5 Highlights from My Very Busy Writing Year – 2014

DSC_0503Looking back at the blog posts I have written this year, I am amazed at what I have managed to pack in. So, as the end of the year approaches, I thought I’d take a look back at some of the highlights.

1. The year began with me successfully joining the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s (RNA) New Writers’ Scheme (NWS). There are only 250 places on this scheme available each year and I knew it would be hotly contested so I was very excited when I found out I had got a place. I went on to submit my debut novel, ‘From Here to Nashville’ to the NWS and received a very positive report back from my reader. There was still a lot of work to do but I had made a good start.

In addition to this though, I have made many new and lovely friends by joining the RNA and attending events like their Summer Party, the annual Conference, my local RNA group lunches and being invited to events by established authors like the lovely Phillipa Ashley. The support I have received from this network of writers has been wonderful and I can’t thank them all enough. I will be rejoining the RNA next year and look forward to another wonderful year with writing friends, old and new.

2. I finished ‘From Here to Nashville’ at last! When I say that, I really mean it as well. After I got my report back from the RNA, I rewrote and edited some more before seeking a professional edit. I finished those edits just a couple of weeks ago and now my beta readers and I are giving it one last read through before it goes to the proofreader in January. I am pleased with how it’s looking from my read through so far, with only minor changes looking likely. I have had a professional cover designed which I’m really happy with and I am cracking on with the formatting for Kindle. I know now that I will publish my debut novel early next year and I am so excited about that.

3. I have attended three writing courses this year, as well as taking part in an online course run by Future Learn. In February, I went on a course called ‘Passion on the Page’ run by Write Stars. It was a great course, run by romance author Katherine Garbera and I learnt a lot from it that I could use in my writing. Then, at the end of March, I went on another Write Stars course led by romance author, Sue Moorcroft, ‘How to Write a Romance Novel in a day.’ Once again, it was a very useful course and I learnt lots from Sue and the other attendees. I signed up for the Future Learn course ‘Start Writing Fiction’ in April and although this was a course for beginners, I found it useful. I also started a writing journal as a result of being on the course which was one of the best decisions I made all year! Finally, I went on a Short Story course, run by Woman’s Weekly magazine in October. The course was led by Della Galton, another experienced author of both short stories and novels and it was clear that she really knew her stuff.

4. I established my author platform this year. By this, I mean that I worked out which social media was proving useful for me. I started out on Twitter and I now have a solid following there of about 1,000 people. I’m happy to keep it around that number because I want to interact with my followers as much as I can and this number seems manageable.

I have seen my blog go from strength to strength this year, receiving no less than five awards and I love writing my weekly post and engaging with readers as a result of it. The #MondayBlogs has been incredibly useful for my blog and I really enjoy participating in it. There are a number of other hashtags I could get involved in but as I work part-time, I’m not sure I could keep up with it. I do use Tweetdeck on Mondays to help me manage all the retweets and faves. I like to thank people for being supportive and I know that they appreciate it so Tweetdeck helps me keep on top of everything (Thanks to Liz Harris from the RNA for that tip!) I have also enjoyed taking part in various blog tours and have recently started a Cover Reveals feature once a month to help other new authors, which has proved popular.

This year, I also managed to set up a Facebook Author page. It is building slowly and may not prove that worthwhile longer term but I have found having a personal page lots of fun and I enjoy supporting other authors at their virtual events. If you’d like to make contact on Facebook, do go on over and like my page so that you get my updates.

I do also have a Pinterest page but I know I’m not doing much with it yet so that will be one to work on for next year perhaps. Here’s the link though if you want to see what I pin and follow me. Beware though, you will waste hours on there!

5. I have learnt so much this year, I can hardly believe it. I have written posts about writing a synopsis, Point of View, rewriting, editing, outlining, show not tell, how to write a blurb, working with a cover designer, self-publishing, proofreading, formatting, creating a newsletter, Evernote and Scrivener! I feel exhausted just reading that list but I know it shows how far I have come in my writing life over the past year.

I’d like to finish with a big thank you to all those of you who read my blog every week and take time to comment and share my posts. It has meant a lot to me and I hope that you’ll join me as I move into 2015 and finally publish my debut novel 🙂 Merry Christmas to you all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I learnt from my Creative Writing course

Future LearnOnce I’d made the decision to devote proper time to my writing on a regular basis, I knew that I would want to learn as much as I could about the craft of writing. I have always written and I have always loved reading since I was first able to do it, and what’s more, I teach all aspects of Literacy in my job, but I knew within a very short time of starting my debut novel that there was a lot I could learn. I researched a few creative writing courses in the UK and was surprised at how expensive most of them were. There are a number of excellent degree courses but I was loathe to start another one and anyway, where would I get the money to pay for that or for any of the other courses on offer? So, I was delighted when I found a free Open University course, run by Future Learn, called Start Writing Fiction that would run for eight weeks and take place online. The course is aimed at beginners, as well as those with some experience so I wasn’t sure how much I would pick up from it but I wanted to try it just in case I might learn something from it. As this week is now the final week of the course, I wanted to report back on what I have achieved.

Keep a Writer’s Journal or Notebook In the first week, we were encouraged to start keeping a writer’s journal or notebook. This may be the most useful piece of advice I received from the course. I blogged about it here and tried to explain just how useful I have found this approach, especially with my advancing years! It’s so easy to forget things and getting into the habit of writing useful ideas or observations down has really worked for me. If you don’t do it yet, I would seriously recommend it. By the time we revisited the idea in the fourth week, I had established it as a habit, writing something in it virtually every day.

Writing Prompts In the second week, amongst other things, we were given a tip about a writing prompt which suggested starting some sentences with ‘Emma said that’ as a way of getting your writing started. For example, I wrote the following sentences using this prompt:

  • (Emma said that) one of the servers had seen a famous actor in the Food Hall.
  • (Emma said that) it was definitely the one from that detective series on TV.
  • (Emma said that) he’s just as good-looking in real life as he is on the screen.

The idea with this prompt is that you use it to get you started it and then remove it later. Once I took away what was in brackets above, I was left with three core sentences that I then used to write a mini-story. In the third week, we received feedback on that piece of writing from our peers and thought about editing.

E M ForsterThe Difference between Story and Plot Another piece of advice I found very helpful in week four, was how to get from an idea to a plot line. E.M. Forster wrote in ‘Aspects of the Novel’ that a story is a narrative of events arranged in their time sequence, whereas plot is a narrative of events with the emphasis on causality. In simpler terms, this means that a story tells you what happened but the plot tells you the reason why things happened and this is what is fascinating for the reader. The reader wants to know what causes your character to do things or to be the way they are and one of the ways that you can develop your character is by asking questions of them – you know the ones. At school, we call them the 5Ws and the How. Why was the man angry? What had happened to him? Where was he going? Who was he? When did this event happen? How did it happen? The important thing to remember is that these aren’t scientific questions, there’s no right or wrong. You answer them using your imagination and this is what gives you your plot. The other question you need to ask is ‘What if?’ Answering this question about your characters adds richness to them and in so doing, further develops your plot. In week five, we developed this by giving our characters flaws which caused conflict or a struggle and so deepened our plot that bit further still.

Planning a Short Story By week six, we had a character that we had been developing for a while and we were given the task of writing a short story of between 750 and 1000 words. We had to write the story from their point of view, using either first or third person. As you know, I have written a lot in first person so I decided to write my story in third person to see what that was like. I found it quite easy to write in third person but the hardest thing was keeping within the word count, whilst still trying to develop a character and a plot. We have been asked to edit rigorously, thinking about setting, point of view, the type of language we’ve used and our sentence structure before submitting the story this week for feedback from our peers. My story is now ready to go and I feel happy with what I’ve written using the things I’ve learnt on the course. I have found the feedback received so far to be very constructive and I hope that this final task will be the same. I plan to post the story for you all to read in due course.

So, in summary, it has been a good experience doing this course and I have picked up a lot of useful pointers. You can always learn something, no matter how old or how experienced you are and I highly recommend this course if you come across it in the future. Thanks for reading and I look forward to receiving any comments below. Have a good writing week 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why it’s a good idea to keep a writing journal

Journal

Photo courtesy of flickr.com

A few weeks ago, I embarked on a free Open University writing course called ‘Start Writing Fiction.’ I have found everything I’ve learnt so far very useful but the most helpful thing I’ve learnt is that as a writer, I should be keeping a journal. I had heard this before I started the course but I’d been a bit half-hearted about the idea of taking a journal with me everywhere I go. It seemed a bit pretentious, I thought, and anyway, what would I have to write in it?

So when the course started, I decided that I should give it a proper try. They suggested using it to make notes about everything from story ideas, to character portraits, to everyday details and thoughts you might have that you could come back to later. I have found myself writing in it most days now and as a result, I have a long list of story ideas that I could use in the future. One of the things that really works for me, is music lyrics. For example, I wrote down a couple of lines from a Taylor Swift song that I’ve always loved, which also happen to tie in with my favourite Shakespeare play (you know the one I mean, right?) and as romance is my genre, this got me thinking about the idea of love at first sight. Next thing I knew, I’d written a whole page of story ideas.

I also like to use the phrase ‘What if?’ as a story idea prompt and have found that just letting my mind run free with these words often leads to ideas for stories. The important thing is to write them down whenever you have them because then you can use them later, at a time when you might find yourself fresh out of ideas otherwise. Now, whenever I go out to visit places, I try to take my notebook with me because you never know when an idea might strike you. I do have Evernote on my ‘phone though and that can also work well for note-taking if you get caught without your journal. Personally, I like to rewrite any electronic notes into my journal by hand because there’s just something so nice about writing longhand into a proper notebook 🙂

One of the other suggestions I found helpful was to write down ideas for characters: names, descriptions, observations about personality types, clothes, hair, behaviour etc because you won’t remember these details later on. These everyday details about people that you absorb without even noticing are the very essence of your writing and it’s only by making a note of them that your characters can start to come to life. I find that these are the kind of details that you relate back to other members of your family at the end of the day as a natural part of your routine but once told, you tend to forget them. If you write them down though, they become rich material to be used later. Even if you don’t use them, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to write them down, just in case.

I have now taken to writing down all kinds of details. I took a group of children to the cinema the other day and as soon as I got out of the car at the Leisure Park, my nose was assaulted by the smell of fried food. This is something that has happened to me many times before but I’ve never made a note of it until then. This time I did because the sounds, smells, sights of everyday life will add depth to your description of settings and your reader will be familiar with them too. These everyday things may also prompt other memories for you as the writer, taking you back to something you might well have forgotten until the moment that you made a note of the new memory. Our minds are full of memories of course but they might be buried deep within and our minds work in very unusual ways. It’s a bit unnerving for example, the way that my husband remembers some events we’ve shared over the last nearly thirty years we’ve been together and I have no memory of those things at all, and vice versa. Other things will be crystal clear for both of us. So if you write it down, it will be there forever.

I am now using my journal for all kinds of different things and I find it great fun. I note down words I like and why. I write down the context I’ve heard them in as well, especially if it’s an exotic context because I may use both the word and the context one day; I write down words, phrases, speech patterns I hear people use in conversation; I make notes about the way people behave; I make notes about what I hear on the radio or what I read in the newspaper or magazines. If you’re finding it hard to get writing, using your journal for a short while can often be a good way to get you going as well.

Do you keep a journal yourself? Let me know in the comments how it works for you and I’d love to hear any tips you might have about how to expand my use of my journal. Thanks for reading and have a good writing week 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why you should attend a writing course

DSCN8178At long last, I have attended my first writing course and I wanted to share with you how useful it was for me at this stage in my writing journey. The course was run by a company called Write Stars and was one of many that they run throughout the year. See their website here:

http://www.writestars.co.uk

This particular workshop was run by Katherine Garbera, a prolific romance novel writer, published by Harlequin with more than 60 novels to her name, and the objective of the course was to help us introduce more passion to our writing. We were a small group and Katherine encouraged us all to share what our current writing projects were before we began. The atmosphere was very positive right from the start with everyone expressing interest in each other’s writing activities and Katherine was so encouraging of us all.

The format for the workshop was that Katherine would introduce an element of romance writing, for example, how to write the first kiss between your characters and then she would read out one of her own examples to give us the idea. We then sat and wrote our own version and we had plenty of time for this. Not one of us sat there unable to write. The explanations Katherine gave were so helpful and carefully structured so as to enable us to get straight on with it and her years of experience really showed. We then shared our writing with the rest of the class and listened to their feedback. I found it so heartening to receive positive comments and it was such a confidence boost!

We also had lots of time to ask questions of Katherine and of each other and I felt we bonded very well as a group. It was so good knowing that we all shared the same insecurities as writers. I felt I learnt a great deal on this course and I have already put quite a few things into practice since returning home.

So if you have been thinking about attending a course, I would encourage you to get on with it. You will learn something, you will interact with other like-minded people and you will probably make some new friends. Not only that but the whole act of sharing your writing will hopefully make you realise what a good job you’ve been doing so far and that will boost your confidence enormously, which has to be a very good thing 🙂

Have you been on any good writing courses? Let me know in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Joy of Finishing your First Draft!

I have finally done it, finished the first draft of my first ever novel. I have written nearly 4,000 words today in a final burst of energy that I found somewhere but don’t ask me where! I guess it was knowing that the end really was in sight and that was spurring me on. So now I have to take all the advice I’ve been reading and leave it alone for a bit before I even think about editing. I’m OK with that as a concept but what else am I going to do with myself now that I have established this routine of writing as much as I can on my days off from my teaching job?

Well, this calls for a list, methinks.

1. I’m going to go on my first ever writing course on 27th October. This is the one I’m attending, just to remind you, if you’re interested:

http://www.urbanwritersretreat.co.uk/masterclasses/

I am really looking forward to it, as I ponder the pitfalls of not only editing but polishing my story and making it worthy of publication. I am sure I will be talking about this a lot over the coming months.

2. I am going to take part in this November’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the first time. The challenge is to write 50,000 words in a  month, that’s 1,667 words a day in case you’d like to have a go as well 😉 Some of you may think me mad, hell, I think I must be mad but I’m going to give it a go and kickstart novel number two. I’ve even started planning it in Scrivener and talking about my plot with anyone who’ll listen! I feel really excited and optimistic about it too.

3. I am also looking forward to hearing how the first chapter of my debut novel has fared in the Festival of Romance’s New Talent Award 2013. I don’t feel quite so optimistic about this because I don’t have much confidence in my abilities as a writer as yet but I’ve paid for a professional critique of that chapter too and I hope that will at least be interesting. I should receive that report in December and then I can set to work on their suggestions, eek!

4. I am going to get on to the task of finding some beta readers for ‘From Here to Nashville.’ I feel a bit unsure how to go about this. So far, some family and friends have read the first part of my story, as well as a number of very helpful people on Authonomy. The family and friends have been kind, as I knew they would be but they haven’t offered much in the way of constructive criticism. I did have some useful comments on Authonomy but I was also finding some of the comments unhelpful at this stage of the process and in the end, I realised that I had just put my story up there too soon. It’s only my first draft and it needed to be finished before others started to criticise it. I was also getting people offering to read and review my story if I’d do the same for them but none of those people were rating or backing my book so it seemed a bit one sided at times. I have therefore reluctantly retired from Authonomy for the time being.

So plenty of to-dos on this list to keep me busy until the end of November and beyond. Please let me know if you are editing your first draft and how you are managing it. Or are you going to take part in NaNoWriMo for the first time and need a buddy to see you through? I’d love to hear from you.