Where do I submit my stuff?

You’ve just finished writing some material which you think is pretty good, but you’re not sure where to send it. Consider submitting your articles and stories to places who don’t offer financial gain in the short term – or to exchange articles with another writer or to guest write. Look at the opportunities these things may offer your career in the longer term.

Most writers begin their path with submitting their work to printed magazines, e-anthologies (ebooks or pdfs available online) and e-zines style sites (online magazines or newsletters) where there is no payment when the piece is published. These places not only form a valuable learning ground for emerging writers, but can offer a community of support and great networking opportunities.

The thrill of seeing your work on a site other than your own is reward enough for most writers. However, having your work accepted and published by outside agencies also reinforces the belief that your work is of a certain quality and standard, exposes your work to an audience outside your immediate circle, boosts the ego and may pave the way to paid work in the future.

Consider following these steps to assist you on your journey towards being published.

1. Ensure your piece has been

  • Checked for grammatical and spelling errors
  • Beta read by at least two other people. (Beta readers are people outside your immediate family or friend circle who are more likely to give you constructive feedback. Their role is to give an impression of how your piece will be received by the audience your piece is targeting. Beta readers don’t edit or correct your piece.)
  • You’ve acted upon or at least considered their feedback.
  • Handed over to an editor to ensure the piece flows smoothly.
  • Rewritten or redrafted at least once (more is better).

2. Craft a cover letter and a short (up to 50 words) biography. (Consider the steps above for these as well!)

3. Have a publicity photo (clear head shot) of yourself in electronic format. Most publications include this in your byline at the end of your piece. Having a professional pose – rather than one that is obviously cut out of your wedding photos or from a night out with the girls is going to set certain standards and expectations in the minds of those looking at it.

4. Write a goal for yourself with a specific date attached to it. (What’s important to you? To be paid? To be published? To be recognised? By when? By whom? How much?) Write this either as a letter to yourself or a short, punchy statement and pin it somewhere prominent in your writing space.

Armed with these things, you have set yourself to a basic level of being a ‘professional’, ready to explore some of these markets with your work. Listed are only a handful – there are endless sites and opportunities once you start looking.

Databases of markets – these sites compose lists of sites and markets which are open to emerging writers.

Duotropes, http://www.duotrope.com/

Worldwide Freelance http://www.worldwidefreelance.com/

Fiction Writing Markets http://www.writerswrite.com/fiction/markets.htm

The Short Story http://www.theshortstory.org.uk/prizes/

Writers Weekly http://www.writersweekly.com/markets_and_jobs.php

Womagwriter http://womagwriter.blogspot.com This blog highlights magazines that accept short story submissions across several countries. They also provide writers guidelines and the blog will keep you up to date with what is happening in the market.

Open for submissions

Untitled http://www.untitledonline.com.au Fiction of any genre – 350 words to 5000 words.

Ether books – http://www.etherbooks.co.uk/ – open to any genre in fiction. Specifically looking at short stories or serial stories. This platform publishes to mobile devices and are available through itunes.

Global Short Stories http://www.globalshortstories.net – all genres all themes – short stories under 2000 words.

Noble Romance – https://www.nobleromance.com Sweethearts (no sex or sexual overtones) and Erotica (more saucy)- Short Stories– 3-10K words. Novellas 10,001-29,999K, 30+K words and up for novels

Wet Ink – http://www.wetink.com.au a magazine of new writing – open to fiction (including genre fiction), creative non-fiction, poetry, memoir, essays and opinion pieces

eFiction http://authors.efictionmag.com/ online monthly magazine – all genres

Red Asylum – http://theredasylum.webs.com/ quarterly online magazine, devoted to the discovery and publication of dark and twisted stories.

Lyrical Press http://www.lyricalpress.com seeking erotica, romance, and urban fantasy short stories (15K) through to novels

Ezine http://EzineArticles.com/ are open for articles and how to tips on just about anything. Ensure you read their submission guidelines carefully.

Got your stories posted on your site and want some readers? These sites are community-run listings of online fiction where you can post a link to your stories and go and check out other writers work. This is particularly handy in order to get feedback from other writers and build your own support group.

Webfiction http://webfictionguide.com/

Mad Utopia http://MadUtopia.com/blog/fridayflash/what-is-fridayflash/

Always research the site before sending your work off, especially when there is a fee involved. Generally speaking, reputable publishers and magazines do not ask for payment to receive articles and stories. Sadly there are a number of scams involving writers, so its best to check all the details before submitting.

Before committing your work, ensure you have read all of the rules and regulations. Some are only open to writers of a certain country or area. Many have content, profanity and violence guidelines. Editors are very particular as to how the story is to be submitted, the font and layout of the piece. Make sure you follow the submission guidelines carefully – and good luck!

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Essential tips toward self publishing

A few years ago, writer’s blogs and sites furiously debated the future of the publishing industry. While it has in no way become extinct, the opportunities for a writer to self-publish their work has forced the large publishing houses to rethink their strategies and widened the choices for writers.
 
The pathway to having a published work is still a journey many emerging writers are challenged with, as its quickly realized that its not as simple as throwing a cover together on Microsoft paint, converting the document into PDF, loading it up onto Createspace and praying to the gods someone will notice (and buy) it at its ranking of 50000000001. Sadly, many new authors burst into the scene this way and discouraged by the lack of success, drift away from their passion.
 
There is still a huge stigma associated with being self-published to overcome, so its important not to give potential readers any reason to question the quality of your work.
 
Some of the most valuable advice about self-publishing was something I heard when attending a workshop led by mainstream publishers. They suggest conducting yourself everyday as if you’re actually working with a traditional publisher and to hold your time and work to high standards, along with all aspects of your business of writing. By having this mindset when you self publish a book, you set yourself up for success.
 
1. Platform
A platform is the public space which gives you the opportunity to build a relationship with your audience. Most often, its a Facebook fan page, a website with an interactive blog, twitter or combinations of these tools. It’s important to be able to interact with fans and to be reactive to feedback. By being able to gauge your fans’ interest, you are able to create a book specifically for them – which is why, then, they will buy it and continually follow your work. Practically, of course, you don’t write a book for a specific fan, rather for the general feelings and needs of those you interact with. Its no good, for example, to self-publish a book on the history of the steam engine in Gloucester, if your fan base is predominantly 15 year old girls obsessed with vampires. A strong platform is the foundation for a successful self-published book.
 
The way to build this is to start a blog, podcast, web/YouTube show, and build your strong group of fans who regularly check in, share and comment in your contributions.
 
2. Share your passion
Don’t write just because you think it will sell well. Just because erotica is selling well now, if you blush at the thought of writing a kissing scene, it may be best to stick with genres you are comfortable with.
 
Most writers start scribing because they want to share their passion on a certain subject or area. Don ‘t be swallowed by the echo chamber of mainstream publishing. It’s important to explore your passions and interests within your writing and to have a clear and strong opinion. Regardless of what genre is fashionable right now, if your voice is strong, your book will stand out.
 
3. Editing
Traditional publishers have multiple editors and proofreaders working with your book before it hits the shelf. However, even the large publishing houses have produced books with noticeable typos in them. It’s vital to invest in an editor; after all, you have invested a great deal of time writing. Even if you’re the best proofreader in the world, it’s almost impossible to spot your own mistakes. .
 
4. Cover Design
The first thing a potential reader and fan will see on Amazon or in a bookstore is the cover. If you’re competent in graphic design, then you can produce your own cover. If not, don’t hesitate to hire a freelance designer. A self-published book can look very tacky and amateurish with a substandard cover, bringing your reputation down.
 
5. Marketing Plan
Don’t think that once your book has been written, edited, laid out, proofread and formatted that the work is all done. Hopefully, you will have been busy building and strengthening your platform. Even if you have written the greatest book in the world, without exposure and an extended marketing plan, your sales will plummet.
 
Your marketing plan needs to involve promotion and reviews.
 
PROMOTERS
When the book is released, you’ll need people to help you spread the word. This might include fellow bloggers and other writers happy to help you and who are truly engaged with your work. You’re better off with 10 promoters who will go out of their way to help you, then 100 who are just looking for a free book.
 
Promoters can be just about anybody who would benefit from the book. Either way, promoters need big fan bases either as an email system, twitter or on Facebook. It’s important to build your group of promoters well before your book launches.
 
REVIEWS
On Amazon book reviews matter. The number of reviews on a book are judged as a strong indicator of social proof. As you get more reviews, the visibility of your book rises.
 
FREE PROMOTION
There are a number of varying thoughts on free promotions. While some utilize this strategy to discount their books and offer lower price points, others give away their books for free in order to gain more fans.
 
Giving away your book during its initial launch, or over a specific time period, can lead to thousands of people finding out about your work. It’s a great way to raise awareness of your book and generate lots of reviews.
 
If you sign up for KDP, Amazon allows you to give away copies of your book for 5 days in any 90 day period. At the moment, you can use those five days all at once or specify certain days.
 
GUESTS POSTS AND INTERVIEWS
Blogs, podcasts, you tube and other channels are the new media outlets which have the potential of reaching thousands of people at a very low cost.
 
Write a guest posts for other writers’ sites and review sites where thousands of people might see it. Be mindful that the content of the post must be relevant to the intended audience of the site and if it’s just a pitch for your book, it will be seen as such. Give the audience value and information rather than a sales pitch.
 
While traditional publishing still provides a certain layer of credibility to your work, self-publishing is creating opportunities for writers to reach audiences they may never have been able to reach in the past. With the way the industry and audiences are moving, it won’t be too long before the stigma goes away. I heard an analogy of comparing self-published authors to fine wines which is relevant here. There are people out there who will only ever buy the bulk produced wines. Just as there are people who will seek out crafted and exquisite wines from tiny wineries. One type of wine is only better than the other depending on the consumer’s perspective.
 
You can stop waiting to be picked up at random by a big publishing house. Forge your own way. Share your message with the world through self publishing. Just don’t assume it’s going to be an easy journey.

A Writer’s Space

There has been a great deal written about the physical space a writer uses to create their texts.  It’s something many of us need to juggle with family, where the actual space within the home along with the time space to commit to our passions. Within writing circles, there is less written and discussed about the head space an author needs to enter before their creativity can flow. While some will refer to it as calling upon their muse or getting into the groove or flow, its the same thing – making space in the busy mind to dedicate to writing. Knowing that you need to enter this space is one thing, knowing how to do it is quite the other, and something that many writers struggle with.

Getting into the right headspace means quieting down all of the chatter which fills our lives. This chatter is normally instigated by our conscious, reminding us about the chores and tasks we aught to be doing, the guilty voice judging us on what we are and aren’t doing and the distractions; either visual or audible which attack us.

To demonstrate the level of headspace clutter you may have stashed away, try this exercise right now.

Close your eyes for about a few moments. The longer you close your eyes the better a demonstration it will be; so try for five minutes at the very least. During the time your eyes are closed, focus on your wish for silence and stillness. Some people call this setting your intention. Make your intention for the next five minutes as being still and calm with no distracting thoughts pulling you away from this sanctuary.

Do it now.

So truthfully, how did you go with that activity? Did you do it – or did you wimp out?  That alone speaks volumes – especially if you think about the excuses you gave yourself for NOT doing it.

For those who tried it, you may have noticed the moment you attempted on being still or silent, that random thoughts began to pop up. They probably become an increasingly annoying distraction, which eventually pulled you away from your intention of calmness. All those random thoughts are the clutter and ‘junk’ that stops our minds having clarity. While some of it may be useful to us, without order these random snippets of information and thoughts become lost and pile up gathering dust.

Before your mind can hear the character’s voices, reason with them and begin the relationship required to write their story, all peripheral noise and the ‘junk’ thoughts need to stop.

By gaining a certain state of inner calm, a writer is better-equipped to access their muse, their words or to connect to their story. Differing philosophies and religious groups promote different ways to achieve a state of inner calm.  While not promoting any one over another, for me I have found I can achieve it by following a few steps each time. They are in no particular order as it depends on the task at hand as to which one needs to be done first.

Each step needs to be customised to your own needs and beliefs and the list below acts only as a guide to your own pathway.

1.Prepare

2.Focus

3.Deep breathing

 Prepare

Prepare your physical and metal space for calm by eliminating as many of the modern distractors we surround ourselves with. This may mean taking the phone away or putting it on silent, turning off the wireless internet so that you can only write, rather than suddenly need to research medieval pigeon keeping. Carving out that physical space to prepare for the mental space can be extremely challenging, but without the foundation step being solid, anything done afterwards runs the risk of crumbling and being destroyed the moment a distractor raises its head. Preparing for inner calmness also means being organised so that you can do the activity of writing, without being distracted with trying to find things. Before you start, ensure you have all the equipment you need to write, whether its a fully charged laptop, pens or pencils or a new notebook. Give your mind no reason to be distracted with thoughts of not being ready to write.

Focus

Once you have prepared your mind and space for the task of writing, you will need to calm all other thoughts and focus on the scene or character you wish to specifically write about next. Set your intention for the time you have set aside. Some people believe that if you set this intention, then your muse is more likely to guide you towards it.

Deep breathing

Deep breathing relieves stress and anxiety. It’s a physical trigger for the body to relax.  Breathing slowly activates things in the body which basically stop the adrenal glands from secreting.  When they are under stress, people often shallow breathe, which triggers the nervous system (and stomach, digestion and brain) into an emergency – causing more stress and adrenaline to be pumped through the body. Stop this cycle by exhaling slowly through the mouth and breathing in as deeply as you can. Hold each breath for a few moments and continue for at least five mins, focusing on your writing task.

It’s not to say that a writer needs to take themselves away into the hilltops or zen monastery to achieve quietness. Certainly, physical quietness makes it easier not to become distracted but the hurrying demands of modern life itself pulls us away from our intentions of writing. Stillness of the mind is a state of mental quietness and freedom from adrenaline and requires regular practice and commitment. With regular practice, these steps can take moments to undertake and can be performed in nearly any setting.

Good luck in finding your inner calm and sanctuary. What other things do you find help in carving out your writers space?

Getting on the Promotion bandwagon for your book

With self publishing and indie publishers being the choice for many writers to get their work published, the matter or promotion and marketing is one which weighs heavily on the minds of the authors. Although I haven’t had the experience of being published with a ‘traditional’ large firm publisher, I have both self-published and had work published with small and reputable indie publishers; and from all accounts, regardless of what sort of publisher you go with, the promotion of one’s book lands almost squarely on the author. While a traditional large firm publisher may set up a few book signings or send out a media kit to a few marketing firms, this often is all they do. It’s therefore important to become your own promotions bandwagon and peddle your own goods; after all – who else is as passionate as you are about your characters and storyline?

Social Networks
Love it or hate it, the success of your book comes from it being visible to a wide range of people and the best way to do this is through social networks. Get yourself noticed by having a wide range of profiles, including Goodreads, Facebook, Amazon and Twitter.

Have a profile
Its not enough to have a facebook page and a blog or website with your details on it. The internet is jam packed with information. Unless it is immediately relevant, visitors click past your profile. By all means, have the facebook/myspace/google+ profile page, but also have active blogs. Keeping a blog specifically giving your opinion on writing or reviews of work will set you apart from those whose profiles are stagnate. However, you need to participate and be part of the community to be noticed. Become a voice within your online community or special internet interest group by joining forums, posting comments on blogs and giving advice, rather than with negativity or pushing your own barrow.

If you are a writer, you need to be a reader as well. Review others’ books (either on Amazon, Goodreads or on your own blog), giving them honest feedback. Others see through transparent and blatant self promotions – so don’t be tempted to add a little tag line about your own work. You will be respected in the long run if you have considered and valuable advice or opinions to share, and others will be more likely to consider reading one of your books and reviewing it if you have shown that you are willing to be part of the community.

Start by getting profiles on these sites
http://www.librarything.com
http://www.amazon.com/
http://www.goodreads.com/
http://www.shelfari.com/

Use Twitter the smart way
I have been as guilty as the next person with twitter junkmail. Nothing turns off a follower more quickly than having the same, boring links selling things being posted up on their wall. This social networking medium can be an extremely targeting and beneficial tool, if used correctly.

Find an online twitter system which will automate your tweets such as ‘social oomph’, “Tweet add” or ‘tweet later’. Set up a series of scheduled tweets with links to where your book can be purchased – but don’t sound like a broken record. Have a list of different quotes or ways to promote your work in interesting ways, rather than ‘buy this book’. Consider using the professional version (one you pay for) for a short time as it really saves time and effort.

Target your tweets by using hashtags. Participate in chats and groups who would be your target audience. For example, if your book is a recipe book, use hashtags such as #foodchat. Unless it involves spaceships and aliens, it would not be beneficial to tweet with science fiction hashtags.(though it might actually be funny…)

Tell people about it.
This is a pretty simple concept – email, facebook message or print flyers and hand them to your neighbours, work colleagues and within your community.  Post your exciting news on your blog, remembering to include things like links to where readers can purchase the book, or meet you for a book signing.

Participate in a blog tour
Book tours sound grand and from all accounts can be hard work. Try one where you don’t leave your lounge chair and do it virtually. Many writers are part of an online community of like-minded writers. Most of these people have their own blog – or multiple blogs. Ask a handful of your blogging comrades to either review your book, or to post up a blurb you can send them.  Make sure they include the links to where readers can buy the book.  An example of this is here 

Think of creative ways to promote the book 
Some people are great with graphic art, or making youtube clips, or talking to the church congregation.  Use your skills and work in your comfort zone to let people know about the anthology and encourage them to buy it.  In the past, we have done book trailers – either for anthologies or for novellas.  Here are some links to some to give you an idea.
New Sun Rising – Charity Anthology 
Unseelie Court 
Historys Keeper 
Dust and Death 

Buy the book
Again – a simple enough concept, besides, who doesn’t want to see their words in print?

Throw a party
Why not celebrate your publication by inviting some friends around for an afternoon tea or drinks?  It can be a simple affair, with crackers and cheese, or as lavish as you want it. Why not buy a stack of the books and do an ‘Author signing”?  If you aren’t financial enough to buy books to give away to your family and friends, ask them to buy one and put in a bulk order to be opened on your party date. Even if your party is celebrating with one friend, its important to recognise the achievement you have made in being published.

Throw a virtual party
Facebook has a function called ‘events’. You can set up a virtual book launch or party on a specific day and invite all and sundry to it. Explain in the details tab that it is a virtual party as some people still don’t ‘get’ it. Encourage your friends from all around the world to post photos of them celebrating or congratulating you on your publication. Encourage your friends to invite others and promote it with giveaways or prizes or run little competitions or giveaways during the day. Particularly if you have an ebook version, you may consider giving a copy of that away to the 10th person who posts a photo, or the person who answers a pop quiz right in the next hour. Make it as light-hearted and fun or as serious as you choose. The whole idea is to promote not only your book, but you as a writer. People will take more notice of others that they have felt a connection with, rather than just a blank email or face staring out at them.,

Of course you can follow all of this up with letters to independent bookstores, schools (if the content is appropriate) and libraries, who are often delighted to be able to have a ‘live‘ author willing to do a talk about their book. Ensure you have copies of your book for signings and quick sales as people who are interested will buy them from you on the spot, but will often forget when it comes to purchasing online.

That all said and done, word of mouth and honest reviews will most often be the best advertising you can get. The bottom line to promotion is to get your name and your work out into the hands and minds of a wide range of readers in as many different forms as you can manage. Good luck and have fun with it.

The Importance of Garlic in Writing

Editor’s Note: Every few weeks I send a status update to the Today’s Author team so everyone knows what’s going on with the site but also to lend potential ideas for posts. For the last update, I was looking for a throwaway line about potential topics. I looked out at my garden and saw the garlic growing and added: Write about the importance of garlic in your writing to the list. I hope you enjoy Annie’s take on this as much as I did (and as much as I enjoy garlic)!

garlic

When the gauntlet was thrown down for contributors to write about the importance of garlic and writing, I was not one to shy away from the challenge. It may surprise you to know that there are a number of lessons to be learnt from garlic and integrating it along your writing journey is more important than one would initially believe.

Garlic keeps evil spirits away

Garlic contains strong antibacterial matter, certainly enough to ward off minor infections and has the common belief that its properties will protect the consumer (or wearer) from other evils, including vampires. A daily dose of writing or reading may have a similar effect. Being committed to writing every day strengthens the skill and inspiration a writer needs to follow their passion. By writing or reading every day, the black dog of depression can be avoided; even if for the short term.

Garlic keeps you healthy

With all of its antioxidant and healing qualities, garlic has long been the staple in the home remedies toolkit. So too, is writing. Ask any writer who has been forced to stop writing, or is unable to write when they have the urge. Their writing health begins to wither.

Garlic is sweetest when roasted

I would have to say that I work best under pressure. With deadlines looming, its when I pull out all stops to knuckle down to ensure the task ahead is completed.  Ask any university student when they are most productive and it will be within days of a major assignment being due. NANOWRIMO is a perfect example of writers being put under time pressure and pushing themselves to perform.  Most participants would be lucky to write 50,000 words in the next 11 months.  Just as garlic is sweetest when put under extreme heat, so are the words of a frenzied writer, desperate to complete the task.

Douglas Adams was reputed to have said “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” A writer clearly to be admired for his attitude towards one of the most stressful things a writer has to cope with.  An attitude I can only hope to cultivate.

Garlic is one of the most versatile ingredients in the pantry

As a skill, writing is arguably the most versatile thing a person can have in their toolbox in life. I’m not talking about the ability to write a sentence, but to craft words to reach an audience. This skill can be leant in a huge variety of workplaces and careers, from teaching, marketing, human resources to architecture. Communication, both written and verbal, remains the most valued attribute within any workplace. Lacking or poor communication is one of the main reasons clients will shift from one business to another. Good lines of communication have been sited as being one of the main reasons a customer will remain loyal, even if the product is of lower quality or more expensive than competitors. Most workplaces, from a meat-work plant through to a high-end corporate company, have a need for someone who can communicate across cultural and social lines. Most workplaces have a social club implemented with regular newsletters and communications distributed amongst employees. The gift of writing in this small, but important part of work is highly valued and has the opportunity to lead the writer into other opportunities.

Particularly as our society moves towards social media being the primary method of communication, a writer’s skill to capture meaning in a few words accurately is extremely important.

Garlic is Misunderstood.

Like garlic, writers are misunderstood. Both have reputations of being loners, of being a little exotic or off centre. With their versatile nature, both garlic and writers are keen to be invited to dinner parties and social functions. However once it is publicly known that it is in attendance, most people will avoid or be shy about interacting with it. A majority of hostesses will not mention a dish has garlic in it, nor that the person on the left is a writer, for fear of de-railing all conversations and the negative connotations both garlic and writing have surrounding it.

I’m certain there are a number of other lessons which can be learnt from understanding the importance of garlic when paralleled with writing. Do you have any insights you’d like to share?  Or are you more of a turnip style person?

Photo from previously unpublished private collection.

Writing a Class Act

Looking back, I have always been a writer and always been a teacher. But I never gave those labels much credence. It’s only now that I am giving it a focus — and have goals attached to it– that I can see it. It’s interesting with the gift of hindsight how intertwined teaching and writing has been throughout my life.

I am a relative newcomer to writing. I left a comfortable HR role to seek–for a year–my fame and fortune as a writer. That was three years ago and whilst I have enjoyed some successes, I’m far from fame and a lot further away from fortune than I’d like.

My first degree was in education and although I worked as a teacher sporadically in the first few years after graduating, travel and family life veered me into other career paths, opportunities and more study. Nestled amongst my checkered work history lays the theme of helping others to achieve. Within teaching, hospitality, Human Resources and writing, I’ve found a way to reach others at their level and found ways to enrich and boost their environment and perceptions. Within my first degree, I had taken a few electives in special needs teaching with the focus on how movement and drama assisted in students accessing the curriculum in other than mainstream ways. Something clicked for me within those electives and I found myself seeking roles which ultimately had me working within the disadvantaged sectors within society.

Having now come the full career circle, my current role is a teacher within Integrated Support Services, which in layman’s terms means I am a special needs teacher. I am also a mum of two busy junior school kids, a scouting leader, teach karate and attempt to write somewhere in the midst of the chaos.

Strong relationships built on mutual trust and the creation of safety are paramount to both special needs teaching and writing within a community. Editing skills coupled with positive reinforcement plays a crucial role within writing and teaching. A new piece of writing–be it from a student or a fellow author– is entrusted to the reviewer with anxiety and trepidation. The way it is handled and the development of feedback to the writer and student determines the level of trust, self-confidence and future success of the relationship within this context. Both students and writers need to feel confident and safe to express themselves within a new genre/environment; to learn and build on the skills they have already mastered.

Some of the qualities of a special needs teacher which I have found are relevant to writing include:

Being patient with the knowledge that small consistent steps builds lifelong knowledge, rather than huge leaps and bounds (which run the risk of injury and fear). To paraphrase a great quote: “write a little,but write often.”

Providing an environment which nurtures growth— as a teacher, students need to feel welcome, loved and safe. Characters have the same needs, as does the writing spirit within you.

Creation– Teachers of any type need to be able to create learning experiences and resources to support it out of thin air and at the drop of a hat. As a special needs teacher, I need to extend a focused activity or theme with a specific student if it is something that has grasped their attention. Similarly, writers create plotlines, settings and whole worlds. I use my impromptu storytelling skills within reading time in the classroom, in order to connect with students and capture their imagination. Very often the story within the book being ‘read’ bears little resemblance to the story being elaborated on in the classroom–particularly if robots, aliens and dinosaurs are required to appear on every second page.

Understanding motivation– A special needs teacher is required to understand the triggers for individual students and have strategies to build or refocus those reactions. A writer needs to understand the motivations for characters and how to focus those into the plot, strategically placing them in the best position to move the story along.

Maximise the strengths– Just as a special needs teacher sees their students’ individual strengths and looks for ways to maximise these, a writer needs to be aware of their own strengths and ways to maximise these.

Beware the Dark Hole– Special needs teaching can be emotionally draining and challenging mentally and physically. Ask any writer on the 30th of November how their NANO went, and you can be assured you’ll get a similar reply. Depression is a steady partner for both special needs teachers and writers for similar reasons. Both can have a belief that what they are doing has not or will not change anything. It’s often difficult to see the small seeds which are sown along the way. Some of these bloom years afterwards or are deeply entrenched; but sadly the writer or teacher are not aware of the impact they made. It is here that a liberal sprinkling of belief and trust is required.

Resilience– Both special needs teachers and writers need to be resilient. There are plenty of hard knocks along the pathway; coupled with the barriers society throws up, its not likely to be an easy wander through the literary or educational meadows.

Celebrate Small Wins, Have Big Goals– Writers and special needs teachers need to reach for the stars and celebrate every inch of progress as they are hard earnt.

The most prevalent link I can draw to my writing from my mad life would be with my characters. Most people would describe me as an upbeat, positive person and are therefore quite shocked when they read some of my short stories. Although not pigeon-holed, I tend to write darker themes within speculative fiction or mythical urban realism and I am unafraid to spill a little blood. I don’t go out to write about the disturbed, dangerous or sadistic. Certainly they are not drawn on real people I have met or worked with in the ‘real world’. Stories tend to weave themselves around my fingers at the keyboard, whilst characters whisper to me in my dreams. At first I resisted, but came to the realisation that these characters were not black and white, pure evil or pure good. Rather, they took on shades with their own motivations for their actions. After digging deeply, I often found my characters desperate to share their own pain from mistreatment and misunderstanding from society. It’s probably through my positive attitude that I believe that every character has the capacity for redemption and that they seek something higher than their present existence. A key belief for a special needs teacher is that every student has the capability to achieve.

Special needs teaching requires a patient, non judgemental position to listen, not to react; and to follow pre-determined action plans based on the individual. I can draw strong links with this skill to that of fleshing-out characters. I work with a variety of questions or situations when ‘meeting’ a new character as I write. It’s often difficult to keep the writer’s ego off the page and allow the character to express themselves freely. Many writers see themselves as Gods of their own universes, dictating to characters and settings. Many teachers view their classes and students similarly. This approach has never worked for me–either in writing or within the classroom. Just as my pedagogy is based on the constructivist and connectivist ideals, so too are my beliefs with characters.

As a special needs teacher, you are committed to being a life-long learner and have the teaching virus raging in your blood. Any writer who intends to continue on their journey needs to have a similar passion and commitment to their craft. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to use my storytelling skills within the classroom as it creates a warmer, more exciting environment for students to learn. I am equally blessed to have access to the shadier characters across the veil, who whisper their secrets to me and allow me to share their stories online.

Writing Shapes the Day

To my shame, I’m not someone who knew they were going to be a writer from the moment they first clutched a pencil and crafted a few words. Writing crept up on me, insidious in the beginning, then swiftly devoured me whole. Writing now dominates every corner of my life, shaping my day. Despite this – I am the willing victim. To think of life now without writing is to ask me if I’d rather not breathe.

The physical process of writing has always been part of my life, I’d just not noticed. With family spread around the country, before the internet and mobile phones, we’d keep in touch with letters. Before the advent of blogging and social networking, sharing news and photos took the form of a monthly newsletter I instigated. In the 5 years I lived in the UK, I diligently sent around 50 letters every fortnight on my adventures on motorcycling, hiking and backpacking around Europe. Many of my audience urged me to put it together in book form, as (in their words) I made the history I experienced come alive with my stories and insights into the places I visited and the enthusiasm I had whilst there. At the time, gathering information and producing a book would have been in the same league as mounting an expedition to the moon. It seems incredible to me as I type this for the site, that the reality of self-publishing and reaching wider audiences is within the reach of most writers now, rather than the elite few, only a few years away from that feedback I’d gained about my travel logs.  How quickly things change.

After thinking about the reasons I write fiction primarily, rather than non-fiction, I’d need to thank my theatre background for my love of living in the skin of another character.  Back in grade school, a sympathetic English teacher encouraged me to audition for the school play. I did and I gained the lead role–and my love of the theatre and acting was born. I maintain my passion for character, the detail and intricacies which set a living person apart from a generalised or stock standard cliche was birthed from my continued studies within the theatre. For me, in writing or in acting, the character carries the action, the lifeblood of any plot. The exploration of a character provides an escape from the grey reality I often find myself in and allows me to research and delve into dark, twisty “what if’s”. Characters allow the writer to question societal norms and test an audience’s reaction.

It’s true that I hear and see my characters as real beings. However, it’s in the same vein that when I sketch or paint I wait for the image to present itself on the page, and all I need to do is trace around it. Unfortunately, as with many other creative artists’ muses, the voices and motivation can’t be controlled or bullied to come out and play. If its not ‘flowing’, there is little I can do to force it to behave.

There have been numerous writers and musicians who claim that they are simply ‘translators who take the notes’.  I swing between believing that and what novelist, E.L. Doctorow was once  reputed to have said:

“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”

It is, therefore, my little socially acceptable excuse for being a little quirky.

Writing shapes my day. Every conversation I have or overhear, every news story, photograph or image I take in provides fodder for the next article or story. In honouring my roots, it allows me the escapism to explore lost civilisations, to question humanity and challenge societal ideals.

I know that I am not alone in clutching my scribble books or capturing snippets of conversations on my iphone. There are other writers out there doing the same thing… right?

For the love of writing

For some people, writing has been their secret lover ever since they could clutch a crayon. For others, it has slipped insidiously into their lives and taken up residence on the comfy chair, refusing to budge.

The love of writing , disregarding genre or form, snatches up the unwary author who within a few paragraphs is helplessly caught up with characters in a passion-based rush for words and ideas.   Although most writers say they “write for the love of it”, the very narcissistic nature of ‘being’ a writer demands that there is at least a small recognition for what they are doing.

Go on.. admit it…. we all love to hear a reader gush about a character in one of our stories, or how the twist at the end really took them by surprise. There is no equal, either, to finding our that a piece of your writing has been accepted to be published or won some sort of competition.

As literature comes in many forms, from free form poetry to scripts to flash fiction through to enormous tomes of brow bending ideas, so does its ways in which it can entertain, inform and educate. The inspiration behind writing also takes on just as many forms, from cathartic where the author vents frustrations, through to exploration into the world of “what if”. What connects all of these is the author’s passion and love for the form and words.

The love of writing simply means that the writer is connected to the process. Passionately and with wild abandon for some, steady and comfortable for others. Just like any relationship, the love of writing comes in many shades. Writing, like many expressive arts, is a relationship which will continue to grow as the author’s competence and confidence builds.

The love a writer can feel from the writing process can manifest in the the ego-based form of success (nothing wrong with that by the way!!), achievement and recognition through to connecting to the words in a deeper way, where an emotional journey can be undertaken, connection with an idea or an audience, a shared experience and socially based ideals are aired to empower and enrich others lives. The beauty of writing is that it can be as introspective and private or as loud and broadcast as the author allows or wishes it to be. Each has its value and place in this journey of writing.

Writing is an easy lover, giving a sense of connection with a faceless audience where the writer can convey ideas and concepts in deep, personal manners which may not be socially acceptable or possible as a face to face interaction. Although at times writing can guilt and nag a writer to return to its embrace, it is a patient lover, willing to wait in the wings until the time and passion returns. Throughout the stages of a writer’s life, it is a love which ebbs and wanes, but like a stalker ex, continues to creep under ones’s skin. Its a love that nurtures, surprises and endures.

Have you been in touch with your ‘writing love’ lately – or are you uncomfortable strangers who avoid eye contact in the hallway?

I’ll think of something….

What do you – the epitome of ‘todays author’ – and Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway have in common?

Writers Block.

Its hard to believe that some of my favourite and internationally respected authors suffered lapses in their ability to think of the next thing to write. I take comfort that I share something in the tormented creative space with Hemingway.

Writers block can cripple a scene, suck your creativity dry and leave you disillusioned and dispirited. Staring at the blank page or screen and pretending you are writing something by slowly tapping out the words “I have nothing to say” makes things even worse.

Although it may seem negative, the way to dig oneself out of the writers block is to continue writing… anything.. “I am nothing. I know nothing. I am rubbish.” will serve as the starting point for better quality words – really.  Julia Cameron, author of The Artists Way, encourages this freestyle flow of emotional outpouring in order to push through the blockages and allow the muse to retake her place with your imagination. Countless writers have followed her methods over the last two decades and as painful and confronting as some of the exercises laid out may be, none can complain that they suffer from writers block again.

Poet William Stafford advises writers who say they have Writer’s Block that “There is no such thing as writer’s block for writers whose standards are low enough.” It was here I realised that the blockage is an internal switch which only the individual can monitor or change.

Writers block is the low point at which the self critic takes charge, feeding on the writer’s insecurities and self doubt fuelled by fear. Fear can be one of the main ingredients feeding writers block or the base of writing reluctance and, if left unaddressed, can lead to writer’s paralysis and creative death.

Fear has been said to stand for False Expectations Appearing Real – however – for the person in the grips of this emotion, it is difficult to logically speak to them about expectations, perceptions and reality, given the mind cannot distinguish between them.

For most writers, fear appears as a deep, dark, sick feeling of self doubt – ugly voices and feelings of low self worth as they rear their very real heads, taunting and criticising. Julia Cameron’s method maintains that writers should face the voices behind the fear, naming the specifics and analysing the reality of each. For many, fears are a lot smaller issues than the elaborate stories built around them.

It is through acknowledging that fear is driving the blockages and recognising the specifics behind the fear, that the writer can move through and beyond this paralysing state.

So write, and keep writing – even if you are voicing your fears. You are in good company while you do.

Writing Passionate Short Story Characters

Presenting characters an audience will care about demands that you write passionately and authentically, without the glossy veneer of everyday life and its excuses in order to reach the audience at an emotional or heart level.  The reader needs to care about the character by the end of the first paragraph. With short stories, there is not the luxury of lengthy flashbacks or introductory chapters. A character with a conflict of passions will remain memorable and seize the audiences imagination quicker than anything else.

Short story characters can’t afford to be cardboard cut outs or rely on cliche.  Passion for something, whether it’s love, hate, or fear of an obsession must drive their decisions, actions and words.  It’s generally accepted that a short story will accommodate up to three characters, though these can include inanimate objects. If your story needs any more to get the message across, it’s either destined to be a longer, more involved piece of prose possibly not suited to flash fiction, or your characters need to be pulled into line and the superfluous ones told to sit on the bench.

Be curious about your characters. Question each, demanding their justification in keeping them in the text. Discover what motivates and inspires them.

  • Why are you in this story?
  • What is your outcome for the end of the story?
  • How do you relate to the other characters?

Decide if this character assists or detracts from the storyline. It’s here where you will need to choose if this character is better off sitting in the ‘green room’ destined to star in another story, or if another aspect of their personality needs to be explored in order for them to be included in the tale.

Some tips when developing your characters with passion:

  1. Create characters from within rather than a physical description. Although outward characteristics are important, don’t neglect to explore your character’s motives and goals. By knowing your character from the inside and writing from that space, you will create a more believable character readers can connect with, without running into the dangerous grounds of being predictable, formulaic and clichéd.
  2. Create characters you care about – simply for the reason that if you don’t care for them, then it will be doubtful that others will either. Explore characters who intrigue or engage your emotions, those who make you laugh or weep, those who make you go to uncomfortable places and those you are truly interested in. Characters who feel real to you will also flesh out dimensionally to your readers.
  3. Turn off your inner censor as you write. Find the courage to write freely, honestly and breathe emotion into your words. Julia Camerons “The Artists Way” is an excellent resource and self-paced course to undertake if you are having blockages with this area. You are serving no one by playing and writing small. Shine your creative light, if not to guide the way for yourself – but to pave the way for others.
  4. Allow your characters to live their own lives – without you directing every step. They will surprise and delight you with their discoveries, conversations and secrets. Editors and readers alike are looking for unique characters who capture the attention, forcing the hand to continue to turn the pages, care about the events and hunger for the outcome. Uncomfortable and dangerous characters are equally valuable where they force you question, observe and reassess your own motives and actions.

Passion is about inspiration and being constantly curious. If your words and characters inspire and excite you, forcing you to wonder what will happen next, then its likely your audience will be drawn to them as well.