Monday, 28 July 2014

Maximising Opportunities

Last week I was tutoring at the Writers' Holiday event in Fishguard. It's always a good idea to maximise these opportunities, so prior to going I thought about how I could make the most of this trip. The old maxim - fail to plan and you plan to fail - is so true.

For me, such events are also an opportunity to sell some of my books. But after delivering my course I had some free time, and it's this that I wanted to make the most of. Travelling is an opportunity to build my photographic library, and after studying the maps and researching some image libraries I identified a couple of places I wanted to visit.

I also spent some time researching some of those places for potential article ideas, thus identifying specific subjects I needed to photograph. There were two article ideas that came to mind, with pitches submitted.

But, even when you've done all of this extra planning, there are times when you come across the unexpected, such as St Non's Well, (see picture). Although it is marked on the Ordnance Survey map, there's no indication as to whether the well is something substantial, or whether it is simply a hole in the ground! It turned out to be something a little more substantial, which means another article opportunity, at least, and several more photographic opportunities.

And I didn't neglect my journey to and from Fishguard, either. Having scrutinised the map, I found two places I wanted to stop off at and explore.

So I've returned from Fishguard completely shattered (but that's another story!) and with hundreds more photos to add to my library, at least four article ideas, and an idea for an eBook.

Next time a writing opportunity arises, take a few minutes to see how you can make the most of it.

Good luck.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Creating the Right Mood

Many writers go and write in the corner of a coffee shop. Not only is there good food and drink available, but the ambience and background noise can be productive. Having a general hubbub of background noise can soothe the soul into thinking you’re still part of the real world, without actually having to take part in it. But what if you can’t get to a coffee shop, or cafe? Easy. You just need to log into and you’ll soon have that cafe background humdrum echoing around your work station. And, just like a real cafe, the background noise changes. You can opt for a Morning Murmur, or a Lunchtime Lounge, or, if you prefer, a University Undertone.

My latest article in the Business of Writing series (which has just been extended, by the way!) in Writing magazine looks at workspaces, and  finding the right place to work can be important. But as writers we’re lucky to be able to work anywhere, and, as the old saying goes, a change is a good as a rest. So why not take your notebook, or laptop, and take yourself off somewhere different this week? Go and find somewhere else to work from: the library, a cafe, a park bench, the beach, or even a chair in the garden.

Changing our working environment can change our mood, and if the mood change is positive, then that can have a beneficial impact upon our creativity. I would even go as far as recommending an experiment. Create a project to find five different places from which to work, and then spend a day testing them out, to see what sort of impact they have on your productivity. Who knows? You may just stumble upon somewhere that unleashes a whole new vista of thoughts and new ideas!

Good luck!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Oh, The Romance Of It All!

Last Friday evening I snuck into the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference, which was being held at the Harper Adams University. For those of you thinking I must have been the only man there, think again. I counted four others, which meant there was a handful of us amongst about 220 women!

I don’t consider myself to be a writer of romance (and judging by the rejection slips I’ve had from many of the women’s magazines for some of my fiction, neither do they!). But it was great to see so many people there, all eager to learn more from the workshops and talks they’d be attending over the weekend, and share some of the news and successes that they’ve had. And some would have the opportunity to pitch their material to an agent and editor, and get feedback on their work.

Conferences like this are a brilliant way to grow as a writer. Not only do they give you an opportunity to escape from the family and immerse yourself in writing and writing-related activities for a few days, but they’re also an excellent way to network - with other writers and influential people within the industry. Chat to an agent over lunch or dinner and then, when the time comes, mentioning you met them at a conference in a covering letter accompanying your latest piece of work does two things: it creates a personal connection (the agent/editor will hopefully remember you), and it also demonstrates that you take your writing seriously enough to attend such events in the first place.

Belonging to an organisation can also offer access to mentoring schemes; the Romantic Novelists’ Association runs their own New Writer Scheme, from which many have gone on to achieve publishing success. Many run competitions, and these can provide useful stepping stones to success. Be awarded with a prize from your association and it’s a sign that your peers, and experts in the industry, recognise your skills - that’s something useful to add to the writing CV!

So, why not take a look around to see if there’s an association of writers for your genre of writing (there are many, including non-fiction subjects too) and investigate joining? You’ll learn a lot and make many new friends. And don't be put off thinking that you are not the 'typical' genre writer. There is no typical genre writer. Men can write romance, and there are some successful male romance writers. (If you read the RNA website you'll see that 22% of romance readers are men.) 

And, yes, and there’s also the opportunity of meeting up with all of these writers at conferences like this. (Top tip: you need two suitcases for these events. One for your clothes, and one for all the wine and chocolate you need to bring too!)

Good luck.

Romantic Novelists’ Association:
Crime Writers’ Association:
Historical Writers’ Association:
Society of Women Writers and Journalist:
Football Writers’ Association:
Association of Christian Writers:
Fitness Writers’ Association:
Horror Writers’ Association:
The Guild of Food Writers:
British Guild of Travel Writers:
Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild:
British Science Fiction Association:

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators:

Monday, 7 July 2014

Smile for the Camera!

I hate having my photo taken. I know I’m not the only one. But, these days, more and more magazines and publications want to have a photo of the writer, either to accompany the article itself, or to appear on a ‘This Month’s Contributors’ slot near the front of the magazine. (If you look in the August 2014 issue of Writing Magazine you’ll see there’s even a photo of me at my writing desk, to accompany the article I’ve written … and yes - the editor specifically asked for it!)

A simple head and shoulders photo may be enough, but do check your target publications. What do other writers do? Is there an expectation of a particular style of photo? For example, the photo in the August issue of Writing Magazine is of me sitting at my workspace (see below). What’s the article about? Creating a business-like workspace. A photo of me wandering across the hills wouldn’t be right here … but that might be fine in a walking magazine.

Be aware of what you’re wearing. Does it fit the magazine? If you write about cycling, then a photo of you sat on a bike really ought to have you wearing a cycle helmet too. (Whether you go for the lycra is entirely your decision, but often there’s a reason why editors prefer head and shoulder shots.)

To take such a photo, all you need is a simple compact camera. A mobile phone may even do. What I would suggest is you investigate the self-timer options. These allow you to set up the camera, press the button, and then it give you ten seconds to get yourself into position. Of course, if you have a willing friend to help, who won’t take the mickey out of you, or laugh as you decide which pose to use, then that’s great, but often these things work out best if you work alone and not have to worry about looking stupid in front of someone.

Take the photo of me above, for example. I’m standing on top of the toposcope on top of the Long Mynd. There was nobody about (and they missed a fantastic sunset), but it made things easier for me. Because climbing on top of that toposcope wasn’t easy. In fact, there were numerous shots of me with my bum in the air because I couldn’t hurl my body on top of it before the ten second countdown finished! But it didn’t matter. Because I was on my own. After several attempts I got the shot I wanted.

So think about your ‘writer photo’. Do you need one, or would a couple be required for the different markets you write for? Have a couple to draw upon and the next time an editor asks, you can pick and choose the one that seems most suitable for that publication.

Good luck!