Monday, September 26, 2011

Writing Strengths and Weaknesses

It's a classic interview question: Can you name three strengths and three weaknesses? Or words to that effect. I can remember (back in the days when I had to prep for interviews) if I was clever enough I would come up with a list of weaknesses that could also be classed as strengths. One I can re-call is being over organised. It could be seen as a weakness in a demanding inpatient physiotherapy job when time is of the essence but it could also be seen as a strength given the same set of circumstances.

In an interview situation it can be a good idea to use this technique and not include weaknesses that can't be viewed in a positive light. It would be a bad idea, for example, to list laziness as a weakness. Even if it meant you were being honest it is unlikely to secure you a new job. Sometimes it pays to show ourselves off to our best advantage.

It can be easy to focus on positives without concentrating on our flaws. I mean, who wants to dwell on them?  I know I don't. But, unlike with interviews, writing is a discipline where if you ignore your flaws, you cannot improve to the level you need to help secure publication success.

This is easier said than done when writing is a very personal process. You put heart and soul into the piece of work and because it has come from those places you don't want them injured in anyway by someone saying it's pants. It is also hard to be objective about your own work and you may feel with a bit of editing and tightening up of grammar you will have sorted all your weaknesses in one go.

This is where I'm very glad to have my New Writers' Scheme reader's report. I'm not sure how it is possible to be entirely objective without an outside opinion. Even if it is having a beta reader who you know will give you an honest rundown. And, if it turns out you have weaknesses it's not a case of glossing over them to make them seem better, they have to be better.

My report highlighted my characters weren't likable and that needs to be addressed and my dialogue could be improved. So I'm spending some time learning how to improve on these areas, along with making sure the storyline is organic and not forced. I think I was so busy trying to ensure the novel had pace that I ended up sacrificing other areas to the overall deteriment of the book. Without the report, I would be sending out to publishers/agents with a strong chance of it being rejected. Not examining the strengths and weaknesses of your own writing will mean the weaknesses jump off the page at said publisher/agent and having seen the list of weaknesses, it doesn't matter what your strengths are, it's the equivilant of stating you're lazy in an interview.

I haven't been brave enough to approach any agents or publishers with my work yet because I don't feel I'm ready. Not because I'm stalling or dreading rejection but because I'm doing my best to iron out those weaknesses in an attempt to not be instantly dismissed. I'm delibrately taking several weeks out and not revising straight away to learn more through reading to give myself a better understanding of where I need to approve.

So do you know where your writing weaknesses are? What have you done to address them? Have you gone on to turn them into strengths?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Taking a chance

Do you ever buy a lottery ticket? I'm part of a syndicate at work but rarely buy one for myself. So on that basis I'm unlikely to become an instant millionaire anytime soon and if I do, the winnings will be shared.

I ask the question because when I buy a lottery ticket there is not much emotion attached to it. There is hope but if I don't win there is never more than, 'Ah well,' before I go ahead and buy another.

From week to week the probability of winning is about the same, so each time I buy a ticket I have a similar chance of becoming a millionaire. Of course, if I haven't brought a ticket my chances of winning are a big fat ZILCH.

If only entering writing competitions felt like that same kind of simplicity. If only it was hand over a pound and just win or lose. But with writing competitions there is no getting away from the emotional investment. You have spent time, made it as good as you can and used creative energy for it to exist. Then there's the hovering awareness of nearing closing dates and  the knots form in your stomach whilst hoping for the desired result...

Then the disappointment at not being selected. You are a crap writer. You convince yourself of the fact. You figure there is no point in ever spending the time or energy to try again because, well, you tried your best and it still didn't win. Sound familiar? If you are like me you will have confidence that flails around like an octupus.

It would be very easy after one disappointment to give up and never bother again. But would you do the same with a lottery ticket? Just because I haven't won the lottery yet, it doesn't stop me from still buying a ticket every now and then.

If you're having a flailing moment it is worth trying to take the emotional element from the process and just making sure you are in the draw. Because who knows... your numbers might come up. And unlike with the lottery you can improve your chances:

  • Try different types of writing competitions
  • Get feedback if it's available 
  • Write more and enter more - it will give you a feel as to what works
  • Read previous winning entries - it will give you a sense of what the judges are looking for
  • Always remember you have to be in it, to win it!

Whilst taking a break from novel writing I'm taking the time to enter a few competitions. All very different and each presenting different challenges. I know some I will have very little hope with but a little hope is better than none. So if you haven't entered a competition for a while, take a chance...

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Day at Paragraph Planet

Today you can find my short piece of flash fiction, The Key, on Paragraph Planet.The challenge is to write a piece exactly 75 words long, including the title.

To read the piece click here, it is featured for today only but is archived so look for today's date if you are visitng later. It's a fun exercise so why not have a go yourself?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Persuade Me by Juliet Archer

When do you let your heart rule your head? 

When it comes to love, Anna Elliot is stuck in the past. No one can compare to Rick Wentworth, the man she gave up ten years ago at the insistence of her disapproving family. What if she’s missed her only chance for real happiness?

Since Anna broke his heart, Rick has moved on – or so he thinks. Out in Australia, he’s worked hard to build a successful career – and a solid wall around his feelings. 

The words ‘forgive and forget’ aren’t in Rick's vocabulary. The word ‘regret’ is definitely in Anna’s. So, when they meet again on his book tour of England, it’s an opportunity for closure. 

But memories intrude – the pure sensuality of what they once shared, the pain of parting … And she has to deal with another man from her past, while his celebrity status makes him the focus of unwanted attention.

With Anna’s image-obsessed family still ready to interfere and Rick poised to return to Australia, can she persuade him to risk his heart again?

This is Juliet's second novel in the Darcy and Friends series. It is based on Jane Austen's, Persuasion. This is the first time I have ever read a modern take on Jane Austen's work and as I haven't read Persuasion I was uncertain how this would effect my reading enjoyment. I'm glad to say it didn't and instead it has fueled my interest to read Persuasion to see how the two compare.

Anna breaks Rick's heart when she decides (under heavy influence from her family) to continue with her place at Oxford University rather than travelling with Rick to Australia. We find them, ten years later and Rick is travelling the UK for a book tour. When they meet again, Anna is in a dressing gown looking slightly bedraggled and looking after her nephew. Those feelings are not immediately re-ignited and it takes them both time to discover their feelings and a few mishaps, particularly involving Anna's family, before they are able to decide where their futures lie.

This was delightful and not being aware of the original story does not take away from this enjoyable read. It is one I have to recommend. 

To pre-order, check out Juliet Archer's page on the Choc Lit website.


Monday, September 5, 2011

The Days of the Sloppy Omelette

This is NOT a sloppy omelette
Every writer has them. The wobbles. The days when you fear your writing will only ever be a soggy omelette. You're doing your best but somehow it's never quite right and you fear whoever gets a taste, will come over all queasy.

If you have ever watched Saturday Kitchen you will know about the omelette challenge. Two chefs compete against each other to produce a cooked omelette in the quickest time. If you want to see a great example take a look at this You Tube clip. Two omelettes cooked in under twenty seconds. One cooked, one underdone and sloppy in the middle.

The truth is, the second chef would have also had a perfectly cooked omelette given a few more seconds and without the fear of being beaten by his rival. So with writing, we must look to get our technique right, even if it takes a bit longer (if only it were a few seconds.) On the days when you feel like your writing efforts are slap-dash and will always be wobbly when you dig into them, remember that these chefs took years to perfect their culinary skills in order to be able to produce the perfect omelette (along with a few other dishes.) It is easy to despair with writing and give up all too easily but like with any career - it takes time, energy and practice. Lots of practice. So keep at it - until your efforts are rewarded.