As a children’s author one of the most frequent questions I get asked is “where do you get your ideas from?” I don’t usually struggle to think of an idea, I have a notebook full of them! But just in case I get stuck, I have some tried and trusted ways to kick start my writing and thought I’d share them with you:
1) For me, the character always comes first. I have to know who my story is about before I can write it. So if I’m stuck on a character, I flick through a magazine and find a picture of someone that interests me; a child, man, woman or animal. Then I really think about that character, what sort of person they are, where they live, what they like, dislike, who their friends are, etc. I write a short paragraph about their main personality traits and by the time I’ve finished I’ve usually got a story idea about them buzzing through my head.
2) Alternatively, you could try looking through a magazine of newspaper and find a picture of a house that interests you. Imagine what sort of person lives there, what their life is like. What sort of problems would they have? How did they get the house? Was it left to them in someone’s will? Did they win the lottery? Are they a secret millionaire? Use your imagination and you’ll be amazed what ideas you’ll come up with?
3) Do some freewriting. Write whatever comes into your head, without thought of whether it makes sense or not, don’t even think about grammar and spelling. You could start off by giving yourself the opening line of a story. Remember, write the first thing that comes into your head. The very first thing. Even if it’s something like ‘I opened the curtains and saw a huge crater where my front lawn should be.” Carry on freewriting for a while then read through it and you might be surprised to find that you’ve got a gem of an idea.
4) Close your eyes and imagine a scene. It can be anywhere you want, the beach, a rainforest, a snowy mountain. Use your senses and imagine what you can see, hear, smell, taste and touch. Now put someone in that scene. Who are they and what are they doing there?
I hope these ideas help. If you’ve got any different ways you use to ‘kick start’ your writing then do let me know!
Karen King has been writing children’s books since the mid-eighties. She’s written for many children’s magazines too including Sindy, Barbie, Winnie the Pooh and Thomas the Tank Engine. Some of her short stories were featured on Playdays BBC and some of her poems on the BBC One Potato, Two Potato website. She writes for all ages and in all genres. Story books, picture books, plays, joke books, she’s written them all!
She tutors for the Writer’s Bureau and runs writing workshops in schools.
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I’ve been a freelance writer for over thirty years now, and full-time for the last twenty. During that time, some social and technological changes have made a massive impact on my working life.
The launch of low-price word processors (thank you, Lord Sugar) was one of them, and the advent of high-speed, low-cost Internet access was another.
The latest revolution to affect my writing life has been the arrival of social media. Getting involved with this has drastically changed the way I work as a writer, and opened up many new opportunities for me.
Unusually, unless you count my blog at www.mywritingblog.com, my first foray into social media was with the microblogging service Twitter. As you may know, this service lets you post updates, or ‘tweets’, of up to 140 characters.
Initial reports I heard weren’t good – I couldn’t really see the point in a service that let you find out what others were eating for breakfast. And I wondered if perhaps I wasn’t just a bit too old for it. What I could see, however, was the potential of Twitter for letting people know when my blog had been updated. And that’s literally all I expected from it when I opened my account at http://twitter.com/nickdaws.
What I found was a revelation, however. Far from being awash with trivia, as its detractors would have you believe, Twitter is a thriving community of interesting people (and organizations) of all ages and backgrounds, discussing a vast range of topics. And I soon discovered certain other writers who were generous in sharing links to interesting articles, resources, market info, and more (see my blog posts at http://bit.ly/i4yUih and http://bit.ly/nbCm5G for lists of recommended Twitter follows, by the way).
What’s more, Twitter turned out to be an invaluable research resource for me. For example, a while ago I needed to check what boiled sweets were called in America, for a non-fiction book I was working on. A quick tweet, and several of my US followers confirmed that hard candy was their closest equivalent. Question answered in five minutes!
I also use Twitter to help raise awareness of my books and courses, and my writing and editing services – although I aim to share plenty of other useful resources and information as well. Nobody would want to follow someone who only ever used Twitter as a promotional tool.
From Twitter, I have moved on to embrace other social media as well. I was a bit late arriving at the Facebook party, but now in addition to my Facebook Profile I have a Fan Page (since you ask), and several other Pages for specific books and courses. And I run a Facebook Group too.
In addition, I’m on the new Google+ network, and the career-orientated LinkedIn. I don’t want this post to look like a promotion-fest for me so I’m not including URLs, but you can find me on either of these networks easily enough if you search for me. Twitter is still the network I’m most active on, though, and it’s still the one I get the most from.
Through my involvement in social media, I’ve discovered many valuable resources and new outlets for my work. And, equally important, I’ve come into contact with other writers, editors and publishers across the world, with whom I’ve collaborated on projects, done interviews, passed on or accepted assignments, helped with promotion, or just enjoyed friendly conversations.
Of course, there is a downside to social media, and that’s the amount of time it can consume. Sites such as Twitter and Facebook can be addictive, and it’s easy to waste hours checking people’s updates and following up interesting but not entirely relevant links. I try to get around this by only checking my social media at certain times, generally at the start and end of the day. I also have software that lets me quickly share an interesting link if I find one during the course of my work. Even so, I have to admit I’m not always as self-disciplined as I should be – but I still reckon the amount I gain from being actively involved in social media far outweighs the time I waste on it!
If you’re still wondering whether or not to take the plunge into social media, I’d say give it a go, but start with just one network and move on to others later if you wish. Personally, I think Twitter is a great place to begin. Don’t worry about what to say in your own tweets – start by following some interesting people and organizations (@writersbureau, of course, among them) and read what they have to say. If you have a question for them, go ahead and ask it, and share any interesting links you discover by ‘retweeting’ them. Before you know it, I promise, you’ll have a growing band of people following you as well, and be tweeting away like a professional!
About the Author: Nick Daws is a full-time freelance writer, editor and writing teacher. As well as over 100 non-fiction books, he has produced innumerable articles, short stories, adverts, training materials, and more. He has also written a number of distance-learning courses, including the Complete Copywriter Course for The Writers Bureau. In addition to the social media mentioned in his post, he has a homepage at www.nickdaws.co.uk.
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First this week, I’d like to say congratulations to the winners of our Annual Short Story Competition! The stories were all very accomplished pieces and if you’d like to read them they are now available on our competition website. I’d also like to say thank you to everyone who joined us last Friday for the event on Facebook to celebrate the winners – I hope you all had a good time because we certainly did.
The weather is now firmly back to normal – but I took advantage of the sunshine last weekend to go to Wales and try out white water rafting. It was a great experience, even if I did feel a bit like a trussed turkey by the time I’d fought my way into a wetsuit and then had my life jacket tightened until it had the same effect as a surgical corset. We also took the opportunity of walking across the Pontcysyllte aqueduct near Llangollen (not for those with a fear of heights) and climbing to Castell Dinas Bran. I couldn’t help but think of Simon Whaley’s post a few weeks ago – those views certainly do inspire!
Children’s Book Week
This week (3rd-9th October) is Children’s Book Week – a celebration of reading for pleasure for primary school children. It’s been going for 80 years now – in libraries and schools around the country – and I hope it will still be going in another 80 years. There’s little that can beat the enjoyment of a good book and it’s so important that we convince children of this. It shouldn’t be about telling them that reading is good for them, it should be about guiding them to read the kind of books that will really grab their imagination and make them reach for the next, and the next, and the next… So, if you’ve ever wanted to write a book for children and feel you’ve got the flair that will grab the next generation’s imagination, why don’t you give it a try?
Small, but Perfectly Formed!
Finally, if you fancy winning one of our Fiction Writing courses why not enter our Halloween ‘twitter’ competition. All you have to do is write a spooky story in no more than 140 characters and, as you might expect, the closing date is 31st October.
My guest next week is Nick Dawes – someone who really can turn his hand to any writing assignment and handle it in a professional manner.
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