Monday, 29 February 2016

Productivity Leap

By pure coincidence (actually, a lot of hard work from the Universe went into arranging this), today’s blog posting happens to fall on February 29th - Leap Day. Let’s leap for joy. Why? Because we’ve been given an extra 24 hours. So let’s do something different with them.

As I point out in my Productivity Leap article, from my Business of Writing column in Writing Magazine, we should treat February 29th as bonus time. It doesn’t matter whether you write full time, or in your spare time, we’ve all been given another 24 hours this year. Even if your writing time is restricted to an hour in the evening, you’ve still been granted an extra hour of writing time this year. (After all, those people who are paid an annual salary are paid the same whether there are 365 or 366 days in the year. They’ve not gained anything extra from today - although their employers might have! But as writers, we’ve been given this extra opportunity to do more writing.)

So do something different with today’s time. Make today’s efforts stand out. Today is special, so today’s activities should be special. You could:

  • Start a new writing project. Write a short story. Or a new article. Or pick a competition to enter. Then, when your piece is published (or if you win the competition) you’ll have something tangible to show for your bonus writing time.
  • Do some planning. I’m not a detailed planner, but I do make plans. So why not sit down and use today’s writing time to plan what you’d like to write in March? Set yourself some specific goals. Use today to plan your future writing career.
  • If you’re working on a big project (novel, or non-fiction book) and you want to continue working on that (which is a good idea) why not go somewhere else today to write? Experiment. Go and work from your local library. Or do a JK Rowling, and take yourself off to a local cafe and write there. Whatever your experiment is, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter. At least you tried. With 59 days of 2016 already gone, you still have another 306 writing days until the end of the year - so that’s still 365 days of writing this year - the same as the previous three years.

Whatever you do, don’t take today off. Write something. Because if you think of today as an opportunity for a holiday from writing then 1st March will be a very difficult day, getting back into the swing of things.

Happy Leap Day.

Good luck.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Three. Word. Challenge.

Last week, at one of the writers’ groups I go to, we tried the Three Word Challenge. Pick any three words, and then everyone has to write something incorporating those words into their work in some way. It was a timed event and we gave ourselves 20 minutes.

We meet in a library, so choosing words wasn’t difficult. Three members dashed off to pick a book at random from the library’s shelves, and from there were chose page number 70, line 7, and word 7 on that line. (I don’t why we picked this numbers - they were just the first numbers that came into someone’s head!)

Our words were:
  • Reggie,
  • fishing,
  • been.

Immediately we had to introduce a new rule: Reggie’s been fishing was not acceptable as a piece of writing. We had to do more than that. (We we did have 20 minutes.) And then we set to it.

As a writing challenge it worked. We all wrote something. And as we went round the table, reading out our work, it was interesting to listen to the different ideas that we’d all had.

We didn’t critique each other’s work, as such. Work like this is first draft stuff, and reading out that “shitty first draft” as Anne Lamott calls it is embarrassing, because it’s full of mistakes, grammatical faux pas, repetitions and verbal stumblings as we try to read our own handwriting. The point of the exercise is to get us writing. Anything. Something. What we were then able to do was talk about how these ideas could be developed further. Many were potential short stories.

So, if you find yourself stuck and unable to write give the Three Word Challenge a try. Either pick three random words from one book, or one random word from three different books, and then set to it. Give yourself a time limit. We all need a deadline. It focusses the mind. And just see where those words take you. You might surprise yourself.

Good luck.

Monday, 15 February 2016

A Readly Good Idea

I frequently have students moaning that it’s difficult to find new magazine markets, and I accept that in some areas this can be quite challenging. If your local shop only has one shelf of magazines, then breaking into new markets may feel daunting. 

But, if you have access to the Internet (which you must have if you’re reading this blog posting) then check out a company called Readly. For a monthly subscription of £9.99 (practically the price of two  print magazines, these days) you can now get access to thousands of magazines, both current issues and back issues.

What I find useful is that you can cancel your subscription at any time, so you’re not committing yourself to £9.99 a month, every month (although most magazine writers probably spend far more than that a month anyway, so it really is good value!). Cancelling a subscription simply means that it won’t automatically renew, so you can still access everything until your month’s period is up. But what do you have access to?

Readly currently offers access to magazines from:
- the UK,
- the USA,
- France,
- Germany,
- India,
-the Philippines,
- Sweden,
- and Turkey.

So that should keep most writers going for a while!

This doesn’t mean that every magazine is available. Readly is always negotiating with publishers, and more publications are added to the catalogue on a regular basis.

You can download magazines to your computer, or tablet, or smartphone, so you can read them at times when you don’t have an Internet connection (which may be useful if you commute to work on public transport). however, and this is important, you only have access to any content (including the magazines you’ve downloaded) while your subscription is valid. So, if you subscribe on the 1st of the month, and then decide to cancel your subscription on 15th month, you’ll continue to have access to everything until the end of the month (because you’ve paid for one month’s access), but on 1st of the following month your subscription will have expired and all access will be denied. Pay again, and access is restored to all of your content.

I find this a cheap and useful way of exploring new markets all over the world, and if you successfully sell to these markets, it’s a great way of seeing your piece in print too! For a full list of magazines currently available check out: and just select a different country option from the drop down menu to see which foreign markets you can get access to.

Good luck!

Monday, 8 February 2016

Can You Hear Me, Mother?

I’m currently reading GUT:The Inside Story Of Our Body’s Most Under-rated Organ by Giulia Enders (and very interesting it is too). But it made me wonder: how far should writers go in order to ensure their message is understood?

I’ve blogged before about the benefits of reading your work aloud. It can be a useful step in the armoury of proofreading: checking for missing words, repetitions and other typing mistakes. But reading aloud like this often takes place in your own writing space, alone, so you can listen to the words you’ve written. Getting your text right goes a long way to conveying a clear message. But do you listen to the message? Enders knew for her subject matter she needed help.

At the end of her introduction she says:

“My sister has given me the support I needed to keep me on the right track - listening to me read aloud from my manuscript and saying, with a charming grin, ‘I think you’d better try that bit again’”

It’s certainly something to consider, if you’re trying to explain a complex subject in a simple way, especially if your trying to educate a readership in a complicated subject matter of which they have no background knowledge.

Enders bent her sister’s ear, and it worked. Despite the technicalities of the subject matter, Enders has a fantastic way of explaining things simply (and I should know, because I’m thick and I’m thoroughly enjoying her book).

If you think this may help you (the technique, not the book), it’s worth considering carefully who to ask to listen to your work. Ideally, you need an audience (I say audience, it only needs to be an audience of one) who represents your target readers' knowledge of the subject. If you’re uncomfortably asking family members, approach friends instead. This is where a writers’ group can be useful. Not only are they used to listening to other writers’ work, but they may also help you with practical suggestions on how to clarify your idea.

If you’re going to read out your work to others, then a little preparation is recommended. First, read it out aloud to yourself, alone. Do that initial editing - for missing words, and repetitions. Make sure you’re comfortable with reading it out, rather than stumbling over every other word. Being able to deliver the text with confidence will help listeners. 

We writers tend not to like being the centre of attention, but stand up in front of your audience if you can. It helps with breathing, which makes speaking easier. Lift your head up. Don’t talk down at your notes. Instead, talk to your audience. 

Don’t bombard them with too much information. Refrain from reading out all 10,000 words of the chapter you’ve completed. Just read out the section that deals with one idea.

Then ask your audience to explain your idea back to you, to see if they fully understand it. Someone might just say something that enables you to add the clarity that enables everyone to see.

It’s just an idea … but one that seems to have worked well for Enders. Just read some of her reviews on Amazon. Her readers are glad that she did. As am I.

Good luck. 

Monday, 1 February 2016

The Cheque's In The Post

A couple of weeks ago I had a travel piece published in The People’s Friend. It wasn’t until I updated my records to show this had been published that I realised I hadn’t been paid. Or rather, I hadn’t updated my records to show this payment. The nice thing about DC Thomson, who publish The People’s Friend, is that they pay on acceptance.

I’d written the piece way back last July and submitted it in August, so it was bound to be back then. I went through my accounts and couldn’t find anything. It wasn’t easy, because I’ve done quite a bit of work for them this year, so there were several payments of the same amount, but all related to different projects. After much searching through my files and accounts I realised that I hadn’t been paid.

I know this is something many students worry about. but in my experience it is rare. In fact, I have more of a problem of being paid for pieces without knowing what the money is for! (I have one such situation now, where I’ve been paid for a piece, but the magazine has several, so I don’t know which piece it relates to, because it hasn’t been published yet.)

If you find yourself in this situation, whatever you do, don’t kick off. Nine times out of ten it’s a genuine clerical error.

I dropped the editor an email, asking if she could double check things for me. I’d explained I’f gone through all of my records and couldn’t find any trace of a payment, but hinted that it could be an error at my end. She was very nice about it (as they always are about everything at The People’s Friend). Twenty four hours later she replied by email saying she’d traced the problem and it was at their end, for which she apologised. However, she’d now sorted it and payment would be with me within days … and it was.

To new writers in particular, this situation can be unsettling, but my advice is don’t panic.

1. Firstly, always be polite, calm and businesslike in all communication. 
2. Go through your correspondence/emails with the publication. Check you haven’t missed anything. Being paid varies from publication to publication. There are some who email me a Purchase Order reference that I have to quote on an invoice I have to send them, in order to get paid. Others simply send a payment without me needing to invoice. 
3. It’s difficult to know whom to contact. Editors edit, and finance departments deal with accounts. However, it can be useful to drop the editor a short email asking if they can give you the relevant contact details of someone in their accounts department. In some smaller magazines the editor may be responsible for everything. In others you may need to liaise with Accounts, but the editor may need to forewarn Accounts and confirm that you are owed the money, because the editor has used your work.
4. Invoices do get lost, or go astray, whether they’re posted or emailed. If you’re asked to submit a duplicate, do it. And ask then when you can expect payment. Many businesses have set ‘payment runs’ where they issue payments on the same day of the week/month.
5. If you still have problems, then send a Statement of Account, showing the payment is overdue and that under the Late Payments Act you are entitled to charge interest. (Check out this website for more information:
6. If, after several months of chasing, you’ve not got anywhere, it can be worth contacting any special organisations or societies that you’re a member of (such as the NUJ), who may be willing to take matters up on your behalf.

If you come across publications that regularly pay late, I would suggest you find a different publication to write for. At the end of the day, we’re writers, so we want to write, rather than spend time doing admin and chasing for payment. So move on.

I’ve often been told that the cheque is on the post, or that they’ve just changed accounting systems and there have been a few glitches. Often, this is just those at the other end trying to deal with their embarrassment, rather than any vindictive wish to get rid of you.

So always remain calm and polite. It’s worth it if you want your business relationship to continue.

Good luck.