Friday, 28 January 2011

How to Become A Better Writer

This post is a summary of some of the things that I have learned in the past few months.

Your first attempts at getting words down may not be your best efforts
You may disagree with me. But in my experience, the more you write, the more you learn about the crafting, structure, and re-arranging of words.  When you look back at the first novel or short story that you write, you may well think it's flawed later on. Much the same as each first draft will change a lot if you treat the process of writing professionally. Which leads me to...

Beta Readers are your friends
Yes, they really are. I used to shudder at the thought of showing a new-ish piece of writing to anyone else, but have realised that if you show a piece of writing to a selected group of friends, (preferably friends who also write,) and specify exactly the sort of feedback you wish to receive, this can save a lot of heartache further down the line. Leading on from that...

A good Editor is worth their weight in gold
I have found the editing process a positive thing. I get pleasure from the fact that someone has taken the time and effort to go through something I have written and tried to help me to improve it as much as possible. It is important to see your work as something that is able to change as time goes on. I have worked with four different editors recently which has taught me a lot. The thing to remember is, they are not slicing your work apart for the fun of it. They honestly want to help you to make a good story great.

If your "favourite story ever" is not placed in a competition, it doesn't mean you have to give up writing
Rejection is not an easy thing to accept as a human being. But it's all part of the writing game. The more you write and enter competitions or submit to publications, the easier it becomes to receive a "no". (Unless, of course, you're hormonally challenged, you're sleep deprived, or it's a Monday.) In theory, learning to brace yourself is an art in itself. If you submit a story for publication, for example, and you know there is one slot and possibly hundreds of people will go for it, be realistic. It would be impossible for everyone to be chosen, and perhaps someone else has written a story that is that tiny bit closer to what the editors were looking for.

Every story will find a home
A story may be rejected. Instead of thinking you are rubbish and should give up writing immediately and forever, put the rejection behind you and keep your story in mind in case another competition/ call for submissions/etc should arise which it is suitable for. At that time, you can look at it again with fresh eyes, possibly give it a tweak, and attempt to find it a new home.
Of course, some stories may find a permanent home in the 'story' folder on your computer.  There is nothing wrong with that.

Every writer should read as much as they can. Reading will not only help you to develop your own skills as a writer but if you are open-minded about what you read, you could find a whole new genre that appeals to you for future writing projects. Reading is particularly important if you are working on a novel as you will need to know about books in the genre that you are working on when the time comes for you to think about approaching a publisher or agent.

I have learned so much from the people that I speak with on Twitter. I basically wouldn't be writing this without them. If you are very new to the idea of writing, and have yet to discover Twitter, I would strongly encourage you to get on there. There are thousands of writers on there at any time. It won't take long for you to find a few who are generous about tweeting links and information. You could even follow one of my lists if you wish. I keep them up to date regularly so there should be something of interest to any writer in my list of lists.

The main thing is, if you want to write, don't just think or say that you will do it "one day": go for it and write! If you want to get feedback on your work it's easy to achieve if you put it on your blog and link to it via one of the many groups that have developed across the social networks. I regularly take part in #fridayflash, but I have heard of Tuesday Serial, #fictionfriday and I am sure there must be many more. The good thing about this is you comment on other stories and other writers will comment on yours. It's a great way to get constructive criticism and to develop your style for the future.

If anything in this post helps even one person, I will be delighted.

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Friday Flash: The Lookout

The sun flecks through the trees, as we sprawl flat on the floor and our camouflage blends with the foliage. My platoon and I have been commanded to defend our base from attack. From my position, hidden from view in the trees at the top of the hill, I can see enemy boats approaching along the river, unaware that we are watching their every move.

“What’s the latest, Sergeant Robert?” Private Maxwell asks.
“Shhh,” I command. A knot of tension twists in my gut.

Glancing back at Maxwell I can see the fear in his face. I whisper, my voice barely audible so that he has to partially lip-read, “They’re surrounding us on all sides. We’re out-numbered by a huge amount.”

“Shit,” Maxwell replies.
“Shhh,” I say again, more urgently this time.

We have a certain vantage point being on top of this hill. The only trouble is the numbers. We are few, they are many, and our chances are looking bleak.

My gaze flicks from the river to the woodland at the bottom of the hill. How many hundreds of enemy soldiers are hidden within that maze of shelter and leaves? It’s impossible to tell, but with every rustle and movement I imagine thousands of fierce faces, waiting for their command.

A rustle in the trees above startles me momentarily.
“Maxwell?” I say, not taking my eyes from the woods.
“It’s a bird, don’t worry,” he replies. I sigh in relief.

I have to avoid making any sudden movements in case their lookout is watching us too. I remain statuesque as a giant spider crawls across my forearm, and the smell of rotting leaves and fertile soil fills my nostrils. I try to work out whether the sound I can hear is the wind gently stirring the trees above us, or the river flowing along its channel.

I hear my stomach growl. This is not the time or place to be thinking of food.
“What can you see?” Corporal Brian whispers.
“I can’t make out numbers, but they’re out there, I can feel it,” I tell him.

Sweat prickles my forehead as the sun beats down through the leaves and heats up our hiding place. The decision has to be made; to stay in our defensive positions or to come out of relative safety and attack.

I look at my watch. It’s 13:14. One minute left until it’s time to rotate and for Maxwell to take the position of lookout.

We can’t see the Captain from where we are. But we await the command which we know will come soon.
Suddenly we hear the voice of authority, loud and clear:

“Come along, boys, the picnic is ready.”

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Splish, Splash: It's All Relative

Today on the school run, it was my turn to walk five children around the corner from the road we park on, into the school. The main road that the school entrance is located on, was feeling the after-effects of the heavy rain that we had yesterday. When I say "heavy rain", I mean heavy for a country where extremes are not expected or dealt with very well.  So basically, every time we have heavy rain, the road floods.

Now you would imagine that drivers would notice the flooded road, and notice the people walking their children to the school, many with babies or toddlers. You would imagine that these drivers would slow down as a matter of courtesy. But no. As a result of the flooded road, several children and parents who had not waited for a clear road and then ran, were drenched. And the water, to be honest, smelled like sewage.

People were complaining, people were livid. But when I got back in my dry car to drive back to my warm house, with it's dry carpets, I thought of our fellow humans on the other side of the globe, who have been completely and utterly submerged. How then can we complain about a splash of water, when some people don't have a place to go back to to dry off or clean clothes to change into?

I have absolutely no concept of how people cope in these situations when some sort of environmental disaster happens. All I can see is what is available on the news, but it is never the same as being there. My heart goes out to the families who are currently suffering as a result of natural disasters around the world. Some of these families will have babies and young children, and are just having to cope with the situation they find themselves in.

I have become involved with '100 Stories for Queensland' and would like to point every writer who reads this in the direction of the website. If you have a story, or could write one in time, please do submit one for this project. The submission guidelines are here.

Friday, 14 January 2011

My Latest Writing News In Brief

If you follow me on Twitter, you will have noticed that I have been rather quiet on the timeline lately. There are many reasons for this, as things have gone a bit crazy in the past couple of weeks. I will cover my latest news in brief here, with a view to blogging in more detail when I have some time.

I have been asked to fill a slot in a Literary Mix Tape anthology called (Nothing But) Flowers. This is a charity anthology and the stories have to be 1500 words, give or take a couple. This is the first time that I have been given a slot somewhere without having to submit a story first, so I have been feeling really nervous about stepping up to the mark. Anyway, I sent my story straight to the lovely Jodi Cleghorn, whose project this is, today. Luckily I can tell you that the story seemed to go down well. 

I then heard of 100 Stories for Queensland and I have become a voluntary reader for this project. I find myself working with an amazing team of people, and learning a lot about how submission processes go from the other side of the fence. It's been absolutely fascinating so far, and I feel honoured to be working in such great company, for such a good cause.

Just before this happened, I volunteered to type up an interview for Greg McQueen from Big Bad Media for a forthcoming project of his. The subject matter was very interesting, but doing this did make me realise that I can't quite type as fast as someone talks in an interview situation! But anyway, that job has been finished and sent off today.

Then there is the small matter of submitting my novel, which I have done recently after another read through of the first half of it. I want to read the rest of it through too, when I get a couple of hours.

And, just because I like being busy (!!) I am marking up some copy for a friend of mine. Red circles around punctuation marks etc. As you do.

In the middle of all of this, my latest edit of my story Tour and Duty has been published on the Cafe Lit website. This may lead to it being included in a trade book at a later date, so that is quite exciting.

I also had another competition piece shortlisted (my Tinsel Tale 'Coming Home') which was the judge's number 10. As there were quite a few entries, I was really pleased.

And that, my friends, is my news. Perhaps not such a brief post after all!

Friday, 7 January 2011

Friday Flash: Uncertainty

The sea looks calm.

A brisk wind whistles through cliff-top gorse and tugs at my bootleg jeans.

Should I stay and admire the view?

Or will you push me one final time?

Monday, 3 January 2011

Tracy is One To Watch! - A review of Tracy's Hot Mail by T A Belshaw

I've started 2011 by continuing a habit of mine that developed in 2010. This is to read books written by people that I have got to know online. This seems to have become my number one essential criteria when chosing a new book, and it's one that has served me well so far.

It was quite late in 2011 when I got to know Trevor Belshaw, quite by chance and it was a kind of Twitter/Facebook in parallel thing as we seem to talk equally on both at the start. By the time he announced that his book had been published as an e-book but was due to come out in paperback in 2011, I was very keen to read it. Initially I was going to wait for the paperback but actually I couldn't wait so I bought the e-book the day after it was released.

Tracy is a character who has developed via a website initially. The idea of reading a book based on emails brought back fond memories of both Holly's Inbox and Email: A Love Story , both of which I read and enjoyed greatly. Tracy's Hot Mail did not disappoint.

Tracy reminds me slightly of Bridget Jones as she is a likeable character but quite honestly, a bit slow-on-the-uptake at times. She also brings back memories of a lady I once worked with. It's a fascinating blend, and I read the book in two sittings which is a real challenge for me during the school holidays.

If you're after a funny, easy-to-read book, please do give Tracy's Hot Mail a read.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Happy 2011!

If you are kind enough to be reading this on New Year's Day, thank you very much and I hope that you have a happy and healthy 2011.

2010 was a surprising year for me. I went from thinking about spending a bit more time writing at the beginning of the year, to being published in two anthologies and by a digital publisher by the end of the year. Now that a new year has started I am hoping to push on with my writing and continue to develop and improve my story-crafting abilities. I hope to write a lot more this year.

My other hopes for the year are of a more personal nature.
  • Firstly, as always, to enjoy every little step that each of my children take.
  • Secondly to turn 40 with dignity and not have a complete crisis about it. What is it about '40' anyway?
  • Thirdly to celebrate in style in October when we reach our 10th Wedding Anniversary.
I have a feeling it's going to be a GREAT year. I hope that it's a fantastic year for you too.

Thanks, as always, for reading my blog.
x X x