Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy July 1st!

If you're just about to celebrate the start of 2010, you are so 'last year'! Actually, make that 'so last six months'. The whacky world of writing means that you should be working at least six months ahead.

All those poor souls who are not writers are having to endure all those back-to-back "review of 2009" programmes (which the television companies did last June - because like writers, they work six months ahead). And those non-writers are also having to sit there and decide what their New Year resolutions for 2010 are going to be.

But we, as writers, did all that six months ago, didn't we? It may be snowing outside in the 'non-writing' world, but here in the writing world, I'm sitting in my shorts and T-shirt in 28 degree heat with a clear blue sky and a Cracker - no, not a festive cracker (that is so six months ago), this Cracker is a cocktail of Cranberry juice, Pink Grapefruit juice, Pineapple juice and Orange juice.

Well, when you're busy pitching summer travel pieces and trying to create summer short stories, it's important that we writers get ourselves in the mood. Gosh, here in the UK, in less that 4 weeks, the kids will be breaking up for their summer holidays - I ought to get that article idea sorted about how to look after 30 children aged 13 to 16 from the local neighbourhood for the entire summer break with just 75p, three wheelie bins and a bag of crack cocaine.

Anyway, working so far ahead has it's benefits. The great British general election is all done and dusted in my writing world. (Katie Price aka Jordan is now Prime Minister, and although the weekend newspapers had a field day immediately after the election showing our new Prime Minister in photographic poses that no other Prime Minister has been (legally) snapped in, at least it does mean that her clothing expenses will be negligible - unlike many of the outgoing MPs.)

However, for all you writers out there approaching the traditional 'six month dip', I know that coming up with new ideas at this time of the year can be difficult, so below are some links to some 'event' calendars, which may spark some article or even short story ideas off for you.

Event Calendar

The Lady magazine - Media Pack - planned issue themes for 2010

The Date-A-Base Book - details of all major anniversaries in 2010

Vegetarian Times Editorial Calendar

Parent & Child magazine editorial calendar

Airport Magazine

We Magazine for Women (USA)

There's quite an eclectic mix here, but the reason for this is to show that magazines around the world and on practically any and every subject, plan their issues well in advance, and some even publicise this fact (for the advertisers). To find out if your favourite magazine produces an editorial calendar do a Google Search for the name of the magazine and include the phrase "editorial+calendar".

So, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy July 1st tomorrow (doesn't time fly when you're having fun?) and a very productive second half of 2010 and first half of 2011.

Good luck.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Successes

What better Christmas present can there be for a writer, than a letter of acceptance? I received an email from Hope Hamilton this week who was absolutely ecstatic (and quite rightly so) at the sale of her second assignment piece to the magazine "Times of the Islands" which covers Southwest Florida's Island Coast. Even better, was the cheque for US$400 she received for it.

Dave Cullen also sent me an update and has achieved seeing his 42nd joke published in That's Life 'Rude Joke of the Week' slot. It may only be a payment of £15 per joke, but with 42 jokes published, Dave has now earned £630 from this slot alone - who's the one laughing now?

This is a good time of the year to take a look back over the year and look at your successes, no matter how small they are. Having the courage to print out your work, pop it in an envelope, and then slip it into a postbox is a success if you've never done it before. A letter published in a newspaper or magazine is a success too. With all the reality TV shows talking about 'the journey' that the contestants have been on, look back over this year and consider your own writing journey. As long as you have achieved something that has taken you further along the road of your writing journey, then you have a success to be proud of.

Merry Christmas to everyone!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Just Back

I know I've been back from the Lake District for nearly a week now, but this week's blog posting actually refers to a slot in the weekend Telegraph newspaper. Called "Just back", the Telegraph refers to it as a 'Travel Writing Competition'.

For those of you who've followed this blog for a while now, it's reminiscent of the Observer's 'Crap Holiday' slot. The 'prize' for this slot though, is a little better than the Observer's first aid kit. Pen the winning entry and you could receive £200 spending money in the currency of your choice.

Your piece can be no longer than 500 words, and entries have to be made by email to To be in with a chance for the weekend's slot, the entry has to be submitted by midnight on the Wednesday before.

As always, read a few to get the style of what they are looking for, and this is easily done on their website. Just visit

Seeing as Christmas is a time when many people are traveling, why not see what you can come up with? Yes, I'm setting you another challenge. Last year, my blog followers managed to fill the Observer's Crap Holiday slot for four weeks out of a period of six, so let's see what we can do with the Telegraph's Just Back slot then.

Good luck!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hollywood Here I Come - NOT!

You may recall a few months ago, when the Writers Bureau tutors got together, some of us had to do some video work. Well, the production company have worked their magic (although they could have worked a bit harder on me, I look nothing like Brad Pitt, but they promised I would) and the results are now available for all to see. (Did I just say that? For ALL to see?)

To see me and hear my words of wisdom about writing non-fiction books click here.

To see Lorraine Mace talk about writing humour, Stephanie Baudet discussing writing for children, and Alison Chisholm praise poetry, then click here.

Anyone with a nervous disposition, should look away now.

Good luck!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Above CLoud Nine?

Where have the last five weeks gone? They say time flies when you're having fun. Have I had fun? Did I achieve my goal? Here's how the word count on the novel has changed over five weeks ...

Draft 1 = 132,936 (what I brought with me)

Draft 2 = 129,171

Draft 3 = 118,066

Draft 4 = 103,002

The difference between the first draft and the fourth draft is some 29,934 words, so I think I can claim to have met my target. Now I've examined it in this much detail, I think it's still possible to cut further.

I'm used to cutting a 2,500 word article to 800 words, which many may see as 'drastic' cutting. But with non-fiction, there are ways of doing this easily. It's not necessary to use complete sentences, for example. But that I mean:
  • We can break the text with bullet points.
  • Produce succinct, detailed lists.
  • Provide website addresses for further information.
  • Use sub-headings to link two unconnected paragraphs together.
Cutting 132,936 words of fiction down to 103,002 has been different. It relies more on language. Cutting the adverbs and replacing them with active verbs improves text. Instead of saying, "he ran quickly", 'he dashed" is shorter, yet conveys more action.

I found some wonderful pieces to delete. Here's an example:

"Don't be stupid, you can't ..." said Felicity, stopping in mid sentence.

Er? What was with the 'stopping in mid sentence' bit? Do I think that the reader can't work out that Felicity's dialogue is not a complete clause and the ellipsis ( ... ) at the end, doesn't give the game away? Anyone remember the catchphrase "Stand back in amazement"? When I read that it was "stand back in embarrassment"!

The end result is a novel I am happier with. Along with some structural chapter changes (Draft 1 was 25 chapters, Draft 4 has 71) I've also cut a couple of minor plot lines. The result is, in my opinion :-), a far pacier novel.

So, publishers and agents in 2010 need to brace themselves. Aldermaston's Anarchy could be coming through a letterbox near them soon!

I have to go now and start packing. As you can see from the picture above, the weather here has been fantastic recently. Yesterday, I literally was, above cloud nine ... well, 2,635 feet anyway. There can't be many times when you learn a new word at 2,635 feet, but yesterday was one of them. The word was 'Fogbow'. I was chatting to another photographer at the summit of a mountain, who'd said that he'd seen a strange sight the day before from the same summit. It was like a rainbow, only pure white. He took a picture of if and emailed it to the Met Office. They'd told him, it was not a 'rain'bow, but a 'fog'bow. It's rare in the UK, purely because the sun has to be low in the sky, and the geology of the surrounding landscape needs to be right (which is rare in the UK). Unlike a rainbow, the water molecules in fog are far smaller, so less sun is refracted, hence the whiteness. To see what one looks like click here.

Excuse me, but that's just given me an idea for an article ... I'm off now. See, that's what I like about the Lake District. Inspiration everywhere. I wonder if I'm doing right by going back?

Hmm, we'll see!

Good luck!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wearing Two Hats

No, I'm not wearing two hats because here in the Lake District the rain has turned to snow and its freezing cold (although it does look idyllic on sunny days like this - less so on the foggy days I've experienced so far in December!)

The two hats I'm referring to are 'editing hats'. When you edit, do you edit as a writer or as reader?

My novel is now shorter than it was when it first arrived in the Lake District, although it is not as short as I need it to be. Going through the text as a writer has improved it immensely. Not only have I corrected the spellings and the grammar and deleted all those pet phrases of mine (well, merely, just), I've also been improving the punctuation, layout and chapter structures. As a consequence, I now have more confidence in my text.

But with only 12,000 words sent packing so far, the next stage of the editing process is about to begin. I'm going to swap to my 'editing as a reader' hat. This is where I'm asking the question (as a reader), "Do I really need to know this?"

I'm currently reviewing the beginning of my novel and asking this question. I think the novel starts well - at an all important point of crisis (the main character discovers that they are being blackmailed), but could the start be even better?

Many of my students will know from their own assignments that I often strike out the first two paragraphs of their articles and say, "Actually, your third paragraph is your real first paragraph." As a tutor, this jumps out at me, because I am reading your text as any reader would. I haven't been involved in the creative process. As writers, we need to learn to do that with our own work.

This is why we're told to put work aside for a couple of days and then we can look at it afresh. Those days provide a barrier between the creative process and the editing process. However, we are still the creator and it is our creation that we are trying to edit, so we need to learn to be critical of ourselves. I'm now going through the beginning of my novel, cutting all that exposition - the explaining of the setting, scene and characters, that isn't actually needed. Ask yourself the question - Do I REALLY need to know this? If you answer 'yes', then ask yourself another question - Do I REALLY need to know this NOW? Might this exposition sit better, later on in your text?

This means that I am cutting some of my 'darlings' - those paragraphs that I am particularly pleased with. Is that sad? Yes, but they were not a waste of time. It was the enjoyment of writing those paragraphs that kept me writing the novel in the first place. Without writing them, I may never have finished writing the novel. So, they had their place in the writing process. And just because I'm deleting them from this piece of writing, it doesn't mean that I can't use them in another piece of writing, does it? Nothing in this writing game is wasted!

So next time you come to edit your work, set out both hats on your desk. Put your 'Writer' hat on first and edit. Then replace it with your 'Reader' hat and edit again. You will find that the text will be better. There's a cliche that says, 'two heads are better than one' and I'm of the opinion that 'two hats are better than one' too!

Talking of 'twos', last Friday the Cumbrian town of Keswick had 'two' too - two celebs for the Christmas Lights Switch On. The first was HRH Prince Charles, seen here meeting the staff in Booths Supermarket, after having met some of the staff from the Emergency Services, Army, County Council and Environment Agency who are involved in the clean up operation following the flooding. Little did I know when I was sitting in their cafe, that Charlie would walk in for a cup of tea and a sticky bun. I didn't shake hands with him - well, with all the hands he shakes in a day, he must be one of the biggest spreaders of Swine Flu in the UK at the moment!

When refreshed he made his way up into town and joined television presenter, Julia Bradbury, to switch on the lights. The message to the outside world was a clear "the Lake District is open." This is when they need the visitors.

So, good luck with your editing. And good luck with your Christmas shopping. Which reminds me ... I must start doing that soon!