Archive | Writing Tips RSS feed for this section

No end to corrections…

30 Jan

Checking the layout of a submission, I spotted a missing letter in its title (embarrassing!). In another, I happened to spot ‘men’ was missing its ‘n’. Both stories had been proofed, but somehow these errors had slipped through. No matter how many typos or other errors you manage to spot, it seems there is always one more you’ve missed. And, that’s before we consider those sentences that could still be tweaked to improve them.

This is why no manuscript is ever truly finished with – you can always afford to give it one more look, edging it a little closer towards the perfection you’ll never truly achieve. So, just because you thought you were done with it, don’t just forget about it. Even if it’s been published, consider looking it over again so that it’s better should you ever be republished.

Advertisements

The Quest for Publication

8 Dec

Two thoughts on the writer’s quest to be published – the one a reminder to persevere, the other a cautionary tale of sorts.

Opinions may vary…

As a writer, rejection can always shake your confidence, but it is important to remember that tastes vary and one venue’s rejection might be another’s acceptance. To illustrate this, allow me to share a recent experience of mine.

I had a story rejected by a publisher that uses readers and the comments of the three readers were included with the rejection email.

The reason why it was rejected was because one reader had given it a score of 1/5. Although they were enthusiastic about my actual writing, they felt the idea had been done before and wasn’t worth publishing.

But, the other two readers had given it 4/5 and 5/5 and the latter actually commented that they didn’t see the ending coming!

Had the first reader been replaced by someone else, it’s likely my story would’ve been accepted, but, more than that, the way in which one reader was jaded by the plot and another surprised, shows how you never can tell who will (or won’t) like your story.

The moral, naturally, is to shake off the rejection and send your story out again and again. Of course, if they make points about flaws that you can see the validity of, consider rewriting your piece, but, if not, don’t assume it’s rubbish – it probably just hasn’t reached the right editor yet.

When editing fails…

Of course, even when you have your story accepted, there can be problems. Magazines can fold before publication, you might withdraw it because you don’t agree to the contract offered, and sometimes the editor will drop it. This latter recently happened to me.

Having spent a lot of time and effort editing a story for an anthology, it was dropped because the chief editor felt my edits weren’t what he wanted.

Now, perhaps I am just too literal minded, or perhaps several months with a lot of stress and little sleep had left my brain unable to tease out the nuance of what was wanted, but while I had responded to all their suggestions, it seemed they had wanted a substantive and wide-ranging rewrite rather than the straightforward edit I had interpreted their request to be.

The problem was that not only were we approaching the edit at cross-purposes, they didn’t tell me I was coming at it wrong. In fact, the editor who responded to both redrafts I sent (a different person to the chief editor who dropped my story) not only said nothing, but actually stated it was ready for layout! (Call me naive, but that certainly sounded as if they were satisified with the piece – maybe they thought it was okay and the chief editor didn’t, or maybe they just automatically sent the email without checking it, but whatever the reason I assumed I’d produced a satisfactory job until the chief editor emailed me a few days late to say he was dropping it.)

Had they clarified what they wanted after my first rewrite, I probably would’ve had to ask for it to withdrawn as I doubt I could’ve produced such a substantive rewrite to such a tight deadline. But, at least that would’ve saved us both some time and effort, as well as avoiding misleading me as to the story’s status.

The moral of the story for writers has to be, if an editor asks for more than a simple proofread of your story and a response to minor tweaks, clarify just how much rewriting they expect so that you can either get it right or, at least, avoid wasting everyone’s time.

But, for any editors who might be reading, there is a stronger moral for you – communicate clearly and in a timely fashion. Make it clear what you want at the beginning and if the writer doesn’t appear to be doing what you expected, let them know before the editing window closes. And, if you have other members on your editorial team, have them run any responses by you – this isn’t the first time I’ve had one editor tell me something only to be overruled (a member of the editorial team at one magazine told me they could pay via PayPal when they couldn’t, leading to a lot of hassle).

But, even though these sorts of mishaps can occur, the answer remains, keep submitting. Remember, if your story was accepted by one editor, it stands a good chance of being accepted somewhere else.

Just Do It!

28 Feb

If there is one piece of advice I give to wannabe writers again and again, it’s “Write it and submit it.” If you don’t do it, you might never know failure, but you’ll certainly never know success.

I’ve known many excellent writers who have come nowhere near the success they deserve and the one thing they all have in common is that they either don’t write much or they do, but refuse to submit it. Of course, some of them have good reasons for not doing so – they may be busy with their family commitments or pursuing a career they love, or have other artistic talents that take precedence – but most fail to reach their potential because they just don’t believe in themselves. Perhaps, they worry about the quality of their writing and, so, just don’t put pen to paper. Or, they continually revise it, seeking elusive perfection rather than actually submitting it. Or, they produce reams of work, but, fearing rejection, put it to one side and write something else that nobody will ever read. Then, there are those who are too caught up in every day minutiae, the need to earn a crust, who put off writing till for a tomorrow that never comes.

This is the reason so much rubbish gets published commercially. Professional publishers need reliable writers who can produce to deadlines more than they need good writers. If only those excellent writers would actually write and submit, they would be successes. Instead, the mediocre writers succeed unopposed.

Hence my exhortation. Write your story, poem or article – and, then, submit it. It may be rejected. In fact, it probably will be rejected – even the best novels were usual rejected several times before being accepted for publication, and even well-established writers will sometimes have work rejected. That is a hazard of being a writer – but, if you can understand it has little to do with the quality of your writing (whilst paying attention to any feedback you receive), you will be well on your way to success. Those who submit lots of work and resubmit rejected work stand a much higher chance of acceptance than those who write little and allow rejection to stifle their work’s chances.

If you have written something, you have achieved more than many potentially-great writers. If you submit it, you’ve made the first step towards publication. Keep at it, don’t be scared, and success is likely to come your way. Give up, and you’re guaranteed to fail…

Redundant Advice

29 Jan

There are many, many sites out there offering suggestions on improving your writing style. Most advice, if not applied slavishly, is well worth considering. Not every piece will apply to everything you write, but you will become more aware of what you are writing and why, helping you to improve.

As an example of why you shouldn’t just apply an idea without fully understanding it and when not to use it, I will take as my example eliminating redundancies in language. You are most likely aware of such things as ATM Machine (that is, Automatic Teller Machine Machine), but not all apparently-redundant words are actually redundant.

To consider just a couple of examples I found one site listing hundreds of redundant words they recommended writers should edit out, take ‘circle around’ and ‘climb up’. The site that suggests reducing ‘circle around’ to just ‘circle’, but this raises an immediate issue for me – the former implies 180 degrees (in the sense of getting behind someone), while the latter means 360 degrees. Of course, a sentence such as “circle around behind them”, could be changed to “circle behind them” and still make sense as it retains sufficient context. But,other sentences could be rendered gibberish or end up changing what you meant to say into something quite different.

It’s a similar problem with cutting ‘climb up’ to ‘climb’ – you can also climb down (as well as in, out and along), so it really depends upon whether the option is solely one way or not. Again, just assuming a word is a redundancy can lead to confusion.

In addition, a policy of redundancies also ignores the flow of the sentence. Sometimes a redundant word is present because it makes the sentence flow better. These can be removed without damaging context, but, sometimes, you may be left with a sentence that is less pleasing to the ear. (Of course, this can also work the other way – too many redundant words can make your writing clunky. Ultimately, you need to read aloud each variation and hear how they sound, not rely upon rules.)

So, consider the advice, but make sure you are applying it properly and you’ll produce better writing.

Word Limits

3 Oct

The word count can be confusing for those just beginning on the path of the writer. Thanks for the miracle of wordprocessing, you no longer need to count words per line and lines per page (unless you write longhand and need an estimate before you type it). Word or Libre Office or whichever program you use will tell you just how many words your document contains. Easy!

A word of warning, though. Remember that this count will include every word in the document, including the title and ‘The End’ (neither of which counts towards the total). If you have included your contact details at the beginning of the document, they will be counted towards the total (however, any words in the header or footer won’t be counted), but you can highlight your actual submission or delete unwanted words and then click restore to put them back once you have the word count.

Beware, too, of section breaks (such as *** or #), which will show up as words, but don’t actually count towards the total, and hyphenated words, which will show up as one word but may be counted individually. You may wish to remove hyphens and other such things before getting an accurate count.

So, you now know how many words your story contains. But, how many words are you allowed? The numbed will be listed for the magazine or competition – there may be a minimum and/or a maximum. You should always read the guidelines to see if these are hard limits (that is, you cannot break them by even one word) or soft limits (that is, you are allowed to break them by a reasonable amount – what counts as reasonable may be stated, otherwise a few words over is definitely okay and as much as 10% might be considered acceptable). If not otherwise stated, you can usually assume that you can go a few words over for a magazine or anthology, as the editor is likely to have the leeway to balance longer stories with shorter ones (although you probably wouldn’t be paid for excess words, if being paid by the word) and they may be willing to work with you to edit the story so that it fits. Competition entries should stick to the stated wordcount as deviating by even one word is likely to see your submission disqualified.

Personally, for competitions, I try to keep comfortably within the stated word-limits, just in case the word count I make it doesn’t match that of the judges. Leaving a cushion means you are unlikely to fall foul of a disagreement. (Remember, the judges are unlikely to contact you, so you won’t have the chance to dispute a disagreement.)

But, don’t worry about it too much – a little commonsense should see you through most situations.

It’s Christmaaasss!

16 Dec

Yes, it’s the festive season and writers’ thoughts are turning to snow, decorations and Dickensian ghostliness. The problem is, if you’re writing a story or poem now, it’s too late to submit to an editor. Indeed, even if you submitted work in the last two or three months, it was probably too late.

Draw inspiration now, but you need to know when it’s best to submit your work (indeed, the same goes for other festivals, seasons and anniversaries – often you will need to submit three months to a year early). Most editors will want to receive submissions by September at the latest, some will want it by June. A few will want festive submissions as early as January or February. Keep an eye on their deadlines, but if a magazine doesn’t have a specific festive issue, look for ones planned for release in November or December and consider submitting something festive that fits with their theme.

As far as Atlantean Publishing goes, our primary festive publications are Christmas Chillers and Xmas Bards and I want submissions by October at the latest. Festive issues of Garbaj and Bard sometimes appear – based upon whether I’ve had sufficient submissions to warrant it – and the second Monomyth of the year is usually late enough that festive submissions will be considered. Likewise, there is an annual horror poetry booklet release for Hallowe’en and there are often issues of Bard (and sometimes Garbaj) that reference the seasons, Valentine’s Day, Hallowe’en, etc; I need to receive submissions at least a couple of months in advance.

So, put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard) and produce something seasonal and send it to Atlantean or another publisher when the time is right!

Sourcing Inspiration

22 Apr

People often wonder where they can find inspiration. Other than the suggestion that they try certain discreet shops down dark side alleys, the obvious answers are from life, history and dreams. (Although as Neil Gaiman pointed out in an article on inspiration, dreams as a whole aren’t the best source of inspiration, given most follow ‘dream logic’ that makes little real sense and often only resonates with the dreamer, certain dreams hold within them the kernels, perhaps even the entire plots, of stories within them, while the stranger ones can still be a source for surreal and bizarre fiction.)

But, there is another source from which you can draw inspiration: fiction, poetry and song, even art.

Now, I’m not talking about fan fiction, but inspiration for your own stories. Fan fiction is when you play with someone else’s toys without their permission and, obviously, restricts what you can do with the finished story. Of course, there are intermediate levels involving shared worlds such as the Cthulhu Mythos and out-of-copyright works and humorous takes on in-copyright works.

Shared worlds are open to anyone to play with, although there may be restrictions on certain elements. Out-of-copyright works can (usually, unless trademarks are involved) be reproduced without restriction, meaning you can do things like rewrite endings, create sequels, change the format (such as from a play to a novel), add new characters, or recast the events in another era, genre or location, or add zombies to an existing work. Humorous takes, such as spoofs or using characters or a setting for satire, are generally acceptable.

But, what I’m most interested in here is the inspiration you can draw from in-copyright works. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from adapting a plot as you would an out-of-copyright one by moving it to another era, genre or location, given that you cannot copyright ideas, but it is a far riskier proposition as you may inadvertently infringe a trademark, plagiarise a scene or be accused of ‘passing off’. What is more practical is, as you read a novel or poem, listen to a song or watch a movie, to consider the ideas that it sparks.

For example, you may think characters make the wrong decision or ignored a better solution to the plot. Or, you might see a different approach to a setting. Or, you may wonder what the characters would be like in a different setting. Try to go for the less obvious. Elements from Harry Potter and the Fables comic inspired me to write an entirely mundane novel. George Lucas drew from samurai and cowboy films, amongst others, for aspects of Star Wars. Take elements from more than source and mix them up to make something original.

Even though they seldom suggest a whole story, poetry, songs and art can suggest characters and scenes. Anything can spark an idea and any idea can be sourced for a story. Keep notes and see what develops.