Monday, 28 October 2013

Meet The Team

We all know how it’s important to approach a named person at a magazine when we want to send them some work, or pitch an idea, and scrutinising the publication for this information isn’t always easy. The staff list can’t always be found at the beginning of the magazine - sometimes it’s in the middle, or even near the end.

However, these days, it is becoming a little easier with the advent of what I call the Meet The Team section - an area devoted to the thoughts or opinions of the staff. These comments are often tied into the theme of the issue. Country Walking magazine, for example, might ask the staff for a few words about their favourite view in an issue devoted to Britain’s best views. Country Living magazine has gone one step further and devoted a whole article to their staff’s Christmas Projects. (Yes, the December issue is out now - see picture.)

From the freelance writer’s perspective this is a great way of finding a useful contact name, along with a photo of the staff (thus proving that those who work for magazines are not rejection-issuing dragons, but real people), and occasionally, their contact details. What makes these useful to the freelance writer is that these pieces often include junior members of staff, not just the editors, and it’s these people who can be useful. 

For example, the editorial secretary may be the best person to contact first if you want to pitch an idea by phone to an editor and want to ensure you don’t call them just as the publication is going to press. Nor do you want to ring them when they’re just about to go into a meeting. A quick email or phone call to the editorial secretary may just steer you to the perfect time to call.

Likewise, an editorial assistant may be a better contact to email if you want to check whether your submission arrived safely. And the administrative assistant can be a good starting point to find out who’s the best person to contact regarding the missing payment you’re still waiting for.

So, the next time you come across one of these Meet The Team sections, or articles, get out your contacts book and add the names, job titles and contact information (and don’t forget to record the date you added them so you know how up to date they are when you next look them up). You never know when they may come in useful.

Good luck!

Monday, 21 October 2013

What Kate Said ...

Saturday was our writers’ group’s annual workshop day as part of the Wellington Literary Festival, and this year we were fortunate enough to have bestselling novelist Kate Long come and talk to us. She gave us two great workshops: one on creating characters and another on using dialogue.

Kate also offered us her top tips, and this is what she had to say:

- Write regularly and often. Ideally, try to write at least two or three times a week. The more your exercise your brain, the more toned your writing muscle will be.

- Set yourself targets, but make them achievable. Kate explained that she sets herself a target of 3,000 words a week (600 a day, for five days a week). However, she understands that many people claim they don’t have enough time to write, but it’s all down to how much you want it. Her bestselling novel The Bad Mother’s Handbook was written whilst she was holding down a day job as a teacher and then as a mother with a young child.

- Give yourself some personal writing space where you don’t have to tidy up after anyone else, and they don’t clear up after you … then she reminisced about the days when the family only had one computer and she had to clear away the lego first in order to get at the keyboard!

- It’s okay to feel selfish about your writing. Writing is a solitary activity, but you’re entitled to your own personal time and hobbies. Her son made a sign for her room door - on one side it says It’s OK To Come in, whilst on the other side it says, No, Go Away, I’m Busy!

- Read widely - both within your target genre, and also outside of it. Not only is to important to keep up with trends, but’s it’s a great way to learn how other writers express and treat ideas.

- Keep notebooks. Ideas will disappear if you don’t write them down. (Incidentally, Kate writes in the dark! She jots down notes in bed, with the light off, and then types them up in the morning. She wonders whether not being able to see what she’s writing enables her to gets her thoughts down without feeling the need to edit and review her work.)

- Go on a course - residential, if possible. A residential course will take you away from life’s distractions - and it tells you that it’s okay to be a writer and spend your time, whilst away, to write.

- Meet authors wherever you can. If there’s an author visiting your local bookshop go and talk to them, even if it’s an author you don’t know, or who writes in a different genre to you. They may just pass on a vital nugget of information … and don’t forget to buy a copy of their book!

- Get feedback on your work where possible, but get the right feedback. Don’t ask family. Don’t ask a members of a writers’ group who specialise in writing romance to give you feedback on your horror story. Ask people whose opinion will be relevant.

- And finally, get your work out there!

Good luck!  

Monday, 14 October 2013

NaNoWriMo Preparation

The countdown has begun for anyone considering attempting this year’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). For those of you who don’t know, the idea behind this scheme is that writers around the world sit down on 1st November, with the aim of writing 50,000 words by midnight on 30th November. They don’t have to be perfectly honed words, just the first draft.

Whilst it’s aimed at novelists, I think the basic idea works well for any writer. If you want to write a non-fiction book, well, consider getting it written in November. Whereas most novels are at least 80,000 words, many non-fiction books are 50,000 words - so why not use November to write a WHOLE non-fiction book, rather than five-eighths of a novel? And don’t think just books - consider what else you could do with the 50,000-word target. Article writers could set themselves the challenge of writing fifty 1,000 word articles in November. Short story writers could write 25 two thousand word stories. Those of you who write both fiction and non-fiction could do a combination of both!

If you’re going to consider undertaking this exercise, a little preparation goes a long way:

- The rest of the world doesn’t stop in November, much as we’d like it to. Work out when you can fit in, or what you need to give up in order to fit in, the necessary time to write. If you can identify roughly the same time every day, that works best. Can you do every day of the week, or can you only write during the week, or at weekends?

- Once you now when and how frequently you can write, identify what your word count target is for each writing session. So, if you’re going to write every day in November, you need to write 1,667 words (rounded) every day to hit your 50,000 target. If you can’t write at weekends, there are 21 working days in November, which means you need to write 2,381 words in each writing session.

- Do any necessary research now. Collect your data. Do you background reading. Create your characters. Draft your plot. Think of different angles for your article ideas. You stand more chance of success if you can use your writing time to write. 

- Set up a system for recording your word counts. A spreadsheet, document, or even a Post-It Note will suffice. Simply record the total number of words you achieve during each writing session. You need to be able to see how you are progressing.

- If you have a good day and write more than your daily target, don’t think you have fewer words to write tomorrow. Stick to meeting your minimum word count target every day. If you hot your target by 27th November, you’ll feel even better!

And I can’t let an opportunity like this pass without mentioning my own book, The Positively Productive Writer, which has advice on how to stay motivated.

For more details about NaNoWriMo visit the official website at

Good luck.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Foggy Day Writing

Last week, a student apologised when she sent in her assignment, because she felt it wasn’t particularly original. It was a travel piece and she’d written about the venues and attractions that everybody writes about for that particular destination.

I call this Foggy Day Writing because writers are blinded by the obvious to see the creative detail. A similar thing happens with photography. When photographers wake up to be greeted by a foggy morning, many simply assume that it’s not a good day for photography. This is because all they see is the fog. Fog can be highly creative for photographers.

Fog is actually great weather for capturing the colour green. Zoom in on anything green and it appears more saturated: greener. (It’s all to do with how the light is reflected, apparently.) Fog is also a reminder that being creative is all about viewpoint. It frequently collects in valleys, which means if you can climb above it you’ll be rewarded with a completely different perspective of fog.

Foggy day writing tends to focus on the obvious, yet creativity can be found with a little effort. For the advice for photographers:

A) look for the green, or rather home in on the smaller details.

B) change your perspective. Look at your subject from a different angle.

I recently had to undertake a writing exercise where I had to write a complaint letter. Fortunately, or should that be unfortunately, I had several real-life complaint letters to write and tried drawing upon one of them for inspiration. But no matter how frustrating the experience was in real life as a creative piece is wasn’t working. It was then that I realised it was a foggy day piece of writing. I was simply drawing upon the obvious. Instead, I decided to focus on one small detail. I created a story where the tiniest of details was wrong and this led to a series of catastrophic disasters. Then I added a twist, turning the complaint into a thank you piece. This piece turned out to be far more creative and interesting than my previous idea.

So next time you begin writing something, ask yourself: am I producing Foggy Day Writing? If you answer “Yes,” then do what photographers do. Look for some small detail, or change your perspective.

Good luck.