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 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 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 ( 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 ( 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.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Just a quick post this week as after blogging last week about Sue Johnson's new book 'Creative Alchemy: 12 steps from inspiration to finished novel' I'm determined to spend most of this week's writing time working on mine.

One of the (many) things I've found difficult about freelance writing and journalism over the years is getting hold of a copy of the magazines I think I'd like to write for. This sounds as though it should be really easy but in my experience it's not.

"How to" books, articles and some editors often say that you should study at least six issues of any target magazine. This is rather OTT in my opinion (a couple of recent issues should tell you pretty much all you need to know) but they never seem to advise on how to get hold of sample copies.

Obviously the popular weekly titles are usually available at the newsagents but monthly or quarterly ones can cause problems. If a magazine is on subscription only for instance, it is completely unrealistic to take out an expensive year's subscription on the off-chance that you might want to pitch an idea to that magazine. However, asking for a sample copy, unless the magazine has a system in place for would-be contributors (small press poetry magazines are particularly good at this) tends to make you look amateurish and rarely results in a copy landing on your desk.

Over the years I've tried several different (legal) ways of obtaining sample copies and have even considered pretending to be a prospective advertiser! I was really pleased therefore to come across (

This site allows you to buy single copies of a huge range of magazines, whether they are on subscription or not. Postage rates are very reasonable and delivery, in my experience, is just a couple of days. There is also a way of zooming in and looking at the covers of back issues which I've found particularly useful in seeing what topics the magazine has recently covered.

So my advice would be to log on, choose a few titles that take your fancy and before you know it, the postman will be coming up your drive with a whole host of potential markets.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Creative Alchemy: 12 steps from inspiration to published novel

I'm always interested in new books about writing and happy to promote them if I feel they would be of interest and use to other writers. In the case of writer and tutor Sue Johnson's new book 'Creative Alchemy: 12 Steps from inspiration to finished novel' it was a "no-brainer" as her book is definitely one to get hold of if like me, you are keen to get a novel published but are having difficulty starting or, as in my case, finishing.

The title 'Creative Alchemy' comes from Sue's belief that writing is "a magical process that turns the base metal of your original idea into a memorable story". I really like this description of writing and it prompted me to ask Sue a few questions about her book and how she came to write it. Here are her answers.

Why did you decide to write 'Creative Alchemy'?
The trigger came from when I read an article stating that for every 100 novels started, only one was completed. The reasons given for the 99 per cent that failed included running out of steam, loss of confidence in the project and negative messages from the past or from friends and family. Many of my writing students have spoken of the "gremlin voice" inside their heads that often sounds like a former teacher or disapproving parent. I've found that once this problem is addressed, it's a bit like opening a door. It's wonderful to witness writers stepping through and seeing their writing blossom. 

How much of 'Creative Alchemy' was based on your experience of writing your own recently published novel 'Fable's Fortune'? (
When I wrote the first draft of Fable's Fortune' in 1998, I was battling these same negative messages as I'd just parted from a husband who would repeatedly say, "Don't tell people you write, they'll think you're weird". Having gained my freedom, I kept writing, spilling words onto the page and determined to reach the end of the story. I didn't return to the first draft for several years but by then the story had grown and developed inside my head. I'd also written the first drafts of several more novels and had numerous poems and short stories published but the determination to see at least one novel published never left me.

How easy was it to get 'Creative Alchemy' published?
It was easier than pitching a novel but the whole process still took about a year.

What advice would you give to someone, such as myself, who is struggling to finish their current novel?
Once a first draft is completed, there is more likelihood of the writer taking time to revise and polish it. Many people worry too much about getting things 'right' as they go along, rather than just getting the whole story down and tidying up later.Over the years I've seen writers with brilliant ideas give up too easily. I've also seen writers of average ability go on to achieve great success because they were determined to do so. My mission with 'Creative Alchemy' is to encourage more people to think positively and not stop until they've achieved their writing dreams.

Thanks Sue. You have definitely inspired me to get on with my novel!

Sue's top tips for writers include:
1. Write every day even if you lack inspiration.
2. Carry a notebook.
3. Finish what you start.
4. Ignore negative criticism and believe in yourself.
5. Have a minimum of five pieces of work in circulation.
6. Keep going until you achieve your dream.

You can find out more about Sue and pick up other useful writing tips at

'Creative Alchemy: 12 steps from inspiration to finished novel' is published by HotHive Books (


Friday, 11 November 2011

The Plough Poetry Prize

If you have visited my website (
you will know that one of the things I write is poetry for children. I've had some of my poems published in anthologies by publishers such as MacMillan and Oxford University Press and I've also been placed in competitions.

Unfortunately, the anthology work seems to have dried up, probably because mainstream publishers are wary of publishing poetry for children because it gets such a raw deal on the National Curriculum and also because, when faced with budget cuts, poetry seems to be the first thing to go.

I've been touting There's A Gorilla In My Pyjamas, my collection of poetry for younger children, round various publishers with no success, although it was a pretty near miss with Meadowside Children's Publishers ( I've also been trying to get someone interested in my collection of poems for older children called I Wandered Lonely As A Snog but I'm beginning to think that self-publishing is the best chance of getting a first poetry collection into print.

This leads me to the point of this post as I am currently working on an entry for the Poem for Children category of the 2011 Plough Poetry Prize ( It's a fairly prestigious competition (this year's judge in the main categories is Andrew Motion) and is also one of the few competitions that has a category for poems for children.

I've entered it for the last couple of years but was disappointed last year to not even make the long list (it is a very long long list!) so I decided to do a bit more research on the way the competition is organised before I sent in my entry.

I discovered that for the Poems for Children category, a panel of adults draws up the long list. From this long list, fourteen poems are chosen which are illustrated, then printed in a booklet which is distributed among primary school children who vote for the eventual winner.

My dilemma here is do I write a poem for children that appeals to adults in order to try and get through the first stage of judging or do I write a poem that appeals to children and hope that the adults judge the poem from a child's point of view? (And do I submit a poem that will lend itself to illustration and is short enough to fit into the booklet or do I just write what I feel like? I can't help wondering whether the writer of last year's winning poem which was four lines about a cross-eyed cat had this in mind.) 

Of course, this brings into focus the wider issue of whether there is such a thing as a 'Poem for Children' or whether a really good poem should be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Do children need a certain type of poetry or as poets, should we be writing for "the child within" anyway?

The Plough competition organisers have clearly given this some thought as they begin their supplementary notes with this quote from Ted Hughes: ''Writing for children is a curious occupation and the most curious thing about it is that we think children need a special kind of poetry."

The other question of course is one that applies to all forms of writing for children, not just poetry. Who actually buys children's books? I know from talking to staff in bookshops that it is overwhelmingly adults who make the initial purchase, even though the book may be bought for a child. And this brings me back to the question of self-publishing my collections. If I were to publish them as E-books for instance, who would buy them? Adults or their intended audience, children?

Anyway, if you want to put in an entry for the Plough Poetry Prize you have until 30th November 2011 and there are short and open categories as well as Poems for Children. Critiques (tick box) are available for an additional £6.00.

Meanwhile, here is one of my poems for children (or is it for adults?) that I won't be entering for the competition.

Conversation Area

Mum and Dad took me to a conversation area.
It was very green.
We talked a lot.
I saved a snail.

Copyright Melissa Lawrence 2011  


Saturday, 5 November 2011

Writing World

Just a brief post this week as I am feeling a bit under the weather (again) but as usual, not too ill to find another useful writing-related website.

This time it is which describes itself as "a world of writing information for writers around the world" although it appears to be based in East Sussex.

As well as lots of useful articles and other information covering many writing genres, what I particularly like about the site is that you can very easily subscribe to a pretty substantial free newsletter. This is issued on the first and third Thursday of each month and comes in the body of an email so that you can either print it out as hard copy or save it on your desk top if you care about the planet.

Although the newsletter seems more geared to American writers, the articles are fairly universal in their content. The current issue has an excellent article on E-book publishing which I found really interesting, especially as it answered a question about E-books that has been bothering me for some time. (Do they spell the end of good quality literature now that every Tom, Dick and Harriet can publish one?)

The newsletters also recommend books, websites, blogs and competitions for writers and the editorial stance seems to be that freelance writing should be seen as a "proper" job with a decent wage, something I am always keen to promote.

So far, subscribing to the free newsletter has not resulted in my in-box filling up with unwanted emails so why not give it a go? After all, the October 20 issue recommended Simon Whaley's blog ( so it can't be bad!


Friday, 28 October 2011

No Contacts? No Problem!

I have been feeling "under the weather" again this week so it was good to get a bit of a boost today with the arrival of the November issue of Freelance Market News ( as a letter I sent in recently was published as the star letter.

I wrote the letter in response to a reader who had asked about the problem of commissioning editors wanting to see a "portfolio of work" and how you are supposed to achieve this if you can't get a commission without a portfolio of work. (Catch-22 and all that.)

My reply was to point them in the direction of an excellent book by experienced freelance writer Catherine Quinn ( called 'No Contacts? No Problem! How to Pitch and Sell a Freelance Feature' (Methuen Drama). I read this book a while back and reviewed it for The New Writer ( and it is well worth getting hold of. Not only will it help if you are trying to land your first article commission but it is also very informative if you are a well-established freelancer looking to improve your sales and marketing techniques.

To quote from my TNW review: "The author takes a positive view when it comes to believing that anyone can land a commission, providing they can write reasonably well, regardless of whether or not they have been published before. Where editors are concerned, idea is everything. If you come across as confident, present your ideas in a format that the editor likes and can pitch to the right person, you have as good a chance as any "seasoned pro" of seeing your work in print."

Even if you are already getting commissions, Catherine's book is useful in reminding the reader that market before idea is always the right way of doing things, pitching ideas is a necessity not a luxury for the jobbing writer and freelance writing is much more about marketing than writing. Oh and it is vital to have a thick skin when it comes to dealing with editors!

Judging by my success rate with articles recently (after a period of having whole pages to myself in The Guardian and eight-page supplements in national women's magazines), I think it is probably time I read the book again.   

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Rant Against Writers' Groups

When I opened my copy of the Autumn issue of The New Writer earlier today ( I was rather surprised to see how many times my name appeared. It was nine times if anyone other than me is interested, even beating the great Simon Whaley (Hi Simon!) who was only mentioned seven times, although I'm happy to accept a re-count if he insists on one.

On a more serious note, the reason for this unusual proliferation was because a while back, I had a piece published in the open "rant" slot of TNW explaining why, in my opinion, professional writers shouldn't belong to writers' groups. I admit I had my Polly Toynbee hat on at the time and was trying to be a bit controversial but nevertheless, I stand by everything I said in that piece.

Much to my surprise, someone agreed with me. Someone also strongly disagreed with me, saying I had been"extremely patronising" and expressing great relief that I wasn't a member of their writers' group (I'm a pussy-cat really!) but isn't that the point of good journalism?

The someone who agreed with me was Roger Harvey who wrote a full page in response to my "rant", beginning by congratulating me on having the courage to speak out against writers' groups and TNW on having the courage to print my views. I realise I wasn't being congratulated on having the courage to speak out against apartheid or illegal phone tapping but it's the first time I've ever been congratulated for speaking "the truth" so thank you very much for that, Roger.

Anyway, the reason I'm blogging about this is not to boast (honestly!) but because I think the question about the use and validity of writers' groups for professional writers is a subject that should be up for "healthy debate" just like any other topic. Yes, there will be many people who disagree with my views especially as, in my opinion, the writing trade magazines seem keen to promote the idea that belonging to a writers' group is definitely the thing to do if you want to become a writer.

I don't actually disagree with that, as I said in my original article. It's just that I totally agree with Roger when he says that membership of certain kinds of writers' groups is definitely not "a reliable route to publication and success". In fact I would go one step further by saying that it can even hold your writing career back or keep it "stuck" in a less than desirable place.

So my (controversial!) view is that by all means join a group to help kick-start your writing career but once you've made it onto a respectable rung of the ladder, don't be looking to the cosy confines of a writers' group to help you move up even further.

If you still think I'm wrong, ask yourself if you honestly feel that it is a good idea to mention in a covering letter to an editor or agent that you belong to a writers' group, unless you are writing about writers' groups, of course. And if that fails to change your mind, try the litmus test for all writing-related questions. Would JK Rowling belong to a writers' group?

I'm off now to hire a handsome bodyguard to defend me against any brickbats that might be coming my way but I'd love to hear your views on "the truth that dare not speak its name" so do get in touch. (Oh, and to make up for having a little bit of fun at Simon Whaley's expense, here is a link to his excellent website                

Friday, 14 October 2011

Writing On The Run

This may seem like an odd title for this week's post as I could barely walk last week, let alone run, due to my close encounters of the hall floor kind. However, even though I wasn't well enough to do much writing, I still managed to look at a few writing websites as I'm never too ill to do that.

During my "research", I came across a really interesting American website called Writing on the Run at which has some great advice, articles, tips and encouragement for writers as well as fun things like a Writer's Pet Quiz! (You select the pet you would be most likely to have and it tells you what sort of writer you are. Apparently I'm methodical, like to use longhand and would benefit from more disciplined time and space to meet my deadlines (very true!) because I would choose a hamster or a rabbit.

On a more serious note, the article I found most helpful had "coincidentally" recently been posted and is called '101 Tips and Ideas for Writing on the Run' by Allen and Linda Anderson ( As my regular readers know, finding the time and inclination to do any writing is something I regularly struggle with, especially when I feel as if I've just gone six rounds with George Forman, like I did last week.

This article has some really good tips for creating time and space in your life to write. (And some rather wacky ones. I'll probably have to give writing with a fountain pen by candlelight a miss.) I particularly liked the idea of setting up writing spaces in your most frequently used rooms, such as equipping a kitchen drawer with writing tools so that you can write for ten minutes while you're waiting for a saucepan to boil. I also really appreciated the idea of writing the words "For my eyes only" on a first draft so that your subconscious isn't censorious. My absolute favourite though is that if you are aiming for publication, you should start acting like a published writer. So get those teeth whitened and spruce up that wardrobe!

If you have any tips of your own for making time and space to write, you are invited to "Pay It Forward" (Tip Number 101) and help other writers by emailing a 100-word idea plus a 25-word bio to Your tip could even be published in a forthcoming book.  (Further details are on the website.)

Meanwhile, I'll share my favourite tip for writing with you...just do it!


Friday, 7 October 2011

No Show

Sorry that there is no new post this week. I am a "no show" due to the wheels coming off my trolley on Tuesday when I tried some glandular therapy treatment for my ongoing hypoadrenalism and ended up passed out on the hall floor. At the moment, my brain feels like it is full of cotton-wool and writing anything deep and meaningful (or even anything shallow and nonsensical) seems quite difficult. Hopefully normal service will be resumed as soon as possible so please do not adjust your settings.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Setting Goals

Do you set goals for your writing? And if so, do you achieve them? I think I must be addicted to goal-setting as I can't really function unless I have specific goals for every area of my life and that includes my writing.

As well as yearly writing goals, which I usually set at the beginning of September, I also have monthly goals, weekly goals and daily goals. Year goals are pretty specific and usually relate to how much actual writing I hope to produce in the coming year. (Not how much I hope to sell!) Current year goals include:

1. To finish the first draft of my life story "The Emptiness at the Edge of the World".
2. To (finally!) finish my 9-12 novel "Dear Egg" and send it out to agents.
3. To write twelve new short stories including flash fiction.

I also have some "recommendations" for the coming year based on my progress (or lack of it!) last year and they include:

1. To focus more on magazine markets and less on competitions.
2. To continue to network both in person and on-line.
3. To look at ways of bringing in more income through writing-related activities such as organising workshops, producing resources for writers etc

My monthly goals, which I set (not surprisingly) at the beginning of each month and review at the end, are also quite specific and are based on my year goals. For instance, if my year goal is to write twelve new short stories, then my monthly goal will be to write one of those twelve.

 Much less specific are my weekly and daily goals. This is mainly because I find it difficult to know exactly what I am going to be able to achieve on a weekly or daily basis (especially now that I have a 'portfolio career') and as I can get pretty cheesed-off with myself if I don't achieve my goals, I tend to make them more fluid. Of course, this may explain why Sunday is always the hardest working day of the week!

The general consensus about goal-setting is that you should always have SMART goals. In other words, any goals you set should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-related. According to an excellent article on the art of planning in the September 2011 issue of  Writing Magazine by Michael Allen ( which quotes the incredibly successful self-published ebook author John Locke (, "Your goals should be low enough to hit, and high enough to matter!"

Apparently, you are also more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. This is a useful thing to do anyway, as it helps you to focus and remember what you are supposed to be aiming for. And don't forget, it is OK to rewrite your goals as you go along if circumstances change or you find yourself moving in a new direction. Finally, I always reward myself in some way for every goal I achieve, even if it's only with a big red tick or a 'Well Done' sticker. Trust me, that's the best bit.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Freelance Market News

Just a very brief post this week as I'm about to take a much needed few days off (it's hard work setting up a portfolio career!) but there is just time to tell you about Freelance Market News. In case you don't already subscribe, this is a very useful magazine edited by Angela Cox and linked to The Association of Freelance Writers. In fact, if you subscribe, you automatically get a membership card for the Association which is quite useful if you are ever in a situation where you need to prove that you are a writer. (Yes, OK. You could prove it by actually writing something but you know what I mean.)

Freelance Market News ( is published 11 times a year and each issue contains detailed market information for a wide range of magazines and newspapers (including overseas ones), competition news, details of editorial changes, filler markets, a book of the month, a letters page, a "How To" article and a writing competition for subscribers with a £50 prize.

I happen to have a spare copy of this month's issue so if anyone would like to see Freelance Market News for themselves, just email me your address via my website ( and I'll be happy to send it to you on a 'first come first served basis'.   

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Coping With Rejection (Part 2)

Last week I blogged about coping with rejection after I had eight rejections all at once. (If I could work out how to link back to that post I would but I can't so I'm afraid you'll just have to take my word for it or scroll down the page!)

A couple of days later, I came across a really helpful article in the 2011 edition of the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook (A&C Black) by a coach and trainer called Alison Straw. The article is called "Dealing With Rejection" and if you have a copy of the book (and I'm sure you have!) you can find it on page 659.

Alison outlines nine (I would have had to do ten!) key points on managing rejection and building up resistance to it, all of which I found extremely useful. Some of her suggestions include pausing and letting the dust settle, channelling negative emotions about the rejection into positive activity, asking others for advice, focusing on success and trying again.

It may be stuff we already know but the order in which the key points are grouped and the practical and positive stance the article takes, certainly helped me with my bruised ego when I read it. The quote at the end of the article from Sir Winston Churchill - "Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm" is particularly apt for writers, although as I said in my previous post, we aren't supposed to call them "failures"!

If you are feeling in need of something to help you cope with rejection that doesn't involve strong liquor, high bridges or a trip to the local job centre, I would urge you to read this article for yourself. And while you are about it, take a look the website There is a wealth of information for writers on there (including how to cope with rejection!), guest blogs and links to other useful books and courses. Before you know it, you'll be so fired up, you'll have forgotten all about that rejection.


Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Coping With Rejection

What do you do when you get eight rejections in one day? Actually, it was the middle of the night in my case and it happened last Sunday. And before you ask why my postman is working such irregular hours, I should point out that these were not the "large white envelopes lying on the mat" type of rejections. These were the sort you get when you finally decide it's time to check the websites of all the poetry and short story competitions you entered three months ago, in the hope that you actually won first prize in all of them but the competition organisers haven't got round to notifying you yet.

Although I've had multiple rejections before, this was a bit of a low point. This was partly because I broke my own record and also because I was so convinced I was going to be the winner of one particular flash fiction competition that I stared at the computer screen for about ten minutes, unable to accept the fact that I hadn't even made the long list. (My entry for this competition was one of those rare pieces where you feel like it's the best writing you've ever produced, the story more or less writes itself and you've even done some research on the judges.)

So what did I do? Well, I went through the usual ten minutes of hand-wringing and angst that I usually go through (multiplied by eight), telling myself that I clearly couldn't write for toffee and was about as likely to make it as writer as I am a hang-glider. Then I tidied my desk, wrote out my writing goals for the coming week and did a couple of hours crafting. (That's one advantage of having a "portfolio career". If one job isn't going too well, you can always work on another.)

The key thing is that deep-down, I knew I'd be back at my desk again, hence the need to set new writing goals, even though at that particular moment, I'd decided I was never going to write another word again!

It's taken me a while but I've come to understand that as a writer, how you handle rejection is almost as important as how you handle the writing itself. Yes, it's horrible and despite what all the books say, almost impossible not to take personally, but however much it knocks your self-confidence and makes you feel like giving-up, you just have to take it on the chin, put it behind you and get back to your desk again.

Of course, it may help not to think of it as "rejection".  A while back, I heard a radio report which said that the word "failure" is to be replaced in schools with the phrase "deferred success" . Would that work for you? Let me know how you cope with rejection and in the meantime, I'm off to find a new home for one of my "deferred successes".    

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Struggling with short stories

I've been struggling with short stories recently. Not reading them, that's no problem, but writing them. I've put ICHWT (I Could Have Written That) beside several of the ones I've read in an effort to spur myself on but to no avail. Actually getting down to writing a full-length short story, as opposed to my preferred medium of flash fiction, was beginning to feel like attempting to climb Everest in a pair of kitten heels.

However, as I mentioned in a recent post, I like to set quotas for my work and that includes sending out at least one short story per month. Even though I really wanted to get a story to Woman's Weekly, mainly because I haven't sent them one for a while and they are one of my target markets, I wasted the first week of the month looking (to no avail) for a flash fiction competition to enter. I then spent the second week trawling through my (ever growing!) folder of unpublished stories in the hope that I could find something I hadn't already sent them, also to no avail.

Finally, with the days ticking by, I was forced to accept that I would have to write a new story. The third week of the month was therefore spent compiling a ridiculously long list of ideas and going through the usual agonies of which one to choose.

But just as I was about to finally put fingers to keyboard, a very unexpected thing happened. A friend emailed me some photos of my late parents' canal cruiser "Krackas II" (don't ask!) which they had spotted on the Macclesfield Canal. I had no idea what had happened to the boat which was a very important part of my life many years ago but was sold just before my father passed away in 2007.

On the off-chance (anything to avoid doing any writing!) I put the name of the boat into a search engine and much to my amazement, found it on a social networking site for Ormelite Cruisers (

I immediately joined the site so that I could leave a comment about it. (The boat is quite unusual as my father more or less built it himself in the next door neighbour's front garden.) Anyway, the current owner joined in the discussion, seemed delighted to hear about the boat's history and invited me to go and see it when he returns from holiday.

Suddenly I had a short story, complete with plot, imaginary characters, setting, theme and even a title, with no effort on my part whatsoever! Of course, I've still got to actually write it but I feel more excited and passionate about this story than I have done with any story for a while, especially the one I was planning to write.

In fact I feel so sure of this one that I'm going to stop writing this post and get started on my story right away before any more of this month evaporates. I wish you bon voyage with your own short stories.  



Friday, 26 August 2011

Favourite Writing Tips

What's your favourite writing tip? I have a large collection of them in a notebook and when I feel in need of inspiration and encouragement (which is quite a lot of the time to be honest) I flick through and pick out the ones that seem to apply to my particular writing problem or dilemma.

Most of the tips come from well-established and successful writers and I was pleased to find a few new ones the other day in the Successful Writer e-letter which comes from the informative website I look at this site on a regular basis and it is one of the links on my website ( because it contains up to the minute listings of jobs and other opportunities, including competitions, for freelance writers and journalists.

I have been puzzling over one of the two writing tips they included from Ray Bradbury which is "You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance". If anyone can explain it to me, I'll be happy to include it in my little red book! (The other Bradbury tip was "You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you" if anyone is interested.)

The one I found the most helpful from Succesful Writer's list was from Anton Chekhov (we're in good company today!) which is "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass". I'm going to try and remember that one next time I'm struggling with "show don't tell".

I've picked a couple of tips from my notebook which might be useful if, like me, you have trouble actually getting down to writing. Esther Freud says "Find your best time of the day for writing and write. Don't let anything else interfere. Afterwards it won't matter to you that the kitchen is a mess." And one of my all time favourites from Gerald Dickler is "A writer is one who stays in and writes".

Do let me know what your favourite writing tips or sayings are. I'd love to hear them.



Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Setting Quotas

Does anyone else set quotas for how much work they send out every week, month etc or is that just me? I decided a while back that I was probably never going to send anything out if I didn't set a quota and for various reasons I decided that six items a month was right for me.

Like lots of ideas, it is probably good in theory and so far I have managed to keep to my quota. Unfortunately, the theory seems to fall down when I find myself (usually on the last day of the month!) desperately scratching around trying to find somewhere to send something in an effort to meet my quota.

A few weeks ago, while in this predicament, I came across Healthy magazine in a well-known health food store. I noticed that they offered fifty pounds worth of vouchers to spend in store for the writer of the star letter. Desperate to fulfill my quota and hopeful of winning the top prize, I duly sent off a letter. The email was returned by the "postmaster" for some reason, so more effort was required to locate a stamp and send a copy of the email by post with a covering note.

Relieved to have reached my quota for the month, I promptly forgot all about my letter until last week when my neighbour staggered round with a huge parcel which the postman had tried to deliver. It contained a vast array of health and beauty products, none of which I can use, due to the various allergies that I suffer from.

The moral of the story is that yes, I fulfilled my quota and had a "filler" accepted in a magazine (big deal?) but now I have to find a good home for all the products I won. I am seriously beginning to think that sending out work just for the sake of it is not necessarily the way forward and I would be interested to know what other people think about this.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011


If you've been both shocked and alarmed by the disturbing scenes on the streets of several UK towns and cities in the last few days (and what sane person hasn't?) a positive reponse might be to vent your feelings in a poem.

Poetry24 ( "Where News is the Muse" could be just the outlet for your work. Launched in February 2011 by Martin Hodges and Clare Kirwan, you can find the following request on its Submission Guidelines Page.

"Do you have something to say about current events in the world? Can you say it evocatively, with passion, rage, compassion and/or humour? Can you make us see things from a wider perspective or take us right into the heart of the matter?"

If the answer is "Yes" to all these questions, then why not send them a poem? The detailed submission guidelines on the site stipulate a maximum of two poems to be sent to both editors separately, in the body of an email. Poems must not have been previously published, even on a blog and should be no longer than 40 lines. You are asked to provide a hyperlink to a recent online news story giving the background to what you are writing about, as well as your blog or website details and a 30 word biography.

Good luck if you do decide to submit something and let's pray for peace on our streets before any further lasting damage is done.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011


Ah. The ups and downs of the writing life. Don't you just love them? Yesterday, I got really excited after reading in my local paper that a publishing company called Unbound (not to be confused with the Glasgow-based independent publishers Unbound Press) had come up with the idea of giving authors an opportunity to pitch their ideas for books online and have them voted for by readers. If the book receives enough votes, the readers pledge to support the author financially in return for various "rewards" such as having their name in the book, being invited to the launch party etc.

Sounds great, I thought and as the particular piece in question was aimed at children and teenagers, I immediately started thinking about how I could promote some of my (as yet unpublished) children's novels on the site.

My excitement lasted approximately 24 hours when my bubble was burst by an article on the same company in the August edition of Writers' News. Although the original article didn't mention this, Unbound is currently only interested in submissions from already published authors or those who have literary agents.

So it's back to the writing board for me but if you fall into either of the above categories and feel that this might be something you could be interested in, then why not take a look at Unbound's website Good luck!    

Wednesday, 27 July 2011


Deadlines. Love them or loathe them, they are a necessary part of being a writer. If you are anything like me, if it wasn't for deadlines, you'd probably never get anything written at all.

The main problem I have with deadlines (and I suspect I'm not the only one) is a problem of balance. If I start a piece too far in advance of a deadline, like I know I probably should, it can feel flat and lifeless as I'm writing it and I find it difficult to motivate myself to get over the finishing line.

On the other hand, if I leave it too close to the deadline, I feel anxious and stressed and probably don't produce my best work as it is likely to be rushed and "thrown together".

Although I am a great believer in the "salami" technique where you break a large task down into small, manageable slices and then allocate a slice to each day of the week or however you want to organise it, this never seems to work that well for deadlines. I find it difficult to know exactly when to take off the first "slice" and if I'm too organised, I miss the adrenaline rush that you get as the deadline looms and you are forced into producing something that comes over as fresh and immediate, probably because you only started writing it three hours before it was due in.

Talking of deadlines, I have an urgent one to attend to which is probably why I am posting this instead of getting on with trying to meet it. Because that's another thing with deadlines. The nearer they get, the more they lull you into a false sense of security that the story or article which is still largely inside your head, will somehow miraculously make it on to the page without you having to do very much at all.      

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Portfolio Career

I have been telling everyone recently that I now have a "portfolio career". Most people don't know what I mean by this (someone even said they'd have to "Google" it!) but it's really just a fancy way of saying that you have fingers in several different pies.

I have been a "professional" writer since 1995 although I have always been a writer of some sort, ever since I was at school. During this time, I have stuck pretty religiously to writing and only occasionally had flights of fancy about getting a "proper" job. (And I still do. Only this time last week, I found myself offering to manage a jazz band!!)

However, for various reasons, I've recently been seriously exploring other freelancing options that I can do alongside writing and have now decided to "rebrand" myself as a writer, a crafter and a musician. I also plan to carry on working on community newsletters and do something in the spiritual healing/growth area at some point too.

It's quite a scary decision but I definitely feel it's the right one. The thing that scares me most is that my writing will suffer, mainly because I will have less time to spend on it and there will be more demands on my "creative energy", if that doesn't sound too pretentious. After all, I've always maintained that you can't be a part-time writer, any more than you can be a part-time brain surgeon.

On the other hand, I hope that the other "pies" will help stimulate my writing. Certainly if I manage to take my music into care homes, which is my plan, I should have plenty of stories to tell. (Although that's not why I'm doing it, of course.) And hopefully, if I feel more satisfied because I'm taking seriously some of the other things I enjoy doing and am good at, then perhaps I shall feel more motivated when I do eventually sit down to write. Here's hoping, anyway.    

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Living Write

In the unlikely event that you were wondering why I haven't been blogging for the last couple of weeks, it was because I decided to take a fortnight off. That's quite unusual for me as I normally find myself desperate to get back to writing after about a week or so but for reasons that I won't bore you with, I decided that "psychologically" I needed a longer break. Although I haven't been anywhere exotic like the south of France or even Dagenham, it was good to get away from my desk for a while.

Although I spent most of my time watching Wimbledon and the Tour de France while listening to cricket, I did read a "how to" book about writing which I found really useful. It's called "Living Write" and the author is Kelly L. Stone. I should point out that it's an American book and all the author quotes and extracts are from American authors, but that didn't really worry me as the advice and tips apply to any writers.

I ordered it because the review said that the author, who is a professional counsellor, would show you how to:
* Make writing a daily priority
* Maintain enthusiasm, motivation and dedication for long-term writing goals
* Overcome fear of failure
*Gain confidence in your writing abilities
*Identify yourself as a "writer", not just someone who casually sits down to write.

These are all areas that I feel I have been struggling with recently (I'm guessing I'm not the only one!) and it's certainly given me the "kick-start" I needed. The book is divided into three parts: Inviting Writing Into Your Daily Life, Developing A Writer's Mind-set and Deepen Your Writing. There are fifteen chapters, each of which contains a practical "exercise" to help with reversing negativity and moving forward as a disciplined writer.

I particularly liked the idea of setting twenty year goals (gulp!) and then working backwards through ten years, five years, three years, one year and so on, to help you discover what you should be working on right now. Also the idea of adopting a successful author as a positive role model and trying to emulate their successful working patterns and habits appealed to me. I wasn't too sure about the suggestion of talking into a mirror to help realise your writing ambitions but I have been doing it a bit (mainly when I'm cleaning my teeth!) and actually, it seems to have helped.

There is also a CD with the book that contains "guided meditations" designed to accompany some of the exercises and to act as a prelude to your writing sessions. I must admit I haven't listened to that yet.

As I said earlier, "Living Write" is an American book published by Adams Media. I have just looked on Amazon and it is available there so why not give it a go?

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Encouraging Other Writers

Last week, I was having one of my regular chats with my "contact" in the children's book department at my local branch of Waterstones. I was really pleased when he told me that he had started writing again and had just entered a short story competition. I was even more pleased when he said it was partly due to my encouragement.

I have always tried to encourage people to write if they show even the slightest desire to do so, although I usually qualify it now by saying "Don't give up the day job"! I have also been extremely grateful to the many writers who have encouraged me and there is no doubt in my mind that I wouldn't have achieved as much as I have without their support and advice.

One of the first writers who really encouraged me was the novelist Jean Chapman. She was my first writing tutor at the Leicester Adult Education College when I started taking classes in creative writing. (I've always said it could just as easily have been classes in bee-keeping or ballroom dancing but that's another story.) It was great to meet Jean again recently at a writing event and to tell her in person just how much her encouragement meant to me when I was first starting out.

Only last week, I received a very helpful email from the poet Kate Williams ( after I had written to her asking for some advice about various writing-related matters. Her reply was very encouraging and gave me a great boost at the time, as well as making me determined to keep going with my children's poetry, however hard it sometimes seems to get anywhere with it.

I'm also very grateful to Rosalie Warren ( , a young adult fiction author, whose latest book "Coping With Chloe" is out now (quick plug for you there, Rosalie!) and with whom I was put in contact after my novel "Cracking Up" was shortlisted in the Earlyworks Press teenage fiction competition. Rosalie's encouragement, not to mention extremely constructive criticism, after reading "Cracking Up" and my current novel "Dear Egg", really made me feel that I could write for young people and was all I needed to get me back to my desk again.

Of course, there are times when it is hard to encourage yourself to keep writing, let alone anyone else. It is also "The Law" of writing that you will only hear about other writers' successes when you have just had your tenth rejection of the week. Guarding against "writers' envy" can use up almost as much energy as guarding against "writers' block" and is certainly something I've had problems with in the past. Now I try to be more positive and take encouragement from the fact that if they can do it, then so can I. Also, I like to think of writing as a huge cairn and each writer adds a stone to the cairn every time they get something accepted or published. In fact I'm just off now to start polishing another stone to see if I can add it to the pile!            

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A Legend In My Own Lunchtime

I was really pleased to get a phone call from Take A Break magazine last Friday saying that they want to use a piece I sent in on their letters page in the next couple of weeks. The item was originally intended for their "Magic Moments" slot but that has apparently been discontinued. (A shame as it paid £150 for about 250 words which even with my lack of mathematical prowess seems like a good deal.)

Anyway, the piece was about a rock and roll concert that myself and some other teachers put on to entertain our pupils during the lunch hour when I was teaching back in the late 1980s. It involved, in my case, dressing up like Suzi Quatro in black leather and playing the bass guitar. (If you want to see what I looked like, you'll have to buy the magazine!)

I've always felt it was a good "story" as the whole event was a bit like Beatlemania, with forged tickets, one pupil falling through a skylight and breaking his ankle and staff and students alike, dancing in the aisles, then having to go back to classes in the afternoon.

I called the piece "A Legend In My Own Lunchtime" and I sold a different version of it to the (now defunct) Annabel magazine many years ago. It just goes to show that you should never give up on a strong idea, however long you've had it, as you may be able to "re-cycle" it for another market. In fact I'm just off to see if I can get a short story for Woman's Weekly out of it now!  



Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Sebastian Faulks

I was listening to the Test Match last Saturday when I should have been writing (see previous post!) and the guest on "View from the Boundary" was the bestselling novelist Sebastian Faulks ( I must confess to never having read any of his novels although I did once own a copy of "Birdsong". I always enjoy listening to successful writers talking about writing though, so I tuned in.

I was surprised to hear that Sebastian made up his mind he wanted to be a writer when he was only 14. At that age, I'm pretty sure I didn't have any concept of there being such a job as a "writer" even though I was a prolific reader.

Sebastian also had some useful advice for aspiring authors. His tips were:
1. Write about what you don't know rather than what you do as it will stretch you more.
2. Write about what you're interested in and passionate about. (Good advice, especially for novelists, as it's a long haul if you've chosen a subject that doesn't really grab you.)
3. Keep plugging away.

My own advice, for what it's worth (as someone who is considerably less successful so far than Sebastian Faulks has been) is:
1. Don't quit the day job unless you are comfortable earning considerably less in one month than your paper boy/girl probably earns in one day.
2. If no one is giving you deadlines, give yourself some.
3. Never, ever give up.

If anyone has any other helpful tips for would-be writers, I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Writing Distractions

The other week it was the snooker, now it's the cricket and the French Open tennis. I'm talking about the things that distract me from getting down to writing.

Although I love "having written", it is the actual writing bit that can be a problem. I often wonder if this is exclusive to writers (or other "creatives" as I have exactly the same problem with my craftwork) or do plumbers, electricians, nurses and shopkeepers find it difficult to get down to work? Once I've actually started, it's usually fine and the problem then is not wanting to stop.

Here are my top five tips for not getting distracted from starting to write. Let me know if you have any favourite ones that work for you.

1. Aim to start work within 90 minutes of getting out of bed.
2. Avoid working anywhere near a room that has a television and a comfy chair.
3. Don't check emails until you have done at least an hour's writing.
4. Keep the phone out of the work area unless you have to use it to make a call.
5. Remember that looking at other writers' websites and blogs doesn't count as writing!

Good luck with keeping your writing distractions at bay. I'm off now to stick a large note on the kitchen door that says "Procrastination is the thief of words". I'll let you know if it works.       

Sunday, 22 May 2011

At Last!

It has taken a while but at last I have started a blog, at least I hope I have! I am planning on using my blog to write about writing and what it is like being a full-time writer, as well as to pass on useful tips and information about all things related to writing. Hopefully it will be of interest to those of you who are not writers as well, so do come back again and see what I have come up with.