Category Archives: Helpful Tips for Writers

Resolving NOT to Write

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Yes, you read this correctly. I’m NOT writing. Deliberately. I’m itching to make a start. I have the first line in my head and I’d love to get going and see where it takes me, but I’m not allowing myself to do so.

Why?

Because although I can write a short story with just the glimmer of an idea, allow it to take hold and just go with it, when it comes to writing something longer, the whole “pantser” thing has failed me. I have about five half-written novels languishing in my hard drive. They have each suffered the same fate. They started with an idea, they grew and developed, their characters became well-rounded and compelling, plot devices sprang up which promised to keep those pages turning…. And then about two-thirds in, everything went horribly wrong. The plot fell apart. The path to “the end” faded and then disappeared altogether. And I couldn’t get myself out of it.

I thought I was a pantser, but it turns out I’m not. I need to plan. So this time, I’ve promised myself, things will be different. The initial idea for my current project actually came to me in a dream….  No, really!  I woke up, and the characters were there in my head.  Of course in the dream, it all made total sense and was already planned out – and then when I woke up, there was just the impression of the story which needed all the details filling in. So that’s where I am at the moment. Filling in the details.

I’m currently researching the setting, pulling together all the backstory for each of the main characters, drawing up a chapter plan (horribly sketchy at the moment), and working out the plot. I’m determined that this time I will have it all planned in advance – before I so much as begin to write the first page. Of course, I’m prepared for the story to develop in ways I’d not expected, so it’s possible the plan will need some revision on the way, but the plan needs to exist at the outset.

I know this isn’t the way that all writers begin a new piece of work – I know of many who say they just have an outline, start writing and see where it takes them. I wish I was like that, and who knows, maybe one day I will be. But right now, it’s me, a notebook, a pad of post-its, some highlighters – and a lot of time on Google!

If you have any great planning strategies and tips, I’d love to hear them! In the meantime, I’m attempting to develop my own method. Wish me luck – I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂

Writing Ambitions for the New Year

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We’re five days into the New Year, so plenty of time to have broken a few resolutions if you made any! I tried not to, instead I’ve bought myself a pin board and have pinned up all my “To Do” lists and “Aims & Ambitions” so I can see them every time I sit at my desk. I’m hoping this will keep me focused. (I’ll let you know how that goes…)

That’s the other thing – I’m making an effort to sit at the desk every day and achieve something. (I’ve been doing this since before New Year, so I don’t think it counts as a resolution.) A competition entry, a sub to a magazine, an idea for a future piece, an edit of something previously abandoned. I’m aiming to find a home for as many stories as possible (and by now, there seem to be hundreds stored in my Dropbox files!). I also found out about the Pomodoro Technique last night on Twitter’s #writingchat – it’s a very simple approach to time management  which breaks down tasks into 25 minute chunks with an enforced break. I think this might work for me (as someone who is very easily distracted!). Find out more about it here:

http://cirillocompany.de/pages/pomodoro-technique

I have, though, achieved one of my writing ambitions this week: I’ve had a mention on Shirley’s blog (Fiction Editor at The People’s Friend). My story “A Promise to the Past” appears in the first issue of 2017, and is the first story Shirley mentions in her “sneak peak” summary – you can read Shirley’s blog post here:

https://www.thepeoplesfriend.co.uk/2017/01/03/fiction-sneak-peek-jan-7-2017-issue/

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As you can see, the story is (as always) beautifully illustrated (by Jim Dewar), and my heroine is rather glamorous (I’m always a little startled by this!). Hoping this will be the first publication of many during 2017 – but it’s definitely a good start.

Anyway, my 25 minutes is up, so I’ve got to go! Happy writing…

 

 

Christmas Gifts for Writers

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So it’s Christmas time again
Black Friday deals are rife
And you’re wondering what to buy
For the writer in your life

In the past you’ve tried all sorts
‘How-to’ books, diaries, pens,
Fancy paper, post-it notes
A writer’s mug (again!)

But the best gift is often simple
You might not even have to buy it
Arrange to give them space and time
To write in peace and quiet

Nag them when they’re lazy
Cheer them up when they’re dejected
Give them wine and cuddles
When their stories get rejected

And when their book is published
Spread the word of their debut,
Buy a copy for yourself
Leave an honest, fair review

Tell all your friends who care to hear
And then tell all the rest
And I guarantee your writer
Will think you are the best!

 

 

PS: Socks are also good! :0) xx

Terry Pratchett’s advice for aspiring writers

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The English Department at my secondary school did a lot of things to inspire my literary ambitions – one of which was to invite the late Terry Pratchett to come and give a talk about his writing experiences. Imbued with a heady idealism about writers and writing, I hoped Mr Pratchett (he wasn’t a Sir back then) would regale us with tales of the creative process, and somehow pass on some magic pearls of wisdom which would instantly enable us to plunge into our own rich world of creativity and become best-selling authors too. When I bravely stuck up my hand and asked him for his top piece of advice for aspiring authors, he said, “Get a word processor.” To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

Now, of course, I realise that this was jolly good advice. Even if my 17 year old ears did not wish to hear about the mundane mechanics of the writing process (I’m not quite sure what I had expected his answer to be – other than magic – but it was presumably something to do with inspiration not perspiration), now I’m….ahem….somewhat more mature, I have come to appreciate the importance of “creative hardware”. In order to write at the simplest level you need a pen and paper, but in order to write with even a semblance of professionalism, you need much more.

One of the many things which I probably took for granted in my teenage days was the space and time to write. A desk is great, a room better, but even a corner of the dining table (or if you prefer more comfort, a sofa with lots of cushions!) is perfectly fine as long as you have a period of uninterrupted time. Writers can be very inventive when it comes to finding time – after all, we all have the same number of hours in the day and we all, to some degree, choose how to use those precious hours – if it’s important to you, you’ll find the time (even if it means cutting corners elsewhere).

Next comes something to write with – and if you intend to submit work for publication, nowadays that inevitably means a laptop or computer. Honing your typing, spelling, punctuation and grammar, editing, and typesetting skills is also a must. Added to which, these days a working knowledge of email and the internet, including the use of software such as “Submittable” is a necessary part of modern writing. And that’s before you begin to engage with social media to communicate with other writers, and promote your work. Talking of which – another thing which is impossible to do without nowadays is a reliable internet connection (try running a virtual book promo when it takes 20 minutes to pick up each new message).

I did subsequently take Mr Pratchett’s advice, and got an Amstrad 8256 (oh, what a joy after my old typewriter!), which made me feel like a real writer, even though I most definitely wasn’t. It didn’t, of course, make me write. No gadget or gismo can help with that in the long term but, as they say, a workman is only as good as his tools. If you are going to write, you need the right basic equipment.

Sir Terry, you were right all along. And for that, a belated thank you.

amstrad-8256

 

 

Short Story Competitions: 5 Tips for Success

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Whether you’re a seasoned short story writer, or trying your hand at short fiction for the first time, sooner or later you may consider entering a few competitions. You might be hoping for a foot on the ladder to fame and fortune, or you might just want to test your skill and possibly earn some feedback on your work. Winning or simply being short-listed in a competition can do wonders for your writing confidence, and may even lead to new writing opportunities. Whatever your motivation, you’ll want to maximise your chances. Over the past few years, having entered numerous competitions (sometimes successfully, sometimes less so!), I have the following five tips:

1) Find the right competition for you. Don’t just go for the most well-known or prestigious ones – they will have big prizes but a correspondingly high level of competition. Conversely, don’t just enter the freebies where there are likely to be more contestants simply because there’s no fee involved. Keep up to date with competition news – there are monthly magazines (e.g. Writers’ Forum, and Writing) which contain competition listings. Writers’ groups in your area may run competitions – check for promotions in your local library. Search for competitions online or get yourself onto Twitter, start following lots of writing-related accounts and you’ll be inundated with information about competitions and prizes. Once you’ve found a competition you’re interested in, find out as much as you can about it. If it’s an annual event, if possible read the winning entries from previous years. The idea is not to copy a specific style, but to build up a feel for the kind of work which has been successful in the past. Are these past winners character driven, do they have a particularly strong narrative voice, or are they action packed with an engaging plot? How does this fit with your own story-telling strengths? Find out about the judges too. Often there will be a single overall judge, though the initial short-listing may have been carried out by a panel of other readers. Read up on the judge’s own writing background and try to think if there’s an aspect of your writing style which most closely dovetails with the work the judge appears to enjoy.

2) Read the rules very carefully. Sounds obvious, but it’s so easy to miss something important. These days, writing competitions are extremely popular, and judges faced with the task of whittling down submissions will be quick to throw out any story not adhering to the rules. Don’t allow a story that would otherwise be a contender to be tossed aside simply because it doesn’t follow the brief. Start by checking the deadline, and the word count. There is usually a maximum number of words allowed, but some competitions will specify a minimum too. Check if the word count includes the title, and with flash fiction especially, check if you need to bring the story in on an exact total (e.g. 100 words). Adhering to a specific word count is an art form in itself, but you may find the restriction is beneficial, forcing you to re-write and remove weak verbs or muddy adjectives. If applicable, check if it is permissible for the work to have been previously published (and if so, if there are any restrictions connected with this – e.g. it may be that a story is eligible for submission if it has been published online on a personal blog, but not if it has appeared in print). Some competitions require you to include a specific opening or closing sentence, or to start from the basis of a specific scenario. If you choose to deviate from this instruction, the judges won’t admire your creativity – they will simply place your entry on the ‘reject’ pile. Finally, check the submission method: can you email your entry, is it hard-copy only, or do you have to enter online through “Submittable” or a similar site?

3) If you’re given a theme or scenario, spend some time considering possible interpretations. Chances are, if you’ve had an idea within the first few minutes of reading the competition requirements, everyone else will have thought of something similar. Judges will quickly get bored of the most obvious plots, styles or genres. Try to think laterally. One of my own first competition successes came about because the competition I’d entered had given quite a constricting scenario which suggested a fantasy style of interpretation. I’m not a strong fantasy writer, but I could see a way to interpret the scenario in a domestic setting, which is more my forte. I can only assume that by the time the judges came to my story, they had seen countless fantasy pieces – so by standing out in a crowd, my story was a success. If you’re stuck for ideas, discuss it with someone else – get another perspective. Spend some time on the internet (again, don’t be content with the first – or even second or third – idea you come across online – everyone else who is stuck will be doing exactly the same as you!). Look out for ideas from newspapers, magazines, the TV, or things you see or hear while you’re out and about. The subconscious is an amazing thing – it will be busy looking for links even without you necessarily being aware. You do need to give it a helping hand though. If inspiration doesn’t strike, just start writing something – anything. Eventually, another idea will spark and you’ll be able to make a link. From a tenuous link, you may then be able to pull out an amazing new plot.

4) Be professional in every aspect of your submission. Give yourself plenty of time to draft and re-draft. Once you believe you’ve finished your story, put it away for a while. Read it again with fresh eyes – you’ll probably spot a few errors you’d missed before. Read it to yourself out loud. The rhythm of the sentence structure is likely to sound different from the way it did in your head, and if you stumble over a sentence, this might indicate a re-write is necessary. Check the rules for presentation. Double lined spacing is usual, but some competitions stipulate a font size (and sometimes even font style). If you’re not sure on the correct way to typeset your story, take down a novel from your bookshelves and look at the way the professional publishers do it (especially things like speech, and paragraph indents). Don’t be afraid of white space – wide margins and plenty of space above the title looks better than having the text crammed in. Make sure you adhere to any regulations about page numbering and headers/footers carrying the title. Most competitions will not want you to put your name on any page other than the front sheet, as the work should be judged anonymously. Lastly, don’t leave it until the last minute to send it in – this will be the time there is a postal delay, or the internet crashes.

5) Don’t be put off if you enter a competition and hear nothing. You may enter many competitions without winning or even being short-listed. Don’t despair. Judging is subjective – for whatever reason, the judge simply felt more strongly about another story. It might have been a close call. You’ll probably never know. In the end, the judge’s decision is final, and the best thing you can do is read the winning entry (and any runners-up which are also published) and learn from them. Some competitions will provide a critique service for an additional fee. These can be quite useful in highlighting an area for future improvement. Whatever you do, don’t take it personally – it’s one writing professional commenting on the work of another. Even if you personally don’t agree with the criticism, you should keep in mind any advice or suggestions when submitting future entries. Keep a log of all submissions, and the date the results will be announced. This ensures that you don’t send the same story to two competitions at the same time (or to the same competition two years in a row as I once did!), and means you’ll be able to see as soon as a story is available to send to another competition. Over time, a log will allow you to analyse your success rate, and whether you have any particular strengths or weaknesses – thus allowing you to target appropriately in the future.

If you follow the guidance above, there’s no guarantee you’ll succeed, but you’ll be giving yourself a good chance. As with everything in writing though, the main thing is not to give up. You won’t win anything if you keep your manuscripts in a drawer. Keep writing, and keep submitting!

If you’d like to read some of the stories I’ve had success with in competitions, they are published in my collection Beyond Words available for Kindle on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beyond-Words-short-stories-deception-ebook/dp/B01JWLPKW0

5 Things I Learned from Running an eBook Promotion

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With the weather wet and miserable for the last Bank Holiday weekend, I decided it was a perfect time to run a free download promotion for my new eBook.  Here’s some things I learned from the experience:

  1. The free promotion itself is easy to set up through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). Simply go to your Bookshelf, and in “Your Books” next to the book you wish to promote, you’ll see “Book Actions” and, underneath, a button to “Promote and advertise”.  This takes you to “Promote your book on Amazon” where you can find the section “Run a price promotion”.  I chose “Free Book Promotion”, and you then click on the dates you want the promotion to run (you have a maximum of five days for your current enrolment term on the Select programme).
  2. Although I set my promotion to run from Saturday to Monday, my eBook didn’t show as free until about 9am on Saturday and was therefore also free for the first few hours of Tuesday morning. Bear in mind when setting your promotion dates that time zones or volume of deals to process may affect timings (embarrassing if you’ve been telling everyone it will be free!)
  3. Remember that your free promo is only as good as your…er…ability to promote!  You need to get active on social media, and tell all your friends and family.  The best promotion is the kind which gives your potential readership something in addition to just the specifics of the book you’re plugging, something which engages their interest.  For example you might want to tell people a bit about the inspiration for your stories, or (if it’s non-fiction) some interesting facts from your background which demonstrates why you’re the best person to be writing this particular book.
  4. You need to know why you’re running the promotion in the first place.  What are you hoping to achieve?  Giving away your work for free certainly isn’t sensible in every situation.  I chose to do it because: a) this is my first Kindle upload, so in that respect it’s a learning experience for me, and I want to try out all the features; b) my current eBook is (I hope) the first of many, so my main aim with this one is to get my name out there, and have something to show an audience on the Kindle platform; c) promo downloads can push your book up the bestseller rankings quickly because the rankings are skewed towards the most recent downloads, so it’s good for exposure, and d) feedback is really important – the free promo allowed me to pick up some star ratings and reviews that I probably wouldn’t have got otherwise.  (A huge thank you, by the way, to everyone who has left a review – it really does make so much difference – and I really appreciate it.)
  5. Beware! Running a promotion turns you into a stats obsessive!  You will find yourself constantly refreshing your Amazon Sales Dashboard, checking your Twitter-feed, gazing at your star-rating and sales ranking. There is a grave danger that you will get a bit tedious to your nearest and dearest too – they’ll probably be too polite to mention it, but you just have to acknowledge they probably aren’t quite so excited about your book as you are!  ;0)

NB: The free promo is now over, but ‘The Camel in the Garden’ is still available for 99p (UK), and remains free for subscribers to Kindle Unlimited.

 

5 Things I Learned From My First Kindle eBook

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After much planning (and not a little prevarication), this week saw my first eBook upload via Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).  For my first foray into the world of e-publishing, I decided to start small.  The Camel in the Garden is a collection of three short stories which have all previously appeared in Woman’s Weekly Fiction Specials, and which are all centred around women facing challenging family situations.  So here are five things I’ve discovered during the publishing process:

  1. Get a professional to design the cover.  Unless you’re extremely artistic or an ace at electronic image manipulation (I’m neither), you really need to get someone to help you with the cover design.  I found my designer through the popular website Fiverr and was able to get a cover designed to my specifications at a very reasonable price. Shar incorporated all my initial ideas, and then suggested some improvements to create a cover I love, which specifically reflects the colour palate of this blog. The only thing I would change for the future is to make the font of the title and author name one solid colour so that it stands out more strongly as a thumb-nail picture.AMAZONCamelintheGarden - front cover
  2. The upload process itself is reasonably straightforward, but you need to do your homework first when it comes to the formatting. I found Sally Jenkins’ eBook Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners invaluable. I had the book open on my Kindle the whole time I was working through the typesetting and uploading, and Sally answered a lot of niggling questions I would have been puzzling over for ages on my own.
  3. I can’t make my eBook permanently free to everyone at the moment. I had intended this little collection to be free but the lowest price you can choose through KDP is 99p.  If your book appears free on Smashwords or another platform, apparently Amazon will eventually match it, but going down the KDP Select route as I’ve done means you can’t offer your book digital format on another platform.  Enrolling on KDP Select does mean your book is free for Amazon Prime members – and it does allow you to run Free Book Promotions. The Camel in the Garden will therefore be available FREE over this bank holiday weekend Saturday 30th April to Monday 2nd May. If you’re looking for something to read while the British weather is doing its worst, I’d be delighted if you’d download my stories and leave a brief Amazon review to let me (and other potential readers) know what you thought.
  4. Writing the stories and uploading to KDP is only the start.  I’ve built an Amazon Author Page, and a Facebook Author Page, and I now need to learn all about marketing!
  5. Seeing your book on a virtual shelf does feel great. But now it’s time to crack on with the next collection….

Widening Writing Horizons

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At the start of 2016, I had lots of plans, both writing and horse related.  Unfortunately, as so often in life, everything came to a shuddering halt when I lost my beautiful mare, Cracker, in early February.  We’d had her for 15 years, so she was a big part of the family, and her death came as a horrible shock – a shock I’m finding is taking time to deal with. Everything is just that little bit harder at the moment, even settling to write anything.

Nonetheless, I am doing my best to widen my writing horizons.  In early January, I wrote to Louise Kittle, editor at Horse & Rider magazine with an idea for an article. I hadn’t been terribly optimistic about getting a positive response (I assumed that most copy would be written in-house), but Horse & Rider is the sister publication to PONY magazine, where I had my first stories published so many moons ago, and I thought it was worth a shot.  I was therefore delighted (and slightly terrified) when Louise said she was interested.  Now I had actually to write the article!

I’ve written one or two articles before, but not for a while, and being mainly a writer of fiction, writing a factual piece seemed quite daunting.  Or rather, drafting reams and reams was easy – but editing it into the form of a finished article was trickier. I knew the magazine, so thought I had the tone right, but keeping vaguely to the word-count involved a lot of cutting (and I’m sure the editorial team will cut it further before it makes it into print).  Fortunately, Louise was pleased with the finished piece, and plans to use it in either the June or July issue – and I’m very much looking forward to seeing it in print.

Hopefully this will be the first step towards broadening my writing skill set. Being successful as a writer nowadays involves widening your potential markets and thinking about all sorts of opportunities available to you.  If you’d like to turn your creative hand to something different, think about your own skills and unique experiences – there’s probably a magazine, webpage or other outlet which might be looking for articles in just your area. As I’ve just found, it’s certainly worth a try.

 

 

 

Read all about it…

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Following my recent story comp win, David Rollason from Pens of Erdington said “shout it from which ever roof tops you would like to” – so I thought, why not?

I wrote a press release for my local newspaper – the first time I’ve ever done such a thing for my own writing – giving the details of the competition, as well as some background info about my writing history.  I wasn’t sure if it would constitute a big enough “story” for the paper (as I said in my covering email it was hardly the Booker Prize), but in this life if you don’t blow your own trumpet once in a while, no-one else is going to blow it for you.

The editor asked for some more details and, lo and behold, far exceeding the small paragraph I might have expected, the paper has published a full article, along with a photo.

Newpaper Article

So it definitely paid off to send the press release. It might be a first step on the publicity ladder, but as they say, “a journey  of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

For some tips on writing a press release, there are some good tips here.

Shropshire Writing Groups

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I’ve been asked about writers groups in Shropshire (see my past blog on the benefits of local groups: https://jennyroman.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/writers-groups/), so here’s a quick plug for each of the groups of which I’m a member:

The first is a small but long-standing group  – officially we call ourselves Newport & District Writers’ Group, but usually people join us through word of mouth, since we’re a bit rubbish at marketing ourselves!  We meet once a month (traditionally the first Monday of the month, but as there’s just a few of us, we try where possible to fit in with the majority – so our next meeting is 8th Dec, at the Red Lion, Sutton, Newport, TF10 8DQ at 7.30pm (on the A519 between Newport and Eccleshall).  Each month, we have a theme/genre/key word (for the December meeting, we’re writing something weather-related!) and members are invited to interpret the theme in any way they like.  There is no specific word limit, though given that we each take it in turns to read our work aloud to the rest of the group, anything that looks like War & Peace could be a bit of a problem.  Usually 1,500-2,500 seems about the norm – though we’ve had longer and shorter pieces, and sometimes poetry.  In the main, we each try to write a stand alone piece (the majority are short stories), but sometimes we’ve explored longer pieces, and on occasions experimented with a ‘consequences’ style where we each write a part and then pass it on to the next person.  There are people in the group who like non-fiction as well, so don’t feel that you have to stick to the short story format.  We are a kindly encouraging group, who are also quite happy to have a chat and a giggle – though that’s not to say we aren’t serious in striving to improve.  If you’d like to join us, come along on the 8th – we’re always at the table right at the back!

The second group is AWE – Antoaneta’s Writers – Edgmond (named after the lady who originally started the group but who sadly passed away).  We meet every third Wednesday at 5.30pm  (so the next one is this coming Wednesday 19th Nov), taking it in turns to host at our own homes in and around the Newport-Edgmond-Tibberton area. We have a pretty diverse range of writing experience – some of the group have had work published, some have gone down the self-publishing route, and others are just starting out with their writing.  We aim to encourage everyone to improve, no matter what standard, and though not everyone is interested in writing for publication, we take the view that having a project in mind, or something to aim for, is a catalyst for good writing.  As a result, we often choose topics which relate to forthcoming story competitions so that members can have the benefit of the group’s feedback before choosing to submit.

I know of another group which meets in Newport, and there’s a Shrewsbury Group: http://shrewsburyscribblers.wordpress.com/ and the Wrekin Writers: http://wrekinwriters.wordpress.com/ I believe there’s also a Ludlow group, and probably many more.

If you’re a member of a Shropshire based group, and would like to tell us a bit about it, please let me know the details and I’ll post a link.  If you’d like to join one of the two I’ve detailed above, please post a comment to let me know.   🙂