April 30th, 2010
It’s now approaching the time of year that I enjoy most. Entries for the Writers Bureau Poetry and Short Story Competition have started coming in and I love looking through them and reading a selection before they are sent off to our adjudicators, Alison Chisholm and Iain Pattison. I’m always amazed at the inventiveness and style that some of the writers demonstrate. The majority of them are a joy to read – why not have a look at last year’s winners.
But some people just can’t help shooting themselves in the foot (and I’m not on about Gordon Brown here)! Why waste the £5.00 entry fee if you’re going to ignore the rules, send more than the word limit or simply not check and polish your work.
And talking about polishing your work, everyone from time to time gets a word stuck in their mind and it keeps popping up in their writing. (I know I tend to repeat ‘however’ and have to go back and cut it out.). The new editor of our student magazine, Anne Lyken-Garner, has a good tip for finding an alternative if you don’t have a thesaurus handy: place your cursor in the middle of the word you want to change and right click your mouse. The drop down menu offers, among other tools, a synonym option. While this isn’t as in-depth as a physical thesaurus, it’s an effective solution to make your writing more interesting.
If you’re more computer literate than me, you probably already know about this. If not, I hope you find it useful.
Finally, I’ve just been having a look at the ideas4writers website. They’ve introduced the “Date-A-Base Book 2011”. It includes over 1900 newsworthy anniversaries that will occur between January and December 2011. So it gives you lots of ideas and plenty of time to plan your writing schedule. The anniversaries cover significant historic events, inventors, discoveries, births and deaths. They have put January’s entries on the website for free to whet your appetite, but if you want the other 11 months you’ll have to pay. It’s available as either an e-book or a printed copy.
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April 23rd, 2010
First, thanks to Alex for last week’s blog. I found it quite reassuring – no-one makes more mistakes than me. I can never decide whether it’s old age creeping up or simply that I’ve not got to grips successfully with multi-tasking!
Over the past few weeks, the more writing magazines I read, the more people seem to be moaning about markets for short stories drying up in print-based magazines. This might be true, but this certainly isn’t the case on the Internet. Yes, I know it doesn’t usually pay as well – sometimes not at all – but it does help you to hone your skills.
According to Samuel Johnson ‘Nobody but a blockhead ever wrote for anything but money’. But I suspect that if Sam were alive and writing today he’d take a rather different view. What about the personal satisfaction? And more important, what about using it as a means to an end? If it helps to build up your portfolio of published work it’s not a waste of effort. It takes you a valuable step nearer being in a position to earn from your writing.
OK, down from my soapbox and onto the lighter side. Do visit our website and look at the winner of March’s 21st birthday competition. It made me smile, but Anthea also sent in some other ambiguous notices that were almost as good. Here are a couple:
Don’t let worry kill you off. Let the church help.
Place your donations in the envelope along with the deceased person you want to remember.
And don’t forget this month’s 21st Birthday competition – write a twitter review to be in with a chance of winning one of our Writing for Profit Using the Internet Course.
The weather’s forecast to be glorious again this weekend so I’ve every intention of avoiding the election propaganda and making the most of it while it lasts. Easier said than done!
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April 16th, 2010
I love being a writing tutor. But every job has its down sides and a down side of tutoring is having to tell keen aspiring writers where they’re going wrong.
We all make mistakes – even those of us who’ve been in the business for years – but it strikes me that we writers tend to be excessively hard on ourselves when we plant a wayward foot or two on literary ground, much more so than any other hobbyists or professionals in their chosen fields. I’ve seen it in young or inexperienced editorial staff when I’ve worked at magazine offices too. We take it to heart when told something’s not quite right. We feel nervy about writing something new. We toy with packing it all in and taking up knitting or accountancy.
The writer Samuel Smiles said that ‘he who never made a mistake never made a discovery’ and if, as the romantics hold, writing is a voyage of discovery, then writing must also be a voyage of mistakes.
And that is exactly as it should be. Because we learn from our mistakes. We should be fearless about making them, unashamed of them when we do, and proud to have subsequently improved because of them.
This is the philosophy underpinning Mistakes Writers Make, my new blog for students and upcoming writers of non-fiction, the motivation for which has been seeing too many good writers stifled and embarrassed by fair, constructive and essential criticism over the years.
It shouldn’t be this way. Because there’s no avoiding mistakes. We will all be making them until we retire. But what I hope to do with my blog is enable you to reduce them to occasional, blue-moon events – to tip the balance massively in favour of writing rights over writing wrongs.
So, every few days or so I will ‘out’ a common mistake, explain why it’s a problem, and try to show you how to put it right.
I hope you take something from the blog – even if it’s nothing more than that it’s okay, actually rather good, and important, to make mistakes.
And don’t forget to tell me when you spot one of mine…
The Mistakes Writers Make blog is at http://mistakeswritersmake.blogspot.com and at Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/writersmistakes
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April 9th, 2010
I certainly got enough gardening done last weekend – by Monday I ached all over and felt as though I needed another couple of days’ holiday just to recover. Still, everything’s looking much neater and even if it’s still not easy to see the green shoots of recovery in the economy, there are plenty pushing through in my garden.
And talking of the economy, there seems to be a rash of articles in various writers’ magazines bemoaning the low income that most writers have to exist on. But it still doesn’t seem to put people off wanting to write. And I don’t blame them. Many of our students want to earn a part-time or second income and, as our student success stories show, this is quite feasible.
Especially if you set your sights on writing non-fiction. It can be hard to imagine sitting down and penning a 100,000-word novel as a beginner, but if you adopt the right attitude, getting a regular stream of articles accepted and published is not an impossibility. There are thousands of online and print publication looking for material to fill their pages and with careful research – into both the topic you are covering and your target publications – there’s no reason why you shouldn’t succeed.
If you’ve always dreamed of writing but keep finding excuses (I’m too busy… I’ll do it when the children are a bit older… I’ll start when I retire…) you should visit the website of time management guru David Allen. Take on board his suggestions about ‘Getting Things Done’ and you’ll free up enough time to realise those ambitions.
And finally, if you don’t already blog, but would like to have a go, visit Daily Blog Tips. There are tips about getting started, design, linking, money making and much more. Once you’re up and running (or if you’re already blogging) let me know if you’d like to be one of my monthly guest bloggers. Talking of which, next week Writers Bureau tutor, Alex Gazzola, will be my guest, telling you why making mistakes can be so important!
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April 1st, 2010
Last weekend I was in Hull. I don’t really know what I expected, as in the past I’d only driven though to the ferry terminal. But what a pleasant surprise – a vibrant old town and museum quarter; ‘The Deep’ a designer aquarium that looks proudly out to sea like a ship’s prow; beautiful villages and coast only half an hour’s drive away and, of course, the iconic Humber Bridge. It may not be the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world any more, but it’s still pretty impressive!
But I should imagine that Hull was a far bleaker place to live when Philip Larkin was University Librarian there. During the war Hull suffered the worst bombing raids outside London with 95% of its houses either damaged or destroyed.
Larkin’s poems – often bleak and disconcerting, though always technically brilliant – appeal to me. And I’m obviously not alone – in 2008 The Times named him as Britain’s greatest post-war poet. Many people are only familiar with ‘This be the verse’ – or a parody of it! But one of my favourites is currently Poem of the Month on the Larkin Society website. Try it and see what you think.
And if you fancy yourself as the next Larkin (though perhaps with a slightly less dysfunction love life) why not try The Writers Bureau Art of Writing Poetry Course. If you don’t know the difference between a Sestina and a Sonnet, a Rubai and a Rondel and you think iambic pentameters are something you feed to the cat, perhaps it’s just what you need. Or, if such technicalities aren’t for you, there’s plenty of useful information on crafting free verse, presenting your poetry to an audience and polishing your work to competition standard.
At least we get a couple of extra days over the weekend. If the weather warms up there’s lots of gardening on the cards for me. But whatever you do, enjoy your Easter break!
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