Six Lessons from Music…

… to think about when you feel that your work as a writer is not receiving the recognition it deserves…

  • Shostakovich wrote during the siege of Leningrad whilst working as a fireman.
  • Messiaen wrote his Quartet for the End of Time in Stalag VIII-A, a prisoner-of-war camp.
  • Mahler was forced to work as a conductor in order to pay the bills. He resented the time lost when he could have been composing.
  • None of Bruckner’s eleven symphonies were commissioned. Two of them received such harsh criticism he retracted them. This is why his last symphony is known as his ninth.
  • Bach was expected to write and perform one cantata a week whilst working in the St Thomas Church in Leipzig.
  • Mozart wrote his last three symphonies without a commission. The last, the 41st is regarded by many critics as among the greatest symphonies in classical music.
  • Finally, remember that Franck “steadily inculcated a disdain for immediate success, and a disregard of the public as a prerequisite for attaining durability in a work of art.”

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Six Tips on Writing Speech

Or more precisely, a conversation in six sentences.

A pupil recently asked me about writing speech in stories.

“Do I need to put he said, she said after every sentence?”  he asked.

“No.” I replied.  “If you look at a story in a book, you’ll notice that they very rarely indicate who has spoken.”

“Really?”  He picked up a book, read a few sentences. “Oh yes,  I see what you mean!”

“There you go.  You have to learn to trust the reader; they’re cleverer than beginner writers give them credit for.  The reader can recognise who’s speaking when people are taking turns in a conversation.”

“So you only have to indicate the names at the start?”

“Well,” I said, “You might want to occasionally remind them who’s speaking.”

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Six Reasons why Maintaining a Blog will make You a Better Writer

  • It will make you write regularly
  • It will make you finish something – you’re not a writer if you’re only producing half finished stories
  • It will make you publish something – no more constantly rewriting, trying to get something perfect
  • It will mean your stuff will be read by somebody else – no more stories silently gathering dust in the drawer
  • It will make you engage with feedback and criticism
  • It will let you move on – time to start something new … and better

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Six Little Masterpieces of Economy

Armistead Maupin has been described as the master of coincidence.  He’s also a master of economy.  Look how captures the essence of his characters in a just a few words in the following chapter openers…
  • ‘Well,’ boomed Arnold Littlefield, dousing his scrambled eggs with ketchup, ‘the hubby stood you up, huh?’
  • MANUEL THE GARDENER was grumpy, so DeDe didn’t have the nerve to ask him to clean the yucky things out of the swimming pool at Halcyon Hill.
  • MONA WAS WASHING dishes with a vengeance when Mrs Madrigal walked into the kitchen.
  • BURKE, OF COURSE, was the hardest one to convince.
  • MARY ANN SPENT her lunch hour at Hastings, picking out just the right tie for Norman.
  • THE DISCOTHEQUE WAS called Dance Your Ass Off. Mary Ann thought that was gross, but didn’t tell Connie so

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Six Useful Websites for Writers

1) Etomyonline – Etymological Dictionary

See the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history. Keep your language of its time with this site and the next:

2) Google ngrams – frequencies of short sentences found in sources printed between 1800 and 2012

3) Behind the name – etymology of first names

Very useful when used in conjunction with the next site:

4) Fake Name Generator – not just names but biographies

Ideal when you’re stuck for background characters. Characters like

Amanda Castro Carvalho. Born and raised in Switzerland of Brazillian parents. She was born on October 19, 1987, making her 27 years old and a Libra

5) Inflation Calculator

Was £20 a week a good wage back in 1960? How much would Mr Darcy’s 10000 a year be in today’s money? The Bank’s Inflation Calculator shows how the cost of goods and services changes over time as prices change. You can check the effect of price changes over any period from 1750 to 2013.

6) Wolfram Alpha

Unlike search engines, which merely return documents, Wolfram Alpha tries to work out answers from questions. To get an idea of how Wolfram Alpha differs from Google, say, try asking them both how far away the moon is, then compare the answers.

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Six Ways to Stay Sane as a Writer

  1. Don’t place too high a value on your reviews (there’ll always be good and bad ones).
  2. Don’t place too high a value on your Amazon Sales Position (no matter how high it is, it will go down eventually).
  3. When it comes to you writing, the only people whose opinions really matter are your editor and those you’ve chosen to be your alpha and beta readers. (And you should really listen to them!)
  4. Remember that you got into this to be a writer. If you’re writing, you’re doing what you wanted to do (and what you have to do).
  5. Always be working on your next story (that way you won’t feel so bad if the last one is rejected).
  6. Remember that being a writer is only part of who you are. You’re also a wife/husband/partner/mother/father/son/daughter/friend/colleague…  (in fact, you spend more of your time being those things).

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Six Ways that Being Published Won’t Change Your Life

  1. It won’t make you rich.*
  2. Your non-writing friends won’t think any differently of you.
  3. Nor will your writing friends
  4. The urge to write will not diminish
  5. Nor the urge to be published (again).
  6. It won’t provide any answers to the other problems in your life

However, it will validate you as a writer. To yourself, at least.

* Really, it won’t. Well, it’s so unlikely that it will you shouldn’t make it part of your life plans. Treat it as a happy bonus if it does.

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Six Things to do When You’ve Finished a Story

  • Put it away for a few weeks. That way you can come back to it with a fresh mind
  • Ask yourself Can I delete the first paragraph? The answer is usually yes
  • Ask yourself Is the ending really as strong as is could be? The answer is usually no
  • Read the story through out loud. It’s amazing the things you’ll pick up that you wouldn’t have seen on a read through.
  • For the same reason – if you have the time and the patience – key the story in again
  • Lastly: submit the story to a market. You can’t hang on to it forever…

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Six Tips on Writing First Drafts

  • A first draft is about getting it written, not about getting it right. Don’t spend too much time on it
  • Think of an artist painting a picture – they get the basic outlines and then fill in the details later. That’s what a first draft should be – broad daubs of paint
  • Stories have a habit of hitting a wall as you write them. Don’t sit there sweating about how your hero will escape from the pit: just get on with writing the next part. A solution will occur to you eventually. It always does.
  • Don’t lose touch with your subconscious. If you can’t think of the right word, or phrase, or character, or description… miss it out! You can always add it in later.
  • Stephen King recommends finishing a first draft in a season (spring, summer…). Okay, that might not be possible for a part time writer, but even so, get it done as quickly as possible
  • Many writers find the first draft the painful part. The real pleasure of writing begins when you can take your time licking that first draft into shape…

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Six Tips on Narrative Voice

  • Writing in the First Person is harder than it looks: the narrator defines the sort of story you write. Compare the way the intelligent Katiniss Everdeen tells her story in The Hunger Games with that of the much less aware Riddley Walker in the novel of the same name.
  • There are very few stories written in the Second Person, something which makes those few attempted stand out and say something. Unfortunately, the thing they are usually saying is that the writer has just been on a course.  Best avoided.
  • Stories written in the Third Person offer the most flexibility, and are the best choice for the beginner writer. Of these…
  • The Third Person subjective is the easiest: here you can describe individual characters’ thoughts and emotions from the inside.
  • Third Person objective is harder: here you describe the characters from the outside, you’re not privy to their thoughts – rather like watching a film.
  • Third Person omniscient is the easiest but seems very old fashioned and lacking in skill. Most importantly, Editors don’t like it!

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