Stronger Fiction: Should you write every day?

One of those pieces of advice given out to every writer is:

Write every day

It is given out so often that we are in danger of feeling that we are not writers if we don’t write every day. What if you find it hard to find time to write every day, however? What if you are at home with work emailing you, your children asking for help with school work and your partner locked away in another room constantly in another Zoom meeting? How can you possibly find time to write every day?

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The fact is that we are not super-women (or men). We have a lot going on at the moment and that may mean that some things do not happen. But should the thing that gives, be your writing?

To be honest, it depends on how you feel about it.

The thing about writing is that it’s like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the more easily it comes to you. So if you can find some time to write as often as you can, then your writing will flow better and you will find more ideas for inspiration coming to you. If you are on the look out for ideas, they will come. Many writers carry small notebooks around just to jot down ideas as they happen, although in these days of smartphones, it is just as easy to make notes on that.

Perceived wisdom has suggested that it takes 100,000 words of practice to make a novelist. That’s a lot of words, you had better get going now. Seriously, though, most successful novelists have a rough novel or two, hiding somewhere in their house, which they have sworn will never see the light of day. That’s a lot of work for something that people will never read, but it was important to achieve to find out how a novel is structured, how you manage to sit down and write words by the thousands and whether you can actually do it. Until you try, you will never know.

Do you need to write?

When you have been away from your notebook or laptop for a few days, do you find that you are itching to write? If you find that you are missing writing, then it will be important to find time for it.

Equally, if you are in the middle of writing something and you have got stuck, then you may avoid writing. You may open up the document, stare at it for a moment and close it again, without any idea of what you want to say. It can be hard to know where to take a story, when the characters seem to have a mind of their own.

If you want to write but just can not find time:

Write down your daily routine for a few days, then look for times when you might be able to fit writing in. Look for quiet times, times when the children are busy and times when the partner is in a meeting.

You could get up earlier, when the children are not expecting to be working, and take 15 minutes for writing

Why not write at a point when you are normally slumped in front of the TV in the evening?

You may have a small amount of time between when the children are finished schoolwork and it’s time to start cooking dinner.  Why not ask your partner to cook dinner occasionally to give you a bit more time?

Your writing time does not have to be every day, but it does have to be regular. It is no good just finding time to write once a month. Writing more regularly than that will help improve your skills. However if you are not working on something that you want to get done, then you may be happy writing 3 or 4 times a week.

Plan to write

If you are working on something that you expect to finish at some point, things may take a little more planning. You will want to snatch 15 minutes here and half an hour there so that you can finish your work. You will find that you do not have time for writers’ block, and that your need to finish the piece might outweigh all other considerations.

If you are stuck at a point and you are not sure where to go from there, then  leave it for a few days and come back to it. Pick up something else for a short while.

Go for a walk or a run to clear your head.

You may decide to carry on with the story for now and then come back to it. This may help you decide what happens next.

Try plotting out what happens next to help you get past the place where you are unsure where to go

If you are not happy with the direction your story is going in, you can always change it.

So should you “write every day”?

I suggest that you take this advice as a guideline. It depends on the jobs that you have got to get completed and how busy you are. Writing every day will certainly help you to feel more like a writer, but far more important is that you are happy with your writing life. You need to be comfortable with what you are achieving.

What are you writing at the moment? Are you finding it possible to write every day? Let me know in the comments below.

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How to put together an editorial calendar for bloggers

Since my first 30 day blogging challenge in 2016, I have used an editorial calendar. Different people may have different ideas of what constitutes an editorial calendar.

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I use a spreadsheet to store ideas for blog posts or other content so that I have a constant stream of ideas to use when I am trying to think of something to write. PR people use editorial calendars so that they can put useful content out when they are trying to run promotions, or publishers might use one to keep track of their publications. Depending on what you are trying to achieve, you might find this tool useful.

How can an editorial calendar help you in your business?

It’s a great place to store ideas. Ideas are all around us, but sometimes it can be hard to remember them. When I find a great story or possible blog post, I make notes about it.

You can use your editorial calendar to note the angle that you are going to take on the subject. This might not matter if it is a personal blog, but if you are working for someone else or even several other people, it might be worth making a note to ensure that you remember your original thoughts.

I find it best to keep an editorial calendar for each different blog, especially for clients. For the blog posts that I write at the moment, some can link to awareness weeks or months and it can be handy to have those planned out in advance, so that I already have some ideas for topics. Bloggers could also use the tool for planning guest posts to keep track.

Using pictures can be a good way to jog your memory. You can add a link or an actual picture to the spreadsheet if you wish.

Dates: I always date when I had the initial idea and I will usually add a date at the end of the row when I have used the idea. Sometimes I will have brainstorming sessions for a number of blog posts and it is useful to know when they came in handy.

Keeping track of sources in an editorial calendar

As well as adding the website for the source, there may be other sources linking to the idea. I will add these too, so that I can keep track of them all. I also keep notes on the possible blog posts, which may include headline ideas and possible keywords.

If you have a number of blogs, then you might like to indicate which blog the idea is for. This enables you to keep all your ideas in one place. It also means that you can repurpose ideas for different blogs, by finding a different angle.

The best thing about the editorial calendar is the ability to plan content. If there are particular dates you want to publish around, or events, then it can help you to plan this in detail. If you want to do a blog post series, then you can use your calendar to plan this. If you have some guest posts planned, then you can include these too.

You can add social media planning, include video links and plan the launch of your next ebook. You can make your editorial calendar as simple or as extensive as you wish.

Here is an example of an editorial calendar:

Date

Idea

Source

Source

Notes

Date used

Social Media Notes

5/3/2020

Using editorial calendars

https://buffer.com/library/all-about-content-calendar

Bloggers – kw

The headings can be changed to suit your own particular blog.

Do you use an editorial calendar? Do you find it helps to plan content? Comment below.

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How to look after yourself when you’ve lost a freelance writing job

I lost part of my freelance writing job recently when it was scaled back. My client hired a full-time social media person and so that part of the role was cut. What’s left is the blog posts, but that is less than half of what I was earning from this job and it doesn’t feel very secure. Here’s how I dealt with it.

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When the email arrived, it was difficult. I had put my rates up at the beginning of the year, so I was expecting something, but I didn’t know what. We had a contract in place, but it only allowed for two weeks’ notice, when I normally put an invoice in every four weeks. The email said that for two weeks things would stay the same, but in practice, the new person had already started and there were changes immediately which gave me less chance to earn.

Allow yourself to feel sad

Suppressing emotions doesn’t help. Being able to grieve will help you get over it sooner. Talk to an understanding friend (preferably another freelancer), listen to sad music and begin to heal.

Decide on a plan of action

For me, the immediate question was whether to continue with the smaller role I had been offered. I decided to continue with it for now, but I can no longer count on it. My client does not pay that well. I renegotiated my blog rate, but that probably means that she may still give me another 2 weeks’ notice and finish it. We have re-signed another contract. I have worked for her a long time – since 2013.

Reach out to previous clients

I have started reaching out to previous clients again and looking for other jobs. I have joined freelance writer groups, looking for tips and leads. Unfortunately, since this happened, the world has changed and there are lots of freelancers looking to replace their income, so this may not be easy.

Add new skills

I am looking out for new courses to improve my skills. SEO Moz are offering free courses until the end of May, so definitely worth checking out. I will also pick up my Google digital garage courses and take some more of those.

Reach out to new clients

I have updated my Linked-In profile and am trying to post more on there. I have declared that I am open for business. All my social media is being updated far more regularly. I am trying online networking and I am looking forward to finding some new clients.

Look at the past with clarity

I can see that having worked with the same client for so long, that things had got stale. Also she would never use Facebook ads as she felt they had overcharged her. The new person in the office has been able to boost her posts, though, so they have done better. Perhaps having someone onsite has given her more confidence.

Take the 30 day blogging challenge

In order to get my (long neglected) website up to speed, I have taken on this challenge. It has reminded me of much I had forgotten and given me a host of new ideas. I would recommend it to anyone. Take it and see.

Have you lost your freelance writing job or client recently? How are you dealing with it? Comment below.

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Online networking for stay-at-home workers

Missing the watercooler or the canteen already? It’s been over a week since workers of all kinds have been told to work from home if possible in the UK.

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One of the best things about working in an office is the people that you meet and work alongside. One of the downsides of enforced working from home is that you are unable to get out and about and meet people. We are social animals and we need contact.

Here are some tips for online networking (from home):

WhatsApp chat groups

My book group is on WhatsApp and since the lockdown, it has lit up the airwaves! We have sent quizzes, videos and all kinds of things across it. We are also planning to meet up virtually in our pjs and those who like a tipple will be able to drink and not worry about getting home! If you have WhatsApp group chats, then using them to keep in touch can be quite useful.

Facebook groups

Facebook groups can be good for keeping the larger community together. For example, the local church groups have been busy updating their feeds to keep their congregations informed on how they are going to run their services. They have created events which has enabled them to promote them to their followers. Of course there have been national events happening as well and these have also been promoted.

If you search for Facebook groups related to your line of work, you will probably find one. These are great for meeting new people and getting information and advice. You may have to be approved to join and sometimes you have to answer questions. If you belong to a group which is struggling to keep in touch, why not set a Facebook group up? You can set a group to private or public depending on their type of activity and it’s a great way to keep in touch.

Twitter hashtags

Communities often meet up on Twitter at set hours through hashtags. Try searching the website for hashtags relevant to your work and see what you can find.

If you are a writer or freelancer, there are some amazing Twitter groups who meet up using hashtags. They usually meet up at a particular time each week. Twitter is also a great place to meet authors.

Try:

#freelanceheroes

#freelancechat

#ContentClubUK

The format is usually asking questions and people tag themselves using the hashtag to answer them. It is a great way to learn more about working as a freelancer.

You could also check out:

#amwriting

#WritingCommunity

You can also keep contact through the Linked-In community, either through posting and commenting on posts or through the different groups that run on there. In a lockdown situation, this can only be helpful to your business.

How are you keeping in contact with work colleagues and friends at the moment? Please share in the comments below.

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Stronger Fiction: Should you write what you know or know what you write?

One of the oldest pieces of advice for people who want to write fiction is that they should “write what they know’. This sage piece of wisdom is passed down from teachers to young pupils, from tutors to college students and in many creative writing classes. Yet, what does it actually mean? And is it a piece of advice worth following?

Write what you know

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Writing what you know suggests that the writer can not step outside their own experience. It suggests that their writing should be autobiographical in nature and always include a piece of themselves. While it could be good advice to write about what you know, if you were a former pirate, sailing the high seas who accidentally kidnapped a prince, more normal people may find it more difficult. Most people’s lives are fairly ordinary and there doesn’t seem to be much room for excitement.

Directing someone to write what they know, ignores the rich imaginations that most writers have. We can imagine what it is like to walk on a strange planet or to dive deep in the oceans. We can imagine how things could turn out when you meet the one person that you have always wanted to meet – even if it has never happened to you. I would not recommend that writers always stick to writing what they know or what they have experienced.

Knowing what you write is a different thing. Here, writers research before they write and use it to help create the story. You may not know everything before you begin to write, but you may have done some research and use it to help the story along. You may need to stop and make notes of further knowledge you need, but you can begin the story and leave gaps. This will enable you to slot in extra research, which will enrich the story. The best research fits seamlessly in the story.

Call on your emotions for your writing

We have all experienced emotion in one form or another, even if we have not experienced a specific event such as losing a parent or having our heart broken. Most people understand what it can be to fall in love, to like somebody who doesn’t know you exist or somebody unattainable like a celebrity. Using the emotions that you have felt during your life is a good use of writing what you know. It can enrich your writing and bring your characters to life.

Another variation on this rule is to write what you read. This is some of the best advice that a writer could be given. If you already read and enjoy a particular type of genre, then you will enjoy writing it too. If you don’t read, then how will you know what you enjoy and which type of book calls to you on a deeper level? Being a reader is the first step to becoming a writer.

Do you write regularly? Do you think that you should write what you know or were rules made to be broken? Comment below.

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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.
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Organising Your Writing

Sometimes you have a large amount of information which you need to get in a document. It can feel overwhelming and be difficult to know where to begin. Spend a little while organising your thoughts which can help you sort it all out.

Organising your writing
stack by hobvias sudoneighm on Flickr CC

Sketch Out an Overview of Your Report

Start with a piece of paper and a pen or a blank document on the computer and begin to write down the aims of your work. What do you want to get out of it? Who is your document aimed at? Why are you writing it? Is it for a blog or an article? Is it a white paper or report? Then think about what kind of information you will want to include.

Make a rough list of the information that you consider essential to include in your work in the form of rough headings. If you have a lot of information, then you may wish to divide it up into parts and schedule regular releases of your work as a series of blog posts or reports. If it is to be one long document then divide it up into chapters and start each chapter on a fresh page.

Write Out Your Information under the Sub-Headings

Now you have a choice. If you are happy with your headings and ready to write, then write up your information under each heading. If you are going to insert photos, then you can show this with an asterisk for the time being. If you are still organising your thoughts and your information is scattered throughout your notes, then you can continue to write rough notes before writing up the information properly.

This may take two or three days depending on how much information you have to write up and how easy you find it to write. Some people are able to write easily and it flows, others find it much more difficult to think in writing. Take your time, be methodical and check that you have the information that you require.

Check Spelling and Grammar in Your Document

If any work is due for publication either on the web or in a document, then you will want it looking as professional as possible. Use your spellchecker and read your document out loud which will help you identify awkward sentences. You can also ask a colleague to look it over to check for glaring errors.

Once you are satisfied with your work, then it is time to publish. If you are using your work for blog posts, then schedule the posts, remembering to add tags, media such as photos or video and links. Apart from checking that the schedule goes ahead, your work here is done – apart from promoting the posts on blogs and forums with useful comments.

You might publish your work as a PDF or print it out as a report. If you are printing it out, make sure that you are certain as you can be that every error has been corrected. There is nothing worse than checking out your newly printed document and spotting an error on the first page!

Sarah Charmley is a freelance copywriter and expert in organising other people’s thoughts. If you would like to find out how she can help you with your blog project, then contact her through the form on the Contact Me page.

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Defining the Words You Use 2

Photo on Flickr by akqp 2

Words are the tools of a writer’s trade. It can sometimes be helpful to know more about your trade in order to improve your work.

CLAUSE – a group of words which make sense and contain both a SUBJECT and a VERB. A simple sentence is a CLAUSE, but a more complex sentence may contain more than one CLAUSE.

E.g. The dog ran.

This is a CLAUSE. It can stand on its own without further explanation, so it can also be called an INDEPENDENT CLAUSE.

If we make the sentence longer:

The dog ran because Billy scared it.

The second part of the sentence is known as a DEPENDENT CLAUSE because it could not stand on its own and be understood.

‘because Billy scared it’ – does not make sense.

However sentences are not always that simple or they would be boring. We prefer longer, more descriptive sentences to enable us to keep the reader’s flow going. Short jerky sentences can break up the text too much.

To enable the sentence to be more descriptive, we can use ADJECTIVE CLAUSES or ADVERB CLAUSES.

An ADJECTIVE CLAUSE gives us more information about the SUBJECT in the sentence. Remember, the SUBJECT is the NOUN that the sentence is about.

James is a great magician and he can make his assistant disappear.

This sentence tells you more about James, but it reads in a rather stilted way.

Try this:

James, who is a great magician, can make his assistant disappear.

The words in bold italics have been changed so that they modify the noun they describe in a neater way. The sentence still maintains its sense, but it reads so much better.

This ADJECTIVE CLAUSE will not stand on its own – it only makes sense in the context of the sentence. It is a CLAUSE rather than a PHRASE because it still contains a NOUN and VERB.

Usually an ADJECTIVE CLAUSE will start with one of three RELATIVE PRONOUNS:

WHO – always refers to people

WHICH – always refers to objects

THAT – can refer to people or objects

Find the ADJECTIVE CLAUSES in these sentences:

The girl slid down the hill and tore her dress.

The girl, who tore her dress, had to go home and tell her mother.

The girl’s mother, who had to sew the hole in the dress, was very cross.

Answers

The girl slid down the hill and tore her dress. (No ADJECTIVE CLAUSE)

The girl, who tore her dress, had to go home and tell her mother. (ADJECTIVE CLAUSE)

The girl’s mother, who had to sew the hole in the dress, was very cross. (ADJECTIVE CLAUSE)

Punctuation

When do you use commas in ADJECTIVE CLAUSES?

You do not use a COMMA when THAT is used in a sentence:

E.g. The race that was abandoned was rescheduled for Thursday.

If the ADJECTIVE CLAUSE is essential to the sentence then you do not need a COMMA.

E.g. Children who have mud on their legs will need a shower.

Balls which have gone soft will be put in the bin.

Not all balls are to be put in the bin – just those that have gone soft. Equally not all children require a shower – just those with mud on their legs.

If the ADJECTIVE CLAUSE is not essential to the meaning of the sentence, then use a COMMA:

The dogs, who had been washed and brushed, were going to a pet show.

The boys, who couldn’t stop laughing, were sent to detention.

Photo Credit: Photo on Flickr by akqp

  • How to Define the Words You Use (thecreativewriter.co.uk)
  • 40+ Tips to Improve your Grammar and Punctuation (dumblittleman.com)
  • Lesson Plans on the Complex Sentence (brighthub.com)
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Style Guide – A Guide to Using Apostrophes Correctly (Part 1)

Photo on Flickr by mag3737

I saw a question on a writers’ forum the other day. It read:

‘Is it time to abolish apostrophes completely?’

I can understand the writer’s frustration. Apostrophes are one piece of punctuation that it is very easy to get wrong – as demonstrated regularly on pub notices round where I live. Yet in the opening three sentences, I have used two apostrophes and used them perfectly correctly. So it is possible to learn how to use apostrophes. Here is a guide of when to use apostrophes and how to use them correctly.

E.g.         Jack’s computer

Jane’s bag

Both these objects belong to the person mentioned and so we use an apostrophe before we add an ‘s’.

However, sometimes the person’s name already ends in ‘s’ or more than one:

The bag belongs to Jess.

In this case, it is more usual to drop the extra ‘s’. Some writers may include it as a force of habit.

Jess’ bag (but it is still said, ‘Jesses bag’)

Easy enough when dealing with someone’s name but what if it is an animal, an object or even a pronoun?

The lion’s roar was loud.

The mouse’s squeak was quiet.

What if there can be confusion over whether the word is singular (one) or plural (more than one).

E.g.         The girls’ shrieks followed them on the roller coaster.

Here there is more than one girl. The word is plural, so the apostrophe goes on the outside of the word.

What about this?

The girl’s shrieks followed her on the roller coaster.

There is only one girl, so there is an apostrophe and an ‘s’. The use of the word ‘her’ rather than ‘them’ later on in the sentence confirms that there is only one girl rather than two or more.

You know that you might have got an apostrophe wrong if the sentence doesn’t quite seem to make sense. Are these right or wrong?

The boy’s shouts echoed through the woods as they tramped home.

The rabbits’ burrows were dotted all over the hillside.

The girl’s tobaggan overturned, throwing them into the snow.

The horse’s field provided plenty of fresh grass for him.

The ant’s crumbs seemed too big for them to carry.

How did you do?

The answers were: wrong, right, wrong, right, wrong. In every case there was another word in the sentence which confirmed whether the initial word was singular or plural.

The boys’ shouts echoed through the woods as they tramped home.

The rabbits’ burrows were dotted all over the hillside.

The girls’ tobaggan overturned, throwing them into the snow.

The horse’s field provided plenty of fresh grass for him.

The ants’ crumbs seemed too big for them to carry.

So if you are unsure where to place your apostrophe, then look for other words in the sentence which may help you to decide. Alternatively, decide which would make more sense.

Photo Credit: Photo on Flickr by Mag3737

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Writing Goals for 2010

I am a writer. I have known that as long as I can remember. I wrote sketches and songs while at school. I wrote stories in English classes that went on for pages and pages. It’s not work to me because I love writing.

I also love reading. I love to read a wide variety of books, including non-fiction, biographies, romance, adventure and not too gory murder mysteries. Reading opens new worlds to my imagination and I often think, ‘how could I possibly do that?’

Here’s something that may never have occurred to you before: these authors once thought that too! They did not just sit down one day and think, ‘I’m going to write a book and its going to be a best seller!’ They started with the conviction that this post started with: I am a writer.

When that conviction got too big to contain any more, they began to write, and write and write some more. As they wrote, they began to gain confidence in their writing, perhaps allowing a close friend to look at it. They took the suggestions on board and wrote a second draft. Then perhaps a third draft or even more. When they were finally happy with their work then they began to submit the manuscript to agents, or publishers. This process can take a long time. There can be many rejections before acceptance. Finally, however they were accepted and more revisions were undertaken before the finished novel hits the shelves.

How do you start this process? Where do you begin? You start to write. You start to plan and you start to dream.

Setting goals can help you on your way to achieving your dreams. It’s not January any more, but you can still set a goal to be achieved in a year’s time. Where do you want to be in a year? Do you want an article published? Do you want to making money from writing? Do you want to  join a creative writing course for the support and help you get there? You decide.

Then think of two or three steps you need to take to get there. You could subscribe to a writing magazine, either online or from the news stands. You might look for a writing course and possibly a friend to go with. You could decide to put some time aside for yourself to investigate the possibilities, reading websites and blogs to find out what you want to do.

Once you have decided what your goal is and how you want to achieve it, then make time to write.

Find a notebook or open a Word document then write. Write regularly. Keep notebooks by your bed to jot down ideas. Look for opportunities to write. Write some more.

Never let go of the thought: I am a writer.

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