that they'll get back to you when they can. If they don't give a time scale, be prepared for a long wait. Some will mention when they hope to respond by. Others will simply return your manuscript, rejected.

Always keep an accurate record of when an item was submitted, and also when you chased. In my experience, being able to list three or four dates of contact attempts over the period of 18 to 24 months shows that at least one side of this business relationship is professional, if not the other! Although, do bear in mind that for the one writer who has submitted something it is much easier to keep track of things than it is for the one editor (with no staff) who receives 200 unsolicited submissions a week, and has just been off work for two weeks because his father-in-law broke a leg whilst cutting the lawn and has needed looking after.

If you are submitting topical material, then editors understand why you are chasing. If they're not interested in your submission, they know that you want the opportunity to offer it elsewhere, so do make this clear when you make your enquiries. Of course, this is another reason for why it's useful to submit well in advance. You want to give the editor plenty of time to consider the material, as well as give yourself enough time to chase, and then rework it for another market!

And the waiting period is another reason why you should crack on and write the next thing. How depressing would it be if you'd written an article, submitted it and then waited for 12 months, only to discover that your work has been rejected. However, if after making this submission you'd written another ten pieces, by the time you'd received this rejection, you may have made a sale with one of your other submissions - and if not, at least you still have the hope of acceptance because you have ten other submissions out there!

Good luck!

Monday, 8 October 2012

A new-look friend ...

It happens to most publications at some point and last week it happened to one of the UK's most traditional markets, The People's Friend. It's undergone a revamp, although the updating has not been a radical change for this conservative (small c) readership.

Whilst The People's Friend is known as a magazine for short stories, it is also a useful market for features too. One of the biggest changes is that the magazine has increased pagination: by an additional 16 pages. That means it needs more writing!

Whilst it now boasts 7 short stories (one for each day of the week) as well as two serials, it also has new features, tackling many issues, such as health and well-being, and gardening. The People's Friend has always carried travel features and the new-look issue had three. It has also extended it's letters page, and for those of you interested in poetry, they now need more of these too.

So, if it's been a while since you last looked at this market, it might be worth your while spending the 97p and buying a new copy to look at. Remember, this is one of those nice markets that actually pays on acceptance, rather than publication (which is good, because they once accepted one of my travel features in 2005, and it was published in 2011!).

For detailed guidelines, take a look at their website.

Incidentally, this is one of the few markets where you DON"T have to submit your work to a specified name, but instead you submit it to the Features Editor, or the Fiction Editor. (When you hear back from your first submission you'll then have a contact name to use for future submissions.

Good luck! 

Monday, 1 October 2012

Taking small steps

Forging a relationship with an editor can be like any other relationship. Often, the longer lasting relationships are those that develop over time. Slowly. Gradually.

If there's a magazine that you've always wanted to write for, sometimes offering the great article as your first piece might not be a good start. Instead, start off small. Get to know the editor. If a magazine asks for letters, or news items, try sending off a few of those first.

Send in useful smaller snippets and the editor will get to know your name. Then, when you offer something more substantial, the editor may look at it more favourably.

The news section in Writers' Forum magazine openly asks readers to send in news stories. Each month, the editor selects 'the best' and the writer receives a year's subscription. I've noticed how it is the writers who've sent stories in over a couple of months (so that's regularly, most months) who are rewarded with the annual subscription. And some of those names have later had full length articles published within the magazine.

One of the travel magazines has a section where readers can send in tips and advice. Again, it's common to see some 'regular' names crop up, but it's also noticeable to see some of those names appearing as the writers of longer travel articles a few months later.

My first published pieces in Country Walking magazine were for some of their smaller, filler slots. I'd sent a couple of reader letters in, and I'd had a few fillers published on their filler pages (news, humorous stories, photos of great views, etc) before I approached them about their walking routes section. Because I was a name they recognised, they agreed that I could have a go at writing for this section. Nine years later I'm still writing for the magazine, and have helped them out with a couple of last minute deadline pieces, too.

Sometimes it can be worth thinking about what you want to achieve with your writing. Consider it as another relationship, and begin it as you would any other relationship. (Don't go for a seven course meal to start off with - meet up for a drink first!) Start off small, and see if you like each other. Who knows, it could be the start of a long and fruitful relationship.

Good luck!