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Friday, 20 November 2009

Seven Ways to use your writing coach!

Many things can cause an otherwise worthwhile writing project to founder. Your writing coach will keep your project, your writing career and your writing ambitions safe. Your writing coach can help you:
Set clear goals and deadlines
Organise your life as a writer
Identify training needs in the genre of your choosing
Organise your research
Start writing and keep going to the end of the first draft
Handle feed-back, edit and re-write
Publish, broadcast or share in other ways

1. Set clear goals
Where do you hope to go with your writing project? Following your nose can work. But sometimes planning can help you arrive where you want to be more quickly and with better results. So, some writers start work, bristling with diaries, ‘road maps’ and post-it notes – lending a writing project the air of a military offensive. If you favour this style – and many do - your writing goals may benefit from the strong-minded application of management principles. Your writing coach can guide you here.
The SMART formula is currently popular. Adopt this and consider:
1) Is your writing goal Specific? (What form(s) of writing do you want to work on? A novel? A radio play? An academic treatise? The ultimate letter of complaint? )
2) How will you Measure your success? (Do you, for example, want to hold your published book in your hand by the second August Bank Holiday?)
3) Are you Able to produce this piece of writing? (Or do you need more training?)
4) Does this piece of writing Relate well to who you are and what you want from your life? (And does writing mesh well with your other hopes and aspirations at this time?)
5) What is your Time-line for this goal? (Deadlines work wonders for some.)

Meeting your own promises – Commitment
Once you’ve shaped your writing goal, of course, you must then consciously to commit to the process. According to the American Society of Training and Development, conscious commitment enhances your chances of success in any project. And the probability of success, it is said, ranges from 25% - if you decide to do something - to 50% if you plan how you will do it, to 95% if you ‘have a specific accountability appointment’ with an independent person. A writing coach, perhaps?
Being accountable to a coach is powerful. Knowing you’ll have to explain yourself can override your natural instinct for, say, making the family porridge or walking the dog. Imagine how you’ll feel when your coach asks you ‘Where is Chapter 3?’ and you have to reply ‘I haven’t done it.’
According to a 2002 survey, 81% of adult Americans wanted to write a book – and feel they should have done - but only 2% of these did. With your coach’s support, and your commitment, you should be able to join the 2%. At least, if you don’t, with coaching, you’ll understand the reasons why.

2. Organise your working life as a writer
Your working style contributes to the success or failure of your project so you may need to identify the best working style for you. If you hope to be a writer, words – and books – probably suit you. But do you ever feel that you work better with music in the background? Or that people telling you their stories is preferable to spending time in the library with psychological treatises? Or pictures inspire your writing? Different approaches – or a blend of these – may work better for you than keeping office hours at your desk. But, for some writers, office hours work best. Discussions with your coach will help you strategise to optimise your working style
You’ll also benefit from considering life-style issues which can influence your project’s outcome. These include:
Work/Life Balance and relationships
Wellness for writers
De-cluttering your working space and your mind
Time management and productivity
Handling rejection and starting again.
And much more.

3. Identify your training needs and develop writing skills
The important issue may be whether your words on the page say what you want them to say. But publishers aren’t noted for their patience in wading through poor presentation to discover this. You may also lack confidence regarding your grammar, punctuation or your choice of words and, if you do wish to publish, you could need an intensive programme in these skills. With practical exercises and recommendations for further reading, your coach can customise a programme to help you with the nuts and bolts of writing as well as the grander requirements of structure, theme and consistency. Writing training of this calibre will make you a professional.

4. Organise your research
Having too little material is rarely the problem. Having too much is more usual. And, as you move more deeply into the project, the goal-posts may shift. In a novel, for instance, as characters take on their own life, the ensuing structural changes can be seismic. And, during this process of seismic change, your coach will hold your agenda, calm your panic attacks, and help you understand what information from your research the reader needs to know and what information is merely distracting – especially apt for historical fiction writers! Your coach will work with you to develop a flowing chapter block-out – outlining chapter contents and arranging them in the most effective way. This will also be useful when you come to write a synopsis for potential publishers.

5. Motivation – start writing and keep going
Your coach will help you to deepen your commitment to your writing and become aware of those values you hold both as a person and as a writer. You will then understand what motivates you and how you can use this not only to start your writing project but also to keep it going. Writing a novel, for example, is a long haul, possibly using up two years of your life. You need to have the clearest idea of your motivation before you start.
You’ll also avoid procrastination. All working writers have tricks to help them keep writing and minimise displacement activities – such as the washing up. For some, for example, the electricity bill can be a major motivator. But, you may need something more subtle. Work with your coach to find out what motivates you to write and anchor this.
This done, when you wake in the morning, the first thing on your mind will be making use of the insights which came to you in the night. International creativity guru Eric Maisel calls this journey to your workplace from your bed the most important and the most dangerous walk of your day! Distractions abound. But it is also, he says, the walk that gives your life its meaning.

A Word on Writers’ Blocks
More serious than daily displacement activities, the writer’s block can make your project founder. It presents as fear – a rabbit in the headlights moment - in face of the blank page. You may be afraid of starting, of rejection, of the perceived imperfections of your writing, your inadequacies as a writer, even success (and what happens next). Your fears may be a very mixed bag.
A real block may need some effort to remove but the constant support of your coach will help you regain control of your project. And your coach will keep hold of your agenda even when you lose sight of it and be able to suggest strategies such as free writing; or modelling yourself on other blocked writers who’ve successfully moved forward. Or a laser coaching session. Ten minutes on the phone can do the trick!

6. Handle feed-back, edit and re-write
At the end of the first draft, you may feel you’ve done enough. Unfortunately, not. Editing is an essential part of the process and re-writing happens as often as needed to make the manuscript as perfect as possible. There is no escaping this and feed-back is a useful guide. Avoid friends who will just rubber-stamp your brilliance. This is when you need to ask for honest feedback, not just to assess the viability of the project – you should already be convinced of that – but to iron out inconsistency, flag up inaccuracy, and identify absolute nonsense. You may choose whether or not to integrate suggested changes but those who make them are invaluable in your process. Receiving feedback – the when of it, the who of it and the what to do with it now of it – is only the start of the sixth phase.

7. Move on to publication
This is the sharing bit of the process. Communication demands someone to receive what you have to say. None of us works entirely in a vacuum - even though you may feel that writing for yourself alone is enough. Or you may want to be published or broadcast and need the support of a coach to move out of the cocoon of your writing life and into an industry which like any other exists to make a profit.
Your coach will help you when you need to consider:
Preparing your manuscript for submission
Covering letters
Writing a proposal for a publisher or editor
Marketing for writers
Beginning the next book.

Good Luck!
©Lizzie Gates@Lonely Furrow Company 2009

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Book Proposal Workshop!


Presents a Series of 10 weekly workshops on


Facilitated by published writer and writing coach Lizzie Gates, these workshops will help you write a professional book proposal. Whatever your writing project – from self-help book to memoir - you will have the opportunity to look at issues such as titling, chapter block-outs, outlines, marketing options, query letters and much more. At the end of the series you will have a book proposal ready to send out to a publisher.
Cost: £10 per person per workshop (Places restricted to 10)

Come and join us!
Series starts on January 20th 2010
1.00pm - 3.00pm
The Conservatory, Thornthwaite, 28 Park West, Heswall, Wirral, CH60 9JF

Telephone 0151 342 3877 or 0796 961 8890 or email
for further information.

Short Story Workshops




A series of 10 weekly workshops on

The Short Story

Facilitated by professional writer and writing coach Lizzie Gates, these workshops will look at technical issues such as character, plot, theme, setting and style as well as issues such as wellness for writers, time management, managing your creative life, what to do with feedback, competitions and markets and much more!

Cost: £10 per person per workshop

Come and join us!
Series starts Thursday 21st January 2010 7pm - 9pm
The Conservatory, Thornthwaite, 28 Park West, Heswall, Wirral, CH60 9JF

Telephone: 0151 342 3877 or 0796 961 8890 or email for further information

Saturday, 14 November 2009

This week's workshops

Hello, everyone!

This week's workshops - Weds 18th @1pm and Thursday 19th @ 7pm - take 'A Sense of Place' as their theme. Participants are preparing a short piece (poetry, prose, drama) on places that mean something to them. The idea is to evoke the place so vividly that we, the audience, feel we know it and that we know why it means so much to you. A by-product is the craftsman's pleasure in honing and polishing - a different experience from the free-writing we've done so far.

Join us!

Friday, 6 November 2009

Creative Writing Coaching Workshops - success leads to new series!

Creative Writing Coaching Workshops go for a second series!

This Autumn’s Creative Writing Coaching Workshops have been so successful a second series is planned for early 2010.

Starting on Wednesday 20th January, Group 1 will now meet weekly at The Conservatory, 28 Park West, Heswall, Wirral, UK CH60 9JF. As usual, the cost will be £10 per session or £95 per 10 sessions, booked in advance.

Dates for Group 1 second series sessions will be:

January 20th 2010 1pm - 3pm
“ 27th 2010 “
February03rd 2010 “
“ 10th 2010 “
“ 17th 2010 “
Half-term (no class)
March 03rd 2010 “
“ 07th 2010 “
“ 17th 2010 “
“ 24th 2010 “
“ 31st 2010 “

Group 2 will continue fortnightly from January 21st 7 -9 pm at the same venue. The cost again will be £10 per session or £57.00p for a block of six, booked in advance.

Dates for Group 2 second series sessions will be:

January 21st 2010 7pm – 9pm
February04th2010 “
“ 18th2010 “
March 04th2010 “
“ 18th2010 “
April 01st2010 “

As with the Autumn series, each workshop is standalone and participants who miss one of their own chosen groups’ workshops may come to a workshop listed for the other group.

Topics so far have included memoir and autobiography, creative non-fiction, journaling, creative fiction, value systems, goal-setting, characterisation, plotting, scene-setting. In the new series, these will be re-visited with new exercises and approaches. And more topics will be announced on these pages in due course.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

How your values impact on what you write!

As a writer, the search for a value system may not seem relevant to you but it is - and not just ‘relevant’, ‘central’. Even if you’re surprised you have any values, the first step as always is to identify them. Let’s see what comes up.

Go with your first responses to the following questions:
1. Do you have a personal belief/philosophy about writing as a public service? What is this?
2. Who does the written word help? When is writing useful? Where can it help? Why does it help? In what forms can it help?
3. Is there any clash between your personal belief about writing and your writing up to this point? What is this?
4. If someone reads/hears what you’ve written, what do you think they would believe your personal writing belief to be?
5. What do you believe to be OK in writing? What do you believe to be not OK in writing? (NB Is this a matter of your taste or a matter of your values?)
6. How much meaning/significance does writing have in your life?
7. What is the value you attach to yourself as a writer?
8. What sort of writer are you? Commercial, Professional, Hobbyist, writing for personal or professional development?
9. Why do you want to engage with an audience in this way?
10. Do you have any spiritual/ethical guidelines or frameworks which influence the way you write?

By now, you will begin to understand what values currently form the building blocks of your own writing philosophy. None of this relates to technical matters. This is all about the essential ‘you’ as a writer.

Now for an exercise on some moral considerations. In the light of what you've just been thinking about:

1. Write down 10 values you know apply to your writing
2. Prioritise 5
3. Prioritise 3
4. Draw a coat of arms using symbols (animals, shapes, objects, anything which represents your three ‘values’ etc) identifying these three and providing yourself with a motto which over-arches your writing activity. (Search in a Book of Quotations or make up your own)
5. If you’d find it useful, look at this whenever you settle down to a writing session.

A word about fiction writing!

In non-fiction writing, your theme is explored through your knowledge, experience and your value system. But, even more apparent, in fiction, the way your characters explore the situation you have presented them with will reflect your values. Character is plot and your character's reactions result in change but any change described in a story you are writing is the result of your character’s reactions within the thematic framework of your values. This is the true purpose of your writing. Even opposing value systems, as expressed by antagonists, serve this end. You are answering your own questions.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Quality and your journal - how to maintain it.

Controlling the quality of your journal may seem a strange concept. After all, writing it in the first place is supposed to be a freeing experience. You can do what you like on these pages, can’t you?

Well, of course, you can. But some people like to review their journals, checking - weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually – what the writing has achieved. These reviews are optional for some, crucial for others.

For you, wanting to ensure quality may be a central plank in your personal and working style. In Transactional Analysis terms, you are the ‘Be perfect’ journallers. Your motto will be probably be: ‘If I’m going to keep a journal, I’m going to do it well.’

And how will this display itself?
Well, you’ll check your facts and annotate. And you won’t be scribbling on your knee on a bus. You’ll have a designated place for journaling and for keeping your journal. You may also be inclined to give up journaling because your journal doesn’t seem to you to be ‘perfect’.

Take action to avoid this last pitfall by accepting certain general principles:
• Be realistic about how accurate and beautifully presented a journal needs to be.
• Ask yourself whether a spelling mistake matters more than what you’ve written about.
• Tell yourself mistakes are not serious, content is all.
• And review your journaling entries as you do them.

Some people go for the Q&A approach developing a system of personal performance questions to ensure clarity and balance. Your purpose in keeping your journal may be to maintain a record of your feelings, keep an account of the minutiae of your daily life, produce a progress report on your personal development, whatever. And, if you are a perfectionist, you can frame a number of questions to produce what you want from each entry.

If for example your goal for journaling is to produce a progress report on your career, your list of questions may include:

• Has your working day contributed to your progress? In what ways?
• Did you enjoy your day? If not, why not?
• Did you receive a reward for good performance – Money? Praise? Promotion? How do you feel about this?
• Are your relationships good at work? How could you improve the bad ones? Do you want to? What’s good about the good ones? Do you want more of these?
• Have you noticed any areas where you’d like further training? How can you access this? What is the first step? When will you take it?
• How could your employer improve your working life?
• Does the company share your values?

This is a detailed clutch of questions. You may prefer something broader and freer such as:

• Am I any further forward today towards my promotion?
• If not, why not?
• What am I going to do about it?
• If nothing, why nothing?

You may on the other hand prefer ‘free-writing’. At the other end of the quality control continuum is the option of writing without pause for ten minutes each day and checking in at regular periods – weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly - to find out what your sub-conscious contributes to the burning issues of your life. But your favoured quality control measures will always, always depend on your personal style.

©Lizzie Gates 2009

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Other blogs!

For very early blogs, see and my new website-type creative writing blog can be found at . You can also follow me on Twitter: LizzieGates and read my news and blogs on Ecademy, too.

Monday, 19 October 2009

No own goals here!

As the nation gears up to its Christmas sofa-buying frenzy, I thought I and my writing groups – and others – could benefit from a spot of goal setting.
Writing makes our lives meaningful so – in addition to any religious significance Christmas may have – a writing goal set and achieved could be an appropriate anti-dote to the push towards bankruptcy.
So the challenge runs: “What do you want to have achieved by Christmas?”.
What you want to have achieved will vary according to your project. If you’re writing a novel, you could be looking at three chapters. If you’re writing a self-help book, you may want to have worked out a book proposal and/or found a publisher. If you’re hoping to enter a short story competition, that may impose its own deadlines.
Whatever your goal, you can SMARTen it up.
Check it’s specific. Do you have a precise number of words in mind to have written? Will your goal contribute significantly to the overall structure of your project?
Will your achievement be measurable? Three chapters are three chapters. But are you satisfied that you’ve included all the content you needed?
Is your goal achievable? Sometimes enthusiasm makes us less than sensible when judging what we think we can achieve. Do-able chunking is a new(-ish) skill but one worth acquiring. And if Christmas comes and your goal is not achieved, your do-able chunking may require some honing – a resolution for the New Year perhaps.
How realistic is your goal? If the dog’s sick and Granny’s just moved into the spare room and your ‘baby’ son has just gone to big school, is it realistic to expect yourself to have time to sit and write for an hour each day for the next hundred or so days?
And is the time-line good for you? Are you setting yourself up for a fall or would it be worthwhile acknowledging that in 100 days – given the present circumstances – one chapter and a half is probably the most you can hope to commit to paper. That would after all be better than nothing - and potentially 5000 good, useable words towards completion of your overall project.
In case you flounder on the way, it’s also worthwhile checking your motivation is properly in place. What, if any, will be the benefits to you of achieving this goal? We’ve mentioned ‘meaningfulness’. But there’s also solid progress, tangible satisfaction and relief that you can enjoy Christmas without worrying about your sins of omission during its run-up. And, if you don’t achieve your goal, it will still be worthwhile knowing what you’ve learned about goal-setting.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

New Year, new notebook

On January 1st, some people start off the year with a bright new notebook. “This is the year I’m going to write my journal every day,” they think. Then, around January 6th – and, co-incidentally, Epiphany – they find their journaling has ground to a halt. There’s too much to do. They have too little to say. Or so they think.

Here are some tips for this New Year - starting this very day - techniques to get you started and keep you going:
1) The 1-sentence journal. Journal entries don’t have to be literary and can be as detailed or as brief as you like. If you hit a low period, when you might give up, try just a single sentence each day for a week. Longer if necessary. Then see if you can resist the urge to write more.
2) List-making This is a writing form that anyone can manage. Listing cuts to the heart of the matter, changing your thoughts from muddle to order in a matter of moments. At first, your thinking may resemble a flock of sheep on a mountainside – obscured by mist or highlighted by sunshine but with one or other of its members constantly on the move. But, listing is a way of being able to herd thoughts. It’s the starting point of organisation corralling related information under sub-headings. And the nature of lists can range from the practical – such as food journals for dieters – to the metaphysical. On January 1st , for example, in a training needs’ identification exercise, you may list together those qualities and attributes you have away from a little herd of those qualities and attributes you would like to have.
3) Free-writing This will flag up the cause of your difficulties. When you first wake, tap into your sub-conscious and identify the patterns that underlie your thinking by writing non-stop for five minutes. Writing down your dreams has the same function although you may be diverted by a narrative form while you attempt this..
4) A poem a day In times of emotional crisis, writing a poem - in free verse -will take the edge off disabling emotion and help you make sense of it.
5) The first word in your head. Write down the first word in your head and then ask, where next?
6) Dialogues. Use your journal to have imaginary chats with people, work, events, society, dreams, emotions, feelings, body parts, or blockages. This classic journaling technique gives you the opportunity for a conversation good to have but rarely held.
7) Tell stories. Find inspiration for your journalling – from the people in your life, your experiences and overheard conversations. You can write these as a straightforward account or fictionalise them into a story without end as daily or weekly instalments.

As a writer, through journaling, you are practising your craft and will inevitably improve your skills. But, as you see, your journal could also be the counsellor in your pocket – as journalling helps you become someone who knows what’s valuable in your life. At the same time, you’ll be able to cull the valueless. And think much more clearly.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Out of the Box Creative Writing Workshops - Future Dates

Over the weekend, I have added a blog entry regarding guidelines on Constructive Criticism which we developed over the past few days at my Out of the Box Creative Writing Coaching Workshops and hope you'll have time to read it. If you have comments and additions, you can leave them at And for those who expressed an interest in journalling, I have some articles on the topic published at and am also in the process of pulling together a report on the theme.

Future meeting dates we've fixed so far are:
Weds 7th October 1 - 3pm
Thurs 8th October 7 - 9pm
Weds 21st October 1- 3pm
Thurs 22nd October 7 - 9pm
Weds 4th November 1 - 3pm
Thurs 5th November 7 - 9pm
Weds 18th November 1 - 3pm
Thurs 19th November 7 - 9pm

There may also be a Christmas meeting for those interested to be discussed at 18th/19th November meetings

For those of you who are still unsure whether you want to join the group or not, why not come along to one of these sessions and see whether it would be helpful to you. I am also planning some one-session themed workshops in the New Year, such as Web Writing or handling rejection etc. If you are interested in this sort of session - on these or any other writing themes - perhaps you'd let me know and we can assess the level of interest in the topic.

We will grow - probably mostly through word of mouth. So if anyone has a friend or meets someone who says 'Oh, I've always wanted to write', please spread the word about these workshops. If this week's examples are anything to go by, the more the merrier, I say!

Very Early Blog posts.

For very early posts, please see Thank you, Lizzie

Handling Feedback Well!

I don’t much like the term ‘Constructive Criticism’, do you? Apart from the alliterative ‘c’s, it doesn’t sound much fun. But learning to handle feedback can be an integral part of a writer’s growth. And a group session is the ideal scenario to practice. Participants are more disposed to be kind to their fellow writers – having more than a little understanding of the courage it takes to share your writing.

But, why bother? Why put yourself through all this? Because if you ever get as far as publishing your work, your own customised techniques for handling feedback well will save you heart-ache. And, perhaps even more important, unless you’re writing in a vacuum, you want to share your writing. And, this sharing is an essential part of communication. Within a group, you understand at first hand how your words impact on your listener/reader. A gift, indeed!

But earlier experience may make you wary of exposing yourself in this way.

This week, in the Out of the Box Creative Writing Coaching Workshops (CWCWs), we tested out some reasons for this and found our own solution.

The discussion was full and frank. Some participants were resistant to being damned by faint praise. They didn’t want their readings to be met with ‘That’s very good!’ and nothing more. ‘Good’ after all is like ‘very’, nice, and ‘interesting’ – words which on the whole have been so used they have lost all meaning. And these are therefore best avoided by writers.

On the other hand, anyone who feels judgmental enough to come out with ‘That’s the worst piece of writing I’ve ever seen!’ has no place in any of the groups I facilitate.

So having rejected faint praise and savage judgmentalism, where next? We adopted the options of self-critique, followed by group contribution and hints for further development of the piece from me as facilitator. And thanks go to Association for Coaching Northwest Co-ordinator Julia Menaul for the suggestion of this executive coaching tool - which in group was then suitably adapted for writing peer appraisal.

In future, the system we’ll use will be this.
Each person will write for five minutes, producing the equivalent of a first draft – warts and all. He/she will then read his/her piece out loud.

As facilitator, I will then ask what the author dislikes about the piece. This differs from the executive coaching tool, as outlined by Julia. But I always work on the principle that a writer knows full well the failings of his/her work, we need to acknowledge these – without reinforcement from colleagues – and move on.

This done, I will ask the author what he/she likes about the piece. When someone is pleased with what they’ve written – and there’s always something they like – you can hear their confidence rising in the voice as he/she expresses this.

The peer group will listen to both dislikes and likes and will – sometimes even before invited – jump in with positive comments supporting the author’s likes and adding their own. The opportunity exists for negative comment but people tend to favour being positive and helpful.

As facilitator, I can then add my suggestions for different ways of developing the ‘story’ and deeper ways into the piece.

If last week’s group experience is anything to go by, this approach sparks an ever-upward spiral of creativity and enthusiasm. And we avoid a potentially dismal session of criticism.

The system is:
• Write freely as inspired
• Read aloud
• Consider what you dislike about your piece
• Consider what you like
• Listen to the suggestions of others.
• Make decisions as to which of these you will take on board and which you will reject. This is your artistic choice.

Disliking the term ‘constructive criticism’, as I do, I prefer ‘Helpful commentary’. Any other suggestions?

Monday, 7 September 2009

What to do with your journal

What you do with your journal depends on many things.

You may be using the materials for personal development - to understand yourself better through the objective recording of your story.

However, your journal is also a unique resource for your fiction writing. In it, you can record stories drawn from life – your own and other people’s. You can write down conversations overheard on public transport, in the pub, at the doctor’s surgery. And you can turn all this into a story without end. You can write this in daily or weekly instalments until it grows into a volume of anecdotes with its own themes and enhance these with images, cartoons, objects such as discarded tablet packets or sea-shells – whatever.

From either of these kinds of journal you have ideas and notes which will make your fiction and your autobiographical non-fiction authentic. And this will mark out your writing’s unique selling point - its individual ‘voice’.

When you come to review your materials, of course, several issues become significant.

OK. So you’ve had an interesting life; your journals are waiting to be mined for information; your family and friends are clamouring for ‘the book’. What next?

Autobiography is now an industry and – as with any other kind of writing – certain rules underpin success. Even if you are thinking of self-publication, consideration of these can make all the difference between a book people want to read and a book that stands neglected on the shelf.

Your reader – the audience – is as ever in pole position. Who are you telling your story to? This will dictate what words and expressions you employ. Would you, for example, want your mother to read what you write for your friends?

And then, there’s the thorny issue of what you include and what you leave out.

The trick lies in the vexed issue of goal-setting. A recent visit to a writers’ group left me convinced that not one among the seven people who read their ‘stuff’ out had the least idea about goal-setting, either for their literary career or for their individual project. Planning for this group was anathema and so was review. People wrote what came into their heads with no idea of where to go with it. The resulting prose excerpts were shapeless, unstructured and cliché-ridden. Their material was raw beyond belief - although not irretrievable. And their goal, if any, was to enjoy their writing. So – in that sense – they had achieved one goal. But they still hoped that publication would happen.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Book proposals – seven elements necessary for success!

Write a good book proposal and your task to produce a good book is well under way. Like any other creative endeavour, the ground work is crucial and makes the ultimate task – writing, embroidery, project management – easier. In the case of writing, a book proposal reduces the task to do-able chunks. So let’s get down to the spade work.

The seven elements of your proposal are:

1. An overview of your ‘product’ – yes, publishers do call books ‘products’ these days – and why it’s a must-have.

2. A Marketing Bit indicating
a. How the unique features of your product will make it stand out from others on offer
b. Target audience – who will want to read this ‘product’ and in what numbers?
c. Where will they buy it?
d. And what you are prepared to do to promote it.
e. Enclosures – newspaper cuttings (relevance and timeliness)

3. Publishing data:
a. When will it be ready?
b. How long will it be?
c. Non-textual information (graphics, charts etc)

4. About you and why you? Include your reviews, your credentials, anything which indicates why you should write this book.

5. Sample Chapter (although for some publishers, published articles provide your bona fides relating to ability to write or your expertise.)

6. Table of Proposed Contents – including where appropriate sections on acknowledgements, resources and index.

7. A detailed Outline – written in continuous prose (for example the plot-line of a novel) or chapter block-outs for a non-fiction works such as an autobiography or a how-to book.

This will clarify your mind and provide your potential publisher with a reason to publish.

Book Proposals - what can they do for you?

Writing a successful book proposal is the real trick. Publishers have no reason to publish your book. But this is how you persuade them that they have. You’re also providing him or her with a crib sheet for when he has to talk to the accountants and the sales department that run his firm and the booksellers whose shelves he’s competing for. A publisher’s life is not an easy one and your task when you send in your proposal is to smooth his way. It is after all on your behalf.

But you – in your role as writer – will also benefit hugely from sitting down and seriously working out what to include. Let’s face it. From the mountains of material you have inside your head for this book, your readers – and therefore by definition, your publisher - will only want to take away what relates to them.

So firstly the book proposal will help you to clarify your own goals and objectives. You’ll have to reduce the whole concept to a few sentences – but oh, how carefully chosen. These sentences will encapsulate the ‘book’’s most important ideas and elements and persuade the publisher that these are new and interesting enough for him to spend time on.

Another advantage of writing a proposal is that you’ll become aware of the weak spots in your material. These may be the areas where you need to do more research. Or it may be the areas you need to beef up which relate to marketing - because the proposal is a marketing document and you are both author and marketing manager.

If you are – at this point – throwing up your hands in horror that you, an artistic soul, must stoop to involving yourself in commerce, remember the electricity bill. Oft-quoted even by accountants, American poet Louis Untermeyer said: “Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always write for money.”

According to the Society of Authors, authors must now be prepared to sell their books. If this means book signings, public readings, appearances on radio and television, you have to be prepared to do it. And the publisher will expect to be told of your willingness to embrace marketing methods of this sort in your proposal.

You will also have to provide him with a clear idea of where your book will sit in the market and when the manuscript will be sitting on his desk.

To answer these questions, some authors rely on Amazon placings. But, I recommend my clients take themselves to a bookshop and browse among similar books getting a feel for the kind of book they may produce – its length, its style, the questions its audience will want to know the answers to. Two major advantages will follow from this research method. Firstly, you will find an anchor for your motivation (and this will sustain you throughout the writing period). And, secondly, you will find a publisher on the same wave-length as yourself. Which helps!

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Why keep a journal?

For those of us who have been brought up to consider journal-keeping as the preserve of muslin-dressed women with time on their hands, think again. It is not something to be squeezed in between water-colouring and embroidery.

Journalling is a way of listening to yourself. So, in a world constantly exorting you to give your opinion, journalling can be a useful check on what you really think.

Of course, you may like your opinions to be a knee-jerk reaction, a response on the wing. But, if so, are they really your opinions? Are they based on evidence and your own form of expertise? Or are they the half-remembered gobbets of other people’s views. Are they views which you could not defend if challenged? And are they truly what you believe?

If you’re dishonest in your journal, you’re fooling no-one but yourself. In which case, why bother to keep a journal at all? A journal is one place where you can afford to be brutally honest with yourself. Think of the advantages of that!

But someone may read it and make a judgement, you may think. Remember the responsibility of keeping your journal as a ‘safe space’ – away from chance encounters with people you have not permitted to read it – is yours. Totally. You have only yourself to blame if you are careless with its sanctity.

If however you do care for your journal in this way, it rewards you with total confidentiality. It’s like carrying around a counsellor or a coach in your pocket. It has that much power.

Journalling - the route to your inner self

Keeping a journal opens up your inner world with powerful results.

You can, for example, record your dreams on its pages and re-telling dream-stories lifts your waking mood. Breaking your dreams, as the old saying goes. After all, we’ve all woken up – in tears or buoyant with love – with an almost overwhelming desire to tell someone about a dream. At least, if you confide in your dream journal, it won’t tell anyone else. Confidentiality is assured.

But, if patterns of dream imagery recur, your journal may also be warning you of something you need to take seriously but have not yet consciously acknowledged. In this case, your journal will not judge but will help to raise your awareness of some potential danger.

So how – exactly - does form influence the effectiveness of what you write?

Some days, for example, you may want to use your journal to understand – or even to remove – some vivid emotions disturbing your daily life. You may want to hang on to all this emotion or let it go. But, because of the mental energy required, describing it in words is a strong first step towards regaining control of your life.

At this, you may choose to write your journal in the form of a daily poem, exploring the experience through metaphor. Or your journal could become a long-running unsent letter to the person who is generating all this feverish confusion in your life. And – unless you make a conscious decision to share - the person in question need never know. This useful strategy can diffuse bubbling conflicts with your boss. Or keep the lid on a love affair. Or speak to someone who has died leaving you with things unsaid.

Journalling for beginners

Communication usually involves someone saying or writing something to someone else and receiving a response. And, as I’m proposing journaling can have a special role in communication, you may well ask ‘Where is this response?’
Keeping a journal must appear to be a very one-sided form of communication. Journals, however, have multiple purposes and can take many forms. And none of these is ultimately incompatible with the concept of communication. You may also find that – ultimately - keeping a journal even enhances your abilities in this area.

Firstly, you can use your journal as a way of finding out what you really think about something. And you may then ‘practice’ conversations there you’ll later have in daily life. About your career, for instance. In the quiet confidential space of your journal, you can work out the pros and cons of the conversation you want to have with your boss about your readiness for promotion.

Personal relationships are common journal material. In your journal, for example, you could find yourself asking why your husband has suddenly taken on responsibility for buying his secretary’s Christmas present – especially as before, Matilda’s talcum powder had always been just an extra on your own Christmas shopping list. You then have a very private opportunity to work out the answer your own question. And prepare for a conversation you know you must have.

Sometimes it helps to know why you’re keeping a journal. As with any other form of writing, start by defining your purpose or purposes clearly. Do you want to dump emotion, organise a programme of self-improvement or create a resource of stories and characters which will fuel your fiction writing?

Once you’ve established your clear intent in writing this journal – again, as with any other form of writing - you can then choose the form best suited to the purpose. If you want to dump emotion, your journal could take the form of a long unsent letter to the person who is generating all this feverish need to ‘splurge and burn’ in you.

But always remember, your journal exists to give meaning to your life. You are the one who will be empowered by keeping it. It is safe and private. And you can choose to change your purpose in keeping it and adopt different forms, whenever you want. After the catharsis of the unsent letter, for example, you may feel calm enough to itemise your calorie intake for the day. Your mood diary will become a food diary.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Naming the rose?

Names are powerful - so much so that the Yogis say, when you feel you understand who you are, you should choose a name to reflect that knowledge. My name is Elizabeth. This I feel connects me to a long Quaker tradition in my family. But its diminutive, Lizzie, allows me to show my playful, joyous side. It was given me at birth but as my second name. My first was used by teachers and friends and family up until the point at which I realised it wasn't working for me and never had. I still feel a shock if someone uses that one - and some people from my past still do. But my choice is Lizzie or - more formally - Elizabeth.

Similarly, when choosing names for a character, you have to take infinite care. Compare Dickens' use of names with your own. None of his were serendipitous. Gradgrind, Pecksniff, or Agnes, they all conjure images which resonate with the characters he portrays.

And - if you are choosing a nom de plume - make yourself fully aware of the possibilities attached to any name you're considering.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Creative Writing and Health & Well-Being

For centuries, creative writing has been accepted as beneficial to people with emotional problems. Aristotle described the cathartic effect of drama. Shakespeare warned: “Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak/ Whispers the o’er fraught heart and bids it break.” And twentieth century researchers began to seek an evidence base for this - hoping to establish a cornerstone for creative writing therapy.

However some of the findings have surprised even the already-converted. In independent studies, benefits of creative writing have proved certainly emotional and spiritual but also psychological and physical.

Alzheimers’ Disease Patients are regularly offered the opportunity of contact with working poets. They talk. The poets listen. The poets create poems from the patients’ words. The patients read these poems and re-gain, however briefly, their sense of ‘self’. This is also a gift to the people who love them.

But creative writing is also now recognised as a stress-buster, forming part of corporate stress management programmes. A bit left-field, you think? Not so. Engaging in writing down serious autobiographical material can lead – as the Alzheimer Patients find - to an increased sense of self (and self-worth) and a sense of control over one’s life. Insufficient control over the work we are paid to do, for example, has already been identified as a major source of stress in the Health & Safety Executive’s Stress Management Standards.

In the 1990s, author of Opening up and psychologist James Pennebaker identified that meaningful creative writing about autobiographical material (ie not about trivia) resulted in a strengthened immune system and reduced blood pressure. This could help to militate against certain cancers, stroke and heart disease.

And, even arthritis sufferers have been found to need fewer pain-killers when encouraged to engage in creative writing.

How creative writing works is well-documented.

As Julia Cameron indicates in her seminal work, The Artist’s Way, writing is a means of problem solving. She advocated – as all we coaches do – free writing to throw up repeating themes, concerns and even solutions. For example, she explains how Phyllis – a leggy, socialite – had for ten years written nothing but letters and shopping lists. But after starting to free-write – Cameron’s morning pages – she wrote her first poem and has moved on to many more.

It’s now generally accepted, according to Yogic principles, all the thoughts and ideas populating the ‘busy brain’ can keep you awake at night. So, having a journal by the bedside and writing them all down may even help with the insomnia produced. Once these images and issues are ‘out’ of the brain and – in the form of words on the page – become a visible presence, the writer can re-read them later (ie next morning) with a fresh perspective and focus. An empty brain allows you to sleep.

Increased interest in the deployment of the humanities in the practice of medicine and social care has resulted in a whole range of projects, pulled together in the Prospectus for Arts and Health (published by the Arts Council and the Department of Health). For example, funding has been made available for the inclusion of creative writing within a medical humanities model for the medical students of the University of Bristol.

As a well-thumbed source book for my Out of the Box Creativity Workshops – I personally commend Writing Works – a resource handbook for Therapeutic Writing Workshops and activities, published in 2006 by Jessica Kingsley and edited by Gillie Bolton, Victoria Field and Kate Thompson. And In his foreword to this, Blake Morrison expresses the view that this book should be used in schools, colleges, hospitals, prisons, rehab clinics and community centres.

“There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come” said Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables. Creative Writing, of course, has always been powerful.

Your Life, Your Autobiography


Earlier in this series, we have looked at memories as a resource. But why stop at a memory. Would you like to work on your own Life Story? In this you are your own hero/heroine. You could find out the ‘Why’ of you. And another glittering prize – when you embark on this journey – is the production of a resource to answer all those questions your family will suddenly find they’d like an answer to – albeit long after you’ve forgotten most of what you’ve been and what you’ve done.

As a coach, I can almost hear all the unhelpful voices leaping out at you as you’re thinking about this.

Which one’s sitting in your head?
• My life’s been boring
• I was never any good at English
• I’d forget my head if it was loose – never mind recalling all those people and places
• And, where do I start?

Well, the beginning’s always a good place. Researchers such as Joseph Campbell (author of ‘The Hero with a 1000 faces’) and Christopher Booker – both of whom’ve studied human storying in depth - would agree that human beings love stories that have a beginning, a middle and an end. Well, you may not yet have reached the end but you’ll certainly already have lots of material to hand for the beginning of your book.

Here comes another wall of objections. There’s too much. And how do I write my story?

You need to:
• clarify what you want to achieve
• think about how best to do this
• organise your material
• learn to understand your material
• trust yourself.

And remember, you don’t have to do this alone. Lonely Furrow Company is there to help.

Public Lending Rights

Public Lending Rights.

Many Happy Returns to the 1979 Public Lending Right(PLR) Act. We’re celebrating a rather glorious principle this year – namely that the public should be able to borrow books freely from government- funded libraries but the creators of books - ‘lent’ by government -should have a legal right to payment for their ideas, energy and hard work.

The current situation is:
• Not only authors but also illustrators, translators, editors and photographers qualify for payment
• 1400 new authors registered last year for the February 2009 payments (part of a rising trend)
• The current loan rate runs at 5.98p
• 28 countries now have PLR systems
• The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society is the industry watchdog committed to ensuring payment is forthcoming to registered authors
• Registration must be completed by June 30th each year for payment to be made in the following February.

Those of you who have had books published recently and want the Library systems – in the UK or in the European Union Member States - to take them up should:
• Ask the PLR office for a registration form by telephone: 01642 604699
• Visit the website, ,to apply for registration online.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Extending the family.

Yesterday, I heard of a grandmother whose son is behaving badly enough to encourage her daughter-in-law to leave. The son's mother is now faced with the fact that grandparents have no clear-cut rights to access their grandchildren. And, twenty years on, this sends a chill down my spine.

When my former husband was behaving badly enough to need divorcing, I made the decision to continue to include my mother-in-law in the family loop. Although she had little time for me, she loved the children absolutely and I felt that to cut off the whole of 'his' family would have been to give my children the sense that 'half' of them was hateful to me. It wasn't. So they grew up - in the company of an extended family from both sides - totally aware of what unconditional love means. I'm glad I did. We were enriched by the support.

Currently, grandparents are still having to wait and see - although courts are coming round to a more sympathetic view of their cases. So I advise keeping things as informal as possible with the parent in charge of the children's timetables. The trick is to communicate directly and non-judgementally - very important - your desire to remain part of the children's lives.

But, if the parent in charge seems to want to be difficult, take early legal advice so you can understand your options and avoid making a delicate situation worse.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Write a road-map for 2009!

However bad the Old Year – and for some of us 2008 was grim - New Year’s Day dawns and the spirits lift because New Year holds infinite possibility. It’s a time when we believe we can choose what we’ll write on the blank page of the year before us. We dare to hope for better.

For writers, this could mean the Year of Publication. Why should this be important enough to feature? Well, we’re not writing in a vacuum. We want someone, somewhere, to share what we put on the page and, as a result, to understand us better. That’s why we put so much effort into ploughing what can, at times, seem a lonely furrow!

But how can you make 2009 the Year of Publication?

Some writers start the New Year bristling with diaries, ‘road maps’ and post-it notes – lending a writing project the air of a military offensive. If you favour this style – and many do - your writing goals may benefit from the strong-minded application of management principles.

The SMART formula is currently popular. Begin by asking yourself:

1) Is my writing goal Specific? (What form(s) of writing do I want to work on? A novel? A radio play? The ultimate letter of complaint? )
2) How will I Measure my success? (Will I, for example, hold my published book in my hand by the second August Bank Holiday?)
3) Am I Able to produce this piece of writing? (Or do I need more training?)
4) Is this piece of writing Relevant to what I am and what I want from my life in 2009? (And does writing mesh well with my other hopes and aspirations at this time?)
5) What is my Time-line for this goal? (Deadlines work wonders for some.)

And, once you’ve shaped your 2009 writing goal, you have then consciously to commit to the process. Here the GROW model, taken from management, can act as a facilitating pattern - perhaps for a coaching session.

In this, you discover:

What is your Goal for 2009?
What is REALLY going on for you at the moment?
What OPTIONS have you?
Do you have the WILL to achieve your goal?

According to American Society of Training and Development, conscious commitment enhances your chances of success. And the probability of success, they say, ranges from 25% - if you decide to do something - to 50% if you plan how you will do it, to 95% if you ‘have a specific accountability appointment’ with an independent person. Sounds like another argument for coaching to me!

But keeping yourself on track – particularly during the long haul of writing a book - may take a little bit more magic. We all need a trick or two to overcome wobbles of confidence or energy. And some of these may be more hi-tech than others.

For instance, to inspire himself, one writer – admittedly a computer buff - created a mock-up of ‘the book’. Strongly responsive to the visual, he took special care over the choice of cover picture. And it works for him.

But, you don’t have to go to these lengths.

Take yourself to a book shop and indulge in a browse. Find the book which - in appearance, texture and smell – is closest to what you’d like your finished book to be. This is an image of your future success. You can now refer to it, giving yourself heart whenever your writing project hits the doldrums. Cherish your ‘book’. In NLP terms, anchor it.

Goal-setting may make you feel confident that 2009 will indeed be your Year of Publication. Thinking about cover pictures may sustain you through the first few weeks of the New Year. But later you may hit a seriously low patch. And - somewhere around the time when Hogmanay has paled in memory and the publication date of August Bank Holiday seems chimaeric – you may need a kick-start.

Now is the time to be bold. If you usually write articles on financial services, throw caution to the wind and write a poem. If you’ve been writing your novel through the eyes of the handsome hero, switch the viewpoint to that of an elderly aunt on a visit. Even if you don’t stay with it, the new perspective will refresh you.

Of course, you could choose not make any New Year resolutions at all - writing or otherwise. This approach has a New Age serendipity about it and seems - if nothing else - peaceful. Think of all that time, that release from pressure. . . But, there again . . .
Good luck with your project!