Are You Sitting Comfortably?

My story so far.

I left education thirty years ago. I don’t have a degree. I work full-time. I only started writing three years ago. It is true that once I turned my spare bedroom into my own office to work a few days a week from home, there was no stopping me. I’d write a story or two every month, and either post it here on this blog or enter it into competitions, out of which, 95% were rejected. The successful stories made it into printed anthologies or on-line journals. Click here for details of those.

Then 2020 happened. I bought Masterclass, and, after watching several sessions, realised I was ready for some interactive, on-line, real-time classroom writer’s training. Doing a degree (£9,000 per year tuition fees) and working full time, was out of the question. If I went back to working in the office, then I’d be too tired to travel to class after work. I didn’t have a clear idea for what I wanted to do, except that I was ready to observe, learn and ask questions within a group of writing students.

I struggled with my old chromebook until March 2021, when I had finally saved enough for a Mac. I bought Scrivener (which I am still trying to fathom out). In the last six months, I must have attended 50-70 online creative writing classes, author talks, book launches, publishing industry seminars and related webinars. Of the dozens of partially-started stories and outlines I’ve written to prompts in breakout rooms, a handful have made it further (click here for one of them).

It is strange now to think that virtual events and online teaching wasn’t done on a mass scale until last year. I hope it continues as life begins to open up again. At the moment, I still have far more things to read, write, watch and learn from before I take any more new steps, but at least I have stretched myself out of my comfort zone.

Here follows some of the things I have learned that you may find useful.

Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’ is recommended in almost every writing class as a must-read.

I usually type on a screen but if I’m in a Zoom class, I write by hand. I write in one colour of ink on alternate lines, then use a different colour ink for my edits in the spaces left. (I get now why they always ask for submissions to be double spaced!) My favourite pens are the Stabilo PointBall Ballpoint Pen and the Schneider Slider Memo XB Ballpoint Pen. I must have a dozen ballpoint pens but only one has black ink, and I’ve only bought that for signing official forms. (Apparently it’s National Ballpoint Pen day on June 10th)

Not all writing paper is the same. I like the feel of the paper in Leuchtturm1917 notebooks.

Eventbrite has loads of Zoom/MSTeams classes. Paying for classes doesn’t guarantee that they will be good. Free classes aren’t necessarily bad. It depends on how the classes are funded and who is teaching them. I would recommend searching for library or city literature festivals, as well as adult education classes. Lots of those organisations have Arts Council funding, so their creative writing or author events are usually free or subsidised. Some are, however, ringfenced to certain groups of people, such as residents of a particular county. Some publishers also run courses, with their own authors as tutors.

Many of these organisations record their Zoom classes/webinars and add them to YouTube after the event, (Reedsy), or onto their own websites for a small charge (The Hay Festival).

Twitter is a great place to find and connect with writers and publishing industry people. What other field could you chat to famous people and attend classes taught by them for free?

Most writing competitions use Submittable or Duotrope. The former tracks your progress. This is a small portion of my Submittable tracker.

Most writers don’t make enough money from writing, so they need a day job as well. Writers read a lot (see above for part of my tbr pile). I’ve found it hard to concentrate on reading recently, so have immersed myself into Audible.

70 lessons condensed into 70 words

You will hear about the inciting incident, hero’s journey, creating a narrative, showing not telling, a sense of place, mind mapping, hermit crab flash fiction, prose poems, hybrid stories, polishing your story, strings of tension, three act structures, limiting your flashbacks, the story arc, flow, character motivation, memorable/unusual not obvious descriptions, conflict, pace, every sentence needing a verb, drama IS conflict, being concise, and what does the protagonist want/need?

I’ve heard these lines more than once. The more you write the better you get at it. It’s during the process that the nuggets of gold can be mined so you get to the emotional core. You can’t edit a blank page. Most writing is rewriting. There are structural, character or line edits. Use fewer adverbs. Only use “said”. Readers don’t see “said” but they will see “exclaimed”, “whispered” or “bellowed” and it will throw them off.

There’s a difference between what some editors want to read and what the public generally wants to read.

One of the rules is that it’s positive feedback in class only. If the reader thinks the story doesn’t work, they are generally right. Learn to live with rejection. It’s just one person’s opinion.

None of the above is set in stone. It is all opinions I have heard that you are free to agree with and use, or not.

Only you can write the story you want to tell, and look where it might lead to!

20 thoughts on “Are You Sitting Comfortably?

  1. Nicola, Sorry I am a little late to this post. Great stuff! I also really enjoyed On Writing by Stephen King. I appreciate the beginning where he is really honest about his struggles to get published.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m currently learning from online sources how to paint with pastels. It was interesting to me that there are quite a few parallels in our journeys. Best wishes.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Enjoyed this summary of your writing workshop/class/conference experiences and tips. That damned “What does the character want/need?” gets so in the way. If I say right out “She needs this” the critic says “Show, don’t tell.” If I don’t spell it out in big letters, the purblind critic says “Motivation not clear.” The best advice is “Tell the story you need to tell and want to read.” The audience search is a bit of a crap shoot.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Depending on where you submit, 5% acceptance is pretty darn good. Thank you for sharing so much of your process.

    [I was surprised by how much I loved King’s book. Can you tell the point in the book where he was hit by a car and out of action for a while?—when he came back his tone was quite different, even his list of favorites altered. Not to mention the embarrassing confusion of tense/POV.]

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I would think you would have a much higher publish rate than 5%. Maybe your post will give me a kick in the pants. I’m only writing uninspired blog posts at this point. I’ll see what eventbright has to offer. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Good information though I’m not interested in becoming an author… I have a goal of putting together a book for publication but it isn’t likely that it will be accepted. Instead I’ll do what I did before (though probably take it to the local print/copy store) to gift it to my mother…

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Wonderful post, Nicola! Congratulations on being proactive and getting out there and immersing yourself in the writing world. I have also attended many of the type of classes and workshops you mention, both on and off Zoom. I follow writer based websites, literary groups, publishers, attend book launches, and find even being in a book club helps keep the finger on the pulse.

    As you rightly said ‘Only you can write the story you want to tell’ and that is important. Don’t lose your own voice. Your ‘voice’, the way you write the narrative, is as unique to you as your fingerprints.

    I am not as successful as you in the publication stakes but I have won a couple of writing competitions. My problem is being a pantser not a plotter. I look forward to your future posts 🙂 Gretchen.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I can relate to most of the above. I’ve ‘met’ you on a couple of Zoom classes, like you I enjoy participating in a variety of different creative writing meetings and have started my own tiny writer’s group, The Procrastinators, on Zoom and on wordpress as a result. Connecting with so many new and interesting people virtually is certainly the one positive side effect on the pandemic. I always enjoy reading your new posts. And no, I am not a scary stalker, just a fellow writer.

    Liked by 1 person

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