Posts Tagged Writing

Short Story Critiques

A couple of weeks ago a follower of this blog contacted me for advice on obtaining a critique for a short story she was working on. Understandably, she didn’t want to pay a fortune and nor she did she want to risk the story being hijacked by someone else.

For a short piece of work like this the critiques offered by competitions are reasonably priced. These include:

  • Writer’ Forum – a monthly competition with an open theme and maximum word length of 3,000. The critique is an extra £5 on top of the entry fee. I’ve used this service once and received a one page report covering: Presentation, Title, Opening, Dialogue, Characterisation, Overall. It pointed out my overuse of clichés, incorrect use of the word ‘indiscrete’, problems with characterisation and the fact that the ending was too ‘sudden’. So for £5 I had a lot to work on to improve the story before it went off to another competition.
  • Meridian Writing run quarterly competitions and offer a basic critique for an extra £3. This is usually an A4 page in length. They are also offering critiques for noncompetition entries with the fee varying on whether a basic or detailed report is required and the length of the story.
  • Flash 500 Competition is another quarterly open themed competition but the word limit is 500. The optional critique is £10. These competitions are run by Lorraine Mace and she also offers critiques on non-competition pieces (any length and including articles and non-fiction books), see here for more details.

A subscription to Freelance Market News includes a free critique on 3,000 words of prose or 120 lines of poetry. It costs £29 for 11 issues and includes free monthly writing competitions plus 20% off entry to The Writers’ Bureau Short Story and Poetry Competition.

Does anyone else know of a critiquing service that is good value?

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Women Only Writing Competitions

Where are all the male writers hiding?Women only writing competitions

The writers’ events I’ve been to recently seem to be dominated by the fairer sex. At the Martin Davies Novel Writing Day there were around a dozen participants but only one of them was male. At the writers group I attend, women outnumber men by nearly 3 to 1 and in the Birmingham Chapter of the Romantic Novelists Association we have just one man (but maybe that is to be expected!).

And judging by the email addresses of the subscribers to this blog, 95 % of them are women and most of the comments left are from ladies too.

I pointed out this imbalance in the sexes to my husband and he suggested that maybe all the male writers are actually writing and producing best-sellers, rather than sitting around talking about writing or surfing the blogosphere.

He could have a point. We women get caught up in the social aspects of writing whereas our male counterparts actually knuckle down and get on with it.

So as we seem to be all girls together, here are some suggestions for women only competitions to get you inspired and writing:

  • The Glass Woman is a fiction competition for stories of between 50 and 5,000 words. The theme is open but the subject must be of significance to women. No entry fee and the closing date is March 21st. First prize is $500 plus there are runners-up prizes. Previous winning entries plus full details are here.
  • The Baptist Times are running a women’s writing competition for non-fiction. There are 3 categories each with a prize of £100; Spirituality, Cultural Comment and Faith & Life. The judges are looking for writing that’s stylish, insightful and powerful. No entry fee, word limit is 1,000 and closing date is 4th April. Full details here.  
  • The Grey Hen Poetry competition is open only to women over 60. Closing date is 30th April 2011, £3 entry fee and £100 first prize. Full details here.

If you’re already a published novelist then there’s always the Orange Prize for Fiction.

Oh, and if you’re a man reading this – please leave a comment and make yourself known (or use the box on the right to sign-up to receive my blog posts by email – that way you’ll never miss one!)

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The Writer’s Notebook

Writer's NotebookIt’s one of the first things that we are ever told as writers – always carry a notebook. In it we should write snatches of overheard conversation, descriptions of characters that we see in the street or the beauty of the sunset on our way through the park.

For years I didn’t carry a notebook but recently I’ve started stuffing one in my handbag ‘just in case’. I seldom write in it because I feel self-conscious standing in the check-out queue writing down what the woman in front is saying or wearing but on occasion I’ve found a coffee shop and had a quick scribble.

But now I’ve got these little gems in my notebook (and presumably over the months and years I will build up several of these books) – how do I find what I want when I want it? Unless it fits my current work in progress how do I catalogue it until I need it?

There is no order to my notebook, just odd words, sentences or sometimes a whole paragraph (if I’m lucky) on disjointed subjects. When I’m deep into my novel and need an old lady character, how will I know which notebook holds the description I’m looking for?

The writer, Caro Clarke, believes that few good writers will break their narrative flow to go rooting in notebooks for something they jotted down years ago (and will they even remember they wrote it?). She says “When you are really writing, the words you need come to you. The words the story needs arise from writing it.”

I tend to agree with Caro but because this notebook mantra is so widespread, I feel that I am missing something obvious.

The best idea I could find on the internet for organising a notebook was here. It suggests buying one of those books containing subject dividers and using the sections as you find appropriate e.g. titles, dialogue, characters etc. This makes sense until you’ve filled more than one notebook.

What about you – do you use a notebook? If so, how do you retrieve what you’ve written in the past? Or do you think they’re a waste of time?

Leave a comment and maybe between us we can find the best way of retaining those ideas, characters and flashes of inspiration that occur whilst we’re out and about.

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Real Writing Lives

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There are as many different methods of writing as there are writers. There is no ‘special’ method that brings fame and fortune with it – we all have to find our own way of creating literary masterpieces whilst paying the mortgage.

At the annual Writers’ Toolkit event in Birmingham, three writers gave an insight into their working days.

Jo Bell is a poet but most of her days are filled with other activities to keep the wolf from the door. Amongst other things, she is a freelance organiser of literary events, teaches creative writing, gives readings and does book promotions. When Jo checked her diary, she had only 3 days in the next fortnight available for actual writing.

She wisely told us that we shouldn’t look upon the essential but non-writing stuff in our lives as an obstacle to being creative – instead it should be seen as something that enables the writing to happen.

Jo also advised, “Work out what you want to do and then go out and find it. This might mean knocking on doors and suggesting workshops or offering yourself as a writer in residence. Above all, make sure you get paid because otherwise you devalue Writing as a whole.”

Mike Gayle is a full-time novelist but doesn’t believe that having all the time in the world is an effective way of writing. He wrote his first book whilst still earning his living elsewhere and looked forward to his snatched periods of writing time.

“But as a full-time writer I found there was a tendency to take a whole afternoon to eke out one paragraph,” he explained, “and it’s easy to feel removed from the real world and ordinary people. This means there’s no ready raw material to feed the fiction.”

Having discovered he’s a morning person, Mike now squeezes his writing day into 9am – 1:30pm, giving himself a structure within which to work.

Chris McCabe writes novels under the pseudonyms John Macken and John McCabe.  He is also a full-time Professor of Molecular Endocrinology at the University of Birmingham. He writes during his lunch hour and from 8:30 – 10:00 in the evening. He has no time for writers’ block and has to make the most of every minute.

Chris did try taking a year out from his ‘proper’ job to concentrate on writing but it didn’t work for him.

“Even though I hate gardening I found myself doing it to avoid having to write,” he said. “I need a time a shortage to get me going.”   

So, giving up the day job and writing full-time might not be the best option. Most people need a little bit of time pressure to make them effective and we all need outside stimuli to feed our work.

Today’s writing prompt is:

A Last Will and Testament – who inherits what is up to your imagination.

P.S. If you fancy winning a great bundle of writing books, nip over to my writing buddy Helen’s blog and enter her (very easy) competition. 

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Self-Discipline for Writers

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’Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration,’ said the inventor, Thomas Edison.

This is also a perfect description of writing. Lots of people claim to have a great idea for a novel but how many of them actually sit down and put in the effort to bring that idea to fruition? Talking about the big idea is the easy, fun part but getting it down on paper requires discipline.

So I’m starting this blog to improve my writing self-discipline and increase my ‘literary’ output – give me a nudge if I’m not posting often enough!

 Meanwhile, here are a few pointers for getting your bum on the chair and that blank page filled –

  • Set yourself a goal and then break this ultimate aim down into manageable chunks – the smaller the chunks, the easier it will be to achieve them.
  • Give each chunk a realistic deadline – taking into account any work and family commitments.
  • Have a dedicated writing space – this might only be a corner of the dining-room but sitting down there should immediately put you in the right frame of mind for work.
  • Delegate some of the household chores to free up extra time for writing.
  • Avoid interruptions – tell the rest of the family that you will deal with their requests when your hour’s writing time is up.
  • Disconnect your internet access or keep it as a treat for the end of your writing time.
  • Always complete one task before starting another – there is nothing more disheartening than a string of half-finished short stories.
  • Accept that you will have good and bad days – don’t beat yourself up about the latter just accept it and move on.

Remember, if you treat your writing seriously then your family and friends will respect it too and it will be easier to keep to your writing routine.

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