52 books in 52 weeks: Writing Short Stories – a 60 minute masterclass

03-writing-short-storiesI set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book 3.

Writing Short Stories – a 60 minute masterclass by Shelley Weiner took me just under 60 minutes to read. But I was lucky to get through it as the literary comparisons and the lack of practical exercises that build on each other almost stopped me in my tracks.

I’m glad I got over myself, and my own personal prejudices, though, as once you get going, it does actually get better.

It was the references to Chekhov, Poe, Hemingway and Dostoyevsky that blocked me as they came across as quite pretentious in a short 60-minute read. But get over that and you do come to the basics of short story writing – and if literary fiction is your thing, then go for it. It’s just not mine.

The exercises then didn’t really build on each other. They consist of:

  • Studying a selected short story by Checkhov
  • Using “What if”
  • Creating a character from a picture
  • Giving your character a voice
  • Creating a setting from a picture
  • Placing your character into your setting

And that’s it. Apart from the last one, they are simply exercises for exercise-sake. I would have also liked to have seen the exercises listed in the contents, as I may then have chosen a different book to buy instead of this one at this stage.

Following chapters go on to give the same old advice about narrative, viewpoint, presentation, etc. But the author has used the age-old examples of the king dying and then the queen dying (of grief), and Hemingway’s baby shoes for sale.

I would much prefer to see exercises in a writing guide that build on each other to produce a finished, publishable piece of work, or even several. And I also think the author could have come up with some of her own examples to demonstrate those age-old ones cited above. To simply recycle what has already been out there for years and years seems a little … lazy, in my opinion.

Saying that, beginners will find this book quite refreshing, with lots of solid, standard, good advice. Experienced writers may find it a little … prosaic. But get past the odd little niggles and it’s a good introduction to writing the short story.

Only available on Kindle for £2.99 (or $4.07), Writing Short Stories – a 60 minute masterclass is one of a series from The Guardian.

January round-up


Picture: Ian Wordsworth

January has not been a great start to 2017 for me, work-wise. I’ve been lazy, unmotivated and easily distracted. I think the biggest problem was I didn’t set myself a total word-count target for the month and, as a result, I’ve written hardly anything.

I have had one book each in from two clients, one to edit and one to proofread. I’ll be finishing both of these today and tomorrow, so January won’t have been a total washout.

The other client I had, I knocked on the head because he was sending me far too much work, wanting it all done NOW, and then forgetting how much he’d agreed to pay for it, trying to renegotiate several weeks after invoices were already overdue.

I have two books of my own I want to start working through, Mardi Gras (which was my 2015 NaNoWriMo project), and Catch the Rainbow (the first draft I finally finished for my 2016 NaNoWriMo project). I haven’t touched either.

I have two books of my own I want to finish writing, Diary of a Scaredy Cat, which has been on the verge of being published for several months now, and Ideas for Writers and What to do with Them, of which readers have been getting sneaky peaks.

And then there is the short story work, which ground to a halt when another previously approachable short fiction market in the UK slammed its doors.

All of these things I should have worked on, and I’ve not worked on one. PLUS, I promised to review fifty-two writers’ guides in fifty-two weeks and I’ve managed two-and-and-a-half.

Therefore, this “January round-up” is fast turning into “plans for February, because I didn’t pull my finger out in January”.

Today I have some serious diary work to do, I have at least one of the client books to finish, and I have today and tomorrow to knock a short story into shape to get it submitted to a still-existing UK fiction market before the end of tomorrow. I also need to re-start my word-count and work-load tracker in Excel.

I’d best crack on … or quack on, courtesy of today’s picture of a duck. 🙂

52 books in 52 weeks: Writing Crime Fiction – a 60 minute masterclass

02-crime-writingI set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book 2.

Writing Crime Fiction – a 60 minute masterclass by William Ryan & M R Hall took me more than 60 minutes to read. But as I read this one in instalments, I can’t provide an accurate figure.

This book is a no-nonsense, straightforward book that collates everything you need to know about writing crime fiction without all the guff in between. It’s clear and concise and it doesn’t use the same-old same-old stories as examples, although old favourites like Elmore Leonard and Agatha Christie are used.

My only gripe with this book is that there are no exercises – or no easily identified exercises. I do like a writer’s guide that gives step-by-step guidance in a specific order that can be manipulated to suit a writer’s preferred methods. However, each chapter does suggest what to do next. So if you can highlight it as you go through, perhaps the reader could build his/her own writing workshop.

It’s another nice little book that’s useful to keep on the virtual bookshelf.

Only available on Kindle for £1.99 (or $2.53), Writing Crime Fiction – a 60 minute masterclass is Book 1 in a series from The Guardian, and was originally billed as an introduction to writing crime fiction.

Ideas masterclass: January 2017

Okay, you asked for it, so here it is – the ideas masterclass for January.

There are lots of places to find ideas and, this month, as with previous months, I’m going to concentrate on date-specific ideas and topical subjects. Do check my dates, though. I could have transposed some figures, and my source data could also be inaccurate. (I’ll check this for the book, but you need to get into the habit of checking both the source data yourself and your own figures.)

These ideas can be used for articles, short stories, readers’ letters, fillers or poems. So long as they’re topical, a magazine (or other publication) will have less reason to say no. If you want to write something longer, then look ahead further – about three to five years, perhaps.

For example, if you want to write a novel set against the gold rush, nuggets were first discovered in the Sacramento valley in 1848, currently 169 years ago but 175 years ago in six years time … That’s time to research, plan, write, polish, submit and market and it still won’t be dated yet. If you’re a quick writer who doesn’t object to self-publishing, go for 170 years ago, i.e. next year.

As it’s January 2017, we’ll be thinking 7 months ahead; querying 6 months ahead; writing 5 months ahead; and (hopefully) submitting 4 months ahead. Now, some writers prefer to start with thinking 6 months ahead, but I prefer to give myself the extra month to try and take in the monthlies and maybe account for any rejections along the way. Also, if I’m late with one of the months for whatever reason, I still might be able to dash something out quite quickly for one of the weeklies.

So, for now, the first thing we want to do is:

  • THINK! August 2017
  • QUERY! July 2017
  • WRITE! June 2017
  • SUBMIT! May 2017

The next thing we have to do is ask ourselves “why now?” Why should X market buy an article on Y topic now?

There are some evergreens that can be written up each year and that can be kept in stock each year – but therein lies the problem with evergreens: if there’s no reason to publish it now and if there are other more topical pieces in, then it’s easy enough for the market to shelve it for another year. Or more.

But evergreens are also good in that if a market has had someone let them down, at least there should still be something to slot in to the recent gap.

I tend to go back in years multiplied by five. I used to start at five or ten years ago, but my main dates book is now more than twenty years old and I’ve never been able to find another to replace it. So my dates now go back twenty-five years, thirty years, a hundred years, but not, say, forty-five years or, say, 535 years. Because that’s just odd and more rounded numbers are more attractive.

So, I calculate which years occurred the following numbers of years ago:

  • 25 years (1992)
  • 30 years (1987)
  • 40 years (1977)
  • 50 years (1967)
  • 60 years (1957)
  • 75 years (1942)
  • 100 years (1917)
  • 125 years (1892)
  • 150 years (1867)
  • 175 years (1842)
  • 200 years (1817)
  • 250 years (1767)
  • 300 years (1717)
  • 350 years (1667)
  • 400 years (1617)
  • 450 years (1567)
  • 500 years (1517)
  • 750 years (1267)
  • 1000 years (1017)
  • 2000 years (17)

The next thing I do is match up the month with the year and make sure it’s a round enough figure to be of any interest. Because it’s January, I’m thinking August. So I get my dates book out to see what happened in August in the above years. If something interests me, or if I think it might be interesting to someone else, I make a note of it.

Now, August 2017 has a lot of topical anniversaries coming up – a lot! In fact, I came up with five pages of ideas. Not all of those will interest me and, quite frankly, some will bore me to death. So I discard those or throw them away. But I know that what would be hard work for me might be of interest to someone else, and that’s why I share my throwaways.

Here are the national days that occur in August:

  • 1 August – National day of Switzerland
  • 6 August – National day of Bolivia
  • 10 August – National day of Ecuador
  • 17 August – National day of Indonesia
  • 23 August – National day of Romania
  • 25 August – National day of Uruguay
  • 31 August – National day of Malaysia
  • 31 August – National day of Trinidad & Tobago

The only day there that would be of any useful interest to me at the moment is Switzerland, because I’ve already been. And I might make it a travel article. Or I could quite happily research Swiss chocolate. Or cheese. I could re-read Heidi and maybe research the author. What else did she write? Where did she live? Heidi was published in 1881. Johanna Spyri was born in 1827 and died in 1901. If those years come up in my think/query/write/submit schedule, I can sell the idea again.

But if I decided I’d quite like to go to, say, Romania, then I’d try to sell the idea ahead of time and make sure my trip, my well-slanted copy and my specific pictures would be in well ahead of when, say, a weekly magazine or newspaper goes to press – AND I’d be able to offset the cost of my share of the trip against income tax, so long as I either have a firm commission or manage to sell something when we come back. PLUS, as the date comes around again next year, I could target one of the monthlies in time for then.

However, it doesn’t have to be a travel article, which I went into in a previous post, and I shan’t go into detail again now. But do consider all of the other topics that can be loosely sold around the national days of each country.

The rest of my throwaways are here:

  • 1 August – Lammastide (evergreen)
  • 3 August 1867 (150 years ago) – Stanley Baldwin, PM, was born in Bewdley
  • 7 August 2017 – summer bank holiday, Scotland
  • 7 August 1957 (60 years ago) – Oliver Hardy died
  • 13 August 1977 (40 years ago) – Henry Williamson died
  • 14 August 1867 (150 years ago) – John Galsworthy was born in Coombe, Surrey
  • 15 August – the Feast of the Assumption (evergreen)
  • 15 August 1917 (100 years ago) – Jack Lynch, Irish statesman and PM, was born
  • 15 August 1987 (30 years ago) – septuplets, 4 girls and 3 boys, born in Liverpool, none survived
  • 16 August 1977 (40 years ago) – Elvis Presley died
  • 17 August 1892 (125 years ago) – Mae West born in Brooklyn, New York
  • 17 August 1957 (60 years ago) – Robin Cousins born in Bristol
  • 17 August 1987 (30 years ago) – Rudolf Hess committed suicide in Spandau Prison, age 93
  • 17 August 2017 – Grasmere Sports take place
  • 19 August 1987 (30 years ago) – the Hungerford Massacre in Berkshire
  • 20 August 1977 (40 years ago) – Groucho Marx died
  • 20 August 1977 (40 years ago) – Voyager 1 launched via Jupiter to Saturn
  • 25 August 1867 (150 years ago) – Michael Faraday died at Hampton Court
  • 27 August 1967 (60 years ago) – Brian Epstein died in a swimming pool accident
  • 28 August 2017 – summer bank holiday in the UK, excluding Scotland
  • 30 August 1917 (100 years ago) – Denis Healey born
  • 31 August 1997 (20 years ago) – Diana, Princess of Wales, died aged 36

(Yes, I know 1997 was only twenty years ago rather than twenty-five, but I’d made a note of it in my dates book when it happened, so it can be included here.)

That’s a big list, isn’t it? The list I kept is quite big too.

Some of these are obvious, such as Michael Faraday dying 150 years ago. The man was so interesting and he achieved such a lot from such humble beginnings … but what was he doing at Hampton Court? Well, apparently he had a house there – in Hampton Court. Who knew people lived in houses at Hampton Court? Isn’t it a palace? A Tudor palace?

The reason I’m actually throwing away Elvis and Diana dying is because they’re likely to be done to death and there will be fanatics who know everything there is to know about both, and at least more than what I already know. But what about merging deaths in August together? Elvis, Brian Epstein, Groucho Marx, Oliver Hardy – all were celebrities in the entertainment industry. Will an entertainment market be interested in an article that covers all of them?

There are two literary topics in there too: Henry Williamsom didn’t just write Tarka the Otter. But where was Tarka set? Would a local or county publication like something on Williamson? From where did he get his inspiration? How about a natural history magazine? And John Galsworthy was a novelist and a playwright responsible for The Forsyte Saga, and he won the Nobel prize for literature. Where did he live? He was born in Surrey and died in London. Where did he go to school? (Harrow and Oxford.) Both authors were very prolific, and probably much more than some will originally know.

And finally – for this time – did Voyager 1 make it? Is it still up there? Who were the people connected with the program? What did it discover? How many successful missions have left NASA? How many didn’t make it? What have we learned since 1977?

I’ll be looking at another way to find ideas in the next masterclass post, I just wanted to recap the date-specific stuff here because, in my experience, it’s been the most successful method of my work.

I think your homework this week is obvious:

  1. Consider at least three of the above ideas for articles, short stories, readers’ letters (do they spark any memories?), fillers or poems.
  2. Come up with at least three potential markets for each idea. They can be the same for each, but try to think of as many as possible.
  3. See if you can find at least three of your own date-specific topics – are there any events or anniversaries happening in August in your own locality or field(s) of interest?
  4. Come up with at least three potential markets for each idea. These can be the same as for no. 2 above, but again, try to think of as many as possible.
  5. Slant each of your six ideas to suit the markets. Draft your article query/queries; write up the rest. Polish and send them out.

And don’t forget to let me know how you get on. Oh, and don’t rely on Wikipedia as this is largely populated by enthusiastic amateurs who may have the wrong date or may not have checked their source(s).

52 books in 52 weeks: Feature Writing – a 60 minute masterclass

feature-writingI set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year … and then right in week one was struck down by lurgy. So the first in the series is a little late, but it’s a short enough book.

Feature Writing – a 60 minute masterclass by Rob Orchard does exactly what it says on the cover. It took me just about 60 minutes to read it in one sitting. and the exercises – all five of them – are practical and realistic.

There are no arty-farty write-about-how-the-surface-of-a-stone-feels pointless (in my opinion) exercises that don’t actually help you become a working writer. There is no puff about every step of the author’s own personal journey that don’t actually teach anything really. In fact the writer’s credentials don’t even appear until the end matter.

These exercises start with finding and researching new markets in this digital and global age, through how to come up with features ideas and angles, how to contact ten target publications, pitching your best three ideas to your best three markets, and finishing with tips and advice on obtaining and conducting interviews.

In between the exercises, which are what I read these books for, are chapters filled with who to pitch to, what to pitch,  how a features editor works, how to negotiate commissions, and questions and answers to and from working features writers.

All in all, this is a nice little book that gives you just enough information to actually crack on and DO, rather than sit and dream and read yet another book on the art of writing. The exercises are simple enough to build into a regular working week and the book is short enough to read again and refresh the creative well whenever required.

Only available on Kindle for £2.99 (or $3.67), Feature Writing – a 60 minute masterclass is Book 13 in a series from The Guardian.

New beginnings (*** list alert ***)

The news that yet another short story magazine has closed its doors to all but a privileged few has knocked me sideways somewhat this past week. It’s not a market I’ve had a lot of success with, but it’s a good market to target anyway and at least the result is a completed short story at the end of it.

I had such plans, though. I’d bought a new diary that starts in January and finishes in December instead of sticking with my usual academic diary, and I’d insisted on getting one with appointments so I can stick to my individual time-slots. I’d written out a schedule of work for various drafts of various short stories, to ensure I completed something. And I’d bought recent copies of all of the short story magazines you can buy on any newsstand in the UK.

My short stories generally “do the rounds”. I write them with a specific market in mind and then, if they’re rejected, I’ll work on them to make them suitable for the next market on the list. That list has got shorter and shorter until now there are only three. One favourite market had already temporarily closed its doors before Christmas, and then this other one slammed them shut over the Christmas period.

So I took a step back and spent my first official day back in the office (aka yesterday) having a rethink.

Fortunately, my diary is always written in pencil – apart from anniversaries, birthdays and other un-moveable events. So I can rethink the schedule, rub them out and start all over again.

Fortunately, there are other markets for short stories – I just have to work harder to find them and build up a new routine.

Fortunately, I am not averse to self-publishing collections of my own short stories, and it is these anthologies that have actually worked the hardest for me out of all of my self-published books. (In case you’re interested, you can find all of my current books here.)

I’ve renewed my previously expired subscription to Duotrope. I’m going to buy a writing magazine each month and try and target at least one competition or call for submissions. And I’m following several websites that list opportunities for writers.

Words Worth Writing is also having a bit of a facelift for the new year:

  • Diary of a Freelance Writer  will be updated to the end of 2016 and then it will be finished. A lot of readers do say they enjoy it, but – really – there is only so much that changes from week-to-week that it can get quite … stale. I’m working on a collection of the previous Diary of a Scaredy Cat and this will be followed by a collection for Diary of a Freelance Writer. Both will include extra exercises for readers to try at the end of each section or chapter, and there may be further insights discovered since they were originally written. I was going to complete two volumes of Diary of a Freelance Writer, but I’ve decided now that one should be sufficient.
  • At least once a month I’ll be interviewing writers of all levels about their work and especially if they have books coming out. Please let me know if you’d like to take part, with thanks to those who already have.
  • There will be more “nuts and bolts” posts, ranging from (*** dirty word alert ***) money, including how to set your own minimum rate and how and when to chase payments that are overdue, to working as a freelance writer and all the things that involves.
  • I’m going to try and read, review and attempt the exercises in a writers’ guide each week – 52 Books in 52 Weeks. If you have any suggestions, or any writers’ guides of your own coming out, again let me know, but do bear in mind these MUST include practical exercises that lead to a finished piece. I’m simply incapable of doing writing exercises for exercise-sake.
  • Because it’s been requested, I’ll do an ideas masterclass at least once a month.
  • And there will still always be homework suggestions.

Tales From Baggins Bottom will be changing too. I’ll still have My Fat Year and a walk or a day out as often as we do them. But new features will include Tales From the Farm and the long overdue Wormy’s Kitchen.

Behind the scenes I’ll be working on quite a few things too:

  • I want to get back into feature writing, so will be doing the whole ideas-to-finished-piece myself (watch out for a new book on this …).
  • I’ll still be writing short stories, but they’ll be more market-orientated and will automatically go forward into the self-published anthologies in case they don’t do well elsewhere.
  • I’m finishing Diary of a Scaredy Cat. Watch out for this soon too.
  • I have Catch the Rainbow to fine-tune and polish. I want that to be doing the rounds by mid-year.
  • I’m starting The Beast Within, which is the next Marcie Craig mystery.
  • I’ll be collating Diary of a Freelance Writer and adding in those extra exercises and insights.
  • There should be at least two more volumes of Tales From Baggins Bottom in the pipeline this year.

As a point of note, everything – everything – I write is with a view to it earning its keep and/or getting it published, either via the traditional route or myself. This is the way I roll.

I hope you enjoy the new features. Here is today’s homework:

  1. Spend some quiet time thinking about where you want to go next. What has changed recently to make you rethink plans or your way of work? Jot these thoughts down.
  2. Challenge yourself to come up with at least one thing you’re going to do differently – more if you have them. Give yourself a deadline to do this by. Then do it.
  3. Choose a writers’ guide. Read it from cover to cover. Go back and do the exercises with a view to sending the finished product(s) out. Polish it, find a market, adapt it to suit, and then send it out. Spend the next 6 months looking for another market for each item, in case the market you sent it to doesn’t use it (although they will usually come back quicker than that now if they are going to use it).
  4. Challenge yourself to try something you’ve never tried before – a reader’s letter, a filler, a poem, a short story, a puzzle, a nostalgic article or RTE (Reader’s True Experience). Find a market and send it out in its entirety. Each of these will go out in its own entirety rather than as a query. Do this at least once a month.
  5. If you don’t already, buy at least one writing magazine per month. Read it from cover to cover and look for potential markets to send your work.

Let me know how you get on!

Diary of a Freelance Writer: 14 December 2016

The writing week has not been very productive. This is because it was mostly interrupted, either by chickens or by having a poorly poet at home. Thankfully, the chickens have settled in and the poet has gone back to work – I mean because he’s better, and not because he’s not under my feet! 🙂 I do actually enjoy having him home, even if he is poorly.

Today, however, the interruption is mostly the internet not working properly. Yesterday I had 2 powercuts and today the internet isn’t working. It does annoy me when things you pay for don’t work.

Wednesday 7 December 2016
On Wednesday I managed to write 1,223 words for a blog post and I finally settled down to some study work. For this I managed to write 180 words of notes. (They all count!) The rest of the day was taken up with chickens and the husband.

Thursday 8 December 2016
On Thursday, the only ticks in my diary are against gig list admin x 2 and chickens … I’m sure I did a lot of reading work, though. Perhaps I should start to log my reading work too.

Friday 9 December 2016
On Friday I wrote a blog post about the chickens and I backed up all of my critical data on the desktop computer. I managed some more study work, this time I read an entire module for the article writing course.

At the weekend we had a visit to Doncaster on Saturday, a Monkey Dust gig on Saturday night and a visit to Birmingham on Sunday. We got back just after dark on Sunday, the first time we weren’t there to put the chickens to bed while it was still light, and we thought we’d have a song and dance trying to find them all … but when we got home they’d all already put themselves to bed and were clucking quite contentedly. All we had to do was put their water in and lock the door.

Monday 12 December 2016
By Monday we were in more of a routine with the chickens, and they seem to need less attention the longer they are with us. The poet went back to work as well, so I was able to settle down to some work.

I wrote 620 words for a blog post, 500 words of the second draft of a short story, and 136 words for my article writing assignment. This was more like it. However …

Tuesday 13 December 2016
… on Tuesday I felt like Widow Twanky with all the household chores I had to do – including chickens! They took the entire morning – empty the dishwasher, fill the dishwasher, empty the tumble dryer, fold the washing, empty the washing machine, fill the tumble dryer, sort the dirty washing, fill the washing machine, empty all the bins in the house, take the recyclables out, feed the garden birds, feed the pets …

By the time I sat down at the computer to do some work, the power went off! I did some reading instead, and when the power came back on again I tried again … and it went off again! So the next time it came on I saved some work to memory stick and booted up the notepad. Then, at least, I was able to tweak a rejected short story and get it ready for going out again. When I got back onto the desktop computer, I printed off the story and a cover letter.

When the power went off for the second time, I re-jigged the diary for this week and completed it for next week. I’ve turned away a lot of editing work this month so I can concentrate on my own writing work, and I wanted to schedule in the various drafts of the short material.

I wrote the Canadian Christmas cards and decided to go for a run out to post them as the last guaranteed posting date was the following day. I also posted the tweaked short story, so that should arrive on Wednesday too. While I was out I went up to the farm to collect our milk and a bag of potatoes. Then I nipped to the new Fox Valley shopping centre in Stocksbridge to get the poet his Christmas card.

By the time I got back, I only had time to do more reading, and then put the chickens to bed.

This week’s homework is to continue to write up some of the drafts for my short material. This consists of short stories, fillers, reader’s true experiences (RTEs) and the odd article query. I also want to finish going through Diary of a Scaredy Cat so that can be up and for sale in the new year.

What are you up to this week?

Diary of a freelance writer: 7 December 2016

It’s been a full and busy week with mostly admin work and not as many words written. As usual, there’s a fair bit going on. But it’s all do-able.

Wednesday 30 November 2016
Wednesday was the last day of NaNoWriMo, and while I limped over the finish line, I’m delighted that I did it again. When I added my words to the NaNo site to have the word-count verified, they gave me an extra 16 words too. Had I known it was going to do that, I might have stopped sweating slightly sooner.

Anyway, thanks to NaNoWriMo 2016, I now have more than 78,000 words for Catch the Rainbow. I’ll have a closer look at those in the new year.

I wrote 1,579 words on Wednesday for NaNo, and I wrote 924 words for a blog post. I didn’t get any additional writing done, but I did continue with a client edit in the afternoon.

Thursday 1 December 2016
Thursday began with a huge sigh of relief, then I cracked on with gig list admin and new month admin.

New month admin consists of two new daily threads for the Seriously Serious Scribes plus a new word-count tracker spreadsheet that also includes a list of short writing work, and the various drafts-stage they’re at, and any books in I have to edit for clients. The SSS work isn’t necessarily mine, it’s usually whoever of the 3 admins gets around to it first.

In the afternoon I continued with the client edit, which has been particularly useful for me as it’s set in the same place as my story Mardi Gras (last year’s NaNoWriMo project).

Friday 3 December 2016
On Friday, I worked overtime on the client edit as I wanted to get it back today. This meant I didn’t do much other work.

When I’d finished we went to a friend’s birthday party … only to discover it’s next Friday … Oh dear! But, as we were were out anyway, we went to the pictures instead, to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

We did have another party we needed to be at too, and we did say if we got back in time we’d go. But we didn’t get back in time as the film was quite a bit longer than we thought it would be.

On Saturday we went to collect our chickens from Letwell. We rescued six chickens via the British Hen Welfare Trust. They were very scraggy and sorry-looking, and they were jittery too. So we put them quietly in their new coop, made sure they had enough food, water, straw and wood-shavings, and left them quiet, while we went to a Monkey Dust gig over in Doncaster.

On Sunday morning we were rewarded with 6 eggs from our hens. When the sun came around, we opened the doors and let them out for an exploration. They didn’t stay out for long, so they clearly feel quite safe in their house. But they were picked on a bit by the existing resident peacocks, guinea fowl and chickens, although they did stand up for themselves.

Monday 5 December 2016
I now have a new job to add to the daily household chores, morning and afternoon – “chickens”. And while we all get used to each other, while I check they’re okay and happy and not being bullied, this is taking up time throughout the day too. Also on Monday I had a poorly poet home sick with a stomach bug.

Despite this, I managed a lot of reading and planning work for my writing, and I wrote 450 words for a blog post.

Tuesday 29 November 2016
Yesterday consisted of a lot more planning work and more reading work, but now I think I have a workable, if busy, schedule. I’ve caught up on my think/query/write/submit regime and I also wrote 796 words of notes and ideas. I also still had the poorly poet home.

Homework w/c 7 December 2016
With a Christmas break on the horizon, I have a lot of planning work to do and, hopefully, plenty to write about. It’s December, so my think/query/write/submit is July/June/May/April. Here are some throwaways if anyone fancies giving them a go (don’t forget to confirm the dates before sending out any queries):

  • 8 April 2017 is the Grand National (date specific)
  • 14 April is First Cuckoo Day (evergreen)
  • 24 April 2017 is Hocktide (date specific)
  • 14 May is Pag Rag Day (evergreen)
  • 29 May is Oak Apple Day (evergreen)
  • 15 June 2017 is Corpus Christi (date specific)
  • 21 June 2017 is the Summer Solstice (date specific)
  • 12 July is Orangemen’s Day in Northern Ireland (evergreen)
  • 28 July 1967 the steel industry was re-nationalised in Britain (50 years ago)

Any of these topics can be written about, all except for one can be written about each year. They can be turned into features or articles, or short stories can be woven around them. Some are politically sensitive, some are controversial.

There are also a number of countries celebrating their national days over this period. These include:

  • 17 May – National Day of Norway
  • 27 May – National Day of Afghanistan
  • 31 May – National Day of South Africa
  • 1 June – National Day of Tunisia
  • 2 June – National Day of Italy
  • 5 June – National Day of Denmark
  • 6 June – National Day of Sweden
  • 17 June – National Day of Iceland
  • 23 June – National Day of Luxembourg
  • 1 July – National Day of Canada
  • 6 July – National Day of Malawi
  • 9 July – National Day of Argentina
  • 14 July – National Day of France
  • 18 July – National Day of Spain
  • 21 July – National Day of Belgium
  • 22 July – National Day of Poland
  • 28 July – National Day of Peru

Now, there are so many topics that can be written around these dates, and they’re not necessarily travel features, although travel features are great if you have that kind of knowledge (and photography). However, if we take, for example … Argentina. What else can we write about Argentina, other than a travel feature? How about:

  • wines of Argentina
  • food from Argentina
  • football and Argentina
  • walking in Argentina
  • wildlife in Argentina
  • birdwatching in Argentina
  • flora & fauna of Argentina
  • culture of Argentina
  • Evita and Argentina
  • Argentina politics
  • the Falklands
  • interviews with famous Argentinians
  • profiles of famous Argentinians
  • independence from Spain

But if you want to write a travel feature, concentrate on one thing, such as:

  • a city profile of Buenos Aires or Córdoba or San Juan, etc
  • eating out
  • night life
  • the Glaciers National Park
  • the Iguazú Falls
  • the southern-most city in the world
  • touring the Andes

This is what I’ve just come up with off the top of my head for Argentina. You could try the same kind of brainstorm for any of the countries mentioned, or you can go beyond and do some research. Their national day is in July, so that gives you plenty of time to do the research, see which topic(s) excite(s) you, and query your favourite magazine(s) – or a(ny) new magazine(s).

Whatever you decide to write about, and whether it’s a short story or an article or a feature, remember to mention the date in your query/cover letter so that the target market has a date peg to hang it from. This will give them an extra excuse to accept your query or story.

I hope that’s given you plenty to think about. Please let me know if you use any of these suggestions for your work.

I’ll be working on the think/query/write/submits that I’ve kept for myself, as well as various drafts of various short projects. And I’ll be editing Diary of a Scaredy Cat. What are you up to this week?

Diary of a freelance writer: 30 November 2016 (*** rant alert ***)

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_winnerWell, today is the last day of NaNoWriMo 2016 and, for reasons that should become clear, I have mixed emotions.

The bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and also anyone on Facebook and Twitter, will have already spotted that I WON this year’s NaNo. It’s the fourth time I’ve officially entered, and it’s the second time I’ve won.

Last year I threw caution (and the rock-solid outline) to the wind and wrote Mardi Gras by the seat of my pants. Mardi Gras is still awaiting completion, because it’s nothing like anything I’ve ever written before. But it will be finished.

This year I decided to have a crack at finishing Catch the Rainbow. It’s now, thanks to NaNo, at more than 78,000 words and the first draft is practically finished. Practically. I still have a few tweaks and a couple of extra scenes to do, possibly around 5,000 words-worth (ha! do you see what I did there?) of extra work. But the main thing is, it’s the closest to finished that it’s ever been, and with that I’m delighted.

*** rant alert ***
However … while I absolutely fell in love with Scrivener while I was writing these extra 50,000 words, I am also furious. Not once, but TWICE Scrivener lost my latest work. I’m not really sure how this is happening at the moment, but it seems to be because I’ve been saving it to both destktop and memory stick. Sometimes, if it opens a version by mistake, and it’s not necessarily the most recent version, it’s OVER-RIDING the most recent version because this one is the last to be opened. This is SO WRONG. It should at least ask.

When it did it the first time, I was still quite early on in the project, but it lost around 2,000 words and two whole scenes. From that moment on, at the end of each session, I made sure to compile to Word every time, email that Word file to myself, and then I saved the latest of the Scrivener files on both the desktop and the memory stick.

BUT … yesterday it did it again, and I don’t know why.

Unfortunately, I’m unable to email the latest Scrivener files to myself. Fortunately, I still had my latest compile in Word. Unfortunately, it didn’t include things that aren’t included in the compile.

I’ve got around it for now and, for now, I was able to complete this year’s NaNoWriMo, but either I’m doing something very wrong, or it’s a bug and Scrivener needs to sort it out.

Anyway, *** end of rant *** … here’s how the rest of the week went …

Wednesday 23 November 2016
Wednesday was day 23 of NaNoWriMo but it was a wrench and I gave up after only 680 words. In the afternoon, I started a new edit for a book, and we did the shopping that evening.

Thursday 24 November 2016
On Thursday, I caught up a little and wrote 1,996 words for NaNo and 684 for a blog post.  I continued with the new edit, and I popped in to see the neighbours as I’ve not seen them for ages and had a few minutes to spare … I think I was down there for around an hour in the end …

Friday 25 November 2016
On Friday, I caught up some more and wrote 2,019 words for NaNo. I did some more editing (it’s not an easy edit), and I raised an invoice (hurrah!).

On Saturday, I wrote 1,726 words for NaNo. But we had a very long day on Sunday visiting and ferrying parents, and by the time we got home, I was very tired. Before we knew it, it was bedtime and – for the first time this year – I forgot to do my NaNo.

Monday 27 November 2016
First job on Monday was Sunday’s NaNo, and I wrote 1,710 words. Then I wrote 506 words for a blog post, added 277 words to Diary of a Scaredy Cat, and then wrote 1,810 words for Monday’s NaNo. I felt very smug by the end of Monday, especially as I also managed more editing.

Tuesday 29 November 2016
On Tuesday I wrote 1,514 words for NaNo, but I was definitely running out of steam. I think the only thing keeping me going was sight of the finish line. I also did some admin. With NaNo soon to be over, I’ll be starting work on short material again and the record files were all over the place, and markets information needed updating. I also continued with the sticky edit.

Homework w/c 30 November 2016
We already know that I finished NaNoWriMo and the thing I’m looking forward to the most is writing something different. I will finish the loose ends of Catch the Rainbow, but as there are “modern day” scenes in this otherwise historical story that feature Marcie Craig and that were very, very easy to write, I’m itching to get back to her next story, The Beast Within, which is the immediate sequel to Night Crawler.

(Although the scenes in Catch the Rainbow happen in between the two stories … and also, a character that features quite heavily in The Beast Within made his first appearance in Catch the Rainbow too, but in the historical part.)

Thursday 1 December will be new month admin day, and then I want to shift some short stories, get those out earning their keep. I had one rejection during NaNo, and I’d like to apply the suggestions before sending that one on its way again.

Our hens arrive at the weekend, on Saturday, so we’ll be busy with those. And the poet has his first gig in over a month that night.

What are you up to this week?