Creative Writing for health, well-being and fun!

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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!