Sally Jenkins

Writing Stories of the Self and Others or ‘Life Writing’

I had never heard of the specific skill of  ‘Life Writing’ until I applied for a place on a day workshop run by Testimony in Practice at the Library of Birmingham and held last weekend. I came away much wiser and full of advice from Emilie Pine and Carmen-Francesca Banciu.

Emilie is the author of the award-winning collection of personal essays, ‘Notes to Self‘. She used writing exercises based on our own life experiences, relationships and memories to school us in the practice of adding emotion and detail to our writing. She had us switching tenses and view points to test their impact. She told us to delete our fist paragraphs and to take our opening line from somewhere in the middle in order drop the reader straight into the scene.

Carmen is a writer who has chosen to share her life experiences through memoiristic novels. She explained that writing directly about yourself and trauma can be too painful and it can be awkward for the friends and family you include in your work. Turning it into fiction can make it possible to record experiences more honestly. Carmen encouraged us to use our imagination about an object hidden in an envelope and, once revealed, to place that object in a fictional setting. She made us try writing with our left hand in order kick start other areas of the brain and see how that affected our writing.

Both women emphasised several common points, some of which we already know but sometimes fail to implement:

  • Put writing at the top of your ‘to do’ list
  • Free yourself from the necessity to be good in a first draft. Make it good through editing later.
  • Write quickly in whatever pocket of time you have
  • Fiction can be a form of testimony and gives the writer the necessary distance to tell a difficult story
  • Authenticity in memoir is not always about absolute accuracy but about honesty of intent i.e. the essence of experience.
  • A first draft may come up with contradictions, such as ‘I love him’ and ‘I hate him’. It is at the hinge of such contradictions that the real story starts.
  • Passages of high emotion can be made manageable for writer and reader by including a less intense interlude of description.
  • Slowing the pace and inserting detail can vastly improve a manuscript.

Now I’m raring to get back to my WIP and have the intention of adding increased emotion and fine detail to my work!

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To Hire an Editor or Not to Hire an Editor?

A few weeks ago I met freelance editor Ameesha Smith-Green at a networking event and was impressed by her full order book and great enthusiasm for her job. She generously offered to share some advice about when an editor is required and what tasks that editor might perform.  Ameesha Smith-Green

Over to Ameesha:

Whether you’re a professional writer making a living from your words or someone who enjoys hobby blogging, there will no doubt come a time when you wonder whether it’s worth hiring an editor. In fact, “Do I need an editor?” is a question I get asked fairly often by writers. As an editor, you might think I’d leap up and shout “YES!”, but the answer isn’t so cut and dry…

Are you writing for pleasure or business?
If you’re writing for fun or catharsis, then an editor isn’t really necessary. It’s more important that the writing fulfils your personal needs and desires. However, if you’re a freelance writer, an author, or a blogger hoping to make money from your work, then it might be worth hiring an editor, because your writing needs to be of a higher quality than if you were just writing for yourself.

What value does an editor add?
A good editor knows the industry relevant to your writing and what your readers want. They understand genre standards, word counts, structure, and flow. Importantly, they’re objective and honest about whether your writing is good enough—and how to improve it. A good editor should make you a better writer, not just fix your errors. Even the best writer can sometimes find themselves unable to see the wood for the trees, and that’s where an editor is invaluable.

What do editors do?
The term “editor” is very broad, but in writing there are two main types: content editors (also known as developmental editors) and copy editors. The former look at the big picture—structure, content, message, narrative, and so on. The latter focus on the small picture—grammar, language, wording, punctuation, and so on. It’s worth noting that the role of a copy editor is often confused with that of a proofreader. However, proofreading is merely checking the final version of the text (such as a designed book or website) for any last typos or errors.

Which should you choose?
If you’re a book author, you’d normally start with a content edit, then progress to a copy edit, then a proofread. If you’re writing blogs or website content, then you’ll probably only want copy editing and/or proofreading. Some editors offer both content and copy editing services, while others specialise in just one. If you’re confident in your writing skills and don’t need an editor, it may be worth hiring a proofreader to ensure there are no embarrassing typos before you hit “publish”.

Where do you find editors?
You can find editors and proofreaders through generalist freelancing sites such as Upwork, niche sites like book-specific freelancing site Reedsy, or industry organisations such as the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). Before hiring anyone, carefully read their feedback and have preliminary discussions about your requirements to see whether they’re the right editor for you. With copy editing and proofreading, you can request a sample to see their skills in action.

Links:
• To find out more information about book editing, check out: https://thebookshelf.ltd/
• To find out more information about freelancing, check out: https://afreelancelife.co.uk/
• You can get in touch with me via LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/ameesha-smith-green/

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Make New Virtual Friends

One of the nice things about being a writer is the lovely people you meet along the way. These may be real world contacts, virtual acquaintances from social media or cross overs between the two. If you meet other writers at a workshop or conference it’s rare that you’ll part without swapping Twitter handles, Facebook existence or other means of giving each other virtual support. And sometimes that person who’s said ‘Hi’ on social media will turn out to be local to you and it’s possible to meet in person.

These contacts aren’t necessarily always other writers. There’s a growing trend towards freelance working, aided by technology, internet and social media. Writers are one small part of this freelance world. We are usually not salaried and have only ourselves to rely on to find commissions and markets for our work. Mixing with freelancers from other professions can help us to treat our ‘creative calling’ as a business and manage our time better.

Over the last few months three different contacts have offered me internet publicity via blog interviews. These people all started as virtual contacts but two were near enough to meet in person as well. Below are the interview links. You’ll find out stuff you (possibly) didn’t know about me plus, if you settle back with a cup of tea and rummage around, you’ll discover information on co-working, writing tips and help managing your freelance business.

Ameesha Green is a freelance editor of non-fiction books and also runs the Freelance Life blog.  My favourite question from Ameesha was, ‘What skill do you think is most important in freelancing?’

Lorraine Mace will be a familiar name to many of you; she writes for both Writing Magazine and Writers’ Forum as well as writing crime novels and doing much more. My favourite question from Lorraine was ‘Do you Google yourself? What did you find that affected you most (good or bad)?’

Dispace is an organisation facilitating co-working in coffee shops and other venues up and down the country. For when you get fed up of staring at the same four walls! Dispace asked me for five tips on writing and self-publishing non-fiction.

Has anybody else made helpful contacts via the internet?

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Words of Wisdom from Erin Green

Erin Green writes contemporary romance and her fifth novel will be published in January 2020, less than three years since the first one hit the bookshop shelves.

Erin is prolific and even more so when you know that she juggles all this writing around her work as a teacher. Erin is inspiring and I want to share with you some of the recent words of wisdom from her blog. She has been writing a series of posts for aspiring writers and in the first one she says, “Many aspiring authors want to write but don’t actually write.” It might be closer to the truth to say many aspiring authors don’t write often enough. Erin goes on to explain that she joined a writers group for motivation but found that most members wrote nothing between meetings. Listening to all their excuses Erin had a light bulb moment and she realised that the only way to fulfill her dream of becoming a published author was to write every day. So she did and she still does. She snatches time in the early morning before work and in the evening. Follow her on Twitter and you’ll get to know her writing habits.

Are you one of those wannabes that dreams instead of doing?

Get motivated by reading the full texts of Erin’s blog posts:

Aspiring Author – Part 1

Aspiring Author – Part 2

Aspiring Author – Part 3

 

 

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The Day I Made a Podcast

A podcast is a digital audio file which can be downloaded from the internet and listened to on a variety of devices such as a laptop, smartphone etc. It’s rare to find a one-off podcast, they are usually made available in a series. Podcast is a combination of the words iPod and broadcast. How to make a podcast

This week I was the subject of a podcast which will form part of a series about agile workers, produced by the co-working organisation Dispace. An agile worker can work where, when and how they choose.

I’d never thought of myself as agile until Dispace invited me to be part of their project. For three days a week I’m employed by a multi-national IT company – which definitely isn’t agile; even though I’m home-based I work set hours and can’t take my laptop out in order to work from a coffee shop or wherever else I might choose. Into the remaining two days I fit my writing, occasional public speaking and anything else that comes my way; this is agile.  Lucinda from Dispace was interested in these agile strands and how they fit alongside my ‘proper’ job.

The podcast recording took place at 1000 Trades in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. The microphone and camera (yes, it was filmed as well!) were all set up when I arrived. Lucinda had just finished an interview with Dan Braithwaite, a workplace trainer. Amongst other things, he goes into offices to help workers minimise the potential physical problems of sitting at a desk all day. Perhaps something that us writers could benefit from!

We started straightaway with Lucinda asking me about the different strings to my bow. She’d done her homework by reading Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners and we talked about Sutton Coldfield Speakers Club and public speaking in general. We went on to discuss why I write psychological thrillers, how to promote books, how I see the future of work, how I structure my week and my ‘writing’ days, plus lots more. The time went quickly, the space-age microphone (pictured) and the camera were hardly noticeable and the whole thing felt like a chat with someone who was very interested in me! By the end I realised that, for at least part of my week, I am an agile worker. The only question I stumbled on was: Where can people find out more about you? In the same way that I can never remember my mobile number, I couldn’t remember the website address of this blog. Hopefully that will be edited from the final take!

Conclusion: I enjoyed my first podcast experience and when the final edited version is ready I’ll share it here.

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Restricted Entry Writing Competitions

Back in 2011 I wrote a post about Women Only Writing Competitions. At the time they seemed to be a ‘thing’.

Recently two men have independently stumbled across that old post whilst searching for ‘men only’ writing competitions and each left a comment indicating that they don’t think it necessary to have such discriminatory entry requirements. And I agree with them – surely it’s the standard of writing that’s important and not the sex of the writer. Women have come a long way since the days of writers such as the Bronte sisters, who had to hide behind male pseudonyms. I feel we can now compete on equal terms.

Since 2011 other forms of restricted entry have emerged, for example asking for entries only from the LGBT community or from minority ethnic groups or from writers of limited financial means or from particular age groups. I assume that these entry restrictions are imposed because the competition organisers are either looking for stories from these particular viewpoints or the prize is a bursary aimed at those in need or it’s been found that writers from these groups are reluctant to enter open writing competitions. These are all valid reasons for using specific competitions to encourage writing in particular groups.

However, I hope that in the future all writers will feel comfortable entering all competitions, confident that their stories will be judged without prejudice. Meaning that in the future competition organisers (or publishers) might specify if a particular character/story type is required rather than the type of author required. Of course bursaries for those on a limited income should continue to be awarded to those talented writers in the most financial need.

In the meantime here are a few ‘restricted’ competitions, lifted from the pages of this month’s Writing Magazine:

The Nan Shepherd Prize for Nature Writing – for unpublished writers who consider themselves under-represented in nature writing, through gender, class, sexuality, ethnicity, disability or any other circumstance. Closes 10th September 2019.

The Mo Siewcharran Prize – for unpublished UK novelists from a BAME background. Be quick! Closes 29th July 2019 (but will run annually).

Mslexia Fiction and Poetry Competitions – open to women only. Close various dates in September 2019.

Passager Books are seeking submissions of poetry, memoir and short fiction from writers over 50. Closes 15th September 2019.

 

 

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Speaking Without Notes

This week I went to a preview performance of ‘The National Trust Fan Club’ by comedy performer Helen Wood prior to the show’s Edinburgh Festival run. Public Speaking without Notes

The show is an energetic, light-hearted romp around one hundred National Trust venues. There is also much talk about gift shops, tea shops and cream teas. There’s lots of humour and anyone who’s ever visited NT properties will identify with the content.

But what impressed me most about Helen’s performance was the way she remembered all the words! She talked non-stop for an hour and a quarter without the obvious use of any prompt or notes. When I speak to groups I talk for around 45 minutes, 90% of that time without looking at notes. However, I do have four index cards which contain quotes that I read to get the wording correct. I also have the comfort blanket of an A4 sheet containing a list of bullet points which I can glance at, should my mind go blank and I forget which section comes next (rarely happens – touch wood!). Helen had none of this but she did reel off dates, names and statistics.

So, what’s the best way of minimising the use of notes during a talk?

  • Do NOT learn the whole speech off-by-heart. Doing this can mean your delivery will lack emotion and if you lose your place, it can be difficult to pick up the thread again.
  • Use a list of bullet points to provide a pathway through the speech. If you will be using a lectern, these can be typed onto a sheet of A4. If the notes will be held in your hand, use index cards because they are less obvious than waving a piece of A4 around.
  • Memorise the gist (not the exact wording) of what you will say to expand each bullet point. The actual words you use may vary each time you deliver the speech. This gives you the ability to more easily tailor the speech if time requirements change. Plus you are less likely to panic if you forget a sentence or two.
  • Practise! It’s time-consuming but always leads to a better performance.

Public Speaking for Absolute BeginnersThere are more tips on all areas of public speaking in Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners.

 

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10-Word Story Competition

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of its Audible Short Story Award, the Sunday Times is running a competition for the best 10-word short story.

Entry is by email to shortstoryaward@sunday-times.co.uk. Alternatively, you can tweet your entry using the hashtag #shortshort.

Closing date is Sunday July 7th 2019.

The winner will be published on Sunday July 21st and awarded twelve free audiobooks from Audible UK.

As always, remember to read the full terms and conditions.

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If Goethe had had to prepare supper

I’m just back from a cycling holiday along the banks of the Danube from Passau, near the German/Austrian border, to Vienna, in Austria. The weather was excellent. I didn’t get saddle-sore, thanks to several pairs of padded shorts. And although my leg muscles were exhausted by the end of day two, I got a second-wind and finished the trip without too many aches.Emerenz Meier

However, the point of this blog post is to highlight a memorial to the authoress, Emerenz Meier, on the river bank in Passau. The written work of this lady suffered due to the pressures on her to earn a living and keep house. She laments this in a poem reproduced on the memorial. It reads:

If Goethe had had to prepare supper, salt the dumplings;
If Schiller had had to wash the dishes;
If Heine had had to mend what he had torn, to clean the rooms, kill the bugs –
Oh, the menfolk, none of them would have become great poets.

Most of us have moaned, at some time or another, about the way chores and working for a living take up too much time. Time which could otherwise be used for productive writing. Today, equality of the sexes means fitting in the housework is no longer a uniquely female problem. But Emerenz Meier was born in 1874, died in 1928 and was married twice, so I’m guessing neither husband was particularly domesticated.

So next time domestic drudgery is getting in the way of creativity, be glad that we have washing machines, vacuum cleaners and many other labour saving devices: Emerenz would have been doing everything the hard way. And we don’t usually have to kill too many bugs!

The memorial was erected by Soroptimist International Club Passau, an organisation of professional women.

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How to Structure a Novel

Over the last few weeks I’ve been trying to get started on a new novel. My usual strategy is to create a quick list of scenes that get me from beginning to end and then I start writing.
BUT, invariably, as I get to know the characters and the story-line better, I go off plan. My narrative goes around the houses and there’s a lot of wasted time and much re-writing. This time I want to avoid all that. So, I’ve been using a couple of resources to help me create a proper story structure and character arcs before I get too deep into the writing.

The Snowflake Method

The Snowflake Method was pioneered by Randy Ingermanson and was recommended to me by children’s author Lorraine Hellier.
This method dictates that the writer should start with the simplest premise possible and gradually expand to create plot and character details. For example, step one is ‘Write a one sentence summary of the story’. Step two is ‘Expand to a one paragraph summary.’ By following all six steps, the writer ends up with character bibles, a four-page synopsis and a scene list. The Reedsy website explains how to use The Snowflake Method in an easy to follow way. In addition, there are lots of useful resources on Reedsy such as character and story structure templates to download, which I found useful.

5 Secrets of Story Structure: How to Write a Novel That Stands Out

At time of writing this is a free e-book by KM Weiland. It’s short and easy to read. Most of us will be familiar with the three-act structure but this book provides more plot points on which to hang the story. For example it talks about pinch points which are small turning points between the main plot points.
I found the book very useful.

If you’re looking for more reading on the subject of novel structure, have a look at the five recommendations in this blog post by Rachel McCollin.

Finally, if you’ve got a tried and tested plotting/structure technique, please add it in the comments below!

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