In a previous blog post, I mentioned that I enjoyed doing writing challenges. At the beginning of the year, I took part in two such challenges on Chris Fielden’s website and have now been published as part of a flash fiction anthology.
I chose to take part for a couple of reasons: I liked the idea of limiting the number of words to tell a story and this was for charity. Both of the challenges I took part in were nearing their end and in fact both finished within a couple of weeks of my submitting my entry.
The first book, Topically Challenged has been published today.
Where did Topically Challenged start?
Alice Trump submitted the idea which was to write a fictional story based on a news headline. Stories submitted had to show a strong theme. The limit was 180 words max. Once the challenge had received 100 stories, then it would close. Not all the challenges are published as books, some are simply published on the website. The ones that are chosen to be published will have any profits donated to charity.
You can buy Topically Challenged as either an e-book or a published book. It contains 100 stories based on topical news headlines. The idea was chosen because news headlines can be a great place for writers to find inspiration for their stories. Some of the stories have been left online so that people can see what kind of stories have been written. There has been a great variety of stories submitted to the anthology and it is going to be an interesting read.
Where to buy Topically Challenged Volume 1
Topically Challenged Volume 1 is available from Amazon in print and Kindle eBook formats.
Proceeds from book sales will be donated to BookTrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity. They transform lives by getting children and families reading.
The book can be found on all of Amazon’s websites by searching for the book by name or searching for the Amazon Standard Identification Number (ASIN):
Chris Fielden’s website has direct links to buy the book and you can find out more information such as who designed the cover.
For whatever reason you write, there are usually at least two broad ways to do it. Either you are a planner – someone who plans what they are going to write or you are a pantser. This means someone who is flying by the seat of their pants, or someone who has no plan, they just sit down and write.
Many writers can be both, but many have a preferred method.
I came across this term at the beginning of Nanowrimo in November 2020 and I immediately got it. As someone who frequently just takes a writing prompt and launches herself with it, I get that sometimes it can feel a bit scary, but it is also exhilarating. So, how can you tell which you are? And does it really matter?
If you are a planner:
You like to have an outline.
You might like to have an idea of where the story might end
You might like to plan out a book, chapter by chapter
You might have a special notebook where you plan things out
You might like collecting tools that help you plan such as apps
You might think on a story for a long time before starting to write it
Pros of being a planner:
Easier to begin your writing. You usually have something to write when you start up because you are working to a plan
You know where you are going, so can find interesting ways of getting there
You might have key points in mind for a longer project, such as a novel which will help keep you on track
It is easier to keep going with something when you know the way
Or Someone who likes to fly by the Seat of their Pants
It’s exciting, not knowing where you are going
Some people like to just see where the muse takes them
If you can’t think of something to write, sometimes it is easier just to launch out
You are totally open as to where this thing is going to go
Cons of being a Pantser
It can be hard to start writing on a blank page and even harder if you have no idea what you are going to write
It can make the story uncoordinated or mean that it does not flow as easily
Once you have finished your story it may mean that you need a complete revision of it
You may forget characters’ names or events in the novel and find yourself reinventing the wheel
Which are you?
In the end, it all comes down to personal choice and what works for you. I have tried to start planning my work more but have found that it does not always make for a satisfying story straight away and that it may have needed more work. The stories that I have just sat and written are sometimes more complete stories. That may mean that I prefer more flying by the seat of my pants than planning, but there are times when I have felt that planning is a must.
I first joined Nanowrimo quite a while ago. I had had an idea for a novel for about a year and I managed to write it all during the month. I got the free proof of it, cringed mightily on reading it and shoved it in a drawer, never to see the light of day again.
When I joined Nanowrimo last November, it was a different story: I had no idea what I was going to write. I had spent a few months writing short stories and some had been good, some bad, but I had no idea for a novel, yet here I was, wanting to take part in the novel writing month.
The idea I came up with was spur of the moment, based on a film I had recently seen and in an era I knew very little about. I decided that I would learn on the way. I started the story and managed to write most days, but I did not make the 50,000-word target. I managed around 25,000 words that month. I am now 40,000 words in and I hope to finish this novel soon.
The best of both worlds
Although I began this novel as a pantser, I have, many times, sat down and tried to work out what is happening next. I have kept lists of characters and tried to keep a rough timeline, so I have really had the best of both worlds. I know that the book is going to need some serious rewriting, but I have got to the point when I am enjoying writing it and I know that I am going to finish it. I am then likely to rework it a little before rewriting.
There are other Nanowriting challenges throughout the year. In April and July, they run another two month-long challenges, but this time you set the challenge of how many words you wish to reach. If you are trying to get your writing project off the ground, then this could be a good idea. Check them out and see what you think.
Has the shine tarnished on your New Year resolutions already? Or have you decided that it is best to leave resolutions alone this year? After all, look at how last year turned out…
If you have decided that THIS is the year that you are going to start writing again, then this is the blog for you. We are going to talk about writing prompts and how they can help writers’ block. Here is a usual recipe for writing:
One brand-new shiny notebook, preferably really cute
Take your brand-new shiny, cute notebook and open it. Pick up your pen…
OK, stop there! If you haven’t had an idea running round your head for the past week and you don’t know where to start, how do you begin to fill that blank white page with a story?
A good place to start is a writing prompt.
A writing prompt is usually a short idea or picture that is designed to get your brain thinking about a story. There are many websites that offer writing prompts that can help get you started writing.
You can treat writing prompts as a writing exercise. Come up with a short story outline which could be turned into a full story. Spend 10 minutes writing and see what you come up with. A writing prompt enables you to have something to write about straight away, it avoids the blank page syndrome where you stare at a blank page and have a blank brain to match.
Tips for Using a Writing Prompt
Put aside some time to write – even just 15 minutes will do
Plan ahead to write – send the family out for a walk
Find a place to write and make sure that your tools of choice (laptop, pen and paper or old-fashioned typewriter) are available.
Just write based on the prompt. You may not know immediately what you are going to write but begin by writing a sentence and see what comes up.
Don’t worry about editing. You can edit your story once it is finished. No story is ever finished after a first draft and every story can be improved. Just focus on getting the words down on paper/screen.
When your story is finished, give it some space. Wait 24 hours before taking a look at the editing
Not every story can be a best seller, but when you write one that you are really proud of, then I encourage you to ask someone else to read it and give you constructive feedback. Preferably someone you trust. It is important to get used to the idea of someone else reading your stories if you want to do more with them
Know that your writing brain acts like a muscle. The more you write, the more ideas and inspiration will come to you and the more you will have to write. Ideas are all around us, you just have to tune your brain in to them.
I have recently discovered Julie and she offers a lot for writers. She offers a free planning tool, lots of help and information as well as courses and of course, writing prompts.
Daily Prompt App
Currently on Apple only but Android is planned. You pick a time of day when you are most likely to write and you will receive an alert and a writing prompt at that time. This app is a gateway to a community where you can receive feedback on your story and enter competitions.
This is a fun tool that can turn up some quite diverse ideas. It is also a blog with lots of ideas about writing.
Social Media Writing Prompts
You can find writing prompts on your social media of choice. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr and Reddit all offer writing prompts. Search using the hashtag #writingprompts or #writingpromptsdaily
A great way to start writing is to write flash fiction which requires precision and imagination. Christopher Fielden offers a great resource to writers. He offers hints and tips and a regularly updated source of writing competitions, but it is in writing challenges that he excels.
He publishes a number of anthologies for charity, based on short 100-200 word stories. To enter you can either email your story to him or fill in the contact form with your story. You will need to write a short bio and your story, and that’s it. As long as it meets the brief then Christopher will include it in the anthology. There is also a Facebook for authors who contribute to the anthologies. A community can really help you keep writing.
So there you have it. If you have decided that 2021 is the year that you want to start writing and get past your writers’ block, then here are a selection of good resources to get you going.
Please do drop a line in the comments if this article has given you a push to get writing.
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
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.
There is something very attractive about being a freelance worker – being your own boss, dictating your own time, tea breaks whenever you want and the joy of working in your pyjamas if you wish, however life is never that simple. When you have a job, you are given targets and work to do, but you know when and where the money is coming in that month. As a freelancer, you are responsible for finding your own work and bringing in your own money. You need to account for your money and arrange to pay any taxes or pensions. If you are in the US, you need to arrange healthcare. It can get very complicated if you just launch in without thinking things through.
Here are some tips for starting from the beginning as a freelance business owner:
Set up systems – know where you are going to keep track of invoices and expenses, contacts and marketing. Keep it simple to start with – a spreadsheet for finances and one for marketing. Notify your local tax authorities that you are starting up a business and be prepared to submit accounts according to your country’s tax schedule.
Decide who your clients are going to be. Know your ideal client – what they are looking for, what they will need doing, what do they look like? When you know who your ideal client will be, then find out where they hang out, as you need to be able to reach them.
The easiest way to begin marketing is starting out with friends and family. Reach out to them, let them know what you are doing and ask them if anyone they know is looking for a freelancer. Any past co-workers that you are in touch with, should also be contacted. People who know you are the easiest to talk to at the beginning.
Get some rough ideas of what to charge – there are lots of websites offering to help you decide what to charge but it is best to look at professional organisations for freelancers – they will often have a guide to help you decide what to charge. You can charge by the hour, per word (if writing) or per project. Per project is often the best way to charge, but you do need an idea of how long something is going to take. Allow for changes and feedback in your calculations.
Have a contract. There are lots of contract examples to be found on the web. Look for something close to what you need and adapt as necessary. Never start work without written confirmation that the client is happy with your quote and an agreed deadline. You should also consider a deposit that is non-refundable should the client back out of the work.
Set up a website. Every business should have a website that helps to showcase what they do. It can be as simple or complicated as you wish. Make sure that your website is clear on what you do, and make sure that people can contact you through your website.
Start a portfolio. A portfolio is simply examples of your work that people who are looking for a contractor like you, can look through to help them decide to hire you. In the beginning, there may not be many samples of work, but do keep it up to date with any work that you may do. Include links and make sure that it can be reached via your website.
Start marketing. Keep your Linked-In profile up-to-date. Post on your website and Linked-In and any other social media that you may use. Advertise on free business websites, reach out to local traders or other companies that you may come across.
When in public, i.e. on social media, act like a professional at all times. You never know who is watching.
Get some business cards printed and go to some networking events. Meet people and talk to them about what you do. Start to look for other ways to market your business, even when you’re busy. In order to keep work coming in, you need to keep marketing.
These are just some of the tips that I would give someone starting out as a freelancer. What tips would you give?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
Sarah Arrow of Sark -Media has agreed to be my next interviewee. I hope you enjoy her answers as much as I did.
Name: Sarah Arrow
Writer Alias (if you are willing to let us know)
I have several, including Sarah Stanton, Danielle Stanton, Danielle Field and few others that I’d rather not mention.
How long have you been a writer?
Erm, I’m not sure. I’m not sure that I even like writing at times! However I just can’t seem to leave it alone long enough to allow something else to take over! Rough idea of where you live: I live in Essex approximately 12 miles from London. Which is close enough to love the City, but far enough away to breathe. My house is on a golf course and in the summer I write in the garden, watching the golfers play. The 8th hole is at the bottom of my garden, so the last 10 feet of it is a no-go zone when they play. Sometimes I sneak to the fence and throw a ball back onto the green when they’re not looking.
Are your clients local, global or a mix?
My clients are a mix of global and local. The power of the internet means we can do business anywhere that speaks English.
1. What is the first piece of writing that you remember doing?
My first piece (that I can recall) was an article on Henry VIII. I grew up in East London which is rich in history from the Tudor period. Roads are named after his first two wives and many of the landmarks are related. I found it compelling, yet gruesome to be a Queen in those times and I was thankful to be born now. I still have a fondness for Katherine of Aragon, and I often wonder how England would have looked if she’d have had a son. Did you know she was Regent of the country for a while and she martialled an army to repel Scottish forces? She won.
2. What made you realise that you wanted to write for a living?
It crept up on me! One day I was on maternity leave and playing with the children, the next day I was a blogger! I write prolifically as I’ve found when you do something more you get better at it.
3. How did you get your first client?
My first client came from a blog post and that fascinated me, I wanted to pick apart why that post worked, why the person contacted me to work with them… The rest they say is history.
4. What do you wish that you had written?
Where do I start! Harry Potter (for the money), I wished that I’d written that. I love how children worldwide started to read again with Harry Potter, proving that they don’t need dumbed down writing, but books that make them feel, and understand those feelings. I’d also loved to have written Philippa Gregory’s books, she writes very readable historical fiction. There are so many wonderful women writers, and I’m going to read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel next and by the end of it I’m sure I’ll wish that I’d written that as well!If it was a non-fiction book, then Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. It’s the book I read the most, I have it on audio and I pick it up at least once a day. I have a handbag edition, a car edition and an under-the-bed edition (for when I lack motivation). To write this book, I’d have had to live a full life and then share my wisdom, and that’s part of the reason I love it so much.
5. What is the one tip that you would give aspiring writers?
To keep writing. The words are no good if they’re in your head. So write them down, type them.. Just get them out of your head and onto the page. Don’t be scared to experiment, don’t think you can’t self-publish as that’s not real writing (look at E.L James she did it and now lives in the centre of London in a fab home), you can do anything you want to do, but if you keep the words locked up… No one will ever know your brilliance.
6. What is your current project?
Aside from my 30 day blogging challenge, I’m writing an alternate history book about a famous English battle. I’ve mapped the book out, the characters and the basic plot and I’ll soon be ready to start filling the pages!
You can find Sarah at her blog, Sark e-Media where she is currently running a 30 day blogging challenge.
Thank you, Sarah for agreeing to be on my blog. There will be more author/freelance interviews soon so keep checking this page for more details.
Subscribe to the newsletter for up-to-date information on this blog.
If you would like to take part as an author/freelance interviewee then email me at sarahthecreativewriter[at]gmail.com
You’ve checked out the jobs boards, you’ve trolled the best sites and you’ve found a job that you are reasonably confident that you could do. Now what?
Now get up the confidence to apply for it! No job ever applies for itself and if you don’t try then you will never know if you could have got it. Here are a few pointers when applying for a writing job.
Send Your Best Writing
This sounds obvious, but its amazing how many writers don’t think of it: if you are applying for a writing job, then you need to write at your best. This is not a time for spelling mistakes or glaring grammar errors!
If you are applying to a job advert, then read it carefully. Some employers put instructions in the ad to ensure that applicants have read it thoroughly. Follow the instructions: if they ask for a CV then write a CV. If they ask you to call, then call; email then email. If they ask you to put “buckaroo” in bold in the middle of your CV, then do it! (They were probably testing you to see if you read the application thoroughly or not!)
Email as though You Were Writing a Letter
If you are applying through a jobs board, then the first contact is likely to be an email. Although these are usually informal, it will do you no harm to approach this as though it were a formal letter. Begin with ‘Dear’ and the client’s name and end with the appropriate ‘Yours Sincerely’ or ‘Yours Faithfully’. It sets you out as a business-like person. It creates a good impression and sets you out from the rest.
Explain why you are suited to the job and why you should be considered for the role. Keep it brief and relevant – no major life stories here. At the end of the letter, say that you look forward to hearing from them and sign off.
Include Contact Details
Make sure that you include full contact details so that any prospective employer can get in touch with you quickly.
Leave your email for a while before sending it (some people recommend 24 hours – but give it as long as you have got). Read it through again and correct any errors. Reading out loud will help.
Attach your CV if required. Send the email. Jobs boards usually have a closing date, so you could have a week or more to run before notifications are sent out. Keep an eye on the site to see if the job closes early.
If you have written on speck, then you may get a reply quite quickly. It may be “no thanks, I’ll keep you on record”, in which case keep applying to other people.
If you got the job, congratulations.
If there is no answer, don’t wait on it forever – get on with the next application. As previously stated: the more applications you send in, the more likely it is that you will get a ‘yes’.
The Internet is a great place to be involved in sometimes, especially for writers. No longer do writers have to sit in a solitary place, banging out another article on their keyboard.
Now we can network, share blogs, contact other writers and share details. We can even write a novel in a month!
Contact with other writers is essential so that we can share success and horror stories and help one another. We are no longer restricted to our own locality, but now the world is in our own backyard.
Here are some of the writing blogs that have inspired me. Go check them out and feel free to add some of your own.
http://www.aboutfreelancewriting.com/ Anne Wayman’s blog which is one of the best ones out there for newbies to read.
http://allfreelancewriting.com/ Jenn Mattern’s blog tells it how it is. She has strong opinions and pulls no punches, but her advice is always sound. Her blog is entertaining and she offers a free e-book – on writing e-books!
http://bloggerillustrated.net/ If you want to understand what SEO, backlinks, and web sites have to do with the writing world, then you could do worse than visit Allyn Hane’s site. He explains it all simply and easily in video.
There are many different kinds of writing. The first division is between fiction and non-fiction. When people think of writers, the automatic job description is of a fiction writer, a story teller, an author. The other ways of writing for a living can also bring you satisfaction.
Where do you use writing in your everyday life? Do you tell stories to your children or grandchildren? Do you write articles for small, local magazines? Do you write letters to your local newspaper or reviews on Amazon? Every piece of writing helps to build your confidence and if it is accepted by others, then that confidence is worth it.
This is the obvious one, I know! But have you thought about short stories? Women’s magazines accept short stories, there are plenty of short story competitions on the Web or for collections of short stories. There are lots of opportunities to create short stories for and if you search, there are websites that will give you story starters and a reason to write.
Who hasn’t written an angst-filled teen poem when they were younger? Yeah, ok, yes I did! And it wasn’t much good! Some people can really express themselves through poems, though and find that they can end up with lots of scribbled poems in battered notebooks. Just as there are short story competitions out there, there are also poetry competitions. There are poet websites, and small poetry publications if you look. So Google, Yahoo or Bing or whatever Poetry today and see what you can find.
These days everyone’s a journalist! Well, maybe not everyone. I’m sure that professional journalists deserve their money, but again, some websites are actively seeking news stories written by ordinary people. Including photos can help your story to be used.
The power of the written word can inform newspaper editors, be offered in council meetings and complain of unfair practices. Go, write and make a difference!
When you have really liked something, or really disliked something, then you might review it. The review is there to inform other potential customers and can be a really useful tool.
You might contribute to a small newsletter or local publication. This is good experience for paving the way to being a more established writer.
Take a moment to think through what you write and the reasons you write. From your writing experiences, what do you think you could do as part of your writing career? What would you not wish to do? Note down your strengths and weaknesses and search the Web for your chosen forms of writing. See what others are doing and take inspiration from them.