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Saturday, 19 March 2011

Writing with confidence

For me, as a writing coach, one of the most revealing questions directed to an agent and listed – among many - in Harry Bingham’s Getting Published (A & C Black 2010) is:

Are you taking on me or my book?

You need to know it's you. That would mean they are on your side, they believe in you, they’re going to work for you, they have not assumed you are a one-trick pony.This will do wonders for your confidence as a writer. And the confidence to say ‘I am a writer’ is an elusive quality among the unpublished but hopeful.

This of course is a nonsense. Publication in itself is not proof of writing talent. It is, it’s true, a form of external evaluation and accreditation. But - like many of the people sitting in my workshops – many hopefuls could in truth and in confidence make the statement ‘I am a writer’.

But they don’t.

Word Choice

A glance at any local paper throws up a fine crop of furious residents and heart-broken pensioners. Avoid such clichés. Journalists use clichés for speed - and sometimes out of laziness. Either way, the words and images have been used so often that - in comparison with their former vibrant selves - they are milksops. This is the writing equivalent of crying ‘Wolf!’ And you’re better than that.

Writing Game

  • Read something published.
  • Underline the clichés.
  • Find words, phrases, imagery which you judge more vivid and apt – making the piece in your view a superior version of the published work
  • Take a piece of your own writing and do the same.

On the other hand, educating the editor is not your job, either. The editor represents the reader and the standard of English he promotes is on a par with the standard of English of the readership. He/She may have favourite words. An editor of a national magazine was once hooked on the word, 'clement', and this produced, as George Orwell would have said, some ‘barbarous’ prose. But it is not your place in life to correct busy people.

You may however permit yourself the occasional flight of fancy. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo author Stieg Larsson’s translator Reg Keeland uses the word, Gallimaufrey, to mean medley. Originally meaning a hash of odds and ends of food (see OUP, The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary), the word is rarely used in spoken English today. Hmm, sad. And would you be the one to tell him?

Writing Game

  • Read a good dictionary
  • Find seven new words of the calibre of gallimaufrey– as quaint, archaic, poetic, tuneful . . .
  • Try to introduce one of these into your conversation as often as possible, each day for a week.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Storying and Plotting - what's the difference?

We all love stories. And story-telling is a uniquely human skill. It’s unlikely that a flock of birds, for example, would spend their time telling ‘sad stories of the death of kings’, as Shakespeare, a master story-teller, put it. Unless of course, these birds are descendants of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull. But then, that would be another story. You see how it goes.

Stories allow readers to understand other viewpoints in other worlds – ranging from other people’s minds to other people’s cultures. There has been a growth, for example, in novels which explain a Muslim viewpoint – Sebastian Faulks’ A week in December or A Thousand Splendid Suns by Afghan author Khaled Hosseini. These novels are best sellers because people want to understand the Muslim point of view and these novels seem to help.

Readers achieve this understanding because they engage with the novel’s story. Put simply, we as readers enter the dream world of the novel and we learn what that world and those people are all about. And, as writers, to engage them - to take them by the hand and across the threshold - we use plot and structure.

Writing game:

  1. Choose one of your favourite books
  2. Which character do you like best and why?
  3. What is the problem or conflict your hero/heroine has to deal with?
  4. What is the most important moment in the story for you?
  5. Are you happy or unhappy about the way the story ends?

If you repeat this with several novels, you’ll begin to understand why these are your favourites.

Freelance Journalism - Interview Skills Workshop

Do you think you may need to interview someone for an article you’re writing?

Or do you think you may be interviewed because of your work?

Either way, would you like to feel better prepared?

Come along to this workshop when Elizabeth Gates MA – with a freelance journalism career spanning 25 years –

will let you into the secrets of interviewing and being interviewed so you feel more competent and confident in this basic journalistic skill.

Date & Times: May 18th 2011 1.30pm – 4.00pm

Place: The Conservatory, 28 Park West, Heswall, Wirral, CH60 9JF

Cost: £25.00p per participant (£5 non-returnable Deposit)

For further information or to book please contact Elizabeth on 0151 342 3877 or email her at