Linda’s Blog for July

Bergerac meets Howards Way

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I occasionally go to author talks and, even more occasionally, to author talks on the Internet. You’ll also know that I love some and find others really not so good.

I’m happy to report that I went to a really enjoyable author talk recently at the Lee Hub in Lee-on-Solent in Hampshire, given by local thriller writer Pauline Rowson. It had been advertised as “how she plots and plans and writes her books”, so I was a little more confident than usual that I would find something of interest.

Not only did I pick up some good writing tips from Pauline, but I found her to be a very good speaker, amusing, informative, friendly and approachable. I had read one of her books prior to attending the talk – something I found to be extremely useful as I could relate when she spoke about her characters and the settings of her books.

Pauline is about to publish the 16th in her Solent Murder Mystery series that stars DI Andy Horton. She’s also published another series set in the 1950s, and a thriller series starring ex-Marine Art Marvik. She’s been published in the UK, the USA and the Commonwealth and has had one of her books optioned for TV.

One of the most common questions that authors are asked is “Where do you get your ideas?” Pauline says that’s the easy bit. Whenever she’s out and about, she’s “always looking for a place to put a body!”

She starts her planning with a spidergram. She puts her initial idea in the middle circle and then asks the writer’s questions: WHO WHAT WHEN WHERE HOW and WHY. Those questions must be answered by the end of the book.

Because she uses local settings, she says she has to ask permission to stage a murder there. Some places love the idea, others say “we’d rather you didn’t.” Then it’s a case of changing the names.

Pauline’s latest book in the DI Andy Horton series

Pauline spends a couple of weeks doing research, creating a storyboard, timeline, character profiles and chapter breakdown. The first draft of an 80,000-word novel takes between two and four months (depending on whether she’s working on other books at the same time) and she says the first draft is usually “awful”. But the idea is to just get it down, get the bones sorted and then it is easier to edit.

Over the years, Pauline has developed a considerable network of people she can call on for advice, including her husband who’s a keen sailor. She describes her Andy Horton books as Bergerac meets Howard’s Way and although I’m not a sailor, the sailing references and know-how definitely bring an accessible authenticity to her writing. She has found the Hampshire Police to be very helpful with her forensic questions. And she says, many people just love talking about their work.

Pauline was good enough to show us her spidergrams and other planning notes (I’ve been to a number of courses where the authors treat those as state secrets, not to be shared with other writers!). She frequently goes through her plans, adding her own codes – C for where a clue needs fitting in, RH for a Red Herring and M for Motive.

Another of Pauline’s tips for writers is one that I must take on board: “Writers must travel by public transport,” she says. “You see and meet so many people. You notice their mannerisms, how they talk etc.”

As someone who’s far too impatient to wait for public transport, and who loves driving, I must take her advice sometime!

Even with such a wealth of writing behind her, Pauline says she does sometimes get stuck. She refuses to call it Writer’s Block and gets past it by knitting, going for a walk or just introducing another body!

She isn’t a daily word counter but is definitely an advocate of writing every day. Each book takes between six and eight months to finish, including up to eight drafts or revisions. As she says, in the world of commercial fiction, you have to keep them coming!

Pauline wasn’t brought up in a particularly literary household. But she recalls that she started writing when she was 11 years of age. Before writing full-time, she worked in marketing and PR. The start of her “serious” writing was back in 1988 and she says it took her 20 years to get published. She self-published to start with, became a big name in libraries and was then talent-spotted by a publisher. She still has no agent today.

Thanks to the Lee Hub, Lee-on-Solent’s independent community library, for putting on the talk, complete with tea and cakes. For news of their other activities

I’m off to investigate public transport!  I hope you have a good month. Keep cool and carry on writing!

best wishes


Linda’s June Blog

Try a Nifty Fifty

The other day I came across a writing device that I thought could be useful. I’ve tried it out and it works for me! I think it could work for many writers, for different reasons:

  1. You might have had a break from writing and are finding it difficult to get back into a routine
  2. You might be stuck in the middle of a story
  3. You might WANT to write a novel but are daunted by the size of the task
  4. You might know your weaknesses and want to do something about them.

I shall confess straightaway that I have “borrowed” this idea from a favourite author and writing tutor, James Scott Bell. In his book The Mental Game of Writing, he recommends getting into the habit of writing every day.

“First, think about allowing yourself to write something, anything, first thing in the morning. I’ve used the trick I called the Nifty 350 for many years. That is, I try to get down 350 words before I do just about anything else. For you it might just be 50 words. You can do that. Anybody who wants to be a writer can do that much. Try it, and I think you’ll find yourself wanting to continue.”

I am suggesting that 50 words is a good starting point. What is 50 words? Four or five sentences, that’s all. And even if you’re a bit bleary-eyed first thing, 50 words, on absolutely anything you want, is not too much of a stretch. It might be what you remember of a dream, it might be a snatch of conversation from yesterday, and it might be the opening of a new story.

The first time I tried the Nifty Fifty, I wrote 154 words without stopping. It got me going and I carried on. The trick is not to judge your writing. Just write. Ignore typos, misspellings, bad grammar, haphazard punctuation. Just get the words down. And if 50 words is all you do, then that’s at least 50 more than you might have done!

I want to take this idea a little further. I tried this out when I was on holiday last month and it had two, very positive outcomes. One, it got me writing after a rather busy time of my life when I just couldn’t find the time to write regularly. Two, it got me thinking about aspects of my writing that I knew needed work.

Here’s what I did:

I went out for the day to a beautiful garden, taking my IPad with me (and my camera: never go anywhere interesting without my camera.) I knew there were seats all over this garden where I could perch and write 50 words and then move on to the next seat.

The first seat I chose proved a bit of a surprise – it was a swing! But I sat and I swung and I wrote my 50+ words. I moved around the garden, stopping at convenient seats, swinging or not, and wrote my 50+words each time. I only stopped when dark clouds appeared and I took shelter in the café to wait for the downpour to pass.

At the end of the morning, I found I’d written nearly 1000 words! They weren’t joined up words, as in the continuation of a chapter or the start of a short story. They were just 50+ words each time on some aspect that I had decided needed improving. It felt good – writing – and I felt it had a purpose too.

So, perhaps give it a go. It doesn’t have to be a morning’s outing like mine. It can be whenever you have the time to write 50 words or more. Try it. A Nifty Fifty might just work for you.

Happy writing


Linda’s May Blog

I have – finally – moved house and am now settling into a lovely flat in one of England’s beautiful cathedral cities. It’s like being on an extended holiday, just as quite a few friends told me it would be! I love going for walks around the city walls, coming across flint-and-stone houses, Roman mosaics, winding alleys, old street signs and springtime gardens. I really feel transported back to different times – Georgian, Medieval and Roman. As I walk, I’m imagining the characters, good and not-so-good, who used to live here. A few more outings and I might have a plot or two!

               Prior to moving, I was doing a lot of clearing out, trying to keep sentiment at bay, just so that everything would fit in the new home. And it made me think that, as writers, we probably have the same predicament.

Is that story worth keeping? It didn’t win that competition I sent it in for, so why bother?
Should I have another go at that story I never finished? Or just ditch it and start again?

               Judging our own writing is ALWAYS difficult, if not downright impossible. We can try to see it through a judge’s eyes, or an editor’s, but unless we get feedback from those people, that too is hard. So, should we keep everything we write, and go back to it from time to time? Or should every new competition entry be completely fresh?

               I’ve heard from a friend of someone in her writing group who revamps their stories over and over, changing them a little each time to fit the current topic or theme. The group is getting fed up with hearing basically the same story all the time.

               Two points here:

  1. I agree with the group. If the stories are for the group’s entertainment, then constantly using the same plot, or setting, or characters, is a lazy way of writing.
  2. If, however, the writer is entering those stories in different competitions, then I don’t see anything wrong in revamping what the writer, clearly, thinks is a good story.

My advice would be ALWAYS SAVE YOUR WRITING. It’s so much easier now that we have computers with folders, hard drives, memory sticks and Clouds! But I still have the original manuscript of the very first novel I ever wrote – on a typewriter, the words now fading as the paper yellows with age. Remember changing those black and red ribbons?

               There is no harm at all in going back and re-reading what you have written in the past. You may be pleasantly surprised at your plot, your characters and your style. On the other hand, you may be disappointed. I know in that first novel of mine, I am appalled at how often I change point of view!

               But I am absolutely convinced that every time writers write, you improve, particularly if you are part of a class, workshop or group. I believe it works subliminally. Maybe a visiting speaker to your writers’ group talks about concrete nouns. For a couple of weeks, you may actively think about them every time you write. After a while, that topic is superseded by another, but the memory lingers in the brain.

               So, I will usually come down on the side of writing something new when producing a piece for your writing group or entering a competition. It will be far better than that short story you were so fond of five years ago!

               By all means, re-use good plots and fascinating characters. After all, nothing much has changed in the ever-popular Pantomime stories, has it? But a new angle, a different point of view or an alternative setting will always freshen your stories, for yourself, your fellow writers and the judges!

I have a Literary Quiz for you this month. A bit like Countdown, it involves letters and numbers! It can be done individually, with a writing buddy or at a group meeting. Have a go!

Happy Writing


March Blog

In recent blogs, I’ve been encouraging you to experiment with your writing this year: try different genres, set yourself 52 weekly resolutions, have a go at something you’ve never done before, go to new places, have new experiences.

Well, I’ve taken my own words to heart – and I’m moving house! It’s all happened very quickly, just 12 days between seeing my new home for the first time and selling my current one.

So, you can imagine I’ve been a little busy of late. You probably realise, from my blogs over the years, that I like LISTS. Oh, yes! I now have lists of every shape and form absolutely everywhere.

I want to be a writer when I grow up!

I’m determined to have a really good clear-out before I go. That means opening cupboards, finding boxes I never knew existed, opening them and discovering photo albums galore. Then I sit down and, a couple of hours later, I’m knee-deep in black-and-white photos that I cannot possibly throw away!

And as for books! Writers HATE getting rid of books, so I’m having to be extra firm with myself. Fortunately, my local Tesco has a book table that has received a fair few recently, local charity shops too. But it is hard deciding!

I’m fortunate in that my new home has an ideal space for my work desk. It looks out onto a lovely green lawn (that I don’t have to feel guilty about not mowing). When everything settles down, I’m hoping my writing mojo will have moved with me and I can once again get back into a routine.

So, later this month, I shall be posting an article on Foreshadowing that isn’t quite finished at the moment – I think you’ll understand 😊

I hope your writing is going well, your New Year Writing Resolutions too!

I’ll be posting soon.

Best wishes


ps Apologies if you received a rogue post last month. I was trying to create a new page and hadn’t quite got it right.

February Blog

Purple Prose – what is it and when can you use it?

  • The simplest definition of Purple Prose is writing that is too elaborate, ornate or hyperbolic. It is often called flowery writing.
  • Purple Prose describes a passage of writing that is excessively wordy, often using too many long and difficult words, as well as too many adjectives, adverbs and metaphors.
  • It is writing that draws attention to itself, rather than what it is supposed to be portraying. This can distract the reader from the point of the writing ie the characterisation or plot. And it can slow the pace of the story.
  • Purple prose can also make readers feel that the are not clever enough to be reading this particular piece of writing. If you come across one word that you don’t understand, that’s fine. The context usually helps. But a string of words that you don’t know (and makes you think you need a dictionary) disrupts the flow of reading.

Purple prose should not be equated with Literary Writing. This is a style using figurative and symbolic language, such as similes and metaphors, irony and analogy.

The phrase Purple Prose comes from the Latin purpureus pannus which first appeared in a publication by Horace 65-68 BC. Purple was the colour of the aristocracy at that time, symbolising royalty, grandeur, power and pretentiousness.

There was a famous literary feud back in the late 1940s between two great writers: William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway. Faulkner was said to be a prime example of a writer of Purple Prose who was critical of Hemingway’s more journalistic style.

Faulkner said of Hemingway: “He has never been known to use a word that might cause a reader to check with a dictionary to see if it is properly used.”

To which Hemingway replied: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”

So, should YOU use Purple Prose in your fiction?

The short (Hemingway) answer is NO. But, as with adjectives and adverbs, the more sparingly their usage, the more effective they are.

And the overriding guidance is always to think of your audience – what is right for them and what is the best way to communicate with them?

I’ve purposely not included any examples of Purple Prose because, as a former journalist, I don’t want to encourage it! But there are examples on the Web if you want to have a look.

If you feel you may be using Purple Prose unintentionally, then here’s a checklist you might like to try:

  1. Check your sentences for length. Are they too long? Can you read them out loud comfortably? Are they too rambling, too many commas?
  2. Check that each sentence is moving your story forward, that each has a purpose.
  3. Look at EVERY adjective and adverb. Do they add something vital to the nouns and verbs, or are they superfluous? What are the really important modifiers, the ones that enhance your nouns and verbs?
  4. How does your work look on the screen or paper? Are there long blocks of narrative? Can you break that up with shorter paragraphs and dialogue?
  5. Read the whole piece out loud. Does it flow? Or are certain words stopping that flow?
  • Concentrate on your characters and plot. If those are good, then the writing, style and voice should follow.


I hope some of you have started the 52 Writing Resolutions from last month. Don’t worry if you fall a little behind at this stage – there’s plenty of time to go!

And if you need something to get you going each day, there are 366 prompts in my book Let’s Get Writing. I did try them all out as I was writing the book and now I’m going back and doing one a day again. I find first thing in the morning, they usually take between one and five minutes, and then I’m ready for the rest of the day.

Happy Writing!


Linda’s Blog

Happy New Year!

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year. And yes – it’s that time again: Writing Resolutions for 2022.

I know when I mention this is to one of my writing groups, there’s a collective groan – and not a few excuses. So, let’s forget 2021. For all sorts of reasons, and not least the Covoid pandemic, last year wasn’t that great for many people. I know writers who just couldn’t keep to their writing plans because of other responsibilities and distractions.

But it’s a New Year now and we could all do with a few goals to get our writing going. I’ve come up with 52 ideas – that’s ONLY one a week!

These don’t have to be done in order. It might be an idea to print this list out and then tick off each one as you do it. I’ve divided the 52 ideas into groups, so you might choose one from each group in rotation. Or not! It’s up to you.

If you find you like one particular idea, then repeat it, and delete one you don’t like.

And if you have more personal, specific writing resolutions, then just put those in and delete others.

Try something a bit different

1-5. Take a good look at the genres you have written in the past five years. Is there a pattern, one particular genre you stick to? Try five different genres. Take a look at last month’s blog for genre ideas.

6-10. Similarly, is your reading mostly of one genre? Mine tend to be crime novels and historical sagas, but once in a while, usually on a recommendation, I try something else and am usually pleased I have done so. My goals for this year are biography, sci-fi or gothic, a classic, a hobby and humour.

11. If you are usually a planner, try writing something off the cuff – no forethought, no planning, no plotting, just write. It can be liberating. This type of writer is often called a Pantser! I prefer FREEWRITING. Just write – no plans, no plots, no editing, no corrections. The first thing in the morning is often a good time.
If that’s how you usually write, then try some planning. You might just find it works!

12. Make a conscious effort to write in different POINTS OF VIEW: first, third and even second. If you usually stick to the same one all the time, you’ll find it quite different and it will probably take a bit of effort. Just have a go.

13. Similarly, change your TENSES. If you usually write in the past, try a story in the present. And vice versa.

14. If you’ve never done so before, enter a WRITING COMPETITION. If you have, set a target for 2022, perhaps one every two months.

Clear out the clutter

1. Clear out that pile of MAGAZINES! Save all the useful articles but ditch the rest. They are only taking up space and collecting dust. When did you last read them?

2. If you haven’t already got one, create a WRITING IDEAS file or box. This is where you put interesting articles, newspaper stories, pictures, postcards, brochures – anything that might be an idea for your writing in the future.

3. Have a good look at the FILING SYSTEM on your computer. Can you easily find your writing projects? Did you say What filing system? Now is the time to get all your writing files in order. If you’re not confident about filing, find a friend or ask at your local library for someone to help. It’s amazing how much better you’ll feel about your writing once you can see, at a glance, where everything is.

4. BACK UP YOUR WRITING. Regular computer users will, I hope, already be doing this – making a copy of all your writing (and other important files) and saving them to a safe place, such as an external hard drive, DVDs, the Cloud. Again, if you don’t know how to do this, find a friend or a class.

5. Have a clear-out of your BOOKS. Yes, I know – we writers love books! But when was the last time you opened, let alone read, some of those on the top shelf? There are websites that might buy your books, plus plenty of charity shops, schools and libraries that could benefit. (And it clears some space for this year’s crop!)

6. Have a look through all your PAST WRITING PROJECTS. I always advocate never throwing anything away so now is the time to re-read your old stories. Perhaps they need editing, or a re-think, or sending off to a competition.

7. Your WRITING DESK could probably do with a de-clutter too. I did this recently and then treated myself to a desk mat – makes me feel a bit more organised. (Please note the Pomodoro clock!)

Keep the grey cells active

1– 5. Read 5 new WRITING BOOKS this year. Go to your local library and local bookshop and find out if they have a section on creative writing. Take a note of recommendations on writing websites, blogs, classes etc. You can include well-known authors writing about writing.

6.    Suggest your writing group creates its own LENDING LIBRARY.

  • Search the Internet for free online WRITING COURSES & WORKSHOPS. FutureLearn with the Open University is one place; there are many others. See what you can find.
  • SIGN UP for one of the classes or workshops you found in 3 above.
  • Search the Internet for free online writing WEBINARS: talks by and Q & A sessions with top authors. It’s a good way to take a break and to hear from other writers.
  • Investigate PAID WRITING COURSES . They vary considerbaly in price, anything from £20 to thousands! 
  • Consider taking a WRITING HOLIDAY. These can be one-day retreats, weekend courses or five-day courses or retreats. Non-writing partners can sometimes be accommodated. Investigate.

Get out and about

If you can go for a walk, or on a journey by car or public transport, then try some of these suggestions. If you’re at home, do it on the Internet. With these excursions, it’s important to remember the SENSES and what CHARACTERS might be doing there.

Plan or write a flash fiction story set in each location, changing the point of view each time.

Often it’s best if you go somewhere you haven’t been before as your eyes, and other senses, won’t be clouded by familiarity.

  1. A street market
  2. A park
  3. A bus or train station
  4. A large building – cathedral, palace, warehouse, hypermarket
  5. An animal park/wildlife sanctuary/wetlands
  6. A museum
  7. A stately home or castle
  8. A car boot sale or charity shop
  9. A road you’ve never been down before
  10. A place of worship
  11. A shop you wouldn’t normally go into
  12. A café or restaurant
  13. A library
  14. A sports club or ground

Writing resources

1. Buy a writing MAGAZINE and read it thoroughly. If you enjoy it and find it useful, subscribe. If not, try another next month. The magazine could also be one that’s connected to your current writing project eg travel, world wars, history.

2. Surf the Internet for writing BLOGS. You can often subscribe, for nothing, and receive regular blogs, articles, tips, competitions etc

3. Find, install and use a GRAMMAR checker on your laptop/computer/tablet. MS Word has one and there are others, some free.

4. Once in a while, subject your writing to a CLICHÉ FINDER. As my writing groups know all too well, I have a “thing” about cliches. They might say what you want, but they are not YOUR words. There are free apps on the Internet.

Spread the Word

  1. ENCOURAGE one person to take up Creative Writing eg invite a friend to your local writing group; ask your grandchildren to write a story or a poem for you.
  2. Find a WRITING BUDDY. (see chapter 26 in my book) Set your own targets between you, have regular meetings, give constructive feedback.

So, 52 Writing Resolutions. Good Luck!

I’ve created a New Year Quiz for you this month – it’s on the Quiz page and the answers are on the Answer page! If you’ve been reading my blogs over the past few months, it’ll be a piece of cake.

Happy New Year and Happy Writing.


Linda’s December Blog

Are you a one-trick pony?

Do you write short stories? Is that the only form of writing you do? Have you ever tried any other genre of writing? I’m a firm believer that trying different types of writing can improve your skills. I will happily confess that I am NOT a poet! I’ve tried, and it’s just not me! But I do have go at poetry exercises from time to time because I know it gives me a different slant on the writing process.

            Each writing genre has its own features, guidelines, principles, and even quirks. So, if you want to become a specialist writer, then that’s where hours of practice come in. But supposing you don’t yet know which genre of writing is for you. Or you’ve got a bit stuck and need a new source of inspiration? I highly recommend trying something different from time to time.


  • With poems, every word counts. Poems are often image-based, so you have to search for exactly the right words, be they nouns, verb, adjectives or adverbs – to create the picture you want your readers to see.
  • If poems aren’t image-based, then they tend to be about emotions. Again, this directs the writer to thinking more deeply about exactly the right words to describe feelings.
  • Poems are often shorter than short stories, so you have to be concise, using strong language rather than weak.
  • Some poems rhyme – a skill that demands quite a lot of thought. (Although there are websites that will give you rhymes for almost every word you can think of!)
  • Above all, poems have a rhythm, a flow, a beat, a tempo. Practising that particular skill will often help with prose writing too.

Not sure how to start writing poetry? Try some of the shorter versions:

  • Haiku: a poem of three lines, the first of which has 5 syllables, the second 7 syllables and the third 5 syllables. They often have a nature theme.
  • Limerick: a funny 5-line poem where the 1st, 2nd and 5th lines rhyme, as do the 3rd and 4th.
  • Acrostic: the first letter of each line spells a word that can be the theme of the poem.

Other ways of writing poetry:

Take a favourite or well-known poem, like Wordsworth’s Daffodils, keep the beat and the rhyme pattern, and substitute your own words.

Have a look at Sonnets (Shakespeare’s in particular) and have a go.

Or just write, not quite prose, not quite rhyming poetry. This is Free Verse.


Perhaps you’ve come to a halt in writing fiction and want to try something completely different. Try non-fiction. Research is the key here – you HAVE to be 100 per cent accurate.

  1. An article for a newspaper, magazine or website. It might be about a hobby, a pastime, a holiday.
  2. A letter to a newpaper, magazine or website. It could be about politics or an issue you feel strongly about.
  3. Write for your local newspaper, about a local group, a local issue, a sporting fixture, a drama production.
  4. A biography or family memoir.
  5. A diary.
  6. A textbook or self-help book on a subject you know well.
  7. A travel guide.

Different fiction genres

Do you find yourself writing the same type of short story fiction all the time? Try something different:

  • A children’s story
  • A fairy story or folk tale
  • A ghost story
  • A Christmas or Hallowe’en story
  • Historical fiction
  • Crime
  • A psychological thriller
  • Romance
  • A Western
  • Fantasy
  • Sci-Fi
  • Epistolary (letters)

There’s so much to choose from! Even under Sci-Fi, I found 31 subgenres, from Dystopian to Steampunk, from Gothic to Cyberpunk.

Performance writing

Then there’s writing for performance. This includes stand-up comedy, stage plays, radio plays, TV plays and film scripts. There are websites, books and courses for each genre.

A few other suggestions to finish with: writing for greeting cards, advertisements, business writing, social media, book reviews, and you can even create your own website and blog 😊

Perhaps now is the time to have a good review of your writing. Fancy trying something new in the New Year? Do some research and then set yourself some targets – trying one new genre a month perhaps? You just never know where it may lead!

I’ve an article for you this month on the subject of Pomodoros. What, you may well be asking, are Pomodoros? The word is Italian for tomatoes and it’s a time-management system. Intrigued, interested? Then click here.

Wishing you all an enjoyable Christmas and Happy New Year. And Happy Writing!

Best wishes


ps For those of you who tried NaNoWriMo last month, whether the full 50,000-word version or one of your own, I hope it was worthwhile. I nearly did mine! I’m really not trying to make excuses, but I had three visits to the dentist’s chair last month. No problem there (I have a lovely dentist) but each time it took two days for my jaw to stop aching, and I mean really aching! One more visit to go so I hope to be back to my writing routine soon. Fingers crossed!

Linda’s November Blog

Writers aren’t perfect all the time!

I was having a bit of a break from writing the other day and I was googling (research as we writers call it), and I came across this quote from the painter Vincent Van Gogh:

One must spoil as many canvases as one succeeds with

His words made me stop and think, and I decided they could just as easily be applied to writing. Not everything we create, whether a canvas or a story, is going to be perfect. We cannot, continuously, produce our very best writing. We all, artists and writers and everyone else, have “off” days.

We may not be feeling well; we may have problems – family, work, financial; we may be worried about all sorts of things – major and minor; we may just be “out of sorts”. If anything is going on in the background, then our writing will suffer.

So, I investigated further quotes by Van Gogh and here’s what I found:

I’m drawing a great deal and think it’s getting better

I long so much to make beautiful things. But beautiful things require effort – and disappointment and perseverance

I’ve just kept on ceaselessly painting in order to learn painting

Obvious, isn’t it? To succeed, you must practise, over and over again; you must face serious setbacks (rejection and criticism) and you must continue to learn your craft.

I remember years ago when I first started teaching creative writing, I had a student who wrote an entertaining short story as her homework one week. She asked me if I thought it would be worth sending off to a magazine. I suggested some likely publications and we were both delighted when, a few weeks later, her story was accepted by a well-known women’s magazine. The following week, she sent off two stories she’d written previously to the same editor. Both were rejected and she was quite indignant that they hadn’t been accepted.

Two lessons learned here: (1) women’s magazines that accept fiction rarely accept multiple submissions from the same author; they like variety. (2) In all probability, my student’s previous stories may not have been of the same standard.

And this is where we come to one of the most difficult aspects of writing – judging one’s own work. Is it any good? Or is it absolutely awful?

Best it can be

A word of caution here: I’m not talking about typos, and spelling mistakes, and grammar errors. Those should NEVER appear in your work if you are handing it to anyone else to read, whether it be a friend, a writing buddy, your favourite aunt, the local writing group, an editor or agent. There is no excuse for being unprofessional in that way. You are asking someone to spend time reading your work and the very least you can do is to make sure it’s in the best form it can be. If it’s a first draft, then say so.  

But judging the CREATIVE aspect of your writing is much harder. The advice that is offered time and again is, once the first draft is finished, put it away for a while (a couple of days, a week, a month, three months, six months) so that when you come back to it, it is with as fresh a pair of eyes as possible.

I’m quite astounded sometimes when I read things I wrote years ago. Some have reduced me to tears – and not because of the typos! Others, I cringe at when I realise I’ve changed point of view far too often in a single page.

Clear purpose

One answer is to have a clear purpose as you read through your writing. For example, I read through each chapter as I write it, looking specifically at:

  • Are the characters, particular the protagonist, realistic? Do they react in ways appropriate to their personality?
  • Is the protagonist active? Is he/she at the centre of the story? Does he/she make things happen, make the decisions that need making?
  • Is the protagonist’s goal clear to the reader? Is it achieved (or not) in a realistic manner?

On another read, I will look at the different settings in my book: are there enough/too many; are they described in enough detail to take the reader there; am I using one particular setting too many times; and, most importantly, are my characters interacting with the settings?

You cannot check everything on a single read-through. But by having specific things to look out for, you’ll do a far better editing job. Then, when you’ve done all that, it’s entirely up to you – just trust your own judgement.

Have you heard of Janus words? Click here for this month’s article.

Good luck to all those who’ve entered the NaNoWriMo competition or are following their own version.

Happy writing


Linda’s October Blog

Getting going – what’s best for you?

We love writing, don’t we? We are writers. But sometimes, getting started can be just a little difficult! We’re not in the mood; we’ve so many other things to do; we haven’t got anywhere quiet to write; we’re not feeling great.

A quick anecdote here: I was in the sauna at my local leisure club the other day. One man was telling everyone else how he cycles 100 km a week, sometimes even getting up at 3am to complete his daily routine. Another man was nodding along with the story and, when gentleman A paused for breath, he said, “Trouble is, I LIKE procrastinating.”!

I know, occasionally, I’m like that sauna man. I convince myself that I’ll write later on in the day, or maybe tomorrow will be better because then I can spend more time on it, or I need to do some research first, or …… PROCRASTINATING!

So, I’ve come up with a few ways to get us out of that habit. Try one or more and do let me know if they work.

  1. If you are writing an ongoing piece, finish one day’s writing session in the middle of a sentence. When you resume, you’ll probably already know how you were going to finish that sentence, and then you’re away.
  2. Finish one day’s writing session by jotting down just a few words, or phrases, as to what you want to include the following day. It shouldn’t then take you long to get back your train of thought.
  3. Re-read what you wrote the previous day. The best way to do this is to read it OUT LOUD. Then it’s up to you whether you edit that writing, or just carry on.
  4. If you don’t feel ready to carry on with a particular piece of writing, try a prompt or an exercise. Go the the Articles page to see my article on Prompts and Exercises – what’s the difference?
  5. If none of the above work, then try something non-writing: a bath nearly always helps me, or a walk, a swim, housework (not my favourite), shopping, chatting, a quick nap, a hobby. The break could well clear your mind and your writing muse will return.


It’s that time of the year when almost half a million writers and would-be writers all over the world are preparing for NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. The idea is that you sign up (quite literally, through the Internet) to write 50,000 words in November. It’s a big challenge – that’s 1667 words a day. Sounds easy?

I’ve done it once. The first week was great: I found it most enjoyable to sit and write 1600-1700 words each day, giving me a real feeling of satisfaction. Then, somehow, life crept in, and I got a bit behind. Before I knew it, it was the last week and I was having to write over 3,000 words a day to finish. I did it and I received my badge that sits on the noticeboard above my computer, reminding me that IT IS POSSIBLE!

NaNoWriMo was started back in 1999 with 21 writers in San Francisco; last year, 450,000 writers stared out on November 1st, with just 11% reaching their goal. There’s now an official NaNoWriMo site which runs the challenge. It’s completely free to sign up and participate. On the website, you’ll find advice, tips, stories, and group writing events in your region. NaNoWriMo is a non-profit organisation, which is supported by selling merchandise and accepting donations.

Could you be one of the winning percentage? NaNoWriMo is not a competition, just a personal challenge. Once you have completed the word count by November 30th, you send off your novel (or part-novel) to have it verified. (No-one reads your work and once it’s verified, it is deleted) Then, you’ll be awarded certificates, banners and badges.

Too much for you? It doesn’t have to be 50,000 words in a month. You can choose your own goal. For example:

250 words a day will give you a total of 7,500 words – one or two short stories;
500 words a day adds up to 15,000 – the start of a novel;
750 words a day gives you 22,500 – maybe a short story collection;
And 1000 words a day means you’ll have written 30,000 words – half a novella.

Is it time you started a novel or, at the very least, a regular writing routine?

Happy Writing