Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Every Action Has An Equal And Opposite Reaction

When a chef puts a frying pan onto a burning gas stove, it gets hot. When a chef puts some ingredients together, a culinary dish is created. When a chef drops and egg, he makes a mess on the floor!

The old laws of science still apply - for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

I was thinking about this the other day when a student commented that she wanted to get to the stage in her writing career where she could switch on her computer one morning and find an email from an editor offering her a commission.

I too like days like that! They do happen - but as Newton's law says, in order to get that reaction, first you need to undertake some action yourself. In order for an editor to email you with a commission, you need to tell the editor that you exist and offer him, or her, an idea that they can't resist.

Next month, an article I was commissioned to write will appear in an American magazine. It took two years to get that commission. First of all, I obtained a couple of sample issues of the magazine so that I could study it. Then I emailed the editor with three ideas. They were rejected. So, I emailed three more article ideas. They too were rejected. So, I emailed another three ideas, two of which were rejected, but one was accepted.

In order to get that 'reaction' of a commission - I had to take some action myself. In fact, I had to take quite a lot of action, in order to get the reaction that I wanted. (My first action - three ideas - were rejected, so the rejection was a reaction - just not the reaction I was looking for!)

It may seem obvious to some people, but as with so much in life, if you want something to happen, it is down to you to do make it happen. That is so true of writers. If you want to have a novel published, you have to write one first. If you want an editor to commission you, you have to pitch them first.

There is a saying in the world of fiction that Drama never comes knocking on your character's door - your character has to knock on Drama's door. In other words - your character needs to take some kind of action, that will generate the drama to unfold.

Next time you want something to happen in your writing life, think first about what sort of action you need to take to make it happen. Then do it!

Good luck.

New Markets Keep You Writing

Firstly, thanks to Susan Haniford for emailing me a copy of this picture taken on her camera at Caerleon. (and thanks to Les for taking it in the first place!) Moving from left to right, we have Jane, Lynne, some prat in the middle (that'll be me then), Chris and Susan.

One of the messages that came through loud and clear this year at Caerleon for me, is that writers should be constantly looking for new markets. Literary Agent Theresa Chris, (also known as The Fearsome One by Jane Wenham-Jones) gave a talk on the opening night about publishing today and she confirmed that during this recession, publishers are cutting back. Many midlist authors - those who regularly produce a book a year and make a small profit for the publisher, but aren't a risk to Dan Brown on the bestseller lists - have found themselves being dropped by their publishers. As an agent, Theresa dreaded having to ring these authors up and give them the bad news.

Yet she actually found the exercise quite revealing. Many who had been dropped simply turned around and said, "Oh well, never mind ... well I have been working on something completely different so perhaps I may interest a different publisher in that project."

The point Theresa wanted to make was that REAL WRITERS WRITE! If you are a writer, you will be writing SOMETHING. What struck me though was that many of these writers were already looking at writing for a different market anyway. They were experimenting and trying to broaden their markets. The more markets you try to write for, the less of a problem it is if one suddenly dries up.

For the first part of the week, I went along to Lynne Hackles excellent workshops called Writing for Money.

During those workshops she showed us how we can turn any of life's events into prose to sell to magazines. (She even told us how she sold spells to one magazine!). She made a valid point that writers should always buy one new magazine every week to analyse and then ask the question - what can I write for this? It could be an article, a short story, a reader's letter, a tip or even a funny photo. Just turn the pages and ask, "What can I write for this page?"

Over time, you begin to remember which magazines have which slots and so the job of slotting an idea to a particular magazine becomes easier. In the few days that I've been home from Caerleon, I've submitted a short piece and picture to one magazine, a joke to another and a reader's letter to a third - and that's on top of my existing workload of the correspondence course that I'm writing. (4,334 words on that today - phew!)

So go and expand your markets. Make a point of going out a buying a new magazine that you wouldn't normally buy and then analyse it. Ask yourself, "what can I write for this page?" And then write it!

Good luck.

Motivation Begins The Minute You Wake Up!

Last Saturday at my writers' circle meeting, we had a guest speaker, Liam O'Connell. Now Liam and I share a similar wavelength - we both like positivity. In fact, as I sat listening to him during his workshop, I spent most of my time doing a nodding dog impression!

Liam's attitude though, was one of 'can do'. Instead of saying 'I can't do that'. He told us to say 'I CAN do it' and 'I believe I CAN do it.'

Much of this is down to being focused on what it is that you want to achieve, and this is a core skill with writing. Being focused and determined to get a piece published will result in publication eventually.

Liam played a video of several students all running around one another, passing basketballs between them. He asked us to focus on the basketballs and count the number of passes made that didn't involve bouncing the ball on the floor. This played for about two minutes and required immense concentration - well it did for me anyway! At the end of it, some of the group said they'd seen 15 passes, other guesses ranged up to 23. I'd counted 19. The correct answer was 22. Then Liam asked, "Hands up those of you who saw the Gorilla?"

What? What flipping Gorilla?

About half the group stuck their hands up. (not me, I completely missed it!)

Liam then played the whole sequence again and this time he told us to look for the Gorilla. And there it was, bold as brass, someone dressed up in a Gorilla costume walking onto the set turning to face the camera, waving both arms about frantically before walking off the stage again!

I found that exercise really enlightening, because for me, it was a clear demonstration as to how focused I could be. When I looked around the room at the members of the group who like me had not seen the Gorilla, it was interesting to note that many of them were the members that I would classify as the more 'successful' members of the group too, with their writing.

He then discussed about having a positive attitude. He explained how we all have control over our actions. Yes, we can't control what life throws at us, but we can control how we deal with. Liam told us of a time when he'd filled up his car with diesel instead of petrol. When he realised what he'd done he flew into a rage, cursing and swearing at the hassle this was now going to cause him. His wife, then reminded him that he'd woken up and decided to have a positive day that day. And that's when he realised that all this anger wasn't solving his problem. Thinking positively, he realised that once he'd called his roadside recovery company, he would then be provided with a courtesy car. Within the hour, he and his wife were on their way again, and enjoyed the rest of the day. He made that decision not to let this event ruin the whole day.

Likewise, we can't stop an editor from rejecting our work, but we have a choice what we do when we discover the news. We can either:
  • Moan and wail, and throw our arms about in pure misery that our talent and creative genius has not been recognised, or
  • review our work, rewrite if necessary and submit our talented creative muse to another editor, creating a new opportunity in which to get published.
Every morning, when we wake up, we have the opportunity to decide whether we're going to have a good day, or a bad day. So when I woke up yesterday, I said to myself, "Today I'm going to have a good day." And do you know what? At 11.45am the deputy editor of Country Walking magazine rang me up and asked me if I could provide an urgent piece of text for him. How positive was that?

So remember, when you wake up tomorrow, make a decision as to what sort of day you're going to have and stick to it. You don't know what might happen!

Liam O'Connell is an excellent guest speaker and I can thoroughly recommend him. For more information, visit his website at www.liamoconnell.co.uk, and you can buy his book direct from Amazon.

Good luck.

Making Time to Write

Do you 'find' time to write, or do you 'make' time to write?

Is there a difference? Yes. 'Finding' time is when you finish doing a job (mowing the lawn, doing the ironing, preparing a meal) and then realise that you have half an hour until you need to be doing something else or until the rest of the family will descend upon you. Deciding to use this time to write is a wise move. But in reality, 'finding' time should be seen as a 'bonus'. What you need to do is 'make' time - regular time.

'Making' time is all about setting a clear time frame during which you can write. I've just had an article accepted by Writing Magazine on this very topic, so I'm not going to go into too many details here - you'll have to wait and buy the magazine to read about it(!), but I interviewed three writers who have all made the effort to 'make' time for their writing. And of course, all three are benefiting from this decision.

One bought a laptop so she could write during her lunch hour for two lunch breaks a week. Two hours of writing a week doesn't sound much, but add it up and it is equivalent to doing a full time writing job for two weeks of the year. What could you achieve in two weeks? Another writer reduced her working hours, so she spends a few days a week on her writing now, whilst another took a career break.

Some ways of making time are easier than others - finding two hours a week is easier than taking a career break. But the point is, you need to find the writing time that is right for you.

In November, there are hundreds of thousands of writers who have 'made' time. November is 'NaNoWriMo' - National Novel Writing Month and the aim is for writers to start writing a novel on the 1st November, and by midnight on 30th November have completed at least 50,000 words of that novel. It's a tough challenge, but it is achievable. Many do succeed. The reason they succeed is because the 'NaNoWriMo' event gives them the excuse to tell family members that it is a special event just for November. It has a constrained time frame. The family may be annoyed that the writer isn't around much during November, but at least they know that the writer will be back to 'normal' in December!

So if any of you are tackling 'NaNoWriMo' I wish you all the success in the world. Congratulations on making the time to write 50,000 words. But when the 1st December arrives just look back on what you have achieved in November. This is what happens when you 'make' time to write. Just think what you could achieve if you 'made' time to write every month. Obviously making time to write 50,000 words every month isn't sensible, but now you know how to make time (because you did it in November), why not try to 'make' two or three hours of writing time a week in the future?

Talking of making time to write, I too am making some time to write. Yes, I know I'm full time, therefore I can write all day everyday (within reason), but when you're in this fortunate position, you spend a lot of time writing what other people (editors, publishers, other customers) want you to write and not necessarily what you want to write.

So this Saturday I'm off to the Lake District in the north of England for five weeks. I shall not be returning until the middle of December. The picture above is the view from the window of the self-catering apartment that I shall be staying in. Unlike many writers, I actually find a beautiful view inspiring, rather than distracting.

What shall I be doing? Well I have a novel of 130,000 words and basically, I need to delete 30,000 of them. So whilst there are thousands of writers in November creating words, I shall be deleting them. Perhaps I should establish NaNoDelMo - National Novel Deleting Month instead? Will the novel be of publishable quality once I've done that - who knows? Will it help me secure an agent? Who knows? The only way to find out though, is to 'make' the time to enable me to do it. (Yes, I've been busy working overtime in order to write all the articles that I needed to write during those five weeks that I shall be away.) Doing this though, has enabled me to 'make' the time.

I still intend to post to the blog whilst I'm away. I hope to have a mobile Internet connection, although I have been warned that the weather can interfere with this, and let's face it, the Lake District has a reputation for 'weather'!

I'll let you know how I get on with my writing time, whilst I'm away. Good luck to those doing NaNoWriMo, and for those who aren't why not 'make' some regular writing time for yourselves?

Good luck.

PS - Writers Bureau students may be interested to know that the latest Chapter & Verse online Ezine for enrolled students is now available. Use your login details to take a look.

What's the collective noun for a bunch of Writers Bureau Tutors?

Every couple of years, the Writers Bureau tutors get together at Head Office to discuss any queries or problems we may have. (Problems with students? Surely not! - Actually it's more to do with administrative processes.)

And after all our hard work during the afternoon, we then meet up in the evening for a relaxing meal. And it was whilst taking this photo, that I suddenly wondered what the collective noun is for a group of Writers Bureau tutors! An assignment? Keep your thoughts clean please - especially if you happen to be one of my students intending on sending in your latest assignment soon!

And here's a note for any Writers Bureau student - have you checked out the Writers Bureau revamped website recently? There's an online forum that enrolled students can join to ask for help from other students and to pass on news and information. One recent post states that The Lady's Viewpoint column has been dropped, which is a shame because this was a good freelance slot. The editor dropped it in the middle of October. (She's new and she's making a few changes - dropping the fiction slot, being another one of the changes.) So if you're a WB student, check out http://www.writersbureau.com/

Non-students can also find useful information on the website. Take a look at the 'resources' page. This has links to the Ezee Writer newsletter, which is free, and past issues can also be found here with their informative articles.

Some of the WB tutors (myself, Lorraine Mace, Stephanie Baudet and Alison Chisholm) were involved in a little bit of future publicity for the Bureau. I'll tell you more in the future (when you can have a right laugh at us), but suffice to say it involved the phrase, "Lights, Camera, Action" and a very annoying camera/sound man, whose pet phrase was "That was great, but let's do it one more time."

Finally, on a completely different topic, is anyone interested in moving to Pembrokeshire and buying a house? If so, you need to visit the website of writer, Lynne Hackles' who is trying to sell her house.

Until my next posting (when I shall tell you about a rather different men's magazine that I came across today), good luck!