The importance of being prepared for success

After 5 years of judging and editing anthologies of short stories for a variety of organisations and causes, I’d like to share a few home truths, in the hope that it makes the next competition an easier and more pleasant experience for both entrant and judge.

This is not an article intended to pump you full of hot air and preempt motivation, but rather a croaky plea from a weary editor and judge of short stories to competitors of all experiences to pick up your game and to be prepared once the judging has finished.

It aught to go without saying that the rules are there for reason. It astounds me how many times word count, genre and profanity rules are ignored. It doesn’t matter how good the story is, if its over the word count or not in the right genre required, it will get cut immediately.

Proofread your entry. Please. Have more than just your mum read it and give feedback on it.

When you enter a competition, your precious words are being judged. Every. Single. Word. Choose and edit them wisely.

Your title will either turn on or turn off the judges in a heartbeat. Put a great deal of thought into it, without being too clever or vague or (I’ve seen this so many times) giving away the twist in the end!

Unless the competition specifically calls for political, racial, sexual or religious extremist views, don’t use competitions as soap box for your passionate views. Passionate writing is wonderful, but no-one wants to feel they are being preached at while reading a story in a competition.

When you enter a competition, you aught to have a small hope your story will be chosen. If it is chosen 99.999999% of the time, you need to have a writers bio AND a publicity shot to send to the publisher. Be prepared for this and send it immediately back. Your publicity shot should be available in both black and white and in colour and be of high resolution. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have had to google a writers name and try and find a half decent photo of them from another site and write to ask permission to use it, because the writer sends low resolution photos, or forgets to do so. Your writers Bio should be 40 – 50 words, brief, not robotic and quirky enough to reflect your style.  I have 5 main bios on hand, depending on the publication and audience of the piece of work I have submitted.

I could write a book on boring bios. Whilst I understand that not everyone has a pet giraffe and is currently researching medieval pigeon taming in a Polish castle, we each have something that sets us apart from others. You are a writer. Explore that.

Although It may sound simple, your publicity shot aught to be one that is flattering, yet up to date. You aught to update it every 2 years. Your publicity shot is possibly best one that doesn’t include you holding a drink ( unless you are a reviewer for wine or beer magazine, if so; well done you) You aught to be the only one in the shot, with the exception in rare cases of a dog or cat ( if this is the warm, homely feeling your writing reflects) Ensure the background is blank or neutral. Shots against a bookcase filled with books always sends a good message.

This may sound elementary, but make sure the photo is predominantly your face. These photos are used in a number of ways and the shot of you sitting in your garden, though lovely on a big screen, will be dwarfed if viewed on an iphone or printed on the back of a book. Authors love the wistful staring to one side shots or the head resting on the curled hand shots. Don’t knock them. They work. They make you look alot more intelligent or wise than you may feel.  Another favourite (and cheeky) one is the author peeping over a book; which happens to be their own.

You don’t need to spend a fortune on professional shots as technology now allows a simple iphone to take excellent photographs. do a little research on others profile shots. Walk into a book store and turn over the books. Get a feel for the types of shots you feel will flatter you. Practice selfies. Ask your teenage relatives to teach you to do selfies.  With digital photography you can take a thousand shots in an afternoon. They has got to be at least one there you can use.

No-one likes self promotion. Suck it up, it’s part of being a writer who wants their work to be read by people other than their mothers. Get your teenage relatives to make you a Facebook page at least, so that your (soon to be) adoring fans can feel connected to you. Promotion is all about relationships and connection. If you are going to ‘make it’ as a widely read writer, you need at least some exposure on the internet. Your information can either be managed and controlled by yourself, or someone else. Do you really want a stranger to write your bio or post photos or information about your writing? Learn about the other networking platforms out there and choose something that will suit your lifestyle and outlook. There is no need to have profiles on 50 platforms, just one or two solid ones which you check in on at least fortnightly.

When you answer interview questions about your story, no one really wants to hear that it took you ten minutes to write, or that the characters are ones you’ll never use again, or that you don’t even like your story. Emerging writers hang on the words and advice of those who have made it to the next step. Allow some mysticism, some magic within the process. Always have a project in the wings, always be excited about the prospects ahead. If you aren’t, no-one else will be.  Promotion is about selling the sizzle and not the sausage.

It is common courtesy to respond to the editor and publisher in a timely fashion. Its a pretty small circle in some genres, and you’ve no idea who knows who at any one time. Remain professional and prompt with your replies.

Have a basic contract prepared for the release of your story. You can download copies from your state or national writers society or group. Ensure you read it and understand the clauses. Your publisher will most likely have their own and will send to you; however, it is completely within your rights to counter this with your own. It is fairly normal in most countries to agree to the rights of your story being exclusive (i.e. you can’t publish or enter it anywhere else) for 1 or 2 years and then to roll over to non-exclusivity.

There is so much emphasis on getting to the selection process, with little said about the “afterwards”. When you enter a competition, EXPECT to win! With that expectation, prepare yourself for the interviews, photos and biographies which are required for any normal media promotional distribution. If you see yourself as a winner, then so will others. (OK, maybe that was a bit of “fluffy motivation hype” speak!)

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My ego won’t let me read

I was one of those kids who read until 2 am under the covers with a flashlight. I read on buses, trains and while walking between classes at university. A blissful weekend for me involved a block of chocolate, a packet of salt and vinegar chips, a pile of books and a “do not disturb” sign on my door. But my ego killed my passion for reading and its been years since I can honestly say I have read a book.

Therein lies the rub, for you see, to become a better writer, a generally accepted piece of advice is to read widely.

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.
– Stephen King

HP Lovecraft says:

A page of Addison or of Irving will teach more of style than a whole manual of rules, whilst a story of Poe’s will impress upon the mind a more vivid notion of powerful and correct description and narration than will ten dry chapters of a bulky textbook.

I rest my case.

Reading a wide variety of genres opens styles and sentence structures up in the writers mind. Not only does it serve to inspire the creative spark, but it also develops the writer’s palate for all the writing tricks authors have utilized over the ages.

But you see, my ego won’t entertain the thought of me reading. Far from thinking it will stop my individual style or that I will be too influenced by a certain style or writer, my once loved books are simply pages of blurred muddles. Apparently, I need glasses to read. Ridiculous! Old people have glasses. All I need is longer arms or a selfie stick that will hold my books and extend it to a spot I can see the words. However, the call of new authors works and my increased need to begin writing again, will force me to lock my ego away, don some reading glasses and accept that they will perch on my nose at a ridiculous angle. Sigh.

Ego is such an ugly word.

When a writer is not a writer

By the very definition, a writer is someone who ‘writes’.  It’s something that infects the blood, drives you to finish that paragraph, become a stalker in coffee shops –  to listen in on conversations for character development, create an obsession with Pintrest with boards so weird and varied, you decide you need an alias login so you don’t need to explain the midget horse board or the 18th century womens’ underwear collection. Writing is that passion in the blood until one day something happens and you stop writing. Excuses and busyness lay hurdles in front of your writing. Suddenly, its months since you opened your writing files. You’ve stopped “writing”. You have nothing to write about. Many state it’s just a bump in the road, a slight case of writers block. But you know in your heart, it’s more like writers atrophy.

So when, along the journey, do you consider that you are no longer a writer? That you “hang up” your writing tools and “call it a day?”

I am a private person, who doesn’t share a huge amount of the turmoil and issues I have faced in the last few years; but feel its time to give light to some, in the hope that it inspires or motivates others.

Flashback 8 years and flash fiction writing was a living, breathing obsession for me. I had several vibrant blogs, loyal followers and built strong professional relationships with writers around the world though collaborative writing projects. I wrote new fiction every week, was part of an exciting editorial team, had begun my path in publishing and submitted a number of articles a month to various online writing websites. Writing both fiction and non fiction was an emotional outlet for me and a way to deal with the mounting personal issues my family was facing. In short, six months before my husband of 24 years eventually died from a horrific brain tumour, I stopped exploring words. I stopped sharing. My worlds became numb and my characters voices, once so clear; were silenced.

This halt to writing was no ordinary writers block. No manner of workshopping, brainstorming and doodling on blank pages could encourage words to flow again. I had access to excellent tools for creative blockages and over time, attempted to utilise them to kick start my lifeless passion.  Attempting to write even the briefest email has been excruciating. The great nothingness of depression has been an overwhelming and consuming entity living skin deep against my heart.

Once, I proudly wore that sly smile as I announced I was a writer, before giving a few details about my latest WIP. It took a lot of courage and self belief to go beyond the “faking it till you make it stage”. Now, I hide behind the statement of “I used to be a writer”; and even that feels false.  The journey back to ‘being a writer’ seems insurmountable. However, deep inside, there is a tiny flame which continues to flicker, waiting for inspiration to feed it, for passion to set it alight again.

Over the years, I’ve written some great columns, given great advice, coached and mentored many emerging writers, so for me, there is a huge slice of humble pie sitting in front of me to consume before I set off on my journey again. Though more than a bump in the road, I am hoping this diversion away from writing will prove to be a strength, rather than a hindrance to my overall journey.

I stand now, unable to claim to be a new writer; but unwilling to claim writer status. How many readers out there are able to empathise and stand with me in this no-mans land of writing? How have you launched yourself off again? What strategies have worked (or not worked?)

I would like to publicly thank the readers, writers and editors of Today’s Author for being so gentle with me over my absence. It is my intention to hang out here more often. Who knows, I may even start writing again.

Annie’s Anti- Resolutions for 2015

With the new year desperate to make its presence known, I can’t procrastinate for one more day, and realise it is time to dust off the to do lists and goals I made around Christmas time last year and groan, slowly comprehending the truth that there were very few actually pursued and less with any intent to complete.

Fear not gentle heart! For I ALSO make a solid list for my Anti Resolutions and can wholeheartedly announce I achieved every one of them.

For many years, I have participated in an Anti Resolution campaign, firstly with writers in Write Stuff, then to its successor, Write Anything; finally with Today’s Author, made partially from a group of writers who have known each other from these writing sites. It is a lighthearted look at the promises we solemnly make each year at this time.

The main idea is to commit to NOT doing something. I wrote a number of writing related Anti Resolutions, but also general ones too. Some of my last year’s included avoiding the gym, not shoving children out of the way to get first in line to see Santa and not succumbing to the desperate need to pull up the pants of all the young people who, for some inexplicable reason, are unable to find trousers the correct size and must wear them with the crouches dangerously round their knees.

Why not try a list of your own?

  1. In 2015, I will refrain from answering my phone with Dorothy Parker quotes. (My current favoured one is “What fresh hell is this?”)
  2. I shall resist the urge to fill my pockets with glitter and whenever someone says something mind numbingly idiotic, reach into my pocket and release a shower of glittering stupid over their head.
  3. Should the above person continue to expect an answer, I shall refrain from responding with a seven minute interpretive dance.
  4. I will not run for a  political or parliamentary position, despite my belief that a  six year old monkey is more likely to do a better job than those in power at the moment.
  5. I will leave behind my black permanent markers when I go shopping, so that I am not tempted to correct punctuation and misspelt signs.
  6. I will limit my eye twitches when, in conversation someone utilises the word, “irregardless”, “agsts” me a question, attempts their “upmost’ or uses “for intensive purposes” in a statement.
  7. I will stop relying on spellcheck and autocorrect as my proofreaders after publishing comments on Facebook too embarrassing to repeat.
  8. I will refrain from sitting in coffeeshops all day and recording conversions around me for future character building. (and will stop taking photographs of said strangers for same)
  9. I will limit my ‘research’ on google to specific goal orientated subjects, rather than be swept way with interesting articles on medieval dentistry tools.
  10. I will limit immediate desire to call a conspiracy for every news report discussing the discovery of a new virus, social breakdown, internet glitch or spammy email I come across. 
  11. I will STOP buying gorgeous blank and lined notebooks.. and begin to USE the pile of beautiful, gilded, leatherbound ones I have filled with extra thick paper for the purpose they were given; to write in; rather than to gather dust for a time I believe I have something worthy of writing in them.

As for personal Anti Resolutions,

  1. I resolve not to be hit by a car, train, bus or other heavy, fast moving vehicle.
  2. I will not take up paddle surfing.
  3. I will avoid gyms, stretchy lycra and sweat pants.
  4. I will not become addicted to Dom Perignon
  5. I will continue to ignore all calls from Johnny Depp
  6. I will refuse to admit to my obsession over men in kilts.
  7. I’ve forgotten what I was talking about, something with muscly bare-chested  blokes in kilts?

No matter how you choose to close the events for 2014 and welcome the energies and opportunities for the new year, may they greet you gently and carry you to success.

Beta Readers make books (and words) better

There are a number terms being bandied around writing camps and unless you are brazen enough to admit you don’t know what one might be, you may be in the same situation I was a few years ago when my Facebook page was full of requests from other writers for a beta reader.

What does a beta reader?

A beta reader is someone who isn’t familiar with your storyline and perhaps unfamiliar with your work as a whole. They are occasionally willing volunteers, but more often than not, a paid professional who are happy to read your flash, excerpt or finished novel and give you honest feedback on specific concerns you have about it. They might be another author or an editor; but most importantly, they are an avid reader of the genre you write in.

Why would you need one?

When a writer creates a character, an event or a scene, they become intimate with every nuance. When an author writes a story, they know what message they are attempting to communicate. However, this doesn’t mean that they have been able to convey it clearly to a reader.  Even when it is read back, its quite possible that the real meaning is still not shared in the way the author meant it to be shared. A beta reader will read your work with no preconceptions of character or plot and let you know what is clear and what is not.

Beta readers make your words better

A beta reader is best sourced through social media or networking and should be someone who would be amongst your target audience.  After approaching your beta reader, supply them with a list of issues or challenges you may have with plot, character or scene setting. After a read through, they will help identify the problems and work with you with their feedback on ways to solve them

A beta reader is the person who can shine a new light or perspective on an aspect of your story which has troubled you, or an area you found glitchy but you failed to find a solution to it. They can assist with questions to deepen possibilities or opportunities for a character or event to demonstrate the point you are trying to make.

Get the best out of your beta reader

In order to get the most out of your beta reader, you must be clear in what feedback you need from them. Vague instructions will only garner vague suggestions or commentary.  A beta reader is able to assist you in developing a character through pointed questions, so that it comes across to the reader in the way you had meant it.

The most valued beta readers will look at your work critically and be specific with their feedback. They will provide notes on your story with quotes or passages which need further exploration and tightening to give clearer meanings.

Most beta readers will provide a short feedback note, but the best will be one who is willing to work with you further and assist in improving the story.

However, once this type of back and forth feedback, improvement and honing comes into it, you wander into the realms of manuscript appraisals. The intention is exactly the same; but the feedback and work invoked with this professional is at a deeper level.

They pull no punches and not only are well connected with agents and publishing houses, but will give you a lot to think about and work on to improve your work. Professional manuscript assessors can be sourced through accredited writer and author societies.

What they are and what they are not

A beta reader does not take the place of an editor and is not expected to correct structural, grammatical or spelling errors. Very often a beta reader is sourced before your work is completed or is sent the rawest of first drafts for their initial feedback. This is in direct contrast to the use of an editor who assists with completed drafts, or manuscript assessors who look at a finished and edited piece. One of the most important things about a beta reader, especially if they are a volunteer, is to treat them with kindness and gratitude; never take their feedback personally and offer to assist them in a similar way in the future.

Beta readers play an extremely important part in the revision and expansion stage of your writing. Once it passes the beta test, and you’ve completed it to the best of your ability, its now time to find an editor; and start the revision process again.

Flash Fizzle or Sizzle

Flash Fiction can be one of the most enjoyable forms of fiction to read as while it doesn’t require a great time commitment to read it initially, themes and messages remain with you for longer.

As a writer of flash, however, the very elements which make it accessible to our fast paced world, make it challenging to write. Instead of the luxury of thousands of words to convey a setting, the deeper motivations of a character or the intricacies of an emotion, an entire story with well-rounded developed characters must be captured in under 1000 words. Flash fiction with clichéd and two dimensional characters will fizzle and be discarded.

The elements of good writing do not change, regardless of word count; however there is a harder line to toe when it comes to flash fiction.

Make every word count.

With absolutely no room for padding, flash fictions must be the trimmed down, toned sister of a short story. Text must be to the point, vivid and explode from the page. A good rule of editing a flash fiction to ‘cut the fat’, would be to delete all adverbs, discard “then” and bin anything that doesn’t immediately add to the precise event the story is trying to convey.

Start in the middle

When you begin to write, it’s a good tip to begin in the middle of the event or incident and write around it. As you edit, you may decide to start the story somewhere along the timeline you are creating so that it has more impact. By beginning to write in the middle, you take away the distraction of having to set the scene and go ‘straight for the jugular’. 

Limit your characters

With a limited word count, so too must your host of character be selective. You don’t have time to build character or set scenes, so even their names must signify baits or foreshadow events.

The story arc still applies.

Be it novel, novella or flash fiction, your tale must still follow a story arc involving an event with a major obstacle to overcome ending with a resolution.

A twist in the tale is what flash is all about.

Although the isn’t a rule, most readers expect to be surprised and have something to think about after they have finished reading. The best flash fiction stories are ones that the reader immediately reads again, to pick up on the clues which lead to the twist at the end. Elements of shock or added humour will hold a reader’s attention for longer.

Do you write flash fiction? What are your tips for success with this form?

Hook your Readers

Readers are a fickle lot. If your writing hasn’t grabbed their attention within a few sentences, its likely your story will be laid aside and another chosen in its place. There are a number of ways to entice a reader to continue with your words, but the most effective tool is the ‘hook’; a sentence that emotionally engages the reader. Obviously some of these opening sentences will be more applicable to certain writing styles than others; but are worth investigating none the less.

Questions
One of your characters can open with a question to bring immediacy and context directly into play. “What? You eat slimy slugs in your sandwiches?”

Dialogue
Short simple dialogue will have the reader question the story immediately, wondering what has just happened.

Idioms
Dependent upon the style of your writing, you may open with a idiom. Slang and idioms are not normally accepted within formal styles of writing, but can give a deeper and richer meaning and texture to a sentence if used well. They also have the danger of being clinched, so care is required with their use. Examples of idioms which carry imagery which extends beyond simple words include “at loggerheads,”, “over the moon”, “vicious cycle”.

Exaggeration.
A characters view on the situation can be captured quickly with their exaggerated outlook, eg “A billion flies have defended on my face”.

Setting
This is perhaps the most utilized within the toolbox of hooks. Adjective and adverb rich, care needs to be taken not to overdo the setting and lose the reader inside it. Too much scenery or back story will send the reader packing. Use words and images in your opening setting which will convey the overall tone of your story, be it dark, whimsical or suspenseful. If you are using the setting as your opening, it can hint towards a characters mood or intent.

Contradictions
This opening works well for stories full of emotion. e.g., “I have a loving husband, a huge home with servants, an important job; but why do I feel like my life is falling apart?”

Onomatopoeia
Onomatopoeia is defined as a word, or set of words, which imitates the natural sounds of a noun. Examples include “whispering pines”, “the slurp of the slushy”, “the last gulp of a coffee”. This stylistic tool allows the writer to vividly convey a scene quickly.

Exclamation
Another tool for a character to express something, or for the writer to engage the reader personally. “ Phew! If you thought it was hot in the desert, wait till you work in the bakery Matt does (or I do)…”

Writing an effective hook will pull your audience in but is not necessary to write first. As your story develops, you may discover the right hook to begin your story with and be able to mold your opening paragraph to include it. The hook should encapsulate what will be found within the story.

Write healthy in preparation for NaNoWriMo

Like adopting a healthy lifestyle, adopting a healthy attitude towards NaNoWriMo is integral to your ongoing success. For many, NaNowriMo represents a pressure cooker environment of little sleep, bad food choices and too much caffeine. The results of this type of lifestyle, even for a week, is not conducive for free flowing creativity or low stress.

To keep the creative juices flowing, with both stress and energy at an acceptable level with minimal sleep, a western diet and its thought processes are not going to fuel the lifestyle required to juggle normal life and the pressures of NaNoWriMo and continue to the finish line without something breaking down.

As someone who has battled eating disorders, depression, weight issues and health challenges, I know only too well the power of attitude, focus and proper nutrition to support the body.  For those who are seeking balance or a healthier way of surviving NaNoWriMo, perhaps some of these tips will assist. Its never too soon to start these good habits either, so don’t wait till the 1st of November to test them out. 

Attitude

Your attitude will make or break you before you type the first word on Nov 1. Be clear with your goals and the reasons you are participating in NaNoWriMo.

Every day we make dozens of small decisions which ultimately spell out the difference between success in our goals, or failure. As soon as you get up or home from work, did you spend twenty minutes on the couch watching telly or goofing around on Facebook or spend that twenty minutes on a super charged word hit; typing as quickly as you can without editing? Small changes can add up to huge results.

There are some great programs available specifically for NaNoWriMo to push and challenge writers with procrastination issues; from timers with loud alarms which sound when you stop typing, to the cruel one that eats your words if you stop typing. Do a Google search or check out the official NaNoWriMo site and forums for suggestions.

Like training for a sporting competition, or reshaping your body, its how you spend  98% of your the time rather than being obsessed with the trip-ups which are realistically going to happen. It does not serve you, nor is it healthy to focus on the 2% of your time you spend on negativity, binge eating or  procrastinating.  What will normally happen is that you will beat yourself up and then give up… all for 2%.

Remember that consistency is important in achieving your goal. Just as when you are reshaping your body, if you only make healthy choices when you feel like it, then you won’t see much progress on the scales or in the mirror. Make the right choice even when it’s hard and you are tired. In most cases, you will find an extra burst of energy once you start to write and that by pushing through that resistance, you strengthen your resolve and it will be easier next time to fire up your laptop and punch out a few paragraphs.

Treat yourself with gifts or treats after you cross small milestones. This will motivate you to continue. Don’t wait for the 50K mark to pop the cork of a champagne bottle or a new fountain pen. After years of teaching people from preschool to adults, there aren’t many students who are immune to bribery in the way of a sticker chart and treats! Work out beforehand what your treats are.  They don’t need to be sugary or junk foods either – though to be honest, that works too. Treats may include a walk in the sunshine with no shoes on, a delicious hot bath filled with aromatherapy oils, a foot massage – its up to you how extravagant or simple you make them. For the sake of simplicity, make a chart or a pick list and when you achieve a goal – go straight over and choose something… and DO IT!

Focus

The NaNoWriMo word count can be likened to the bathroom scales used to measure one’s weight.  Just like those on their initial weeks of weight loss, many writers become obsessed with the numbers. Similarly, there are going to be days where those scales tip favourably and others when no matter what effort you put in, they remain stable.

Yes, NaNoWriMo is about setting those targets, hitting the daily word count and putting yourself under pressure to perform. However, make your plans to write realistically fit around your life, not the other way around. 30 undisturbed days to write would be nice, but unless you hang out in the mountains alone, its unlikely to happen. Sometimes circumstances change suddenly – a new job, a family crisis, moving house – and your planned routine doesn’t work. The trick is to be flexible and know when it’s time to tweak your methods.

Focus on what is important to you with your NaNoWriMo project.  Is it really to dish out 50K of hasty words, or 30K of thoughtful, considered ones? Is it to start your journey as a novelist or give you material for an anthology? Perhaps NaNoWriMo is really about proving to your family you are serious about your writing. There may be other ways to achieve these goals rather than focusing solely on the word count.

Proper Nutrition

No doubt we all “know” what to do and eat; however especially during NaNoWriMo, we don’t. This is when the body takes over and forces you to stop when you get cramps, fevers, sore throats and sniffles; resulting in more stress as your word count drops as you are too sick to concentrate or write.

Get your 5 vegetables and 3 fruit servings a day over and done with at breakfast. Explore green smoothies and juicing to boost your nutrition and vitamin intake. (see below for more information on these)  It will supercharge your metabolism and allow you to cheat a little on the sleep.

Cheat on Sleep

Don’t kid yourself. No-one gets enough sleep during NaNoWriMo. An important fact you may not know about good quality sleep is achieved when you are in the Delta Phase. For most people who sleep 8 – 10 hours they only actually ‘get’ to Delta for around 30 – 45 minutes. The trick, therefore, is to get yourself to delta as quickly as you can and stay there for as long as you can. Learn some deep relaxation techniques to assist you in getting to this state – or look into the Pzizz. I’ve had an earphone unit for years and when really sleep deprived, they work a wonder as they bring your brain waves into a delta state within moments. There is a software based program which can be used for a 10 min power nap while you sit at your desk in front of your pc. The iPhone has a fantastic App (big smiles!!) for it. Choose a method which will support you and try it. Your body will love you for it.

Sufficient pure water

Not sweetened fizzy drinks or caffeinated drinks – pure, unadulterated water. If you are sitting inside, you will need about 8 glasses. Keep a water bottle by your laptop and every time you pause to think, it’s a signal you are getting dehydrated – so take a sip.

If you are seriously needing a fizzy drink, try sparkling water; or go and buy a ‘soda stream’ ( a kitchen utensil that carbonates water).

Coffee drinkers?  (I am the worst offender here). For every cup of coffee or caffeinated drink you imbibe – you *ought* to flush it away and out of your system with two glasses of water. The positive thing about this is that often the best thoughts and ideas are hatched while..errmmm… sitting…

Supplements

Forget the 5 servings of fruits and vegetables. The way the toxic farming industry is going, our produce lacks proper nutrition. Source either organic produce, or quality plant based supplements to support the stress NaNoWriMo will put on your body… and make sure you either eat them or take them!

A great ‘cheats’ snack is raw nuts.. Sorry – not the flavoured, salty or smoked ones. Walnuts and Almonds are especially fabulous for focus and prolonged concentration.

My secret weapon is Green Smoothies.

Since discovering them early last year, they have become a staple part of my day. Supercharged and full of pure, raw energy, they are the perfect breakfast for sleep deprived, nutritionally deficient NaNoWriMo participants, and particularly good afterward to wean those off all the caffeine and sugar many use to keep themselves going.

A good Green Smoothie is 60% fresh fruit blended with a high power processor with 40% green leafy vegetables and a little pure water. I’d suggest you start with a higher percentage of fruit until you get used to the ‘greeness’ . Also start with very bland greens such as baby spinach before you move on to silverbeet and kale.

If you are looking to get through NaNoWriMo without the assistance of junk foods and sugar, then seriously look at having a green smoothie a day. When your cells get what they need, and your brain, and emotions, and that desire for junk falls away one step at a time, you will find yourself buzzing with a new found energy – and perfect focus to write. For a step by step video and info on these click here

Again, these are the things I adopt on an ongoing basis to support my lifestyle, and may not suit everyone. However, I have a deep knowledge that without them, my emotional, physical and psychological health would be of a poorer state. No matter what you do, keep your NaNoWriMo in a healthy state until the end.  You owe it to your body (and your family), not to mention to the work in progress you are spending all this time and energy to create.

 

Demystifying Proofreading

Getting a story or document “proofread” holds a certain mystery as the lines between beta reading, proofing and editing are often blurred and misunderstood. There are several stages a manuscript enters on its way towards submission or publication. After the author has acted upon the suggestions of their beta readers and self-edited, sending the work to a proofreader to review before it is handed to their editor will ensure that their editor can focus on structure and elements without being distracted by grammatical errors. With editors fees normally being charged per hour, minimizing lower level, time wasting tasks will maximize the skills the editor has to offer. A proofreader’s fees are generally less than an editor, due to the type of checks and tasks required and is often a fixed fee, rather than an hourly rate.

Proofreading can be defined as identifying and correcting typographical and grammatical errors. A professional proofreader will check the work a few times, looking for different aspects each sweep. These include checks in:

  • Spelling, punctuation and grammar.
  • Name, word and term consistency. A proofreader will ensure that a characters name is spelled the same way each time, that the author has consistently capitalized specific words or terms.
  • Layout. Proofreaders check that font choice and size along with the page layout remains the same across the entire document.
  • Style guides. Often submissions to literary agents or competitions have very strict style guides to adhere to. A proofreader can ensure that these have been followed.
  • Dependent upon the length of the document, checking that the table of contents match with page numbers.   

It’s difficult for an an author to do a thorough proofread of their own work as often they are too close to the text, story and characters and will overlook errors without realizing it. A fresh pair of eyes will spot inconsistencies and mistakes quickly.

It is important for the author to have clear communication with their proofreader to outline the expectations they have for proofing the manuscript. Generally, a proofreader will read the document quickly and jot down questions and queries they may have arising from the first sweep.  Often these notes are inserted into the document as comments using Word Track Changes.  It is up to the author to address these queries and to accept or reject any alterations made to the original manuscript.   

A quick Google search will turn up pages of proofreaders with varying fees. Personal recommendations through your writers groups, or the writing professional body in your state are better methods of sourcing a reliable proofreader than choosing a random service based on an attractive website. Most countries have a society of editors and proofreaders which can be contacted for qualified professionals.

Many authors believe that proofreaders only check for grammatical errors.  Whilst this is a basic element of the role, a good proofreader has a grasp on a wide range of topics, has an extensive vocabulary and the ability to express ideas and images concisely. Not only do they need to be both tactful and confident in order to challenge an author on word choices, a proofreader needs to disciplined with their time and be able to deliver their skills with a quick turnaround.

What Lego has taught me about writing.

mini London

Lego is one of those ubiquitous childhood toys which tends to breed underfoot when your feet are bare and tender and vanish when you need that last particular piece to complete a project. You may be surprised to learn that playtime with Lego has many opportunities for a writer to hone their skills, so perhaps its time to pull down the dusty box those little red pieces have been hiding in and scrutinize what secrets it may be hiding from you.

The word “Lego” is derived from a Danish phrase “leg godt” which means to “play well”. Also meant to be loosely interpreted in Latin, the word Lego is  “I put together”. Keeping these meanings in mind, its not a huge jump for the writer to put their work in progress and the model they are building out of Lego into the same metaphoric box. Writing, in its most basic form, is simply putting words together. Playing and having fun is also ‘supposed’ to be part of the deal when writing.

As a rookie writer / first time builder, when you build the foundation of your story the bricks of the story may press together easily, while construction tends to be rapid fire and passionate. Suddenly, you look across the table and spy a window frame/ character, which, before you had seen it, was not featured in your Lego/story masterpiece. But now that you’ve seen it, it seems impossible to build it without its inclusion.Therein lays the dilemma of a first draft. You are left with the quandary of pulling it completely apart and rebuilding, in a different tense, from a different point of view, in a different colored brick? Do you carry on, attempting to ignore that perfect Lego piece/ character, telling yourself you’ll pick it up and put it somewhere else along the line but secretly knowing that it only has one place, somewhere in your work  hours ago?

R2D2

Planning and evaluating problems is part of both the Lego and writing process which many fail to recognize as being integral to the ultimate success of the project. There are few people who can construct a simple design without a degree of forethought, planning and goal building. Even the most casual ‘pantser’ will have a vague overall outcome in mind for their story. A successful ‘pantser’ isolates challenges as they present themselves, evaluates and integrates or discards them as they appear. A planner will generally evaluate discrepancies after the first draft is completed and implement changes afterwards.  Without upsetting the pantser vs. planner debate too much, there is value in staring at the raw materials of your build/story and just building / writing until you reach a point where some planning and evaluation will ensure that you don’t waste too much time when going forward. I’m a big believer that there is space and value for both methods. The value of being a Lego builder as a writer is to see that unusual and beautiful things can be accidentally created even when the plan wasn’t followed.

Lego teaches problem solving, organization, and planning by construction — skills which are invaluable to the writer.  The problems a writer faces are similar in some instances to that of a Lego builder. A writer spends inordinate amounts of time thinking, searching for the right word, researching a specific detail, getting distracted on the internet, discovering new pieces of information which must be included somewhere in the story and then hours staring into space, working out ways to introduce, solve or tighten new plot twists and characters. A builder spends inordinate amounts of time searching for the exact piece, getting distracted by new pieces and then spends more time attempting to fit these pieces in someplace.

Writing, like Lego, is a solitary pursuit. It can capture the time and imagination of people of all ages, where hours disappear under the scribble, tapping or rattle of the tools of their trade. Though writing and Lego can be enjoyed as a group or paired activity, it takes a special environment and range of personalities for this to ultimately work without it ending in egotistical tears, tantrums and shattered friendships.

Lego teaches builders to recognize and duplicate complex patterns, encouraging them to alter and make their own patterns. Writing is based on recognizing patterns within human behavior, replicating and altering certain events to be molded into a specific storyline. Writing also requires authors to utilize the complex patterns of language, grammar and genre specific idiosyncrasies. The more you both observe and practice duplicating increasingly complex patterns, the more mastery you will have.

If you want to improve your writing experience, spill that Lego box out in front of you and start to build something. It will quickly become evident whether you are a ‘pantser’ or a ‘planner’; whilst both have merits for both Lego construction and story writing, the important thing is to build. Just write. Have a goal. Be flexible and “Leg Godt”.

Photos are from a recent visit to Legoland in Windsor, UK; where Annie was unashamedly a big kid for the entire day.