Secrets of Stronger Fiction 1: Characters who run against normal society – Anne with an E

I am not only a writer, I am a reader. I love a good piece of historical fiction, where the details take you back in history, the sights and the smells and the experiences of people long ago fill the story with the results of a writer’s long hours of research.

Some of my favourite characters are historical characters from the novels that I first encountered as a teenager. Many of these do not need such research, as they were written in their time. I love reading about characters that stand out from the crowd for their time – I always feel as though I would have loved to know them.

Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables by L.M.Montgomery

The series of stories about Anne see her grow up from an orphan of about 11 into a young woman, then a mother and beyond. Anne is not a normal little girl, at least to the good mothers of Avonlea, who fear what she is teaching her daughters. Anne’s unconventional upbringing has meant that she knows a lot more about life than some of her sheltered friends, but her heart is kind and her creativity brings her the admiration of her friends. The book was first published in 1908 and is set on Prince Edward Island. Many of the descriptions in the book are based on real places on Prince Edward Island and local people there have set up tours and a museum based on the book.

Anne is a typical 11 year old who gets into trouble, but she is always supported and loved by Matthew Cuthbert, the farmer who adopted her. His sister Marilla is quicker to judge, but she always supports Anne in the end. Some of Anne’s difficulties involve dying her hair green instead of raven black and accidentally getting her best friend drunk on what she thought was raspberry cordial but turned out to be currant wine.

The contrast between Anne, who has no idea who her parents were: they are just names on a birth certificate, and her classmates on Prince Edward Island is large. Anne’s best friend Diana, is expected to attend finishing school and marry well. This is an old-fashioned ideal for the time, but Diana’s parents are very conscious of their social position. She is not allowed to continue school, even though she has the brains to do so.

Anne has no thought of her looks apart from the things she despises about them. She hates having red hair and breaks her slate over her classmate, Gilbert’s head when he calls them, ‘carrots’! She also dislikes her thin frame and pale skin and freckles. She only cares about her brains and works hard to stay at the top of the class with Gilbert. The two of them have quite a rivalry when it comes to school work.

Anne of Green Gables and the sequels that have followed, have endured as a classic for a very long time. The story of the orphan boy who turned out to be a girl is full of heart, emotion and character you care about. Anne is easily identifiable with, and so are many of her classmates. The stories stand as a testament to the strength of the cast of characters as well as its leading lady.

Writers’ Notes

What can writers learn from Anne of Green Gables?

LM Montgomery wrote the story from a newspaper headline that caught her attention

Writing an unconventional character can bring your story to life

Writing contrasting characters can help bring the story along.

Bringing characters into the story that oppose your main character is a great way to introduce conflict to the plot

You never know where your idea might come from next!

Keep an eye out for interesting headlines in your local papers – could you turn one of them into a short story or even a novel?

Who is one of your favourite characters in literature and why? Comment below and let me know.

Share

Breakfast, not late night snacks, hold the key to managing your weight

Do you eat breakfast? Or do you eat late at night? When you eat your food could be the key to enabling you to manage your weight more effectively.

A team of scientists conducted a study to see if the timing of meals mattered when people were trying to manage their weight. They wrote about their study as an open access article in PLOS Biology journal. The scientists, from Vanderbilt University, USA,  assembled a group of people to test their theory.

The participants were middle-aged and older people,, who had a variety of measured BMI (body mass index), who had their metabolism monitored in a whole-room respiratory chamber over two sessions, each 56 hours long. The study was designed as a random crossover experimental study. The scientists made sure that lunch and dinner were offered at the same times: 12.30 and 17.45pm, but made the timing of the third meal different. In one of the sessions, the third meal was breakfast, offered at 8am, while in the other, the meal was given as an evening snack at 10pm. The amount of time between meals overnight, was the same length and the type of food eaten was the same. The subjects also had the same activity levels in both groups.

All participants experienced both sessions. They were asked to monitor and record their sleeping habits the week before the experiment. They were assessed by a doctor before going into the chamber. The room had a set rate of oxygen and carbon dioxide flowing through it to enable the participants’ respiratory rates to be measured. They had lights on at 7am and lights off at 11pm.

The scientists found that the group that ate the late night snack burned less fat overnight than the group who had eaten the meal as breakfast. The respiratory rates between the two groups were also different. The scientists concluded that our biological clock works better when we eat in the morning rather than when we eat late at night. Eating late could delay our metabolism and cause the nutrients from the food to be stored rather than burned.

So the next time you reach for that late night snack, you might want to hold off until breakfast the next day!

I write medical blogs for one of my clients. I like to include interesting studies here, particularly if they have relevance for the freelance life.

Do you prefer breakfast or supper? The answer may have an effect on your metabolic rate.

Johnson, C.H., et al., Eating breakfast and avoiding late-evening snacking sustains liquid oxidation, PLOS Biology, February 2020

Share

Freelancer Friday – What makes a readable blog post?

30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 5

Blog post visitors are tricky beasts! We are told that we have a very short time in which to grab their attention and persuade them to stay on the blog. How can you ensure that your blog visitors might be tempted to stay? When you are a freelancer, it can be even more important – you rely on your blog to showcase your talents and your business.

Aim the subject towards your readership. It’s no good blogging about upholstery if your audience is here to learn about freelancing. Freelancer, make the subject relevant to your intended audience and even more important, use relevant images too.

 

Images

Pick your images for the impact that they will make, as well as their relevance to the blog post. I look for either bright colourful images that are not too distant or too fuzzy for the size that I need them, or distinctive black and white images can work well too. Either way, the subject needs to be clear and the background works with the picture rather than against it. I always think that the pictures you choose are individual to you and really enhance your post.

Paragraphs

Break your blog post into smaller chunks or paragraphs. When you change the subject, change the paragraph. Keep the paragraphs short and don’t use too many connectives – better to have short clear sentences. You can also divide your blog post up, using subheadings which help your reader to have a clearer idea of what the blog post is about.

Don’t worry too much about a ‘tidy’ blog post at the point of first draft. It is more important to get your thoughts and feelings on the page and shape the post. Once you have said what you want to say, then you can go back over it and polish it.

How long should your blog post be?

Blog posts are tending towards the longer end at the moment: lengths of 1,000 words or more are not uncommon. This is due to the super power of a long blog post to keep you on the page for longer (which is a Good Thing according to Google). This is wonderful for the more wordy among us, but I’ve always found that my blog posts find their own length – they just seem right when they’re done.

By the way, if you can tie blog posts together and do a series, so much the better. Hopefully you can keep bringing back your visitors for more.

Finding your voice

The most interesting blog posts for me are ones where you can hear the author’s voice. For example, I can usually hear Sarah Arrow’s voice reading her blog posts and anyone who knows her would probably do the same. My voice is not so well known, but when I use anecdotes from my life, I am at my most real. I would also say that this can be quite scary to do. Don’t be afraid to change names and make people unrecognisable to themselves, but a little storytelling can help a blog to change from a so-so blog to a post that people will remember and may come back to read again.

Finally, find time to post! You are a fine one to talk, I hear you say to me and you are right. I have been guilty of not finding time to post to my blog. I am making up for it with 30 days of blog penance and I am enjoying it – so far. Finding a rhythm and time to post ensures that when that client comes across your blog, it doesn’t look like a ghost town. You want to be present in your blog and that can only happen when you post.

So enjoy your time on the blogging challenge and keep going!

What tips do you have for making your blog readable? Please share in the comments below.

Share

Should you use Free Business Search Engines for your Small Business

30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 4

There are lots of free business search engines around. Many have been going for years. They often offer a basic free listing, which can offer improved visibility if you decide to pay for their service. How do you know if their paid-for service is any good and how can you make your free listing worth taking the time to do?

 

 

 

 

 

Adding yourself to free business search listings seems a no-brainer on the surface. You can usually put in contact details and a few details about what you do, for the the princely sum of time. The websites will usually try and upsell you to a paid listing, but it is up to you to decide whether it is worth it. Check out the paid listings – do they get enough for their money? Fill in as many details as you can and make sure that you include things such as a photo, your website and social media details.

Many of these websites bring new entries to the fore after paid-for accounts. It can therefore pay to go back every couple of weeks and amend the free listing, to see if it brings you back to the top of the list.

Here are a few that I have used: (Disclaimer – there are no affiliates in this post – just my opinions!)

FreeIndex

Pros:

Able to search for keywords in an A-Z list.

You can set up an email alert when the website receives quote requests for something that is similar to your business

The website has a fresh, clean design with colour pictures and is easy to navigate.

You can search, using a number of terms

The website gives you an author image, key services for search terms and the chance to write a description of your business.

Customers can also leave reviews and the latest reviews are shown on the landing page

Premium or paid listing enables you to be listed above non-premium members with a super-highlighted listing, an extended search radius and more keyword tags. You also get alerts before non-premium members and the ability to upload more photos and videos and they also stop advertising nearby businesses which offer the same services on the same page.

Cons:

The free listing does advertise nearby businesses that offer the same service lower down the page

You really need reviews to keep the momentum going, but it does say when the page was last updated, so keep updating it.

My opinion:

I have had 1 client through this page – but he never left me a review, so my reviews are 0. I don’t get many leads from it either. At the moment I maintain the profile, but is it worth it?

Might be worth trying for a new business, or if you’re offering a popular business that people are looking for like leaflet drops.

Google My Business

Pros:

Works well with a Gmail account

Able to post blogs

You get statistics from the posting each month, which say how many visitors you had and the bounce rate

Google is a pretty big search engine

Cons:

Can’t think of any really, except I have not had clients through it yet.

UK Business Forums

More of a forum than a listing, but it is still very active. You are welcome to browse for free and even ask questions, but there are areas that are members-only for a fee.

Pros:

All kinds of businesses are covered here and whatever your question is, you are bound to find it answered.

Newbies can ask questions and have them answered

They have regional forums for different areas of the UK

They include social enterprise in the forums

It’s current and still well-used

Cons:

The Marketplace where jobs are posted is for paid members only

Have you found any free business listing websites that have been good for your business? Please share below.

Share

3 fears you face as a business owner and how to work through them

We have all experienced fear. That uncomfortable moment when the pit of your stomach falls through the floor and a feeling of dread creeps over you. Fear is a healthy response to stepping out of our comfort zone. Sometimes, however, the emotion can take over and paralyse you, which can prevent you taking action.

 

 

 

 

 

But what if you let fear rule your actions?

Fear of starting a project

It can be possible to be afraid to start something. You take that normal piece of business advice, which is to formulate a plan – and then you plan and plan and plan. Or you research, research, research. You are so busy planning and researching, that you don’t ever start. Ever.

Answer:

While it’s good to plan and research, the time does eventually come when you need to start to do something. How will you ever learn if you simply stay safe? No one can plan for ever and sometimes you just need to get something done.

Find a small step and just take it. Make that first step to that thing you want to do and then follow it with another and another. If it helps, break down the whole process into small steps, just make sure that you then follow through and take action too!

Fear of not being able to carry out the work

There can be a real fear of taking on too much and not being able to fulfil your work demands. This especially applies if you are working in a service industry. You might be afraid that family demands could mean that you are unable to work, or if other demands on your time increase the pressure. How can you give 100% to your work when so many other things threaten to take over?

Answer:

Strangely, the answer to this one is planning! Know the hours you have to work and make sure that what you take on will fit inside them. Always allow a little extra for the unforeseen event and keep the communication with your client flowing. It is true that life has a habit of tossing little problems in your way and no one can guarantee that they will always be able to fulfil the work, but you can mitigate it as much as possible by ensuring that you keep a good grasp of what needs to be done. If this means making an old-fashioned timesheet to ensure you give enough time to different projects, then so be it.

Fear of not being good enough

No one knows all the answers when they’re just starting out, but there can be a real fear of being found out! What if the people you network with, realised just how much you are finding it hard to keep on top of everything? What if your business fails in a spectacular way? How can you say that you are an expert when you have only just started?

Answer:

Everyone can feel this way sometimes. It is one of the ways we put pressure on ourselves. However, we can choose to listen to the disparaging voice in our head, or we can tell it a few home truths. Just because you have this fear, doesn’t make it true. We need to find ways to counteract the voice with logic and calmness.

One way to help this is to have a good friend, who knows what you do, how hard you work and what it has taken to get there. A conversation with them might just be the antidote you need to a doubtful voice inside your head.

What fears have you faced while running your own business? How do you manage to face them down and still get things done? Comment below.

Share

#Hours on Twitter – a great way to get known for Business Owners?

30 Day Blogging Challenge – Day 2

#Hours on Twitter can be a great way to meet with other business owners in your local area and other business owners who are not necessarily in your line of business but who might be local to you.

 

 

 

 

 

The process works through adding a hashtag to your tweet that enables the #hour to pick it up and retweet it to its followers.

Sounds complicated? Not once you get the hang of it.

Continue reading #Hours on Twitter – a great way to get known for Business Owners?

Share

What to do when your freelance business seems stuck in a rut

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

Ever felt like your freelance business is stuck in a rut? There seems to be no new work coming in, you don’t seem able to move forward with your work, or find any new clients. Perhaps you have been working for the same clients for some years and it’s feeling stale. You want to move forward as a freelancer, but you can’t see a way through. It’s time to think outside the box.

People in employment can feel stuck too. Perhaps they’ve been passed over for promotion, or they feel that their manager never gives them enough credit for the work they do. Either way, they feel stuck and unappreciated and wonder how to free themselves and feel better.

It’s important to understand that it is possible that your emotions will pass, and that all it’s going to take is a new freelance contact from a client, a new networking situation or even a project at work that has gone really well, but equally when you are feeling bored and struggling to get the work done though lack of interest then you need to take action.

Take stock of your situation

Give yourself some thinking time and some space. Choose a day when you don’t have a lot of deadlines coming up and write down 5 things that are good about your work, and 5 things that frustrate you. Be as specific or broad as you wish. What attracted you to your work in the first place? What has made it seem as though it is going wrong. Take a few days and add to the lists if you need to. See if you can work out where things are going wrong.

Decide to make a small change.

The worst thing to do is to keep on doing what you have aways done and expect the result to be different. Finding a way out is not easy, but it is worth trying to do. If you feel that you are fairly clear on where things have gone wrong, and you have an idea to try, then try it. You have nothing to lose and it may help. Decide to try it for a reasonable length of time and make a date in your diary to assess it and whether it has made any kind of impact on your  freelance work or how you feel. Be prepared: this small change may lead to another small change and another. Make sure that you can assess what difference they make to your business.

Ask for help

This can be difficult to do, but it may be the only option. If you are struggling to see what is going wrong, or what you could do to change things, then you may need some help. If you have a friend who is able to understand what you do, and whose opinion you trust, then it may be as simple as arranging to go for a coffee with them to talk things through. Some forums have places where you can ask questions – look for one for people who do what you do as they are more likely to understand your problems. You may need advice from someone who is further along in their business or who has done things differently.

Be accountable to someone

Find someone who you can be accountable to when it comes to getting work done. It’s a way of making sure you get things done when you work on your own. You could also help them to be accountable to their own business. You can decide to check in with them weekly, monthly, or whenever suits you both.

Find a mentor or coach

It may come to the point when you feel that you need more specialised help – and that it’s time to look for a mentor or a coach. Don’t just jump straight in: get to know someone first. Hang around their groups, do something small with them first and see whether their style fits yours. The coaching has got to be within your budget, but it also has to have similar aims to yours. You can take recommendations, or you might just come across someone through another group. It will need to be someone you trust, if you are going to pay them for their help, and you have to feel that you are getting your money’s worth. See it as money that you are investing in your business and use it wisely.

Be prepared to walk away

In the end, it all comes down to whether you can make peace with your freelance business and get it going again. You need to be able to work out what has gone wrong and what steps you need to take to fix it. If you are unable to find your love for your freelance work, then you need to be prepared to walk away and find something else.

It’s not an easy decision to make, but sometimes it may be the right one. Before making such a decision, talk to everyone that it will affect, and make sure that you have taken all the steps you needed to in order to try to make the business work. Businesses fail all the time, the important thing to do is make sure that your mental health does not go down with it.

Have you got to the point where you have felt stuck in a rut and not known what to do? What was your solution to the problem?

Share

There’s no such thing as a free lunch – should you write for free?

Actually, there is such a thing as a free lunch! My church put on a free lunch on the first Saturday of every month. They offer soup, fresh crusty bread and cakes, and it is very popular. Some of the homeless people in the town are waiting eagerly outside, at 12 pm, ready to come and eat and stay until the end, at 2. I have known people who are struggling, who are down on their luck, or just not making ends meet that month, come and enjoy a free hot meal. Not even a collection is taken – it is completely free.

However, when you are setting out as a writer, where do you find opportunities to write, if not for free? There are job ads everywhere, offering internships, voluntary positions, or even, the old chestnut, more paid work will be along soon! How do you know whether this is a position that will give you good experience and bring along better things, or whether you are just being taken advantage of? Here are three opportunities, where you might consider offering your services for free, and three where you would be well-advised to stay clear.

Take it!

  1. A local charity is looking for someone to help with writing some articles for the magazine. It is a subject that you know something about, and you would like to write more about. Yes – especially if you are looking for some clips for a portfolio. This kind of thing is fine, especially for smaller, local charities. The only time I would be hesitant, would be if this were for a charity that could afford to pay. Also, make it clear that it would take second place to paid work, and limit how much you produce for them.
  2. A friend is starting up a business and wants to set up a website. They are looking for help to put content together. You agree to write some pages for them, if you can link to their website on your portfolio. Yes – but with provisos! Not everyone chooses to work with friends – it can be a fast way to lose a friendship! Decide on the scope of the work before you start – how many articles, and know how long it is going to take you. Again, free work should only be done after paid work is done.
  3. You decide to join an article-writing website. The article titles are chosen by you, so you can write about what you want, and the website puts advertising on your articles. You can collect the money for the advertising, once it reaches a certain amount. Your articles are passed by an editor before being published. Again – a qualified yes! This is something that I did, when just starting out. I liked the idea that the article had to be passed by an editor, so that meant it had to pass certain style guides. It taught me how to write a headline and how to write for the web. I made a little money out of it – but don’t expect to get seriously rich from this kind of set up! Also do some research before joining such a website – some are better regarded than others. It’s best to check out reviews first.

Don’t Touch it!

  1. A company posts on a job board, looking for writers. They suggest that the opportunity will be great exposure and experience for a writer – but they can’t afford to pay yet. They say that there may be payment somewhere down the line… no! The problem is, that you don’t know the person and you have no idea about their circumstances. They may be telling the truth, but they may not. Stay clear or be taken advantage of!
  2. You are emailed by a person you don’t know, out of the blue. They offer minimal compensation, but ask for a free trial of your writing to check whether you are up to the right standard. Not recommended! If they receive enough writers willing to do a free trial – will they need to pay at all? They may have emailed you, but you have no guarantee that this work is going to be worth your while. I have occasionally sent over a trial piece – but on the understanding that if they want to use it, I want to be paid for it!
  3. You offer an article to a publication that pay for print and online pieces. Their reply tells you that they won’t be paying you because your piece will published as a blog post. You are a new writer, looking for clips – what do you do? This happened to an experienced freelancer who pulled the piece rather than give this publication free work. They would not have offered the work if they had thought that they would not be paid. This feels like a scam – and you should value your work too much to be taken in by it. If something doesn’t feel right – then walk away. There will be other opportunities.
Share

7 retro blog posts you might like to check out

7 retro blog posts

When you’ve put a lot of effort into writing your blog posts, it can be difficult to lose them off the top page and awkward for visitors to your page to find and read them, unless of course, they found them through searching a specific topic in Google. So it is good to occasionally write a blog post review to search through your blog and find some of the highlights that may enjoy seeing the light of day again.

I have enjoyed searching through my blog and finding some of my highlights from recent years. Many of these were from a 30 day blogging challenge I undertook in 2016. Definitely think it’s time for another one!

  1. Great Hero Character Names

In this blog post, I wrote about some of my favourite character names in novels and why I liked them.

2. My Top 10 Fictional Villains

What is a hero without a villain to try to foil them? These are some of my favourite villains, but I know there are many more.

3. Writing Prompts, Story, part 1 and Story part 2, and Editing a Story

I’m cheating here – there are actually 4 blog posts in one go: writing prompts and parts 1 and 2 of a story. I had fun creating this. Then I wrote a further blog post, explaining how I might edit the story, having read it back and analysed what I had written.

4. Procrastination and the Writer

This blog post was one of the most popular on my blog at one point. I think it chimes with most people who want to be writers.

5. 30 Ways to find Blog Post Ideas

For those days when procrastination is at its highest…

6. Six Girl BFFs in Fiction

I love a story with a really good girl BFF in it and here are some of my favourites.

7. Ten of the Best Bromances in Fiction

You can’t leave the boys out! Here my top ten bromances in fiction too.

Share

The Writer vs the Blank Page

Writing vs the Blank Page

“You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” (Jodie Piccoult)

It can be tough settling down to work, but there is nothing worse, as a writer, than settling down to write, then realising that you don’t know what you want to say. Facing a blank screen or blank page is almost guaranteeing that your brain will go blank too!

When I was young, there was something enjoyable at school about turning over a fresh new page to write on. I used my best handwriting, carefully drew the curliest ‘y’s and ‘g’s and tried to make sure that my work looked good. As a writer, there have been times when I have found myself with a little valued writing time, opened up a document and – nothing! All words have left me and it can feel very frustrating!

So why do writers put this pressure on ourselves? Why do we panic when faced with a blank page and what can we do about it?

There may be a few reasons why we freeze:

  • we genuinely don’t know where we want to go next in our writing
  • we are starting a new project but don’t know where to start
  • we need to do some research before we start writing
  • some other reason

Where do I go next in my writing?

You’ve opened up a blank document, but you really haven’t a clue where to continue on with your writing. How can you find a way around this and use your writing time productively? A good idea can be to always leave your work at a point where you have an idea where it is going to go next. So you are writing a story where the main character is going to visit her friend and chat about the leading love interest. If you leave your story where the main character knocks on the door of her friend, then you have something to start writing about straight away when you come back to your work. If however, you finish work at the end of a chapter, then it can be harder to come back in to a completely new one.

Similarly, if you are writing an article, try to write down some planning and research points rather than just plunging into the first paragraph. Of course, if a great idea for the first paragraph comes to you, then write it down, but if you normally find it hard to get going, then it is best to anticipate this and make sure that you are able to write something down. Often just getting going is a good way to overcome the blank page.

Starting a new project

Sometimes you want to start a new project, but you don’t know where to begin. You might have fragments of a story in mind, you could have an idea for a new blog post or you may have found a great title that you want to use in a piece of writing. The idea is sketchy and you are unsure where to go next with it.

Again, the trick is to release the pressure on yourself. No one is able to write a perfect first draft, so don’t worry if it’s a bit rough. Write notes, sketch out some characters or interview them, write some outlines, play with the concept. For blog posts, you can check out what other writers have written on the subject, to get some width on the subject, play with the title and list out the points you want to make. Try to always have something on the page, even if it eventually gets deleted.

Need to do some research

Some writers just go straight into a piece of writing, then they come up against a blocking point where they need to research in order to finish it. As a writer, you could look at the positive side – at least you wrote something down and are not faced with a blank piece of paper! By all means, go and find the answer to your question in a text book or search engine. Your work will be waiting for you when you come back. Sometimes it takes longer than you think to find the answer to something, so before you leave your work, write down some markers so that when you come back to it, you will be able to pick up your thought thread. Nothing worse than coming back to a piece of work, only to realise that you have absolutely no idea what you were going on about. Almost worse than that blank piece of paper!

Something Else

Insert your own reason here – for whatever reason, you find yourself facing a blank document with the blank brain to match. However, if you’ve been smart and paying and attention, you will have realised that this doesn’t need to be the case! You can leave yourself notes, character sketches, research notes and references or anything else that will help you pick up the work when you come back. If you are writing whole blog posts, then decide what the next topic is going to be and leave a title on a piece of paper along with a couple of references to remember where you planned to go next.

There is no need for a writer to be afraid of that blank piece of paper. It is just a blank page, waiting to be written on. If you find beginnings hard, then always start your beginning before ending your work for the night. Then you should always be able to spend that unexpected but welcome piece of writing time, productively.

Share