Day 8: 30 Day Blogging Challenge Review Week 1

To dos by Courtney Dirks courtneyrian.com by flickr ccI have blogged for 7 days straight and it’s been tough, but I’ve managed it. It’s been an interesting experience so far and I have learned a lot. I began this challenge by working out some idea of the kinds of posts that I could do for the blog. My posts, however have gone in a completely different direction to the one I anticipated.

5 Things I have Learned:

  1. That I found writing standard copywriting posts boring (Day 2). I have found it far more interesting to follow my passion and write about writing stories, although this is the topic I have less experience in!
  2. That I don’t want to be just another ‘how to write’ blog, but I want to write about the things that I find interesting – plays on words and character names.
  3. That I can find time to sit down and write a blog post a day, but that Saturdays may be tough to fulfil because the family are around to distract me!
  4. That if you look for blog post ideas, they will come!
  5. That I like getting little badges for blog posts!

5 Things that I am going to do this week:

  1. Write 7 blog posts
  2. Play with an editorial calendar to try and get some order into my posts
  3. Try out more of Sarah’s email suggestions
  4. Find some new and interesting topics to blog about
  5. Get my 14 day badge

I have been impressed with the quality of the supporting emails and the friendliness of others who are also on their own blogging journey. It’s a great place to jump-start your blog.

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My Top 10 Fictional Villains

Half Moon IMG_2140s by Phuket@photographer.net on Flickr CCWe love to hate the villains in the fiction we read and in the films that we watch. These days, villains can be multi-faceted and are not necessarily all evil. Here is my top 10 villains:

10. Lucius Malfoy – I love Malfoy senior’s name from the Harry Potter books. Lucius is reminiscent of Lucifer while Mal is French for ‘bad’ which gives you some indication of his character.

9. Wackford Squeers in Nicholas Nickleby. Squeers is the headmaster of the school Dotheboys Hall in the story. He is mean and cruel as his name would seem to suggest.

8. The white witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is all the more evil for her beauty. She also has a fiendish penchant for plots – the fact that it is always winter in Narnia but never Christmas is diabolical. She does have some great garden statues, though.

7. Captain Hook from JM Barrie’s Peter Pan is more like a pantomime villain (oh no he’s not, oh yes he is!) than an evil mastermind, but he does have to put up with marauding children. He also has a terrifying nemesis himself in the crocodile that appears whenever he is least expecting it. At least the wrist watch inside it means he can hear it coming.

6. The Child-Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was all the more scary by the portrayal brought to life on the screen by Robert Helpmann whose evil looks have brought nightmares to generations of children.

5. Ebenezer Scrooge has a great name that suggests mean with money and miserly. Sure enough, early on in the novel, we see him begrudging his clerk extra firewood to heat the office and expecting him to come into work during the Christmas season.

4. Voldemort in the Harry Potter series has a very sinister name, and it makes it more evil when people are afraid to say his name, referring to him instead as ‘he who shall not be named’. His gang, the Death-eaters are also villains that strike fear into the wizard’s hearts.

3. Ursula the sea witch in The Little Mermaid is evil in the extreme. Not content with tricking the little mermaid into exchanging her voice for a pair of legs, she then changes the game when it looks like she is going to lose. Not a very nice person.

2. Miss Trunchbull – Matilda isn’t cowed by Miss Trunchbull, but she’s the only one. Miss Trunchbull makes small children quiver in their shoes as she shouts at them and shuts them in the chokey. This is not a woman who will get teacher of the year award.

1.Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter is the most evil creation I know. Her love of fluffy kittens and the colour pink contrasts sharply with her vindictive nature and her influence on Harry is far worse than that of Voldemort as she has full access to him in school. She is a bully of the worst kind and I consider one of the worst villains in literature.

This is my list of fictional villains and it has been hard to keep it to 10. What would your list look like and who is your all-time villain? Post them in the comments below.

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Great Hero Character Names

Hero text effect by Alan KlimNaming characters can be very problematic as an author. Some of the cleverest names have come from the author playing with words and enabling the name to reflect the character. Here are some of my favourites and why I like them so much.

Heroes of stories don’t always have heroic names. Harry Potter immediately comes to mind – a plain ordinary name for an extraordinary boy. LM Montgomery made much of her heroine’s name – Anne of Green Gables insisted on her name being spelt ‘Anne-with-an-e’ as plain ‘Ann’ was too ordinary. Oliver Twist, the orphan who dared to ask for more by Charles Dickens: that name suggests that his life is not going to be simple, but might have many twists. Eleanor and Marianne Dashwood of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, have names that suit themselves. Eleanor has a normal, sensible name while her sister has a poetic name which suits her personality.

Some characters are named after their characteristics such as Beauty in Beauty and the Beast. The March sisters in Little Women have normal names, but their surname suggests the wartime that they live in and that their father daily faces. Cinderella is traditionally named because she is always sweeping up the cinders, but it is also a quite pretty name. Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan is clever because his name is actually Greek – Perseus – but it is shortened to reflect modern times. The stories are based on Greek heroes of mythology so the main protagonist’s name is appropriate. The characters of Wind in the Willows actually run a little against type. Ratty is a good friend to Toad, who, although silly is never anything more than that. Badger does indeed conjure up a name that reflects sense.

Pip in Great Expectations is short for Philip Perrip, a great name. Catcher in the Rye has Scout which is a really cool name for a girl. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has Charlie Bucket which somehow reflects the poverty of his situation. Sherlock Holmes is such an unusual name, which has gone down into popular culture as the name of the greatest detective ever – you almost forget he is fictional. By contrast, his sidekick Dr Watson has a solid and sensible name.

Feel free to leave your favourite character’s name in the comments. There are many more great ones out there.

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Day 5 – Embarrassing Writing – Need to Keep My Work Secret

Embarrassed by Sarebear (smilie) on Flickr ccI want to talk about something that I touched on yesterday in more detail today and that subject is: embarrassing writing. It’s something that I suffer from quite a lot. I am probably going to find that it is just me, and that everyone else is loud and proud about the fact they write, but I have always tended to keep it a secret.

I enjoy writing, I feel compelled to write, particularly when I have had a really great idea that I just have to get down, but when it comes to actually sitting there, notebook open and pen out, then I just have to hide it – I am embarrassed to write!

It’s crazy really, I have great feedback from clients – they all appreciate my work and like what I do. I have written for all kinds of people from all walks of life and written well, but I don’t like to let my family see me write. Perhaps it’s because there I feel there is something else I should be doing, perhaps because I feel that my writing is silly, that no one could possibly want to read it and that it should be locked away in a cupboard somewhere and I should throw away the key.

However the longer I am in this, the more I feel that I am being silly to feel embarrassed about getting involved in a new writing project. I need to learn to let go a little more and be upfront about who I am and that person is a writer.

So, if you can identify with this and you too feel embarrassed to let friends and family know you write, here are some tips that are beginning to help me overcome this problem:

  • Don’t put off your writing. Make notes on your phone or tablet, buy a notebook or whatever else it takes to get writing but start writing today.
  • Pack a notebook or tablet for your holidays. Reading is one of these holiday pleasures and so is writing. Take the things you will need away with you to write.
  • Find a time when you can talk to your partner about it. They expect gaming time, don’t they? Well it makes it a fair swap if you tell them that you need writing time too!
  • Expect to be a little selfish. The thing about writing is that it is a solo activity, so you will need time to yourself. Send the kids out to play with their friends, the husband out to darts night and the girlfriend out for the night, then enjoy the peace and quiet and write.
  • The next time you feel like hiding your writing, bring it out into the open. Just mention it casually and hope that your partner takes their cue from you. Partners can keep secrets from each other (I’m thinking shopping habits here) but if writing is that important to you, then you will want their support.
  • You don’t have to share everything with everyone. When you’re a business owner, then you will want as many people as possible to know about your writing, but when you are just starting out as an aspiring author, then only let the people know who you want to know.

This is something I have struggled with in the past as a writer. I am beginning to be able to talk to my family a little about what I am doing and learning to negotiate writing time, but there are days when I would prefer not to talk about it.

Comment below if you understand what I mean about ‘embarrassing writing’ or not! Then I shall know whether I am truly alone and should just go back to my hidey hole.

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Day 4 (30 Day Blogging Challenge) Plot Your Novel

Plot Bunny?
Plot Bunny?

There are several schools of thought when it comes to plotting out a novel. The first one is: don’t plot your novel!

For some people, the very act of sitting down and working out what the story is going to be about and the twists and turns of the novel takes away from the experience of writing it. Some people enjoy seeing where the mood takes them and writing when the muse strikes. I have to say men that I have tried this style of plotting myself. I had been thinking about my idea for a while, allowing it to ferment, before sitting down and writing it down in roughly 1,666 word chunks. That is roughly the word count you need to make each night if you are to succeed at NaNoWriMo, the challenge that asks you to write a 50,000 word novel in a month.

Because the amount of words I wanted to achieve each night was fairly structured, I found it reasonably ok to make the target, sometimes less and sometimes more. I tried to leave my story in a place where I could come back the next night and pick it straight up. I had thought about the characters for a number of months so I knew them fairly well, but there was no real attempt to plot the novel.

It did not work so well. I managed to complete NaNoWriMo, but I am not happy with the result. It did not work as well as it could – there is no coherence and a lack of development within the plot. I am reasonably happy with the characters, the setting and the dialogue, but the novel shows that I had only a vague idea of where it was going when I sat down and began to write it.

I have had other attempts to write a novel, but they have just not stayed the course. So when it came to my latest idea, I was looking for a way to plot my novel that could give me a firmer foundation on which to work. Here were my top contenders:

  1. Rachel Aaron/Rachel Bach – Rachel writes science fiction and fantasy world books and her blog is very thorough when describing how she comes to plot a book. I really enjoyed this blog post on plotting and thought it was very good advice.
  2. Simon Haynes also has a great article on plotting a novel. He explains the difference between how he plotted and how his novel turned out. He also writes software to help writers. You can read about Simon and his books at Spacejock.

  3. Lisa Gardiner has also produced an interesting article on how to plot a novel. She likes to make sure that everything is well-researched and that she has the whole novel outlined before beginning to write. Again, she offers some  good tips in ‘Plotting the Novel or the Real Reasons Writers are Neurotic”.

  4. The She’s Novel blog explains how to take a plot bunny – a novel writing idea that just won’t go away – and turn it into a fully-fledged novel outline.

  5. The Snowflake Method. The snowflake method builds your novel plot up sentence by sentence. You start with a sentence that sums up your plot, then you expand on it, then you build up information on your main characters and what happens in the story. Randy Ingerson has written the article and some software to go with it. This is a very detailed explanation on how to plot a novel step by step.

This is just a snapshot of the kinds of resources that are on the web, so if you have a ‘plot bunny’ hanging around your head, why not check out some plotting resources and see if you can capture that critter on paper!

In the interests of clarity, there are no affiliate links in this article, and all opinions are my own.

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Five Tips to Finding your Freelance Writing Style

Busy Day by Debra Roby on Flickr CC“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” Richard Bach

The internet has opened up a lot of opportunity to writers to earn money from freelance writing. The beauty of freelance is that you don’t have to give up your day job and dive straight in, but that you can use your spare time to explore freelance writing to see if it is for you. One of the most important things you can do is to learn about your freelance writing style. This takes a little persistence and practice, so here are some tips to help you.

  1. Find time to write. Keep notebooks in lots of different places so that you always have something on hand to write on, or use the notes on your phone. This is even better if you are able to sync your notes with your computer because then they will be backed up and you can work on them some more. Even 10 minutes can be productive if you come to it ready to write.
  2. Write about what interests you. Write about an interesting event that has struck you or an interesting news story. Sometimes just a news headline can be enough to spark that creativity. Or you can write a description of an interesting character and put them in a story.
  3. Read. Find out about writing styles. Learning how to structure your work is very important in freelance writing. Read up about how to write headlines and the differences between blog posts and articles. Look up different types of blog posts and work on examples of each type. Practise writing articles. When I began to write, I started by submitting content to a number of websites which would edit the articles before they went up. This was a great way to learn how to do things right.
  4. Follow some writers who seem to be doing things right. You can learn a lot from other people. Be wary of bold claims from some people who just seem to be after your money, but there are some excellent freelance writers out there who give really worthwhile advice. You will also probably be able to follow them on Facebook and Twitter. You can get yourself known to them by commenting on their blog and asking questions. These people can offer a lot of experience and you can learn a lot.
  5. Take your time to learn about freelance writing. If you are interested in building up a career in it, then it is worth spending the effort to research it and find out more. There are some good email courses available but always check out reviews before committing to buying a course.
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30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 2: Q & A

Question 1 by Virtual EyeSee

Five years ago, I created a post which asked, so – what exactly do you do?

It came about through a challenge posted by Naomi Dunford of Itty Biz who had been asked by a reader of her blog, “So, what do you actually do?” It made her stop and think about what she actually did, and more importantly whether her website actually reflected what she actually did.

Did her website truly reflect her business or did she need to spell it out more clearly? These are the questions she asked herself and I am going to ask myself the same questions here:

What is your game? What do you do?

I am first and foremost a writer. I love playing with words, using words and discovering words. During my time as a writer, I have written newsletters, articles on diverse topics such as Northern Lights tours and marble and granite, not to mention 50 articles on car mats! I love researching a new topic and learning about something different. I enjoy a challenge and I love it when I have a new assignment.

I also enjoy writing short stories, I have been known to write (very secret) poetry and I have written a terrible novel which was written during NaNoWriMo one year. There is just one published copy which will never see the light of day again! (Evil cackling)

I have also done some proofreading and edited a book.

Why do you do it? Do you love it, or do you just have one of those creepy knacks?

Writing is not easy work. That’s the first thing I would say, however I find it enjoyable. I have known some people who just can’t bear writing. I must confess to having a creepy knack with spelling – I can usually tell if a word is spelt correctly. I also can remember all those names for parts of a sentence which everyone else seems to have forgotten since they left school – nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs etc. Handy for school homework!

Who are your customers? What kind of people would need or want what you offer?

I have met people who hate writing so I am an obvious match for someone like that. I have worked with small business owners, a London marketing agency and a local charity as well as a growing business. There are a lot of people looking for content these days because they have been told that it is essential for their business. It is, but not the cheap, churned out stuff that you can buy for peanuts. The kind of content that works is tailored to the individual business and offers valuable and interesting information rather than just the same stuff that everyone else is churning out.

What’s your marketing USP (Unique Selling Point)? Why should I buy from you instead of the other losers?

Everyone thinks they can write, but do people want to read it? I look for the story behind the article and use it to create unique articles and blog posts that will encourage people to read on. Why should you buy from me? You don’t have to if you don’t think we are a good fit.

What’s next for you? What’s the big plan?

I am currently researching a period of history and plotting out a history novel. As for the creative writing – I am always looking forward to the next challenge.

If you are a business blog and these questions appeal to you, why not try answering something similar yourself. Make sure that people understand what you do and why you do it.

Comment below if you decide to follow this through.

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30 Day Blogging Challenge -Day 1

pen & paper by Dinuraj K on Flickr CCWhen I interviewed Sarah Arrow of Sark e-Media for this blog last year, I was impressed by her 30 day blogging challenge. The idea is to blog for 30 consecutive days – something I have not tried before. I kept coming back to the idea, but the time never seemed right. Now, in February 2016, it does.

“Keep a small can of WD-40 on your desk—away from any open flames—to remind yourself that if you don’t write daily, you will get rusty.”

—George Singleton

I have accepted the challenge and so plan to blog daily for the month of February and 2 days into March. Sarah has written a blog post to help you get some ideas together about the kinds of blog posts you can write.I already have some ideas mapped out and I am looking forward to seeing what happens.

My reasons for taking part in the challenge include adding some more posts to this blog, as it can get a bit neglected when I am busy with work or just life. I am also blogging to meet more people online and see what other people are blogging about. I am also hoping to reinvigorate my business and have fun.

I have already joined the Facebook group where you can promote your posts and see what everyone else is writing about. This is an important part of the process and will help me to keep to the challenge. Sarah also sends out daily emails to help you with the challenge.

So come along with me for the journey. If, like me, you fancy a blogging challenge this month, then visit Sarah’s website, Sark e-Media to sign up and for further information.

The first day was OK – the other 29? We shall wait and see.

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