Build a Writers’ Toolbox (Part 3)

Step away from the computer...

This week, I’m continuing the idea of building a writers’ toolbox, but I’m now going retro and taking it offline; starting with a few select books and magazines. There are lots of books about writing to choose from and many are informative or useful. But these are my particular tried & tested favourites; the ones that I return to. Please add more of your own favourites below…

  • Story by Robert McKee – Even though it’s about scripts, it works perfectly for fiction.
  • Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul – Some sound advice for children’s writing, as well as a beautifully designed book.
  • Writing Magazine – includes the excellent Writers News as well as subscriber-only competitions: perfect for beginners or writers wanting to keep an eye on the submissions market  (@writingmagazine)
  • Mslexia – even though I usually shy away from gender-specific magazines, this magazine does offer great articles and features and clear submission guidelines (@mslexia). Plus, their Women’s Novel competition winner just got scooped by Harper Collins for a 6-figure sum!
  • Mortification: Writers’ Stories of their Public Shame recommended to me by @STomaselli, a book that makes you cringe & smile in equal measure, especially if you’re battling to sign on the dotted line.

Do you know of any more good books on writing? Please add in the comments below: if there’s enough, I’ll collect and create a new post.


Build a Writers’ Toolbox (Part 2)

You'd never fish without a line

This week, I’m continuing the idea of building a writers’ toolbox, looking at some really useful and/or inspiring websites. Please add more of your favourites below…

Informative Websites

  • The literary hub of Ireland: is essential for writing tips, news, competitions, articles, events coverage
  • Thresholds – home of the international short story forum full of submission and competition info (thanks to @averillB for pointing this one out)
  • Bookmunch – as writers we’re also avid readers – but it’s not always easy to select what to read. This corker of a book review site is full of ‘acerbic, pithy and/or witless book stuff’ – a really useful guide
  • The Short Review – the best place for reviews of short fiction collections – new and old.

Inspiring websites

  • Creative Writing Prompts – It sure is ugly, but hover over a number, read the prompt, go write! Useful for the morning pages or to inspire a new submission when you’re short of ideas. You can also find more ideas in the weekly write section of the Scottish Book Trust website.
  • while I’m still getting to grips with it, this is a fun place to network, meet some cool people and get more coverage for your blog posts (as well as going to bonfires and earning bones…check it out to see what I’m talking about)
  • Prefer visual prompts? Try this Easy Street blog for ideas, or be get fresh ideas from Jason Lee (particularly good for characters & mood) or Gerry Chaney (think settings & space). Then, of course, there’s always National Geographic.
  • Authonomy – created by HarperCollins, a great community place to hang out, share ideas, get tips etc

Don’t forget to add your own favourites…

Build a Writers’ Toolbox (Part 1)

My home-made gardening toolbox

Like any other tradesman or craftsperson, writers need a toolbox. We need to have a store of useful items that we can call upon when needed. From interesting blogs to books on the art of writing, templates to brain teasers, there is a wealth of information out there designed to make our lives a little easier, or at least, more focused.

But as always, there’s the danger of procrastinating; searching the web or bookshelves for hours in the name of ‘research’ or ‘professional development’. So, here is a short series (3 in total) of a few useful/interesting items I’ve found along the way. This week: blogs that, as a writer, I particularly enjoy. This is, by no means, a complete list, so if you have any more suggestions, please add them in the comments so we can all share.

  • Cynsations – an amazingly informative and inspiring blog for YA/children’s writers
  • Photography by Jason Lee: particularly good for evoking mood, characters & ideas – this guy does some amazing stuff
  • The Vandal by Derek Haines: wit, stories, poetry, writing tips & more
  • Rant, with Occasional Music by Derek Flynn: fiction, music, reflections, writing, guest blogs
  • Catherine, Caffeinated by Cath Ryan-Howard: self publishing, self printing, reviews & tips
  • Pub Rants a straight-talking agent (of writers such as Sarah Reese Brennan) reveals all
  • Not for the faint hearted, this Evil Editor blog gives some straight answers on synopses and covering letters.
  • The Write Stuff – an amazing find, full of info gained from 30+ years as a freelance writer.

Please add more of your favourites below…


Nature knows how to get results

As I settle properly into writing full time (it’s been a year now and yes, I’m finally grasping the fact that I am a full-time writer), I’ve come to realise that writing is all about balance.

The balance between keeping bum on seat long enough to write a decent day’s work and removing said bum from seat frequently enough to prevent a spare tyre from settling around the midriff…

Then there’s the balance between editing and producing new material, between writing because you love it and earning a living…

And finally, the balance between writing for yourself and trying to get published.

This, for many, is the toughest to achieve. After all, as writers, we’re driven by a need to create – but what is the point of creation if no one gets to enjoy it?

It’s a tricky one and I’m not sure there’s an answer; but I do know that my best creations are those I’ve written when I’ve turned off the ‘will it get published?’ part of my brain and concentrate on writing a damn good story.

Of course, competitions and deadlines are a perfect way to inspire new ideas and get a bit of a mental shove. But that hungry, questioning side still has to be switched off for the work to reach it’s potential. Or so I find.

In many ways, the biggest struggle is maintaining a sense of realism. In an ideal world, I could sit at the computer forever, forging ahead with astounding word counts and multiple stories; food, sleep and conversation outside of Twitter would become a thing of the past.

But in reality, we need downtime. We need a balance. And it’s OK to switch off the computer. Take a walk. Make a roast. Phone a friend. Because how else will our brains recuperate? If they can’t recharge, if they can’t let go once in a while – how will they ever produce work that’s good enough to be published?

I create balance by being outdoors, growing food, cooking, painting, making stuff; I surround myself with music, nature and inspiring friends.

What do you do to maintain balance? And are you doing enough of it?


This Australian gumtree has the right idea

Writing, like any creative activity, can only be approached with the skin of a rhino. After all, there are plenty of pitfalls to doge and obstacles to overcome; you have to risk upsetting your friends and family as you shut yourself away for unfathomable amounts of time, living in your own head while you create a mish-mash of words you hope someone else will want to read. There’s no payment (unless you’ve a publishing deal), no right way to go about it (but lots of contradictory guidelines) and every time you send out a submission/revised draft, you risk the ultimate slap in the face; rejection.

But, as many successful authors will tell you, it’s all part of the writing process. And rejection doesn’t have to be such a bad thing; it’s all depends on how you deal with it. I received an excellent piece of advice from @inkwellHQ a few weeks ago:

“Remember Beckett: Every time we fail, we fail better.”

What excellent words to bestow upon a fellow writer; and how true! So, it got me thinking; if we’re all in the same situation, there’s got to be a million coping strategies out there that we can all share. Here’s a few thoughts of my own, to start us off.

  1. Rejection doesn’t have to mean you’re a bad writer; sometimes your piece won’t fit with what the publisher/magazine wanted. Research the typical content, submissions requests, competition judges before submitting.
  2. Actually listen to/read all feedback you receive – it’s usually not as bad as you think. It’s easy to fuse our own thoughts/disappointment with the actual advice and make things seem more bleak.
  3. Take the useful bits of constructive criticism and feed them into your work; this will help to improve it.
  4. Put the novel/short story/poem you submitted away for a week or two – even a month or a year – and then revisit it when you can face it. You’ll see the work in a whole new light and any future drafts will be much better.

These are just a few ideas which I hope might help. I might even have to pop back and remind myself of these ideals when the next rejection slip comes in.

So, how do you stay thick skinned and turn rejection into something positive?

Not quite a rhino, but I wouldn't want to upset him