Write Well

Do you aspire to write well? Or do you have a well of ideas for writing? Does your writing well ever run dry, or even run over?

We, the editors of Write Well (from left to right: Jane Brocklehurst, Amy Scott Robinson, Me and Jane Walters)

Last weekend was the launch of the Association of Christian Writers Jubilee book which is called… Write Well. The unveiling happened at the 50th Jubilee ACW AGM and Writers Day in London – with a cake to celebrate (as you see).

I got involved in editing because Amy Scott Robinson was asking for more help just as we were going into the January 2021 Lockdown and I thought I would have time on my hands. Do I ever? I should’ve realised that was not going to happen. But there was time enough and I enjoyed being part of the team who selected and edited the articles for Write Well, mostly through meetings on Zoom, and I learned a lot too, about working with a publisher. The two Janes and Amy were a great team to work with.

Oh dear. Shock, horror. There’s a coffee-stain on the cover! Were we editors terribly careless? No. If you cook (as I do), you will note that the recipe books you use most are dog-eared and smeared, whereas the ones that are no good are in pristine condition. At the Writers’ Day last Saturday, one of the writers there commented that she made great use of cheap and scrappy notebooks she bought from supermarkets but didn’t feel she could break into the nicely-bound posh ones.

Although its cover is attractive enough, this is not an ornament, nor designed to sit on a coffee-table or bookshelf, but intended to be read, marked up and made use of. Write Well is divided into three sections: the first on the history of ACW; the second on writing craft; the third, personal writing journeys. It’s an essential resource for all writers, a book to have alongside you as you work. You might well set your mug of coffee on it and… oh dear… leave a stain.

Published by Instant Apostle, Write Well is available in paperback at £9.99 and on Kindle at £5.99. Please purchase/order it from your local independent bookseller if you can, but, if you prefer to shop online, consider www.eden.co.uk and www.hive.co.uk.

Drawing the Line

I am writing this post as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. (How many ways are there of saying ‘It’s first Wednesday of the month and therefore Insecure Writer’s Support Group day’?) You ready? Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

I’m not feeling too bad at the moment, thank you. I’ve had a flash story in CafeLit recently (see previous post) and a humorous piece in Christian Writer. I love writing short and what is there not to like in doing humour? Christian Writer has a readership of 800 members of (British) Association of Christian Writers – so that knocks me out of most comps for unpublished writers (usually defined as someone who may have been published but to a small readership only).

I have also been doing a lot of reviewing recently, mainly cosy crime for Dollycas, on my other blog, Dear Reader. I find that reviewing a book makes me think about the technical aspects of writing more closely: the ‘rules’ the writer follows and those he/she doesn’t; any loose ends in the plotline; anything I particularly admire in his/her style, or anything I feel I could have improved. I try to be kind, though, because I know from my published friends how hurtful a bad review can be.

Now to the October question – optional, I know, but I always try to answer it anyway.

In your writing, where do you draw the line, with either topics or language?

Topics:

  • Sex and gratuitous violence (obviously)
  • Men abusing or belittling women, or the other way around… unless this is challenged later in the piece.
  • Racial abuse… unless this is challenged later.
  • Abuse of disabled or older people… unless this is challenged later.
  • Denigrating or mocking comments about religion – always.
  • Scenes set in places I haven’t visited. I broke this rule once (for Mexico City, where my son lived for a year) and – hey – I didn’t manage to place the story.
  • Peoples and cultures about whom I don’t know enough. I am currently reading Half of a Yellow Sun and the author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, unconsciously, shows us what Africans thought and how they lived their lives in the 1960s, because this was her world. No European could have written that book.

Language

  • Swear words and anatomical words which I could not type here, but I will go with ‘bloody’ and, occasionally, the f-word.
  • I will not allow a character to use ‘Oh God’ or ‘OmiGod’ as expletives, although these are definitely acceptable in devotion.

Interested to know what other IWSG bloggers write on this.

And I Almost Forgot to Mention…

My flash story, Pavlova, appeared on CafeLit last Sunday (26 September). Much flash fiction tends to be humorous, but this piece isn’t and, given my family medical history, it was painful to write.

Attribution:  User:Blueberry pancake

CafeLit editor, Gill James, ask writers to assign a drink to their stories, and for this one I used ‘tap water’. When you read it, you’ll see why. Pavlova is based on a prompt ‘Wedding goes wrong’, from Gill James’s book of prompts, appropriately named Prompts 2021, and available on Amazon. Of course, prompts are useful generating ideas in general, but I’m sure editors are more inclined to publish stories based on their prompts, and pieces written to themes are also more likely to find a home. The more bizarre the theme, the more likely the writer is to get in there!

Yes, I should have posted about this last week, but I was tied up with other things, including emptying furniture from our living room ready for the decorator. Do real writers – all those big names who win Booker Prizes etc – have to clear out living rooms? Are they sitting, trying to write, in a tiny cramped room with their computer, husband and computer, and random furniture we couldn’t move to the garage? I wonder.

Success as a Writer

First Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers’ Support Group day. This month, our optional question is: How do you define success as a writer? Is it holding your book in your hand? Having a short story published? Making a certain amount of income from your writing?

As a child and a young woman, I presumed that literary success would come to me easily. My novels would be published on the first submission, my magazine articles ditto, because I had good ideas… didn’t I… and I could write… couldn’t I? I would be a classic author, on telly, and people would listen to what I had to say. Wrong, wrong, wrong, especially the last bit, but I have had some successes. Let’s use the IWSG checklist:

Holding your book in your hand? Nope. No book of my own yet, although my work has published in anthologies, and I am working on getting The Novel out there. I’m still considering self-publishing, but a good friend has made the point that I haven’t exhausted traditional avenues yet.

Creative Commons Licence

Having a short story published? Yes, done that, many times over.

Making a certain amount of income from your writing? About £50 lifetime writing earnings. I’ve had to earn my crust in other ways, which has meant less time for writing and a brain occupied with other things.

At the moment, I’m not feeling too insecure. I am about to appear in Christian Writer (Association of Christian Writers’ magazine) with a humorous piece, about how the Bible might be written in the computer age, and last week I heard that a piece of mine had been accepted for a short story magazine.

This question begs another question. Why do we write? Almost all writers want to be published; we have something to say and we want to share it. But most of us write what we want to read. Don’t we all write for ourselves to a greater or lesser degree?

Reblog from Kristen Lamb:Description: The Good the Bad and the Just Please STOP

I’m reblogging Kristen Lamb’s post on writing descriptions because it mirrors almost exactly how I feel about descriptions, when reading and writing. I was writing in my last post about how I don’t read books on writing, but I do read Kristen’s excellent blog which I thoroughly recommend: https://authorkristenlamb.com

Kristen is an author, editor and speaker and her approach is practical, emphatic and free of cant and waffle. Here’s the post, with my comment amongst the many. (The cat pic at the front confused me initially.)

Can we be really honest about our description? Is it truly remarkable or just filling space? Are we weaving a spell that captures readers or are we …

Description: The Good the Bad and the Just Please STOP

My Favourite (Writing) Craft Book? I Don’t Have One

For the Insecure Writing Support Group this month,we are asked, ‘What is your favorite writing craft book? Think of a book that every time you read it you learn something or you are inspired to write or try the new technique. And why?’

I’m afraid that for me is easy. I don’t read writing craft books. I don’t read writing craft magazines either, although I actually subscribe to (British) Writing Magazine (so I can enter their competitions) and I don’t read the mag. I know I should, but there are so many things to read, other things to do and… where does time go?

There was a time when I used to inhale writing magazines, diarised upcoming comps and opportunities, read articles by agents, publishers and other authors, and noted down what I considered to be the most important bits in Evernote – but it all got a bit samey. I’m not saying I know it all – of course I don’t – but after a very short time I found myself reading the same thing over and over again.

Now, fellow Insecure Writing Support Group-ers, please recommend to me a decent book on writing craft. For someone who has written a lot and for a long time, had some short stories and articles published and aspires to get her novel out there. I am interested in historical in particular, but exclusively. I look forward to hearing your suggestions.

As you will have surmised, Dear Reader, today is first Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers Support Group day. I sense that you are fed up with reading this wording at the beginning of my IWSG blog posts, so I put it at the end. Ha! You didn’t get away with it.

By the way, a few days ago, I wrote a book review on my Dear Reader blog. I’ve joined Lori’s Great Escapes and this is my first post for Lori, featuring Murder at Sea Captain’s Inn by Melissa Bourbon. It’s not actually a review, as you will see, but something more interesting.

What Would Make Me Quit Writing?

First Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers Support Group day. This month our optional question is ‘What would make me quit writing’? Well, now, at this moment, not a lot! For me, writing hurts.

Writing is no longer writing in the sense that Jane Austen and Charles Dickens wrote. They produced manuscripts and some poor printer put it into print, picking out individual rubber letters from his tray. To the relief of all printers since the late 1970s, we now produce, not manuscripts but typescripts, generated on a computer. There lies my problem. My shoulders ache badly whenever I use my desktop computer and my neck aches whenever I use my laptop. I wake every morning with a headache and, if I’m lucky, it eases off mid-morning. Yes, I’ve seen doctors, and physiotherapists, and chiropractors, and osteopaths and massage therapists – and everything else. I’ve been given pills (for migraines which I don’t have) and they provided no relief at all – funny that! I do Pilates twice a week, which keeps me supple and probably helps the headaches and other aches a little.

I’ve brought it all on to myself. All my own fault. That’s how I often find myself thinking. If I were to stop using my computers, I would probably feel a lot better. But this would mean I’d have to stop writing. I have tried voice activated software many times, but the apps aren’t good with British voices and the technique is different, more like a boss dictating a letter. So I keep on going, attempting to type on the computer, in short bursts and with even more assistive technology support, but with everything aching and hurting, my creativity tends to dry up.

Dear Reader who reads my blog avidly, you’ve heard all this before – but the IWSG people did ask!

Reviewing, Flash Fiction and Other Things

I haven’t been posting on this blog much, have I? But I have been busy, resurrecting my reading blog, Dear Reader and working on it. Lots of new posts there! I am continuing to review for Gill James’s Dream Team, mostly reviewing single author collections published by her. (Gill James is the editor of CafeLit, where I have had some success in placing short stories and flash, but she also publishes from her own publishing houses.)

I have also signed up for Lori’s Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours. I am down to review two books so far: Murder at Sea Captain’s Inn by Melissa Bourbon on 30 July and On Skein of Death by Allie Pleiter on 9 August, I keep receiving requests to review more but, as a newcomer to Great Escapes, I’m pacing myself. Lori specialises in Cosy Crime, one of my favourite genres, so I’m really looking forward to reading these books.

I have also started seriously investigating self-publishing. There is a lot to learn, a lot to read and a lot to take on board. I shall do it. I believe I have written a reasonable novel, but I suspect its setting is not sufficiently topical for the days we live in for a traditional publisher. I am laying my soul bare here, Dear Reader.

I have also joined the ACW (Association of Christian Writers) Flash Fiction Group (on Zoom). Flash is something which has always interested me and I have placed several flash stories in the past. Allison Symes (Flash writer extraordinaire and author of two flash collections) gave a presentation and set us a couple writing exercises: to write a first line for a flash story and to plan it using her template. Of course, writing something whilst in a writers’ group is always challenging but nothing like as hard as attempting to write up one of my flash stories afterwards. Why is writing something short so difficult? I will continue it… shortly.

Well, I must stop now. It’s almost 10 o’clock and typing on my iPad is probably going to do my headaches no good at all. Good night and happy writing.

Shelving First Draft Before Editing

First Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers’ Support Group day. If you’re a writer, even if you feel very secure, please do join us.

This month we’re asked to consider how long we might shelve our first drafts before reading and redrafting?  Is this dependent on our writing experience and number of stories/books under your belt?

The amount of editing a writer carries out is a barometer of his/her confidence.  Successful authors rattle off two or three books per year, leaving (I suppose) little time for editing by the author, although the publisher may do a lot.  Writers of short and flash fiction, who have a high expectation of their pieces being accepted, knock off stories before breakfast and press the submit button on their computers with toast and marmalade still on their fingers.  A writer friend wrote a competition entry on the night of its deadline and was still beavering away past ten o’clock, eleven o’clock…  She eventually submitted at about five to midnight and she won.  True story!

But take me, on the other hand?  Well… A short story or flash, or a non-fiction article, I will put away for a few days after completing the actual writing, or longer if life gets in the way.  Going back to a story after a spell of ‘life’ inevitably gives a writer a different perspective, with lots of new bright ideas.  Sometimes I wonder if these truly improve the piece.  The longer the interval, the more revision!

The Novel, however, I composed between leaving one teaching post and taking up another.  I made jolly sure I finished it on the morning before I met my new line manager in the afternoon to discuss my timetable.  Inevitably, the poor thing got left for a while as I got into my new job.  Of course, there have been not one edit, but several, each some time apart.  You go on editing and editing, fitting it (as you suppose) to each publisher to whom you submit in turn. 

…And you wonder that I’m an insecure writer?

Responses to Writing You Don’t Expect

Greetings, Insecure Writers and many apologies for the enormous heading. I’m working on it. I’m working on it.

Congratulations to all who have been published over the last month or so. Sadly, that is not me – hence my insecurity – but I have been knee-deep in doing other things, including refurbishing this blog and my book blog, Dear Reader. Oh, that heading. I will have to do something about it soon.

This month our optional question is: has any of your readers ever responded to your writing in a way that you didn’t expect? If so, did it surprise you?

My answer is yes and yes. Sometimes it’s my fault for writing something misleading in the text, but there is a huge difference between a careless mistake and deliberately not including too much detail so that the reader has to work some things out for himself/herself. Many times I read a story and at the end wonder what it’s all about, but, when I go back through it a second time, I pick up hooks and nuances which bring it all together. Literary writers who make readers work hard in this way must be prepared for said readers to understand their work differently, or plain get it wrong.

I like to share new pieces with my writing groups, online and face-to-face, and, although one doesn’t – and shouldn’t – expect unqualified praise all the time, the quality of feedback one receives… let us say… varies.

In one of my stories, an English girl student abroad makes friends with a male English ghost. They connected because they were English and homesick, but so many people giving feedback assumed that the two would fall in love and wouldn’t/couldn’t accept a platonic male-female friendship.

The worst bit of feedback I received though was on The Novel, which is set in the 1980s. I had been sending chapters of it to my online writing group for several months and the response of one particular writer was becoming increasingly peevish. ‘Marya is too much like an adult,’ she wrote. ‘All teenagers are concerned about these days is friends and Facebook.’ Yeah, right, Facebook in the 1980s! However, this lady did signpost me to the point that Marya didn’t have any friends, and I built that into the storyline.

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