Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Writing.Com

Writing.Com will be ten years old tomorrow and will be celebrating from 1st to 10th September with birthday themed writing contests and special activities.
 
There'll be prizes and giveaways of over 10 million Gift Points and if  you're already a member, you'll be gifted 1,000 points per day just for logging into your account.

Writing.com is an online community for writers of all interests and skill levels.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Summer waves goodbye

This last week of the summer holidays has taken me away from my writing as I prepare for my children's return to school. Already, autumn whispers in with it's cool breezes but before the holiday season is over, I thought I'd share some old summer photographs with you and a poem (not written by me) too.

See you in the autumn.

Joy Is Measured
Joy is touched through that we touch daily.
golden light stripes the wall in morning
as apparition appearing
(though no false god this!)
to silently nudge slumber with a most gentle alarm of holiday dream.
was it a dream? - no matter.
to heat, to water!
to the green depths of lake that curtain summer stage.
a dive, then first breath, the slow  blurring of edges,
the lack of form between things.
soon a plot unfolds.
cloud and shadow scheme,
draw plans on distant hills
while breeze, waiting in the wing,
rehearse with wave their entrance and exit,
the tricky part,
all the while whistling vaguely
in the manner of summer.
ah yes, summer.
the season meant to remind,
in the final act and measure,
that a clarity lies just out of sight
(on the lakebed perhaps)
awaiting the memory of future days.

by Ken Blackburn

Friday, 20 August 2010

Calling all scriptwriters - a competition for you

The people at Scripped are holding a scriptwriting contest in partnership with actorsandcrew.com. They're looking for a tennis related low budget script.

For further details and how to enter, follow this link.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Writing about where you live

Inside AA ROAD BOOK of ENGLAND and WALESImage by EraPhernalia Vintage via Flickr
This links back to 'drawing from your life experience'. The block of flats you walk by on the way to the bus stop or the railway station you use on a morning can all provide locations in your writing.

I've lived in various areas of England and Wales, and beyond that family connections have leant further familiarity to places in Yorkshire and Scotland. I can picture my home town with great detail, even though I don't live there anymore and have used that city for one of my novels (as yet unpublished).

The first few murder mystery plays written for Murdering The Text were based in and around an imaginary market town called Dedleigh. Dedleigh is based on several similar towns in Yorkshire.

A children's novel that I wrote a few years ago (again, unpublished) used a house and area where I lived near Croydon, Surrey.

In the novel I'm currently writing, the future set, modern city is completely imagined but the old town where the magic users live is based on suburban areas I have lived in, using not only the setting but also the feeling of community.

Look around you. Take photographs even. Remember how it felt to live in an area. These experiences, like the rest of your life experience, can lend a reality to base your imagined worlds in.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Progress with my novel

Actual writing of my novel has slowed down as the rest of my life seems to have taken over during the summer holidays. However, I've come to the conclusion that the title 'Split' isn't the right one for my novel so I'm thinking on that one. The title 'Dark Divide' keeps coming to mind but I'm not 100% sold on that either. I think the novel itself will probably supply a title from the words of one of the characters. Fingers crossed.

The second development has been a realisation of the arc of my story and how it will expand into the other two books in the trilogy. A seemingly minor character in the first book will crop up again and a storyline mentioned in passing in book one will carry us through to the final instalment. A second minor character from book one will provide a large part of the storyline in book two and this will involve a new magic user who uses jewellery and stones to influence people.

That all sounds quite vague but I'm pleased that my trilogy is knitting together into a cohesive whole.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Another competition for you

As a writer, I always look forward to getting my yearly copy of the Writers and Artists Yearbook. An incredibly useful resource of listings for publishers and agents, it also includes an excellent range of articles on different areas of writing.

You can win a copy of the Writers and Artists Yearbook 2011 or the Children's Writers and Artists Yearbook 2011 by visiting this link. I've entered already. Good luck!

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Win a book!

Summary Peter F. Hamilton signing his Night's ...Image via Wikipedia
Fans of sci fi, fantasy and the writer, Peter F Hamilton should get over to the Pan Macmillan site where they're holding a competition to win a signed copy of Peter F Hamilton's novel, The Evolutionary Void.

The Evolutionary Void is the concluding volume in the Void Trilogy. It is tentatively scheduled for a worldwide release in September 2010.

Peter also has a blog if you'd like to keep up with the latest news about his writing.

Here's the link to the competition page.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Do you back up?

I trusted my laptop computer completely, until one day it died. As it happened, I was mid-write, working on a murder mystery play. I was on the final straight, approaching the finish line and *puff* the screen went blank. I quietly cursed my laptop as I tried to remember whether I'd saved recently. What I'd written was still fresh in my mind though so past the initial annoyance, it wasn't a disaster.

I pressed the 'On' button. Nothing happened. I checked the power supply which was fine and pressed the 'On' button again. The laptop remained lifeless on my lap. Fighting the rising panic, I tried again. Still, there was no response. My laptop was dead.

At that time, I was not in the habit of backing up but thankfully everything was not lost as my husband, an IT bod, managed to strip down my laptop and rescue the hard drive. Still, it taught me a particularly important lesson - back up your files.

I now back up on a regular basis onto a separate hard disk. It may be a bore but it's better than losing my writing. Get the backing up habit and you won't regret it.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Drawing from your life experience

Write what you know. That phrase comes up time and time again in creative writing tutorials. For many years I dismissed this piece of advice, not through disrespect but because the story ideas I had required me to write about things I didn't know. I didn't know about living in a Tolkien-esque world. I didn't know about fighting in a battle. I certainly didn't know about grieving the death of a loved one.

In my early twenties, I attended a writing class run by a very talented poet called Pat Borthwick. Pat placed great value on life experience and encouraged us to use our memories and every day lives to enrich our writing.

Most of my class members were older than me and it seemed at the time that they had so much more 'life' to write from compared to my own twenty or so years. There was a wonderful American lady in her sixties or seventies who had lived in Burma for many years. If I remember rightly, her husband was a diplomat connected with the American Embassy. Each week she brought with her a flask of coke and some alcoholic beverage, and a wealth of stories about her life in Burma. I particularly remember a story about the crow's court who sat in attendance in the tree at the bottom of her garden. Another lady of similar age who had lived her whole life in the local area provided tales that were equally as interesting and full of warmth and rich memories. She wrote of her children (now grown up), the death of her parents and trips to the sea. A third group member, a quietly spoken man in his forties wrote with a grace and eloquence that matched his distinguished voice but his stories were also saturated with feelings of bitterness towards his ex wife.

A decade passed and my life experience changed. I now knew how it felt to have my heart broken. I knew the pain of seeing someone I loved die. I was also more independent and self sufficient, having lived in bedsit land in a big city. I was dating a man called Tony, ten years older than me, divorced, father to seven children (yes, seven) and an ex fireman. He was a writer too. We critiqued each other's work. He dismissed my writing as naive. I saw his as depressing. We were each drawing from our own lives which were very different. We didn't last.

It's only in the now, another decade later, that I've come to appreciate  what 'write what you know' really means. It isn't a limiting, stoic instruction designed to keep us in our place. Instead, it's a suggestion to base your story in the reality of what you have lived through, to make your characters as real as the individuals that you meet every day. I can explain this by looking at one of the characters in my novel. Isabella may have magical skills and live in a future world where trees are only a memory, but I based her experience as a mother on my life with my children. We have both lost our parents and at times in my life I have been as motivated by fear as she is. Her character is shaped by my life, by what I know.

Each and every one of us, however old or young we are, has a wealth of experience to write from. We all carry the richness of our reality, a reality which can form a solid foundation for our writing.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Sunday, 8 August 2010

An interview with Christina Katz

Christina Katz is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform and Writer Mama, how to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids for Writer's Digest Books. She has written hundreds of articles for national, regional, and online publications, presents at literary and publishing events around the country, and is a monthly columnist for the Williamette Writer. Katz publishes a weekly e-zine, The Prosperous Writer, and hosts The Northwest Author Series. She holds an MFA in writing from Columbia College Chicago and a BA from Dartmouth College. A "gentle taskmaster" to her hundred or so students each year, Katz channels over a decade of professional writing experience into success strategies that help writers get on track and get published.

Q: What is a platform?

CK: Long story short. Your platform communicates your expertise to others, and it works all the time so you don't have to. Your platform includes your Web presence, any public speaking you do, the classes you teach, the media contacts you've established, the articles you've published, and any other means you currently have for making your name and future books known to a viable readership. If others already recognise your expertise on a given topic or for a specific audience or both, then that is your platform.

A platform-strong writer is a writer with influence. Get Known explains in plain English, without buzzwords, how any writer can stand out from the crowd of other writers and get the book deal. The book clears an easy-to-follow path through a formerly confusing forest of ideas so that even the most inexperienced platform-builder can get started building a solid platform.

Q: Why is platform development important for writers today?

CK: Learning about and working on a solid platform plan gives writers an edge in selling books. Agents and editors have known this for years and have been looking for platform-strong writers and getting them deals. But from the writer's point-of-view, there has not been enough information on platform development to help unprepared writers put their best platform forward.

Now suddenly, there is a flood of information on platform, not all necessarily comprehensive, useful or well organised for folks who don't have a platform yet. Writers can promote themselves in a gradual, grounded manner without feeling like they are selling out. I do it, I teach other writers to do it, I write about it on an ongoing basis, and I encourage all writers to heed the trend. And hopefully, I communicate how in a practical, step-by-step manner that can serve any writer. Something we never hear enough is that platform development is an inside job requiring concentration, thoughtfulness and a consideration of personal values.

Q: Why was a book on platform development needed?

CK: At every conference I presented, I took polls and found that about 50 percent of attendees expressed a desire for a clearer understanding of platform. Some were completely in the dark about it, even though they were attending a conference in hopes of landing a book deal. Writers often underestimate how important platform is and they often don't leverage the platform they already have as much as they could. Since book deals are granted largely based on the impressiveness of a writer's platform, I wanted to address the communication gap.

My intention was that Get Known would be the book every writer would want to read before attending a writer’s conference, and that it would increase any writer’s chances of landing a book deal whether they pitched in-person or by query. As I wrote the book, I saw how this type of information was being offered online as “insider secrets” at outrageous prices. No one should have to pay thousands of dollars for the information they can find in my book for the price of a paperback! Seriously. You can even ask your library to order it and read it for free.

Q: What is the key idea behind Get Known Before the Book Deal?

CK: Getting known doesn’t take a lot of money, but it does take an understanding of platform, and the investment of time, skills and consistent effort to build one. Marketing experience and technological expertise are also not necessary. I show how to avoid the biggest time and money-waster, which is not understanding who your platform is for and why – and hopefully save writers from the confusion and inertia that can result from either information overload or not taking the big picture into account before they jump into writing for traditional publication.

Q: Why is there so much confusion about platform among writers?

CK: Often writers with weak platforms are over-confident that they can impress agents and editors, while others with decent platforms are under-confident or aren’t stressing their platform-strength enough. Writers have to wear so many hats these days, we can use all the help we can get. Platform development is a muscle, and the more you use it, the stronger it gets. Anyone can do it, but most don’t or won’t because they either don’t understand what is being asked for, or they haven’t overcome their own resistance to the idea. Get Known offers a concrete plan that can help any writer make gains in the rapidly changing and increasingly competitive publishing landscape.

Q: What is the structure of the book and why did you choose it?

CK: Get Known has three sections: section one is mostly stories and cautionary tales, section two has a lot of to-do lists any writer should be able to use, and section three is how to articulate your platform clearly and concisely so you won’t waste a single minute wondering if you are on the right track.

Most of the platform books already out there were for authors, not writers or aspiring authors. To make platform evolution easy to comprehend, I dialed the concepts back to the beginning and talked about what it’s like to try and find your place in the world as an author way before you’ve signed a contract, even before you’ve written a book proposal. No one had done that before in a book for writers. I felt writers needed a context in which to chart a course towards platform development that would not be completely overwhelming.

Q: At the front of Get Known, you discuss four phases of the authoring process. What are they?

CK: First comes the platform development and building phase. In this phase you are developing authority and trust. Second comes the book proposal development phase (or if you are writing fiction, the book-writing phase). In this phase, you are leveraging your expertise and your persuasive writing skills. Third, comes the actual writing of the book (for fiction writers this is likely the re-writing of the book). In this phase, you demonstrate that you are a skilled writer, who understands how to craft polished prose. And finally, once the book is published, comes the book marketing and promoting phase. In this final phase, you leverage all your existing influence and connect with as many readers as you can.

Many first-time authors scramble once they get a book deal if they haven’t done a thorough job on the platform development phase. Writers who already have a platform have influence with a fan base, and they can leverage that influence no matter what kind of book they write. Writing a book is a lot easier if you are not struggling to find readers for the book at the same time. Again, agents and editors have known this for a long time.

Q: What are some common platform mistakes writers make?

CK: Here are a few:

  • They don’t spend time clarifying who they are to others.
  • They don’t zoom in specifically on what they offer.
  • They confuse socializing with platform development.
  • They think about themselves too much and their audience not enough.
  • They don’t precisely articulate all they offer so others get it immediately.
  • They don’t create a plan before they jump online.
  • They undervalue the platform they already have.
  • They are overconfident and think they have a solid platform when they have only made a beginning.
  • They burn out from trying to figure out platform as they go.
  • They imitate “insider secrets” instead of trusting their own instincts.
  • They blog like crazy for six months and then look at their bank accounts and abandon the process as going nowhere.
Suffice it to say that many writers promise publishers they have the ability to make readers seek out and purchase their book. But when it comes time to demonstrate this ability, they can’t deliver.

Q: You write, teach, speak and blog. What motivates you?

CK: My mission is to empower writers to be 100 percent responsible for their writing career success and stop looking to others to do their promotional work for them. Get Known shows writers of every stripe how to become the writer who can not only land a book deal, but also influence future readers to plunk down ten or twenty bucks to purchase their book. It all starts with a little preparation and planning. The rest unfolds from there. But you’ve got to start working on your platform today, if you want to become an author some day. Get Known can help anyone get off to a solid start.


Christina Katz is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform and Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids for Writer’s Digest Books. She has written hundreds of articles for national, regional, and online publications, presents at literary and publishing events around the country, and is a monthly columnist for the Willamette Writer. Katz publishes a weekly e-zine, The Prosperous Writer, and hosts The Northwest Author Series. She holds an MFA in writing from Columbia College Chicago and a BA from Dartmouth College. A “gentle taskmaster” to her hundred or so students each year, Katz channels over a decade of professional writing experience into success strategies that help writers get on track and get published. Learn more at ChristinaKatz.com.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

7 ways to boost your creativity

1. Be a child

One of the biggest lessons my children have taught me is how to play. To them, there is a world of magic and adventure in our garden. They look at a fallen leaf and see a fairy boat to be floated on our pond. The space behind a tree, hidden from the path, is a hiding place for mythical beasties. Even an oddly shaped cloud is a dragon flying in for a visit.

As adults going through the daily grind, we often spend so much time concentrating on the tasks ahead of us that we forget to look at the possibilities around us. Next time you have a moment to spare, take a look at the world through the eyes of the child that you once were.

2. Turn your hand to a different artistic skill

If you're a writer, try drawing or painting. If you're a painter, try singing or playing a musical instrument. If you're a musician, try to sculpt with clay. Just because you seek success in one artistic area, doesn't mean that you can't try your hand at another. I love writing but when my muse evades me, I turn to drawing with pastels or jewellery making. Changing tack creatively in this way often finds me returning to my writing with new ideas.

3. Be fearless

This is another lesson that I've learnt from my children. So often fear and self doubt keep us from even trying something. We doubt our talent or possibilities at success. How could anyone possibly take me seriously? Who am I kidding? We sabotage ourselves before we've begun.

My children don't care if they don't get a dance move right first time. They draw and sing to have fun. Write first for yourself and your own enjoyment. Be fearless. Just do it.

4. Housework

If ever you needed an excuse to clean your house or file those bank statements, here it is. When ideas just will not come, when your character becomes tongue-tied and your narrative loses its oomph, stop. Step away from the keyboard (or pen and paper) and do something mundane that requires little thought. Weeding is probably the best task for me in this situation. I switch off and attack the wee green invaders in my garden. Nine times out of ten, rebooting my imagination in this way allows my mind to reconsider my writing.

5. People Watch

I'm not suggesting anything illegal or covert here. No binoculars please. What I am suggesting is this. Take yourself out of the house (or office) to a place where you can innocently (and in a socially acceptable manner) watch people as they pass by. It could be a park, your local high street or a cafe. Now try to work out where the people might be going? Furthermore, ask yourself why? What are they called? What are the details of their life - married, childless, a grandparent? If they're in a bad mood, then what caused it? A word of warning though: please, don't follow them. In this country, that is called 'stalking'.

6. Move to a different location

If your writing location isn't serving you (or is even hindering the creative flow), then move your writing plot to somewhere else. It can be as easy as moving from the study to your bedroom where the light is different and you can see the trees in the garden. With a little more effort, you can take a pen and pad to a local cafe or the park. A new location can throw a drastically different light on your writing and provide new inspiration.

7. Write with pen and paper

Finally, if the computer screen continues to glare at you blankly, why not switch it off (after saving anything you have written - even if it's only the title). Grab a pen or pencil and a pad and try to write the old fashioned way. I find writing like this encourages me to write more freely than if I'm typing and discourages me from editing until the end.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Is your story an ugly duckling?

Sometimes you can look at a seed and know exactly what it will grow into. Other times it's more a case of the ugly duckling who grows into a beautiful swan - who knew? Either scenario is fine as long as you allow your youngling idea a little room to grow.

The idea for my novel is an excellent example of the duckling and swan scenario. What started out as a Tolkien-esque fantasy novel took several turns before I moved it to a new setting - a version of our future. As soon as I made that change, the novel took on a new, refreshed identity.

One of my favourite characters, Born started out as a bit part - an assassin who would fail and die quite early in the novel. From that, her character developed emotionally, falling in love with another villain and ultimately being destroyed by his death. In the current version of the novel, in it's future setting, she's different again.

Don't be afraid to let your story and characters change if they're not working. It's all part of the growing process.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The Sitcom Skirmish

You can now find the sitcom writing journey of my husband and me on a new blog called 'The Sitcom Skirmish'.

"This blog is all about the journey - the journey from a writer's perspective of having a written pilot in front of them (which they themselves think is a potential hit) to taking it through to its naural conclusion.

The best case scenario is obviously international renown, BAFTA awards, a knighthood, winning the Nobel Peace Prize, bronze statues being erected in the nation's capital etc. The worst case is a simple journey of experience and the script lining the floor of our guinea pig cage..."

The script for the pilot is almost finished. Follow 'The Sitcom Skirmish' to find out what we do next.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Books on this Blog

When I started listing books that I had mentioned on this blog via two widgets on the right hand column of this page, I didn't realise quite how long and unwieldy that list would become.

I have now replaced the widget with a link which leads to a page that I've set up on Amazon. I'm not selling the books myself but Amazon may just pay me a small tip, should you like my list sufficiently to make a purchase. Alternatively, use the information on there to find out about the book and then go borrow it from your local library. The choice is yours.

Happy reading.

The Power of Three

All good things come in threes, or so they say. But when three bad things happen, people often say, "Well, that's your three over with now".

Three is a number that appears to permeate almost every area of human culture. In the world of mathematics, three is a prime number (divisible only by one and itself). Three sides and three angles form a triangle, often seen by mathematicians as the 'perfect shape'. Scientifically, three is the number of constituents of an atom and we perceive our world through three dimensions. In religion, there is the Christian Trinity, the Hindu Trimerti and the Three Jewels of Buddhism.

The list goes on and on. We seem to love, fear and sometimes worship the concept of 'three'. Storytellers are no different. Where would the Greek tale-spinners have been without their Three Fates? Shakespeare chose to feature three witches in his Scottish Play (oh, all right then, Macbeth). There are Three Musketeers and three books in the Lord of the Rings. Even our children have three blind mice, three little pigs and those three bears who were burgled by Goldilocks.

As a writer, the use of three as a way to list or order can give a rhythm, richness and strength to our writing. Imagine three people, their hands linked and intertwined in the space between them. How difficult would it be to pull them apart and how beautiful is the shape that they make?

Have a look at these three examples, then try it for yourself.

Firstly, an alliterative three from 'Indian Summer of an Uncle' by P G Wodehouse,

"Ask anyone at the Drones, and they will tell you that Bertram Wooster is a fellow whom it is dashed difficult to deceive."

Returning to 'Macbeth',

"She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!"

Finally from 'Francis Macomber' by Ernest Hemingway,

"Then watching the object, not afraid, but hesitating before going down the bank to drink with such a thing opposite him, he saw a man figure detach itself from it and he turned his heavy hand and swung away toward the cover of the trees as he heard a cracking crash and felt the slam of a .30-06 220 grain solid bullet that bit his flank and ripped in sudden hot scalding nausea through his stomach. Then it crashed again and he felt the blow as it hit his lower ribs and ripped on through, blood sudden hot and frothy in his mouth, and he galloped toward the higher grass where he could crouch and not be seen..."

Monday, 2 August 2010

The Prosperous Writer

I mentioned Christina Katz's website and newsletter, The Prosperous Writer earlier this year. Since the beginning of January, she has been providing a weekly article on the qualities of prosperous writers. I thought you might be interested to hear what she has mentioned so far.

1. Dedication
2. Self Respect
3. Focus
4. Service
5. Perseverance
6. Passion
7. Containment
8. Humility
9. Saleable
10. Accountability
11. Good Health
12. Balance
13. Creativity
14. Experience
15. Bravery
16. Groundedness
17. Happiness
18. Self Producing
19. Strong Boundaries
20. Clarity
21. Authenticity
22. Commitment
23. Vision
24. Slightly Dissatisfied (my personal favourite so far)
25. Rhythmic
26. Joyful
27. Integrated
28. Empowerment
29. Polite
30. Busy

If you'd like to subscribe to this helpful and informative newsletter, visit her website.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Lammas

Today is not only the first day of August but also Lammas, pagan celebration of the first harvest of the year, the early crop.

As the plants in your garden are still growing, so your plans are continuing and ongoing. This is the time to take pleasure in what you've achieved so far this year and look ahead with happy expectation to continuing that journey.

My children and I will be making bread loaves today to eat with our Sunday roast. My daughter wants to shape hers into a doll and my son's will probably end up being an alien from Ben 10. I think I'll make some plaited bread loaves myself. If you decide to make bread today too, then don't forget to leave the crumbs out for the birds.

Have a wonderful day.