Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Practice, practice and more practice!

One of the tips for writers I have most frequently heard is write every day. When I started this blog I would have thought that was impossible. Like so many I struggled to find the time to do a small amount of writing let alone every day. Six months on and I have to say that it is a top piece of advice and anyone who is serious about writing really does need to take note of it. It is about getting yourself into a mindset that allows you to write. You have to force yourself to find time to write and the writing will breed more writing as your mindset allows you to spot good ideas more easily.

Pretty much everything I do now has a focus on writing - if I am not writing I am reading about writing. My social calender has turned into one that mainly involves writer's groups or writing events. The only time when writing is not involved is when I am at my part-time job but even then I get to think about what I am going to write. The truth is I love it and I think you need to have this level of obsession to even begin to contemplate it being anything more than a hobby.

If you are writing every day it means you are getting in the level of practice you need. Although having said that practising every day isn't enough you also need to learn from your practice. You need to be able to identify what you are getting right and what you need to improve on. I know, for example, grammar isn't my strong point. As I have mentioned before I am dyslexic and from the errors in this blog that may be clear! But for any submitted work I take the time to go through and check the errors I know I am prone to. There are also a whole host of errors I don't know I make but I am able to learn what they are so I can look out for them in the future. This can be the case for a lot of writers and you may need to spend time learning what your writing bad habits are so you can scan for them in the future before submitting work.

Presently I am writing some short stories for the first time in about a year. The short story is an art form in itself. I am hoping to do one or two a month over the next year and will submit them to the writing magazine subscription I have. It would be very easy to write one, submit it, never hear anything and then give up believing I am a rubbish writer. It would be a real waste to do that because it should be about refining skills. If your story doesn't get selected you need to read through it some time later and analysis why that might have been. I hope by the end of the year I may get short-listed in one of the competitions. If not, I'll have learnt lots along the way and I'll have about 24 short stories that I can fine tune and hopefully place elsewhere.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Brown envelope jitters!

I'm sure writing isn't the only profession where you get the jitters from an envelope but apart from GCSE/A level results I can't think of any off the top of my head.

Every time I head to the post office with a pristine envelope in hand it sets of a small case of the butterflies in my stomach. Sending off any hard work (and entrusting it will get to the recipient in the same pristine condition??) is like putting your heart on the line. You are sending it to be judged and it's a pass or fail thing. But unlike the aforementioned results you have no idea when the results will be in (unless it's a well run competition of course!) So you are left waiting and wondering what the outcome will be.

My theory on getting over the jitters is not to wait and wonder. Doing that will more than likely cause one of two things to occur. 1) You will start to believe that it is the world's greatest piece of work and why haven't they contacted you yet, or 2) You will decide it's the world's worse piece of work and you should stop writing. Neither of which are healthy. So rather than wait and wonder you should move onto the next piece of work. No matter what it is do something and try and learn from each piece of writing you do.

As you may have guessed I have just returned from a brown envelope trip to the post office. In my sweaty palms (they weren't sweaty really I'm just going for dramatic effect?!) I had three items. One was my book proposal for how to books (fingers crossed it doesn't end up at the bottom of a slush pile!), the second was an entry into the daily mail first opening paragraph competition and the final one was a postcard entry to win a break on the Isle of Wight!

The reason I mention the postcard is because it kind of spells the recipe for curing the jitters for me. Anyone who knows me or read this blog regularly will know that alongside writing I love entering competitions. Generally these just involve filling out forms but over about three years I have won lots of fantastic things! People often comment how lucky I am but the truth is it's not so much about luck sometimes it's more about just entering. If the postcard I sent today was the only competition I entered then the chances of me winning are very slim. It will definitely not be the only thing I enter though I will enter 100s of others online and probably win one or two. The same applies to writing. If you put all your hopes into one envelope you are bound to get the jitters and not likely to get anything in return . You are bound to wait and wonder what the outcome will be. You need to remember your envelope will be pitched against hundreds of others and although it may be your best work it will all depend on who is making the judgement. So enter lots.

So in the coming weeks whilst I await the outcome of my book proposal I am going to ensure I get on with my writing. I will enter writing competitions, finish my one act play and do some short stories and get them all off on their brown envelope journey. So at the end of it, like my postcard competition entry, I've just got to hope that at least one of them gets picked. What I won't be though is the person that says I never win (with either writing or competitions) because if that was the case it would mean I wasn't trying hard enough!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Being Bold

I would not necessarily describe myself as a bold person but of late that is how I have been feeling. The reason I feel like that is because I am following my dream and in itself I think that is a bold thing to do. It is not every person who would spend the time and effort to do what they truly want.

In my latest bold move I am in the middle of completing a book proposal. Within a number of weeks I have decided what I need to do, learnt what I need to do and gone ahead and done it. The feedback I've had on my idea has been encouraging and I hope it will be well received. I know I could spend several more weeks worrying about what I've done, tinkering with it and send it after completing some workshops. But in the interest of being bold I will send it in the next couple of days once I am happy the proposal gives a clear outline of the book.

My hope is that the publisher will be interested enough to request some sample chapters. So I will hope for a response in that area for now, anything more would be phenomenal.

Anyway the point I'm getting to is you have to be bold with your writing. You need some level of confidence to keep going otherwise you will give up after the first rejection. So if it is not what this publisher is looking for I will just re-assess it and find a publisher who is looking for my kind of ideas!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Carving out a writing career

When I started this blog I dubbed it with the subtitle - 'Turning writing into more than a hobby.' It has always been my hope that I could turn my writing hobby into more than that. So I'm not entirely sure why I am surprised then when others have started to refer to my 'writing career.'

There is still a sense in me that feels like writing as a career is a pie in the sky dream. I think that sense is finally beginning to wash away. Over the past six months I have learnt so much, my writing has improved and doors have opened for me. I can only hope the next six months offer the same level of opportunities. So as I am beginning to carve out a career in writing I thought it would be good to summarise my top tips for other aspiring writers!

  1. Give yourself something to aim for - Whatever your situation it is good to have a goal in mind. Whether that is a short story every month/week or number of chapters per month. It's a good way to get into the habit of writing and setting goals will keep you more focussed on your work.
  2. Join a writing group - Making contacts within the writing world can be very beneficial. Joining Writing Buddies means I have found out all sorts of information I would not have known otherwise. Even with the benefits of google search engines nothing beats the knowledge of others with personal experience.
  3. Try something new - You may be in the middle of writing a best seller or only ever written poetry but have you tried other styles of writing? There were many aspects of writing I had never considered before starting this blog but have found success in areas of writing I had never previously tried. 
  4. Be open to advice - I have received tremendous advice over the past six months and am trying to take action on all of it. However there may have been times in the past when I have only been focussed on one project and not sought advice when I probably needed it.
  5. If you get stuck, write something else and come back to it later - My mind is always brimming with ideas but like everyone you can dry up on a project. I find the best thing to do in this scenario is try a small project in between. Maybe a competition project which will generally give you guidance on what the subject should be. Once you have done that go back to the other project, hopefully with a fresh outlook on what you were doing.
  6. Never dismiss an idea - I think so far I have never dismissed an idea; I may have evolved it and changed it completely from the original thought but I try not to dismiss ideas as no good. If you do it's a bad habit you need to get out of. Any idea you have can end up contributing to your writing. Try to dismiss thoughts that it's not original. Instead try to work out what your angle is and how that can make it stand out from the crowd.
Hopefully I can add to these over the coming months but for now I need to get back to writing. I hope you will do the same!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

And back to reality!

After the excitement of last week I think I have finally come back down to earth. I think the two days back at work have done it and trying to explain what an anthology is. The great thing about it is the fact my desire to be a writer has been spurred on and it no longer feels unrealistic. It sadly doesn't change the fact I still have a mortgage to pay and am not in a position to give up work completely to concentrate my efforts on writing.

This is the point I realise I need to dig deep and work hard. I worked hard over June and July and thankfully that work had paid off. Now I am on to bigger projects I really need to grit my teeth to make sure I get them done. It feels more real now my name and 'writing career' have been used in the same sentence but I know that will only come if I put the work in.

This is the hard part. This is the part when I feel like I need all my time to do it but don't have the luxury so will have to make do. At least I now have 4 certificates to look at to remind me I'm not the only person who thinks I can write.

The certificates do not yet have a permanent home but will be framed and hung on a wall at some point soon. Somewhere I can go and look at them when I am having an emotional writing fit! As for my £10 winnings I plan on keeping them with the aim of reinvesting it into my writing. If I was ever lucky enough to win further competitions I will go on a weekend course. If not it can pay for a new load of paper when mine runs out!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Anthology results and a Cheshire cat grin!

On Friday the awaited anthology results were out. The Writing Buddies ran an anthology competition to celebrate their first anniversary. There were seven categories in total: Non-fiction article, Non-fiction filler, Short story, Flash fiction, Drama, Poetry: Rhyming and Poetry: Non-Rhyming. I had submitted four entries in three categories.

My main hope for the results was with the non-fiction filler. It was my first attempt at a non-fiction article other than pieces on my own life experience. The non-fiction category was called out first and the judge Simon Whaley was in attendance to hand out the certificates and prizes. Penny Legg (Writing Buddies founder and organiser of the event) announced the winner's and I was delighted to get second place in the filler category.

With that I was very happy to sit and enjoy the rest of the show. The poetry results followed and then the drama category. This had been my fourth entry to the competition and it very nearly didn't get entered as I had struggled to be content with the storyline. After having both my 15 minute plays rejected last week I figured that my first attempts at playwright were indicating I wasn't cut out for it! So I knew my drama piece would not be selected.

So after third and second being called out I was utterly amazed to be selected as first place for my ten minute drama. Today I have read back on this piece and can see how this works and my previous two plays didn't. It certainly shows you can improve with practice and I'm so glad I made the effort to finish this piece.

At this point I was grinning like a Cheshire cat! The next category was flash fiction and I had two entries for this. I had skated through one the night before and dissected it mentally and decided it wasn't good enough and even though it was my favourite it wouldn't be picked. So once again I was absolutely delighted when Penny called my name out in second place. I checked out which of my entries had won and took my seat again and then finally the winner was announced! I was totally astounded when Penny called my name again.
My Cheshire cat grin with Simon Whaley (Non-Fiction Judge)
and Penny Legg (Writing Buddies Founder & Organiser)

Only in my wildest dreams do these kind of things happen so I am still pinching myself now! My hope had been to get a place in one of the categories and gain a place in the anthology. To have won two categories and two second places has amazed me particularly as many of the Writing buddies are firmly established writers and I did not expect to win any categories. It does start to help confirm the notion that I am making the right decision in pursuing my writing dreams.

Straight after the meeting I headed away for a weekend away on the Isle of Wight. I had taken a photo of my certificates and checked it several times to check I hadn't dreamt it (I have very real dreams sometimes. One of the flash fiction pieces 'Guinea Foul' is based on a dream I had!).

It was also a delight to meet Simon Whaley, a full time writer who, along with Penny, was very encouraging. He is also a Writer's Bureau tutor and he has a very useful blog. I'm going to add this to my blog roll (Not bog roll as it sounds like in my accent!) and would recommend looking at Simon's website.

The only problem now is coming off of cloud nine and getting back to the hard work of writing. Over the weekend I wrote up a fairly long list of the projects I need to do over the coming months. Most are started and not yet completed so I need to try and schedule what I am doing to make sure they get done. It now includes the one act play again as I put that to one side but this has given me the confidence to continue this. My first task will be to send a bio and picture to Penny for there publication in the anthology.

The anthology will be available before Christmas this year and the four pieces you can read by me are:

'Permanant Ink' Drama - A ten minute play - 1st place
'Keisha' Flash fiction 100 word story - 1st place
'Guinea Foul' Flash fiction 100 word story - 2nd place
'Can the hashtag bring the writing community closer together?' Non-fiction filler - 2nd place

A big well done to all the other winners and to everyone who took part. I hope everyone has found the experience as encouraging and useful as I have. You can see the complete list of winners on the Writing Buddies website.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Take One, Pass It On

The lovely peeps at Walkers crisps have asked me to blog about a new competition they have running called 'Take One, Pass it on'. This is part of the launch of their Extra Crunchy crisps. The idea is simple; upload a video showing them how you share your Extra Crunchy and they will edit the best ones so it looks like the bag is being passed from one person to the next. Here is Walkers demonstration of what you need to do:

Their are prizes on offer with the person’s video next to Lionel Richie in the random edit winning £1,000! There are also four Sony video cameras for the most creative shares and a free bag of Extra Crunchy for every person that appears in the final video. So well worth spending a few minutes having a bit of fun whilst eating your favourite crisps!

I'm going to have a go next weekend when I'm off for a camping trip with some of my best friends! Hopefully the sun will be shining and it will get our creative juices flowing!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Writing Magazine and Writing News

A couple of days ago I received the first issues of my subscription to the writing magazine and writers' news. After reading in a couple of books that these were invaluable I decided I should think about getting a subscription. Having no spare money I realised it may be some time before I could sign up but then I decided to ask my hubby if he could get me the subscription as my anniversary present. He happily got it for me and it has already turned out to be a very worthwhile present.

I have spent the last few days looking through the magazines including a free supplement and I have been thoroughly impressed with the content and variety. The subscriber only competitions alone make it well worth signing up to the magazines but the tips and articles really are beneficial to any writers, especially those starting out. I will definitely be continuing my subscription after this year. I also plan to spend some time working on some entries for the writing competitions.

That brings me onto the fact that last week was a bit of a wash out for writing and I didn't manage to keep up with my challenge. I am not too worried about that as I see it a little like my slimming world diet; some weeks you lose focus! The trick is to get back to it as soon as possible. So that said I am taking a trip to the library tomorrow to find out some definite details for submitting my book proposal. Then I will spend the rest of the week trying to finish putting it together.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Six month review

As an exercise every two months I review the work I have done. This works as a way of motivating myself and it also turns out I can be amazingly forgetful. Often I have done far more than I care to remember and this just helps gee me along.So over the past two months I have managed to do the following:

  • Read Stephen King's On Writing 
  • Attended two talks for Writers in Southampton (On Non-fiction and performance poetry)
  • Started job hunt for 3-day/week job in field of writing
  • Set up website
  • Article from Shopmobility newsletter used on work website.
  • Read several library books on writing
  • Ran a competition on my blog
  • Completed two further entries for the Writing Buddies Anthology
  • Attended Penny Legg's book launch
  • Created a writing CV
  • Entered a six word story to the Arvon foundation competition
  • Entered some entries to the 21st Birthday Writer's bureau competition
  • Set a 20 week challenge (which I am already behind on), I may extend it to a year of running the blog! We'll have to see what happens!
  • Started one of the large projects (6000 words so far) as part of my challenge. 
  • Had an article accepted by how to books on How to twitter: basics.
  • Given opportunity to blog for Rubber Sole
  • Decided to put together book proposal for how to books so stopped challenge to do that.
  • Had my two plays rejected for famous for fifteen! (Oh well!)
  • Continued to attend Writing Buddies.
  • Subscribed to Writing magazine and Writer's news
Yep I was right I had forgotten I had done half this list and although not all of it is striking goals of my list it is all contributing. So although not every day is spent writing it is generally spent doing something involved with writing. So to sum up where my goals are they look like this:

  • Complete six three small writing tasks ( Less than 3000 words)
  • Complete three two large writing tasks (More than 3000 words)
  • Get two one of them published.

So I now have four months until the end of the year to complete two large writing projects. I definitely struggle with the focus required for larger projects but I am determined to stick to my goals. At present I potentially have three large projects but I will not get all of these finished by the end of the year so I will have to be more specific in my decisions on what to continue. I am glad to see my progress has been good so far and will be interested to see what happens from here.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Practicality Vs Creativity

I have always been quite a sensible person and at times I have considered this a disadvantage. In life I have always been a deep-thinker and never a risk-taker. I have also thought the sensible part of me hampered my creative side. Perhaps it has at points in my life when I have taken big decisions on what to do in life. I may have risked attempting to be a writer earlier if I was a risk-taker or give up my part-time job entirely in a move to make it happen. Unfortunately it is just not me to go about life like that. I say unfortunate as I have always seen it like that. I have always been slightly jealous of those who are able to totally immerse themselves in the creative process. It has occurred to me this week that what I have always considered to be a disadvantage could actually turn out to be an advantage.

I say this as in recent weeks I have heard several writers question how spending time on social networking sites and blogs can possibly aid your writing when it is taking time away from your writing. When I hear people saying that it makes me realise that they have missed the point of promoting yourself as a writer. My practical side has always seen maintaining a blog, website and social networking connections as a professional way to conduct myself and connect with other people in the industry. It is the realisation that as a writer I need an audience and without that the efforts of my work would be wasted (or unsaleable). No publisher would take on material that is unsaleable and knowing your audience is as important as your creativity.

So I feel more reassured in myself: I may not be brave enough to give up work and dedicate all my time to writing but I am sensible enough to conduct myself as a professional and embrace the opportunities this can bring.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Rejection Factor

Every writer experiences the inevitable rejection and this week it's my turn. The famous for fifteen plays I wrote up have not been selected for the final six plays. I have to admit to being disappointed but at the same time not discouraged.

In previous years when I didn't do as much writing it would have been far more devastating to receive a rejection. I guess that was because all my eggs were in one basket. Only writing on rare occasions meant I wasn't really developing my ability to write well. On this occasion I wrote those plays back in late June/early July and I haven't just stopped on that one project and waited for the results. Instead I have continued and done a variety of projects. So finding out my first attempt at playwright was not selected has been disappointing but not to the point it will stop me writing or start doubting what I am up to.

Instead I now have some material that I may be able to use in the future for other projects. It may also help me determine what area of writing I am best suited to. I am really looking forward to the results of the Writing Buddies Anthology on Friday September 10th. I entered 3 different categories: Non-fiction filler, flash fiction and drama. I have no idea if any of them will be selected but I can live in hope. It will be useful to see how they do as I have done such a mix of writing over the past few months it will at least demonstrate where my strengths and weaknesses lie.