Sunday, 25 December 2011

Writing Treats

By the time you get to read this post, you will probably have eaten your own body weight in turkey (or spinach pasta if you are vegetarian), drunk enough mulled wine to refloat the Mary Rose (unless like me you are teetotal) and watched enough repeats of It's A Wonderful Life to want them to bring back hanging.

Yes, folks, IT'S CHRISTMAS!!! Actually it's Boxing Day but that still counts as Christmas (doesn't it?) and when you work at night as I do, you get a Christmas Day that starts at midnight on 24th December and finishes about 9am on 26th December which, trust me, is a very long day.

Anyway, I've had various thoughts about what to write for my Christmas Day/Night post in between finishing making my handmade Christmas cards (remind me to start in July, not November next year!) and lying awake listening to next door's dog barking for its Christmas dinner.

I was going to write a witty ditty parodying the 12 Days of Christmas from a writer's point of view or come up with an equally erudite list of things I'd buy for my "writing" now that it is the love of my life again (see previous post) but I'm too tired to do either. (Blame the dog.) In fact any minute now I am going to try that exercise for getting your muse flowing by writing with your eyes shut.

So instead I'm going to pose the question "What is your writing treat?" After all, if we can't treat ourselves at Christmas, then when can we? By treat I probably also mean "guilty pleasure" but if you make your treat something you allow yourself to only do when you have finished a day or a week's work, for instance, then you should feel less guilty about doing it.

My writing treat is looking at writing related websites and blogs, particularly those of other writers. I keep a record of interesting sounding ones in a notebook and when I feel it is OK to treat myself, usually at the end of the working week, I have a trawl through and see what I can discover.

Yes, it is a "time-waster" but I've come across some really useful sites, with excellent information as well as inspiration, while I've been "treating" myself and if it makes me feel better about my writing, which it does, then that has to be a good thing. Also, because I know it is a "treat" and not something I do every day, I don't waste quite as much time on the internet as I probably would otherwise.

If you don't already have a writing "treat", then why not make 2012 the year you start giving yourself one and let me know what it is? I'd love to hear from you.

Meanwhile, it only remains for me to wish all my readers a very Happy Christmas (what's left of it!) and a peaceful and prosperous New Year with lots of writing success.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Feeling The Love

I'm pleased to say that I'm "feeling the love" a little more this week when it comes to writing (see my last couple of posts!) and I thought I'd share with you what I've been doing to try and fan the flames.

On Wednesday, I went on a "date" with my writing and wrote a topical article in one sitting for my local paper, the Leicester Mercury, emailing it off in the early hours of the morning so that I could finally feel like a proper journalist again.

Next I did an exercise from a book I've mentioned before called Living Write by Kelly L. Stone which was all about setting long-term (ten year) goals, mid-term (five year) goals and short-term (one to three year) goals for your writing. The idea is that you have, as the author calls it, a "Vision of Success Plus", which should help motivate you to get down to your writing now, in order to work towards achieving your goals.

For instance, if your goal is to have written ten children's novels by the time the ten years are up (which happens to be my goal!) then you need to be writing one of them NOW because, as Kelly Stone points out, books don't write themselves. As a result of doing this exercise, I now have three sample chapters, a synopsis and a covering letter just requiring a quick final check before mailing out to a prospective publisher in the New Year.

I also more or less finished the three poems I want to write for the children's poetry anthology that I mentioned last time, using the same method as I did for the article and just "going for it".

If you read last week's post, you'll know that I came up with the analogy of how being a "long-term" writer is a bit like being in a long-term relationship. Sometimes you feel like you've fallen out of love with your writing/partner and you need to find ways to re-kindle the passion. So, based on what I've achieved this week, here are my three top tips to get you feeling "loved-up" again.

1.  Set some long-term and short-term goals for your writing/relationship and use them to motivate yourself to make some progress NOW!

2. Find an aspect of writing/your partner that you really like and just focus on that for a while.

3. Go for it. No holds barred. Write something in one sitting, edit it, proof it and send it off. Trust me, it's a great feeling. (I'll leave you to work out for yourself what the relationship analogy is there!)

Good luck and don't forget to do some writing in between those bouts of last-minute Christmas shopping.

    

Friday, 9 December 2011

Stop Pretending (Part 2)

I've just looked back at my last blog post after a few hours away and it does seem rather negative and self-indulgent which isn't really fair on you, my readers. Also, I've just spent £26 on some bookmarks to advertise my blog as a place where people can go for free advice and tips about writing and I'm not sure that last post really fits the description!

So here is a little extra post to make up for the last one.

While I was in the kitchen making yet another cup of coffee, a quote that I'd pinned on the wall a while ago caught my eye. 

"Remember you love writing. It wouldn't be worth it if you didn't. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back." AL Kennedy  

At that very moment, by a strange coincidence (or not), the song Sometimes When We Touch by Dan Hill came on the radio. This is one of my all time favourite love songs and you don't hear it played very often. One of the lines..."the honesty's too much"...made me think that perhaps I'd been a little bit too honest in my last post. Then another line..."the passion flares again"...reminded me that in many ways, being a long-term writer is rather like being in a long-term relationship. After seventeen years as a professional writer, I  think I may have fallen out of love with writing, although hopefully only on a temporary basis, especially as I've recently been having "affairs" with the other areas of my portfolio career.

I'm sure if I wrote to an "agony aunt" in one of the women's magazines and asked for some advice because I'd fallen out of love with my partner of seventeen years, they would probably give me something like the following advice which can also (more or less) be applied to writing.

1. Start spending lots of quality time alone with your partner/writing.
2. Go on "dates" with your partner/writing again.
3. Remember what it was that made you fall in love with your partner/writing and see if you can recapture the "magic".
4. Look back at the enjoyable things you and your partner/writing have done together.
5. Talk to your partner/writing about how you feel and if you're both feeling the same way, a session or two with a relationship counsellor/writing coach might help.

(OK, I know that last one sounds a bit weird!)

Anyway, I promise I'll try to take the "agony aunt's" advice (at least where my writing is concerned) and hopefully by the time I blog again, I'll be ankle-deep in red roses and champagne!   

Stop Pretending

For the first time since I started this blog, I honestly don't know what to write about. Up to now, I've always arrived at this space with a definite idea such as a book or a website to share with fellow writers, a post based on an item I've read about in a writing magazine or some writing-related tips based on my own writing experiences.

The truth is, I've hardly done any writing for days now and I think it's time to come clean and stop pretending that I'm currently working on lots of commissions, that the phone has never stopped ringing and that my email in-box is full of correspondence from editors and agents.

Yes, I have a detailed plan of intended work for this month on my wall. Yes, I have at least one deadline (children's poems for a  sports and games anthology www.nawe.co.uk/DB/jobs-and-opportunities/sports-and-games-anthology.html) and yes, I have the very pleasant editors at Fractured West (see last blog post) "looking forward" to my contribution. I also have one children's novel almost ready to send out, another one (still!) waiting to be finished and more non-fiction ideas for articles and books than I can possibly ever write.

So what's the problem? I know I've mentioned before that I have problems getting down to writing but that once I've started, I don't want to stop. However, this usually only applies on a daily basis. Now I'm finding that I can't start at the beginning of the week, either. I'm ashamed to admit that it is already the early hours of Saturday morning, (despite what the time label on this post may say!) and this is the first actual writing I've done all week.

Of course, I can come up with excuses. I'm really tired. I probably need a week off. I've been using up a lot of writing time and energy creating a website (soon to be launched at www.melissalawrenceportfolio.com) for my "portfolio career". I had some friends drop by whom I hadn't seen for over a year. It's coming up to Christmas. It's freezing cold in my office, especially at 3am. The list could go on and on but what strikes me as interesting is that I have still managed to do everything else. I've still crafted, practised my music, done (unusually!) lots of housework, defrosted the fridge, paid the bills, replied to all my emails...that list could go on and on as well.

So what is it about writing that makes it so easy to avoid? Is it the lack of deadlines? (Obviously not as I have at least one looming.) Is it having too many writing projects on the go? (Possibly but that has never stopped me before.) Is it a lack of knowing what to write about? (Not really. Once I actually start a specific writing task, the ideas usually flow.) Or is it simply that if I don't do any writing, the only really bad thing that will happen is I'll feel guilty and let's face it, I can live with that?

If anyone has any other (polite!) suggestions I'd be delighted to hear from them. I've mentioned before somewhere that putting a copy of your latest gas/electricity bill next to the computer is supposed to motivate you to write. This of course implies that you are earning enough money from your writing to pay said bill and that is the subject of a whole other post!

Friday, 2 December 2011

Micro-Fiction (Fractured West)

What is micro-fiction? In an article I wrote recently for Leaf Writers' Magazine (http://www.leafbooks.co.uk/) I defined it as "an interesting and well-constructed story in 500 words or less". Micro-fiction or flash fiction as it is sometimes known, has become extremely popular and I must admit to being quite a fan of both reading and writing it.

So I was really pleased to receive the latest issue of Fractured West (http://www.fracturedwest.com/) which is an extremely professional looking magazine described by the editors as "an independent not-for-profit literary magazine publishing the most exciting short fiction by new and emerging writers round the world".

I've only had time to skim through my copy but from what I've seen so far, there looks to be some really interesting and original stuff including one thought-provoking story which is only 36 words long. I'm looking forward to reading it in depth and hopefully submitting something soon. The editors seem very approachable and open to submissions especially from new and unpublished writers (although most of the contributors in this issue were from outside the UK) and there are helpful submission guidelines on the website.

Meanwhile, I thought I'd share my tips on writing micro-fiction with you. Let me know if you have any of your own to add.

1. Start from scratch. Don't re-work an existing longer story as successful micro-fiction needs a life of its own.
2. Give your story a really strong opening as you only have one or two sentences at the most to grab the reader.
3. Remember that it has to be a story, not an anecdote or a monologue. You still need the three Cs: central character, conflict and conclusion.
4. Because you have such a limited word count, accept that lots of elements of your story will need to be implied.
5. Count words on hard copy as many times as you can, especially for competitions where the word count is crucial.
6. Don't think (as I often do!) that you can just dash off a piece of micro-fiction because it is so short. The shorter the story, the more you need to get it right.

Good luck with your own micro-fiction. I'm off to read Fractured West and try to put my tips into practice.