Monday, April 28, 2008

Are You An A-List Writer?

At the writer's circle I go to, whenever we have someone new turn up who wants to join us, we go through what we call 'creeping death'. This is where we go around the room, telling the new faces what our names are, and what sort of writing we enjoy tackling. One of my friends always says:

"I enjoy writing short stories, novels and shopping lists."

And that's what I want to ask you today. Are you a 'list' writer? Do you write lists of writing things to do? It may be boring, it may come across as nerdy, but writers who produce lists, usually get things done.

There are two particular aspects of list writing that are important to writers. Firstly, creating a 'To Do' list sets clear boundaries for the day. What do I have to achieve today? My list will tell me.

This is particularly important for those of you who have limited writing time. If all you can snatch is 30 minutes here, or an hour there, every day, you have to make that time work as efficiently as you can. If you write a list of all the writing things you need to get done during your next writing 'moment' when you sit down at your desk, your list will help you slip into the right frame of mind straight away. You'll spend less time procrastinating and sorting paperclips into colour combinations and height order, and more time tackling the things on your list.

For me, as a freelance writer, I write a list at the end of every day. What do I need to do tomorrow? That way, when I sit at my desk the following morning, my list is there, and I know what I need to do. For those who claim to suffer from Writer's Block, having a list of things to write about can help to kick start you in the morning.

Secondly, if you have a list of things to do, eveytime you complete one, you can tick it off your list. Psychologically, that gives us a huge boost through the day, as more and more things get ticked off. A tick means that we are achieving something with our time. At the end of your writing time, all you need to do is have a look at what's been crossed off since you started. Try it. It works. You'll feel better.

And anything that you don't finish today, just put it to the top of your list for tomorrow. And keep adding to your writing to-do list. That way, you'll always know what needs to be done the next time you sit down to do some writing.

That's it for now, so I'll sign off here. I really would encourage you to become an 'A-list' Writer. And guess what? Now I've done this, I've got something else to tick off my 'to-do' list for today!

Good luck.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Persistence in this Writing Game? You can bank on it!

You may recall from my earlier blogs that tenacity and persistance are important in this freelance writing game. Well today I thought I would tell you of another such example.

I'm on a high at the moment. I've just received an email from an editor accepting an article I submitted on spec to him. Now I still get that adrenalin rush every time I have a piece accepted like this, but this one is special. Why? Because I originally had the idea back in 1997. Yes, it's taken me 11 years to sell this one.

Looking back over my records, (you do keep records of where you send everything don't you?) I can see that I've rewritten this article over 15 times. Everytime it has been rejected, I've looked for a new market, and rewritten it to fit that new market before sending it off.

And today, my persistance has paid off. I have the acceptance.

So next time you get rejected, don't despair. Determination will win through in the end. That's what makes writers successful. Those who give up don't know how close they were to actually succeeding.

Incidentally, one of my students, John Rooney maintains an interesting blog, and the other day he posted a piece about rejection. It's well worth a read, so visit and take his comments on board too. It's worked for him.

Rejection is not the end of the story, it's often the start of the next.

Good luck.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Small Wins are Great Morale Boosters Too!

On 20th March I posted a piece explaining how 'quick wins' such as letters and fillers to magazines, can be great morale boosters against a tide of article rejections. Today I've received an email from one of my students Lee, who has had a small win, but a HUGE boost to her ego.

"I want you to be the first to know that I won the writing competition at The Grantham Writers Club and the prize was a gift voucher for £5. Its the first money I have ever made with my writing and I couldn't be happier; not even for a million pounds. The subject was the worst day in my life. When I had to read it out I had the group laughing, it is funny now but it wasn't in June 1966. But it is good to know we can see the funny side of things later."

Five pounds might not sound much, but it's clear from Lee's email that she is absolutely delighted with the win - and rightly so.

Winning a competition means that:
  • YOUR writing was judged to be the best out of all of the entries submitted,
  • It doesn't matter how many entries there were, it may have been 2000, or 20, YOUR writing stood out above everyone elses,
  • You have also sat down and done some writing, and completed it. You can't enter a competition and send in your opening paragraph. You have to write the whole thing, work on it, and then when you are happy, submit it. Many people who claim to be writers don't send anything off. Entering a competition proves that you have the courage to send work off.

Some of my students target magazines that don't pay for work published inside it's pages. Whilst I wouldn't advocate anyone writing for nothing, there is a time at the start of your writing career when a small piece of published work can do wonders for your ego. It can also help you to achieve more sales. An editor may like your idea but doesn't want to risk commissioning you if you have no track record. Suddenly that published-for-free piece becomes your track record. That editor doesn't know (or need to know) that you weren't paid for the text. But what he does know is that you can write with a specific reader in mind and to a fixed wordlength.

And entering competitions can help you to achieve this too. Just as a published article is worth noting on your writing CV, so is a competition win. It's a SUCCESS!

So don't forget the smaller writing projects in life. They can give you just as much a boost as your larger projects. If anyone happens to read the Spring 2008 issue of PhotoPlus magazine (for Canon camera users) you might spot that yours truly has the Star letter in that issue. I might be a best-selling and an award-winning writer, but I still get just as big a morale boost from the smaller projects, as I do the larger ones!

Good luck.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Postal Prices Increase

This is just a reminder to those of you in the United Kingdom, that Royal Mail have put their prices up today! First Class post goes up from 34p to 36p for up to A5 sized envelopes weighing 100g or less.

As an aside to this, if you post manuscripts to editors, I suggest sending your material in the (more expensive) larger A4 envelopes. This will cost you 52p from today. The reason I do this is because some magazines will scan your text in, especially if you are unable to email a copy of your text, and any creases in your submission will cause problems with this process.

Always include a stamped addressed envelope (SAE) for the return of your submission if the magazine is not interested. However, your SAE needn't be A4, an A5 envelope is sufficient. (Let's face it, if the magazine is rejecting it, it doesn't matter how screwed up it gets on the journey back home! You're going to rewrite it slightly for you next target market, so you're going to have to print out a new version anyway.)

If you fail to put sufficient postage on your submissions, the magazine will be charged the difference and a penalty by Royal Mail. Because of this, it is quite probable that they will refuse to accept your submission. And if you think rejection is demoralising, just think how demoralising it is to be rejected, when they haven't even seen the envelope!

You have been warned!

Good luck.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The First Sign of Madness!

Firstly, apologies for not posting anything over the past few days, but a family member has been in hospital and I've spent a lot of time visiting them recently, as well as doing some interesting eavesdropping!

Many of you will know that I'm a great advocate of reading your work out aloud when you've finished a piece of work. It's the best way of identifying mistakes! One of my students, Lee Davis said "I left it for a while and then re-read it. You were right - I spotted a few mistakes and corrected them".

But why does reading your words out aloud work? In my experience it's because when we read silently to ourselves, our brains know what the words SHOULD say, and so this is how it interprets them. However, when we read work out aloud, we are using a different part of the brain. We tend to read more slowly, if we are speaking at the same time, which gives the brain time to spot the mistakes too.

Reading work out aloud helps you to pick up:
  • spelling errors,
  • grammatical errors,
  • confusing or long-winded sentences,
  • repetitions.

Speaking our work out loud means that our ears are also listening to what is being said, which is why this is a great way of picking up repetitions. These are words or phrases that we use repeatedly without realising. Phrases like "I would suggest that ..." or "don't forget to visit ..." don't seem bad, but when a reader has read them for the eighth time in the last 500 words, it can become annoying! It also helps me to identify words which I use time and time again, because they form part of my character. One of my pet words is 'just' and it's not until I read my work out, that I start to 'hear' them and then start deleting them!

Ultimately, if our work is easy to say, then it is also easy to read.

I also urge those of you who are members of a writers' circle to read your work out aloud BEFORE you go to a meeting. All too often we produce work to read out, but the first time we do so is at the actual meeting. Then we end up stumbling over words that don't sound right, or apologising because that sentence doesn't make sense, and in the end it becomes an ordeal. If your read your work out loud several times before you need to, you will have confidence in your written work, and that confidence will come across when it's time for you to perform.

Always put work aside for at least a day if you can, longer if possible. Move onto another project, and let the current one 'settle'.

So make the rest of the household think you've gone completely off your head, and start talking to yourself. It may well be the first sign of madness, but it's the first sign of a responsible, professional writer too! Remember to listen to what you are saying though!

Good luck.