Monday, 29 April 2013

Is That What You REALLY Want To Say?

This week, some of us in the UK have the opportunity to vote in our local council elections. This means that the various political parties have been pushing their campaign material through our letterboxes. This is some of the funniest material about, often conveying information that the political parties probably didn’t intend to convey.

For example, the political party in control of my local council has put out campaign material promoting their achievements whilst they’ve been in office. One such achievement focusses on improving the county’s broadband infrastructure. In one sentence they mention that they “found £8 million.”

Now, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the main definition of the verb found is: “having been discovered by chance, or unexpectedly.” I wonder if this political party want voters to think they manage money in such a slapdash manner that they have discovered by chance, or unexpectedly, the sum of £8 million. (It suggests that the cleaner came across it one day, fallen down the back of the filing cabinet.)

I have to say that this particular political party did not help their cause when they went on to say that they were going to use this £8 million and put it with the £8.2 million already set aside, to enable them to spend £16.7 million on improving the broadband infrastructure. Now, it’s been a while since I was last at school, and I was never any good at maths, but I’m fairly confident that 8 + 8.2 does not equal 16.7. 

Perhaps, there was another £500,000 that had been earmarked for this project, but this wasn’t mentioned in the campaign material. As a result, this leaflet suggests the political party aren’t in control of the finances, unexpectedly discovering by chance some money, and are completely inept at basic accounting!

So, next time you write something, edit your work and choose your words carefully. Are you conveying the message you really want to convey?

Good luck.

(PS. Unfortunately, the campaign material from the other political parties is just as dire!) 

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Competition News

Just a quick note to mention that the Writers Bureau Short Story competition is open for entries. Prizes range from £500 (1st) to £100 (4th) for short stories of up to 2,000 words. The closing date is 30th June, and the entry fee is £5/$8/€6. For full rules and details visit, or download an entry form at

Also, the writers' group I go to, Wrekin Writers, are accepting short story entries into their Doris Gooderson Short Story competition. Entries should be no longer than 1200 words, and prizes range from £150 (1st) to £40 (3rd). Entry fee is £3 per story. Any profits from the competition this year will go to the Severn Hospice. For more information, visit:

Good luck!

Monday, 22 April 2013

The Dual Objective

We know that to get published we need to write something that will be of interest to a specific readership. However, as writers, we also need to satisfy our own needs: to enjoy the process of creating something. 

When we start out as writers, it’s our own enjoyment of the creative process that dominates, which makes it’s easy to forget who we’re writing our words for.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with writing for yourself; that’s why people keep diaries. But to be published, it’s important that you recognise you will not be the only reader of what you are writing.

If you’re struggling with this process, of writing for others, here’s a three step technique to help turn your writing around.

Step 1: Write what you want. Sit down and write. Just enjoy the creative process. Write to please yourself and say what you want to say. Write for yourself, first.

Step 2: Print out a copy of your text (keep a copy of your original draft), and go through it, line by line, asking the following questions: Will my target reader need to know this? Will my target reader want to know this? (Think about who your reader is, having undertaken your market analysis.) Delete anything that does not meet these criteria.

Step 3: Now review your reader’s draft to make sure that it flows and is cohesive. Having deleted some text, you may need to insert some linking phrases and sentences. Then compare the two pieces side-by-side. What difference do you notice?

There may be a lot of commonality between the two pieces, although, hopefully, you’ll find that the emphasis has changed. Your second piece is less-likely to be self-indulgent. It will still be informative, and could still reflect your own personal experiences, depending on your subject matter, but it will be more engaging for the target reader.

If you satisfy the objective of writing for yourself first, you may find being more objective about your text for the reader is then much easier. So enjoy the dual objective of writing, but don’t forget to submit your reader piece, when you’re happy with it!

Good luck. 

Monday, 15 April 2013

Time For An MOT?

I’ve just booked my car in for its annual MOT. It’s a little frustrating having to sort these things out, but, then again, it is also re-assuring to know that my vehicle is roadworthy. It made me wonder whether writers should undergo an annual test, to check their roadworthiness for the written word! (Failing with poor emissions takes on a whole new meaning!)

Sometimes we can get swept along with the latest fads, developments and new markets. After Fifty Shades of Grey was published, suddenly, many more writers were writing erotica. Hilary Mantel’s Booker-winning novels (Wolf Hall, Bring Up The Bodies) are written in the present tense, encouraging other writers to try writing in this tense. (It’s more difficult than it first appears!) Whilst following these trends exposes us to different styles of writing, which is a good thing, we should never forget the basics. Our writing should always be roadworthy. The car with the latest all-singing, all-dancing, built-in SatNav, still needs good tyres, good brakes, a steering wheel that turns and working indicator lights to get the occupant to their desired destination safely.

So, what should a Writing MOT test for? 

  • A basic understanding of grammar? Whilst it can be acceptable to break the rules (as long as you understand what the rules are and what you are achieving by breaking them), it’s important that you know why the words are in the order they are. 
  • What about accepting that it’s okay to look things up in a dictionary? My computer’s operating system has a built-in dictionary (The Oxford Dictionary of English), which means its information is a few clicks away. I’ve never used a dictionary as much as I do now. I question my word choices, and any hint of doubt has me heading for the dictionary. After all, word selection is vital for expressing our thoughts clearly.
  • And what about understanding the building blocks of engaging writing? It doesn’t matter whether you write fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or plays, our pieces need structure (scenes), and devices to draw in the reader (dialogue, observations, and plot).

The good news is, just like a car’s MOT, if we fail we simply make repairs to make ourselves roadworthy again. We can remind ourselves of the basics. Many writers have a shelf (if not more) of books on writing. Why not dust one off, that you haven’t read for a while, and re-read it? Remind yourself of the basics. Perhaps we should make it an annual effort: re-reading a how-to guide once a year. I know I benefit from doing so.

Good luck.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Read On. Go on. I Insist!

Firstly, I will admit that this is a pet hate of mine, but the fact that it only occasionally puts in an appearance in magazines suggests that editors might not like it either. What am I talking about? Read on to find out more ...

Ah! I see you've done exactly what I told you to do. Thank you. And that's my point. I told you to read on. As a reader, I don't like being told what to do. If the writer has written an engaging and intriguing introduction they will have my attention and I will want to read on, because I want to know what else the writer has to say.

Telling a reader to 'read on' is lazy writing. If a writer hasn't written an engaging opening then they should rewrite it to make it more engaging. You don't sit down to watch a film, only to have the film's director appear on the screen after a couple of minutes and say, "Stay seated ... there's a really good bit coming up in a minute," do you?

There's a fine line between telling a reader to read on and inviting them to read on, however, I don't even think readers need an invitation. Just cut straight to the point you want to make.

Telling readers what to do is also unnecessary wordage. Instructions to your readers uses word space that could be used to give them more practical, and interesting, information, which would encourage them to want to read on.

So, the next time you find yourself telling your reader what to do put yourself in their shoes and consider how you would feel being told what to do. As a minimum, you should delete your instruction to the reader. Immediately, you'll find the tone of your piece has changed for the better.

Good luck.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Make The Most Of The Mundane

Firstly, this is not an April Fool! (And I can’t believe we’re now in the fourth month of the year, already. Pity the weather seems to have forgotten which month it is too.) But that’s the point. Here in the UK the weather is being … unusual. It’s been a tad chilly. There’s still snow lying on the ground even now. And everybody is talking about it (if not moaning about it).

Although some people don’t like the weather, and wish it were warmer, it is making life more different. Some might say more interesting. It’s giving people something to talk about. 

There may be moments when writers feel that in order to write they need to write about something interesting. Perhaps they need to sail down the Amazon wearing a fur coat and red ankle socks, or conquer Everest on their hands, or have driven from Land’s End to John O’Groats in sportscar with a famous celebrity. 

If you fancy doing something different, try writing about a mundane activity, instead.  Sit down and write about making a cash withdrawal (and I mean an authorised one from a cash point machine, rather than an illegal one involving stockings and a sawn-off shotgun!). Alternatively, why not write about making a cup of tea, or pegging out the laundry?

Just because something is ordinary, and mundane, it is perceived as uninteresting. Yet that perception can be wrong. As someone who used to work for a bank, I know everything that can go wrong with a cash point transaction! So, if ever you find yourself stuck for something to write, or you need a writing exercise to stimulate your creative muscle, spend ten minutes writing about a boring, mundane activity. You might just surprise yourself how interesting your subject matter is.

Good luck.