Lin Anderson’s Workshop- What Is Story? 


When Lin Anderson asked the above question at her workshop, there was a long pause. It seems so simple. What is story? Yet the only person brave enough to give any kind of answer made it so complicated and philosophical that I didn’t even try to follow it. My own thought was that a story has a beginning, middle and end. But I was glad I didn’t say that, because it wasn’t what Lin was looking for, though that point was made later. Lin’s point was that stories are characters in action. 
It’s so obvious, yet even a seasoned writer can forget this. Lin herself said that in looking over her notes on this she was left feeling that she really ought to do so more often! 
Whatever we are working on, the story is the important thing. Remember these three things: 
1) A character is at the heart of every story- drama can’t exist without character. 

2) The character must be in action in order for there to be drama. 

3) Action is driven by conflict. 
Every story needs conflict. It doesn’t need to be big in world terms, but it should be big to your main character. It should also be big enough for your audience to care about the outcome. They need to be rooting for your protagonist. And the conflict needs to continue and grow throughout the story. As one problem is solved, a bigger one comes along. 
So, how can we actually accomplish all this? 
Lin took us through the three act structure- the beginning, middle and end. Told you that came in eventually! In order to do all her amazing information justice, I’m going to devote one blog post to each of the three. I hope you will all come back for more! 

Award Ceremony Over- Back To Normal.


Well, I now have a certificate proving that I’m not a ‘witless fraud’ but that even some professional writers like my work. To me this isn’t just a certificate, it’s validation. It was also the first time I’d heard fellow writers reading their stories out loud. I was surprised by how entertaining the whole thing was. But I was glad I didn’t have to. In fact, on receiving my certificate I smiled, said thank you, and ran off the stage as fast as I could. Even when the judge, Alex Gray, so kindly took a moment to recommend an ideal market for the story as she handed me the certificate, I couldn’t string a sentence together. I only hope my thank you sufficiently expressed my feelings. Of course, I was up half of that night imagining all the things I could have said and probably should have. Oh well. 


I had a wonderful time anyway. I’d never been among a group of other writers before, never identified myself as a writer to any but family. But now it’s a bit hard to go back to real life. I’m a commercial cleaner and housekeeper but I don’t feel like one. I feel I should be writing. One day I hope I will! 


Congratulations to all the winners, shortlisted, and commended! 
If you follow me on Instagram you’ll know I also attended a writing workshop in the morning. I picked up so much helpful advice and Lin Anderson was so nice as to give me her own notes so I could pass it on to you. So look out for that in my next few posts! 

Imagination = Worst Case Scenario Expert

 

IMG_1507

Imagination is a wonderful thing. It’s what allows us to create stories, characters, even whole new worlds in our heads. But, as in the case of Anne Shirley and the haunted wood, it can sometimes get the better of us.

Today I was opening a pack of bananas and felt a slight pain in my finger. Did I conclude, as turned out to be the case, that the packaging had given me a slight cut? No. I immediately assumed I’d been bitten by some kind of tropical spider and would die a horrifying death within minutes. I quite often imagine dying. And I’m not bothered about the death itself, but about the reaction of my family, which also plays out in great detail in my head. If it wasn’t an overdone subject now, I could have so many stories about grief.

Perhaps this is why I don’t like to read sad stories. There’s so much sadness in the world already and I’m perfectly capable of imagining my own, thank you very much. I’m already an expert on worst case scenarios. For me, reading is an escape. I don’t want to be made to dwell on the morbid. I’m not into ‘the feels’ that so many fandoms go for. I want stories where only a reasonable number of people die. Stories about hope, joy and faith. And that’s what I want to write too. I’m sorry if that makes me a wuss. But I’ll deal with the harsh realities in life, not fiction please. Fiction can be about anything you want. You can end it any way you choose. And I choose not to be made miserable. A compelling story doesn’t have to be sad. Pride and Prejudice ends well for everyone. So does Jane Eyre.  P G Wodehouse created a world in which nothing bad ever happens, and we go back to it again and again.

I’m not saying no one should ever die in books. My favourite author, Louisa May Alcott, includes just enough sadness to be realistic, but punctuates it with more cheerful stuff. Dickens generally kills one or two characters, then lets everyone else live happily ever after. Even Wuthering Heights treats death in a fairly matter of fact way without unnecessary lingering. And everyone who dies in that is odious anyway, in my opinion.

It’s all about balance, I suppose. What’s your preference?

Writing And Housework Don’t Mix


One of my favourite writing dreams is being able to afford a cleaner. I’ve thought it all out. Two hours twice a week would be ideal. It’s not because I don’t like housework. Actually, I do like it. I just don’t have time to do it. 
Take today. My day so far has consisted of work. Work at work and work at home. Whatever women do they seem to get a raw deal. Either their only purpose in life is to keep the house and raise children, or they work just as much as their husbands and have to do the other things on top of that. Is this really the emancipation of women? Except that we bring it on ourselves more often than not. Well, it is doable. We can work all day and do various jobs in the house before and after. But what about if we have something else we also want to do? Like writing? 
I have to tell you now, I don’t have an answer for this. Because we are all different. Many of us stay up really late to do our writing. Others get up really early. My problem is that I’m only fully conscious between the hours of 10:00 and 2:00 anyway. With eight hours sleep every night. So what happens here is that only all the basic housework gets done. I do enough to eliminate the danger of catching e’coli and that’s about it. Hoovering, dusting, mopping, washing and cleaning, yes. Sorting, gardening, clearing, ironing, skirting boards and cupboards, no. This way I manage to scape just enough time to write. But one day the house will need all the other things doing or everything will just tumble down. So let’s hope I can afford a cleaner by then! 
In the meantime, I can at least comfort myself with the thought that a spotless house would mean I had writers block. Except that when I’m blocked I just read instead… 

What about you? Any Superwomen out there? Silly question. We’re writers. We’re all super! 

Waiting 


I’m so happy to announce that my flash fiction story, Waiting, will be published by The Flash Fiction Press on October 2nd! Don’t worry, I’ll remind you again nearer the time and provide a link, but for now I thought it might be nice for you to know a little of the background behind the story. 
It started when my twin sister, who works in the care industry, found one of her clients, an old lady, dead in her home. She had to wait for an ambulance to arrive, which got me thinking of what that would be like. My sister just went outside, but I wouldn’t have. I’d have had a little look around. Not in a nosy way, just a vicariously nostalgic one. I interrogated my sister closely, then wrote Waiting. Though I hasten to add that the woman in the story is not based on my sister in any other way! 
Waiting’s first outing was to the William Soutar Writing Prize, which allows two entries. Months later, I was informed that my second entry had received a commendation. Waiting, it seemed, had nothing, so I was free to send it out again. 
I sent it first to Smokelong, a reasonably well know flash fiction magazine. They rejected it. By then I’d started to wonder if it was any good. You do, don’t you? But I sent it out again and this time it was accepted! I’ll let you draw your own lesson from that. For me, it was Never Give Up. Keep sending your work out. Someone will love it. 

Time for a Rant

IMG_1101

It’s official, blogging is definitely for me. Instead of boring my hubby with my rants, I can bore you guys instead! Now, if only he would start one about his glider building hobby…

Having prepared you for a rant, I’m going to talk about getting paid. This is a resurgent gripe for most writers. We work hard. We ought to receive some compensation. The thing that really, really gets me though, are those publishers who offer no apology for the lack of payment.

Lately, I’ve sent a few short stories off for consideration. There are a lot of places out there to search through. I spend lots of time trying to find a good fit. I make it a rule to avoid those who charge a submission fee. Don’t get me wrong, I think it makes sound business sense. And these publishers usually hold out the carrot of much better payment should you be accepted. And if you only send one or two submissions out, that’s fine. But if you send twenty or thirty then you’re talking about a lot of money. Money that most likely you will never see again.

But my real problem is with publishers who don’t offer anything at all but I chance to see your story in print. This is not necessarily the same as not paying. Many wonderful story magazines can’t offer payment right now, which they apologise for, and give you a free copy of the magazine or perhaps your own bio page instead. I like these magazines. I don’t usually submit  anything to them that hasn’t been turned down by a few paying ones first, but that’s ok. No, the publishers I’m talking about are the ones who’ve forgotten that they wouldn’t have a product without the writers. Their submission instructions go something like this…

We receive over 1000 submissions a week and only 0.3 of them get accepted. To increase your chances, find out what sort of things we publish by purchasing a subscription to our magazine for £35.00.
If, having done that, you still think your story would be a good fit, send it to us in 12pt Ariel, double spaced, as a .docxrftblabla attachment, properly formatted with 2.45 cm indents, also a well crafted bio, professional author photo and a side of unicorn sprinkles.
Payment? Don’t be ridiculous.
Not put off yet? Why don’t you just give up? We’re overworked anyway and we’d rather be left alone. If you still insist on submitting, click this button. But you won’t hear from us for at least eighteen months.

Ok, so I’ve exaggerated a bit, but you get the idea. I do realise that these publishers work hard. I also realise that the majority of submissions they receive are not what they want, or not of a publishable standard. But I still don’t understand why their website needs to be so dismissive, like it’s a massive favour to allow writers to submit to them. They’ve forgotten that they need writers in order to publish anything at all. But maybe if so many writers didn’t just ignore their patronising tone and submit anyway, they would be forced to recognise that. So don’t sell yourself short. If a website that you connect with doesn’t offer payment, well, go ahead send them something if you want. But don’t feel you have to entrust your hard work to any publisher that doesn’t appear to appreciate its writers.

The Ins and Outs of Inspiration

Today I want to talk about inspiration. The kind that the real professional writers are often dismissive of. ‘Inspiration’s for amateurs,’ they say. Well, they’re probably right. Except that nothing beats the feeling of inspiration. You see something or hear something and in a blinding flash a beautiful plot unfurls before you and you already know exactly how each scene is going to go. Then, one of two things will happen.

The first thing is that you sit down and write the story then and there. (I am talking about short stories here!) This is the ideal solution. You’re inspired. The whole thing is fresh, shining and clear. It’s one of those ‘I’m a literary genius’ moments where there’s no room for doubt. You write without looking back. It’s going to be amazing. You won’t even need to edit. Of course, this is always wrong. When you reread the next day you will totally need to edit. But, because in the throws of inspiration you didn’t second guess yourself, you will probably need to edit less. (Editing is never done with inspiration) And, you wrote a whole story in one go. Go you! Writing under you inspiration sure beats the second option.

The second thing is what happens when, after the initial flash, you don’t have the time or the circumstances to write it down. This happened to me the other day. While on a journey we stopped at a fuel station and I saw a newspaper headline which gave me a brilliant idea. It was amazing. I saw the whole thing. But I was in a car and I get very travel sick. So I thought I’d just write the story when I got home.

Well, I did. Some of it. But the freshness has gone. I’m wondering if it is even a good idea after all. I’m stuck in the middle, unsure how to get to the ending I planned. I know that when the idea came to me I knew exactly how to get to the end. But I can’t think how. So I’m putting off finishing it. My notebook’s been sat beside my bed for days.

This is where the perseverance comes in. I am going to finish it. It will be a bit more work. A bit harder. But once it’s edited there won’t be much difference between the scenes written under inspiration and the scenes dragged out of me by sheer willpower. So I think that’s why the professionals disdain inspiration. It’s very nice when it comes, but it doesn’t last and you can’t count on it. When it’s gone and the doubt leaks in you can’t just stop. If you do you’ll never finish a single thing. Inspiration is not the thing you need to be a writer. What you need is just sheer stubbornness.

Being An Introvert

It’s not always fun being an introverted writer. Take ordering something over a counter. Nightmare. I have to practice what I’m going to say again and again. And, having steeled myself to say ‘two rump steaks please,’ I’m totally unable to deal with the issue of the steaks being about the size of a credit card. I helplessly watch the butcher cut these two minuscule pieces. I think, ‘Hubby isn’t going to like this.’ And yet I still watch. All I have to say is ‘actually, could you do a larger cut?’ But he’s sliced them now. And he’s wrapping them up. I finger the twenty pound note in my purse. “That will be six pounds please,’ he says. Oh well. Our Saturday treat will be gone in two bites because I was too diffident to ask for something larger. But at least it was cheap.

I know the above example isn’t unusual among introverts. It’s certainly not in my life! But why do we react like this? The simple answer is that we’re nervous. We aren’t good with people. Ok, but why are we nervous? Do we all have low self esteem? No. Some of us do. But I don’t believe we all do. I do not. I have a perfectly healthy view of myself and, although shy around people, once I leave them I don’t care in the least what they thought of me. So why am I paralysed at a shop counter?

I’ve given this a lot of thought and, in my opinion, so many writers are introverts because we are intensely aware of people. Writers pay attention. (Unless we’re reading or daydreaming about our next storyline, competition win, TV adaption etc…) We are interested in others, we sum up personalities, speculate on relationships, invent histories. So we assume the strangers surrounding us are looking at us in the same way. We are self conscious because we feel we’re being watched. Perhaps judged. And, low self esteem or not, that’s an uncomfortable feeling. The truth is, we are inflating our own importance. Perhaps low self esteem is the opposite of the problem. We will never stop being introverted, and that’s fine, but perspective is always helpful. So, next time, let’s all take a deep breath and remind ourselves that no one cares. The butcher won’t remember we muffed up our order by the end of the day. He’s getting on with his life. Everyone is. They don’t have time for ours. Unless they’re writers too. And, if they are, maybe they’ll get a good story out of us.

 

Deep Dilemma

IMG_1445

When I started this blog I assumed I’d be writing about meaningful aspects of my writing life. The things that matter. Two posts in and the biggest issue on my mind is- what am I going to wear?

If you read my last post, you’ll know I have an award ceremony coming up. Don’t get me wrong, I feel privileged that my story is due to be given a commendation. But it means I’m going to have go up and receive a certificate in a theatre that holds 120 people! And I’m not one of those wonderful intellectuals who don’t care what they look like. Trouble is, I have no idea what sort of thing I’m supposed to wear. I’ve never been to one of these things before. Is it formal, or casual? I guess I’ll have to go for somewhere in between.

But there’s still a problem. I live in Scotland. Which means that on the day in question at the end of august it could be anywhere from 10 to 28 degrees. If it’s warm then the dilemma is over. I can wear a summer dress. But if it’s cold? I just don’t know… Any suggestions?

I promise I’ll shut up about the award ceremony now. Until it’s over. Then expect photo’s, gushings about the judge, Alex Gray, and a little information about the ebook when I know more about it. I’m also taking a creative writing session with Lin Anderson that morning, so I’ll try and pick out some helpful tips for you. But you’re safe till the end of this month. My next post will be about the problems of being an introvert… Lets admit it, most of us write because we’re rubbish at face to face interaction.

 

 

Some Exciting News

Hello, welcome to my brand new, shiny blog! Let me tell you a bit about myself and what I’ll be posting.

Firstly, I am, obviously, a writer, so you can expect lots of news about upcoming stories, progress of my novel, etc. There will also be posts about the life of a struggling author, about books that inspire me, and tips to help you that I’ve learned along the way. I’ll try to post at least once a week. But bear with me, I write in my spare time and have a job, just like you!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading my blog as much as I’m sure I’ll enjoy writing it. I want to start off by telling you some exciting news I had yesterday…

Months ago, I entered for the William Soutar Writing Prize. Without much hope, you understand. Yesterday I was informed that my story, A New Life, has received a commendation. Thrilling. On the 27th of this month I will attend the award ceremony and be given a certificate. Happily, I don’t have to read the work out loud, as the shortlisted writers are required too. So a perfect result! My story will be included in the ebook though, so I’ll keep you posted on that.

I’d just like to mention, before I wrap this thing up, that said story was created for another competition, a much smaller one, in which it got no mention of any kind. So don’t give up on your stories, even if you don’t get any results at first.

Finally, if you don’t already follow me on Instagram, check me out at @bewriting. I’d love to hear from you!