Monday, 25 March 2013

How Far Have You Come?

I had an email from one of my students over the weekend. He was pleased because he'd noticed that one particular magazine had a new editor, so he'd submitted an article (that a previous editor of the same publication had rejected) and was delighted when the new editor had accepted it.

This made him realise that it might be worth going back and resubmitting some of his other articles that the previous editor had rejected. (Definitely a good move, in my opinion.)

However, as he read through some of his older work, he suddenly realised how his writing style had changed. Some of those early sentences were clunky, difficult to read and poorly punctuated. Admittedly, some pieces were now almost five years old, but he set about rewriting and updating them.

It wasn't until he came to re-read his edited version that he realised how far on his writing journey he'd travelled. Suddenly, the words he had in front of him illustrated how much he had learned from the craft of writing over the past five years.

A craftsman is always learning, honing and improving their skills, which is exactly what a writer should be doing. I always feel as though I'm on a never-ending journey, where, hopefully, each new piece is better than the one before.

So go on - why not have a look yourself? Go and find a piece of writing from a time when you had just begun your writing journey. It doesn't matter whether it was a year ago, or ten years ago. Try and find an old piece from those early days and read through it. And if you find yourself cringing, don't be embarrassed. Instead, take comfort from the fact that this proves you've developed as a writer. Isn't that something to be proud of? (And perhaps you can rewrite it and find a new market for that piece today!)

Good luck.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Warning Signs


It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, we are subjected to warning signs: road junction ahead, low bridge, deep water, or, as in my photo here, look out for low-flying gliders. (In case you’re wondering, the footpath cuts across the approach to a local airstrip that gliders use, and, remember, gliders don’t have engines, so they tend not to make any noise.)

In the world of writing, we tend not to have huge metal warning signs, triangular in shape and with red borders. However, there are some signs budding writers should look out for:

  • Excitement at finishing the first draft of something: don’t be tempted to submit your work now. The excitement of completion is blocking your clear vision. Put your work aside for a day or so, and then look at it again when your excitement has subsided. You will be grateful for heeding this warning, because the mistakes you failed to see then will now become apparent.
  • Thinking it doesn’t apply to you: if you’ve gone to the effort of analysing your target market, then apply what you discovered. If every article is 900 words, why is your piece 1,000 words? Heed the warning and cut the 10%. It’ll be easier than you think. If you spot that the magazine doesn’t use unsolicited manuscripts, don’t send your complete article. Heed the warning and write a query letter/email.
  • Complain that an editor has changed your words: whenever your work is published, take the time to sit down and read your published piece. Compare it to the version of the text you submitted to the editor. Has anything changed? Editors sometimes change opening paragraphs, rewrite sections, change spellings, or with fiction they have been known to change character names and even the ending of a story. Don’t pick up the phone, or open up a new email message, and give the editor a rollicking. Accept the warning sign: that your work needed a little adjustment. See what you can learn from it. If they changed the opening paragraph, what have they done? Does it engage the reader more quickly? Does it clarify more succinctly what your article is about? If they’ve changed a character’s name in your story, can you see why they’ve done that? Is the character’s name more reflective of their age, or the age of the readership? Have they produced a better ending to your story? There are many reasons why your text may be changed, but if you read the warning signs, perhaps they indicate a weakness in your writing. Scrutinise the exact changes. What can you learn from them? It could result in more sales in the long run.

There are many warning signs writers should look out for, although they’re not always obvious. Heed the ones you spot and your writing journey should be a little safer.

Good luck.

Monday, 11 March 2013

There Were These Writers In A Pub...


… and we were waiting for our food to be served … food that had been ordered over an hour previously (and we only had an hour left before I was being the hard taskmaster again).

The waiter was clearly experienced in dealing with waiting, hungry customers, when we questioned him.

“If anyone has a shotgun,” he said, “please feel free to shoot the chef, although you’ll have to form an orderly queue and take your turn after me.”

It was a clever response. Not only did it deflect the impatience amongst the group, but it gave a group of writers a wealth of murderous ideas!

And did those ideas flow! But, no-one was jotting anything down. Who knows how many have been forgotten. Perhaps some, like me, made a mental note to remember the ones that we particularly liked, but no-one can remember everything. Many of us had left our notebooks in our workshop rooms (we were obviously hungry).

Thankfully, we decided not to shoot the chef … and about ten minutes later our lunch arrived (and very nice it was too). But whilst the chef escaped with his life, I don’t doubt several ideas also escaped from the clutches of these writers.

No matter how small or insignificant an idea might seem, always have means to jot it down. Who knows where that spark could take you?

Good luck.

Monday, 4 March 2013

The World Turns


I had an email from a student last week whose determination proved to be a good example of how the world turns. Over the last few years he’s had immense success with one of the filler slots in a particular woman’s weekly magazine. Then, all of a sudden, he seemed to fall out of favour, and none of his submissions were used.

This can be immensely frustrating, particularly after several years of successful writing and selling. The reason for this isn’t always obvious. Occasionally, editors like to refresh the magazine and one way of doing this is by bringing in new writers, yet that probably didn’t apply here, because the filler slot the student was targeting was really aimed at readers.

It could be that the editor became a little concerned that this particular student’s name was regularly appearing in the reader slot most weeks. Who knows? But this didn’t stop my student from continuing to submit material. And guess what? After over a year of no success, suddenly, he’s in favour again! The editor is using his work, so much so that sometimes two or three pieces are used in the same issue in this same slot.

Perhaps there has been a change in editor. Perhaps the new editor accepts that my student can offer exactly what they’re looking for in this slot. A change in editor might explain the sudden use of my student’s work again. Alternatively, perhaps this section has now been given to another member of staff to sort out, and this person doesn't have the time to devote to the slot and so is grateful of the submissions for an easier life. Whatever the reason is, it’s a good example of how determination can win through. The world continues to turn, people come and people go, so where perhaps one door closed, over time you might find it re-opening.

So why not think about some markets that you used to submit to, but no longer do? Buy an up-to-date copy and see what’s changed. You never know, you might like what you see, and the editor, or staff, may have changed too. New staff could mean a new opportunity.

Good luck.