Saturday, 21 January 2012

Does size matter?

I would love to write a novel but at the moment I'm concentrating on short stories.

Looking at various competitions it is obvious that there is a wide variation in the definition of "short". From 500 words to about 8,000 all seem to be described as "short".

I haven't yet worked out how to create a story to a specific length. I just come up with an idea and get it down on paper. Or initially on a disk. Then I'll edit it and only then look at the word count.

Now I need to digress a little. I am currently very busy at work. I mean busy. My last day off was January 2nd and the next will be the 4th February. I'm not doing much writing. In fact I've only written one story this year so far. And it turns out that this story ended up at under 500 words.

Okay, next fact. I have booked in to the Verulam Writers Circle Get Writing conference in February. Details are here and I would suggest you seriously consider attending this Anyway, all delegates can enter a competition by submitting a story. The rules state that the story must be less than 1,500 words with no minimum.

So, I have entered my story which ended up at 427 words. Was that a waste of the £5 entry fee?

What do you think? Should you submit stories within, say, 10% of the maximum word count (as has been suggested to me by one person) or do I have a realistic chance?

Monday, 2 January 2012

Writing rubbish

Well, it's a new year so it's time to "do a Janus". Look back at the old year and forward to the new.

Last year I actually took the plunge and sent out some of my work. I entered some competitions and, as expected, some of the entries got nowhere. But two were placed and I received a total of £25 in prize money. That is real money for writing words. Whooee. Such a nice feeling.

So what about 2012? I don't do resolutions but like to set targets. So my first target is to receive more than £25, yes? Actually, no. Winning competitions is not really within my control. There is bound to be an element of subjectivity in the judging and, even if I write a cracking story, there is always the chance that someone else will write a better one - or one that appeals to the judge on that particular day. So my target is to enter more competitions so that I have a chance of increasing the income from them.

Hang on a minute. What's all this got to do with writing rubbish? Nothing, yet. Be patient.

With earnings from writing of £25 I have not yet given up the day job. Now, January is a really busy month so I'm going to leave setting my targets for the year until the beginning of February. For the next four weeks I will just try to keep writing something in the little free time I have. I should write a blog post on procrastination. Perhaps next month.

One thing I have committed to is to write something for the mini-competition in Writing Magazine each month. This is only 200 or 250 words but covers very diverse subjects that it will take me out of my comfort zone. (Perhaps one of them will be to write a piece avoiding cliches such as comfort zone)

Finally, I come to writing rubbish. The most common advice from published authors is that you need to keep writing. Even when you do not feel like it. That is when it is imperative that you put some words down on paper (or on the screen). If you are not sure how to continue your story then write something. Anything. It can always be edited later.

Recently I have followed this advice. I had just finished a scene. I knew what needed to be in the next scene. But something had to mentioned in the interval. I stared at the blank screen for about twenty minutes before deciding to write. The passage was dire. It was basically "and then I walked down the street and saw this chap and felt this way." I believe the official phrase is "total crap".

But having started on the next scene I can now see how to incorporate that moment as a flashback. And I am writing again. So, write something, even if it seems to be rubbish, because you can always edit it later.

To return to my cliches, I have had an idea for a story (well, more of a scene really) which is well outside my comfort zone. I'd best get a first draft down as soon as possible in case it can be turned into a story suitable for a competition.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Workshop review

So, belatedly, here are my thoughts about Helen Hunt’s workshop I attended.

I hate being late so I left plenty of time for the 50 mile drive. Of course, this meant I was the first to arrive. That’s never a problem – show me where to make a cup of tea and I’m happy. Three other attendees arrived soon after and the final two were somewhat late. Some of the roads confused me so I could sympathise with their problem.

Everyone was lovely and friendly and, after a general chat and introductions, we got down to the business of the day. The workshop was very focussed. This is something to bear in mind if you are tempted to go to a future presentation. It was titled “Insight into the Women’s Magazine Market” and it was exactly that. Which was precisely what I wanted.

Helen covered all the magazines accepting submissions and went into their foibles as to what they look for in a story. We tried analysing stories to get inside the editor’s head. All pretty helpful stuff.

Just before lunch we had our critiqued stories returned. (Ah, I didn't mention this did I? A critique is all part of the service and I had sent the story in the previous week) Helen tactfully left the room to sort out lunch while we reeled from the red ink comments.

After some food to help us recover we discussed the comments so had a chance to clarify or argue with them. This was really helpful and showed me where I need to improve.

The rest of the afternoon centred on how to write a story to maximise the chances of it being accepted. Helen has had lots of stories published so her views should prove to be useful.

I left a satisfied customer. If you are interested Helen’s website is here.

Oh and if you are at the stage where you're not yet submitting stories for publication why not try entering some flash fiction competitions? I’m getting into this now and if you've no idea where to enter take a look at Patsy Collins blog here. Lots of free entry ones mentioned and you can get links to some of her winning pieces too.

Friday, 23 September 2011

One fell by the wayside

The short list is now up at Emerald Writing Workshops and one of my stories failed to make it.

That was my attempt at being a pessimist. Of course I should be screaming "One story is in the top six. Think I deserve a small glass of sherry."

Last weekend I went to a workshop run by Helen Hunt. I'll write about it this weekend (after the effects of the sherry wear off).

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

First hurdle cleared

I've just checked the Emerald Writing Workshops site here and discovered that both my stories have made the long list in their competition that closed last week.

There were fourteen stories chosen for this list out of a total entry of 55.

A long way from actually winning but it is a nice boost to my ego.

Their current comp is for a story of up to 500 words based on the theme "Riches to Rags". Why not have a go yourself?

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Ideas. Where do they come from?

I've sent my entries to the Emerald Writing Workshops competition I mentioned in my last post. I abandoned the rewrite as there would not have been enough time to edit it properly. That one is now on hold for another market in the future.

The next one on my list to write is for the competition in Best magazine. I don't have a deadline date yet but the entry form will be published in the 6th September issue. The prize of £1,000 is attractive but I expect the competition will be fierce.

So, what shall I write about? Last night I had absolutely no idea. Thought I'd sleep on it. Sure enough, I woke not long after four o'clock this morning and - still no revelation. It looked like I would have to do this the hard way. Brainstorming - or is there a more modern word for it now?

First hold the image of a typical reader in my mind. I have read the last five issues all the way through (including the adverts) so have a rough idea.

Now, last weeks published story revolved around having to do housework on a self catering holiday. Can I use another slant on housework? Nothing comes to mind so what else does this reader do? Shop. That holds a bit of promise but lots of stories cover this. Shopping with a friend and also lunch. Maybe.

Suddenly a theme springs into my mind. Where did that come from? Never mind, it would give the story some structure. But there's got to be emotion in there. What about relationships? Aha, I see a way of tying a relationship change with my theme. I now have the basis for a story. I let it roll around a bit in my head and out pops a title. This is going well. Only another thousand words to write now.

Is any of this familiar? How do you get your ideas? Are you methodical about this or do you wait for inspiration to strike?

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Decisions, decisions

Are you intending to enter the current Emerald Writing Workshops competition? If so then you need to get a move on. The deadline is looming, and I haven’t got an entry ready yet. That’s nothing unusual – I can never decide what to write early on in the competition. Trouble is, this one does not have a theme. Just 500 words or less on any topic.

In case you think I’m totally disorganised I should mention I had planned to rewrite an existing story for my entry. But I thought, ‘I've plenty of time, I’ll do it later’.

Well, later has arrived and for some reason the rewrite is not going to plan. I think I’m achieving the purpose of the rewrite, which was to make the scene a metaphor for the main character’s life. But I’m losing the original tension a bit. Or a lot. Perhaps I should just enter another story which I had intended to send as well. That one is a bit short and I've been looking at ways to expand it without resorting to padding for its own sake.

Well, the competition is postal entries only so I need to make a decision very soon. I don’t do decisions, not well anyway. Perhaps another cup of tea would help (a glass of wine definitely would but it’s only just after breakfast).

I’ll let you know if I managed to send an entry. Oh, and the link to the competition is here in case you have a suitable story ready.