Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Let's All Have a Short Day

It is a little know fact that this Thursday may possibly be my most looked forward to day of the year. Like many, I do not do well in the winter months, it's cold and miserable and more often than not so am I, which is why I anticipate so highly the shortest day of the year, knowing it just gets better from here on in.

And it turns out my rather random seasonal logic is not the only reason to celebrate Winter Solstice (drum roll please)-

Thursday 22nd December is also National Short Story Day- a UK-wide celebration of prose’s short-yet-perfectly-crafted form.

Short stories often lack the recognition they deserve so what better time to give them your attention. A collection I highly recommend is Brace published by Comma Press.
To find out more about National Short Story Day, the short story format and to listen to some great short story example visit the website here.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Out of the Wilderness

Should I even mention that this is my first in four months or is it better that I somehow swiftly detour past that minor fact??
And the reasons? Many many reasons- emotional crisis, life crisis, creative crisis, other random crisis...
The point is I have somehow today, in the month before it can be claimed to be a doomed new year's resolution, put my fingers to the act of typing a blog, a long overdue blog it may be but let's just put that down to the occasional creative wilderness we all sufferer. If you do not have this problem then I envy you and ask you to please share with me your secret.
There is a large part of me that wants to dismiss the idea of writers block and I have heard it said by other obviously admirable, hardworking and somewhat superhuman writers that having writers block is just not an option. If you want to write you write, sitting and waiting for the muse really should not be an option- and on a good day I nod enthusiastically at those words, on a bad day I am more likely to scurry away and hide.
I find myself a regular visitor to the creative barren but I do have a few methods to somehow pull me out of it and one of the most successful to me and the one that has brought on this blog is my Writers' Group. I urge every writer to join a writers' group (unless the only writers' group in your area happens to be a bad one, in that case it's better to go without maybe).
My group, Words Out West, meet on the last Wednesday of the month and no matter how my writing has been in the month previous- productive, nil or dire- I always leave with new ideas and more often than not it pulls me out of a 'writing hole'.
So when was the last time you found yourself in the creative wilderness and how did you find your way out of it?

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Seven Big Fears: Being Too Old

The sixth of the seven big writing fears is of being too old to write and, I will be honest from the start, this is not a fear I personally suffer from but I can understand where it stems from.

Like most of the other fears it has its basis in the realms of self-doubt and it is always the fear that is debilitating rather than the actual circumstances. Unfortunately there is a culture in this society that once you are of a certain age you lose your capabilities and, although that may be how some of society views things, that by no means should be how you view it.

Ironically to counter the thought that you may be too old to writer there are many reasons why being older actually makes you more suited to writing:

  • You have a much more experience you are able to draw on for inspiration
  • If you have been writing for some time then it is likely that you will have been able to improve your writing skill
  • If you are now retired you will no longer have the time constraints work will have involved
  • Finally, it is a sad truth, no matter how lovely they are children are one of the biggest hindrance to finding time to write and by this point children will be all grown up

Think about it logically, no one would ever say that you are too old to paint and it is no different with writing. If it is the opinions of other that you are worried about then just remember your age as a published writer can be good marketing point.

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Seven Big Fears: Having Only One Book In You

Many readers, and myself also, are too far off getting the first book done to even contemplate this particular writing fear but the fear that you only have the one book in you is actually a common writing fear and it can stop your progress before you have even completed that first book!
This in some ways is similar to the fear of success. It is fearing a situation that is not necessarily inevitable, you have to get that first book written for it to have any substance, but then if this is a strong imposing fear than that is perhaps exactly the reason that first book is not getting written. As long as the first book remains unwritten it is not a fear you will have to face and herein lies the problem.
As with many fears it is beneficial to localise the situation and address what it is you actually fear. It is highly likely your fear is as a result of a low-opinion of your work and you have perhaps surprised yourself with your first piece- great- but now you have to follow it up. It is helpful to remember that writing is a learning process and you are always growing so why would your future work be of any poorer quality?
A good comparison is to musicians. Many artists that have a great debut are under immense pressure to produce a follow up that is not just as good but better. Unfortunately it is a fact of life that this is just not always possible and it is not necessarily a measure of the artist (or writer), it can be a result of market changes, new competition or the artist has taken a different direction that is not as well-liked.
As I have said it is important to remember why you write in the first place and if you focus on the writing itself everything else should fall into place.
On a final note many writers, JD Salinger for example, have only ever had one book published and still been immensely successful.

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Seven Big Fears: Revealing Too Much

We are naturally private as humans, liking to create a comfortable level of knowledge around us and only ever revealing certain aspects of our life and experiences to selected members of friends and family. Writing however creates a fundamental problem in how much we expose ourselves within our work.

Even in writing non-fiction you quite possibly will be revealing some of yourself within the work either by opinion of by recalling of your own experience within the field. It is inevitable then that one of the big writing fears is that of revealing too much.

There are positives and negatives to revealing yourself in your writing. As a disadvantage it does make any criticism feel more personal but the big positive is that it can allow you to better engage with your readers. If the reader is able to access a sort of genuine emotion in a piece they can relate to it makes your work all the more enjoyable to read.

When dealing with this fear remember that, unless you intend to write strictly neutral non-fiction, it is a necessary part of writing and that without it your work is in danger of sounding dull and artificial. When it comes to the question of too much do look at the consequences of what you are writing, who it may upset and if it can perhaps be amended to make it more suitable.

Whether you reveal yourself in your work or not you will always be vulnerable to criticism and as a writer that is unavoidable. The key I think when putting yourself into your work is to reveal as much as you are comfortable with provided it adds to the work and does not put you at risk of a libel suit.

If you are unsure about libel law you can find some useful information on writers services.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Seven Big Fears: Success

Of all the seven big writing fears, the fear of success is the one that I have found most difficult to reflect on.

Like the majority of writers I dream of success and become fixated on visualising what success could bring- book signings, letters from readers and a three book deal! I wish I could say in total honesty I write because I want to write and for the love of writing but it is more than that. I want to be successful at it.

So how can success become the object of fear for a writer and is it something that you fear? This fear is often more about the consequences that success might bring such as the effects on relationships and demands on lifestyle.

Although focusing on the future consequences of writing can be encouraging and motivating, as with the fear of failure, it can also cause unnecessary and negative pressure even when looking at it from the perspective of success.
The one piece of advise I would give is to focus on the now. Remember why you love writing in the first place. Besides anything else it may help your word count!

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Seven Big Fears: Not Being Good Enough

In the last blog post I explored the common fear of rejection that afflicts most writers and can, in many instances, prevent a writer from continuing. In this blog I explore the fear that what you produce may simply not be good enough.

This sort of fear of inadequacy does not just afflict writers, most of us as humans suffer some sort of low self-esteem in an area of our lives. It is the part of us that makes us humble and modest but it can become crippling when the fear is so overpowering it prevents us from actually producing what we fear will be inferior in the first place.

You are a Normal Human
I think in tackling a fear of inadequacy you first need to realise that your fear is more than likely not actually related to the writing you are producing. It is actually a normal human fear that can be applied to every part of our lives from relationships to the day job. Most likely the reason it is so prevalent in your writing is because it is one of the most personal aspects to your life and probably, as a result, the area in which you feel most vulnerable to criticism.

Write for Yourself
If it is this fear of some sort of judgement or criticism that is making writing difficult then write as if you are only writing for yourself. Some writing books do advise you write with your audience in mind but if doing this is actually proving counter-productive because you fear their judgement then writing for only yourself makes more sense. It is at the editing stage and once all the initial words are on the page that you can put your critical head on.

No Such Thing as Perfection
There will always be aspects in your writing that might make you cringe a little or wish you could do better but writing without that sort of humanity would be dull. Self-criticism is important but try as much as possible to put it on a shelf during the first draft, it is during the editing process that you can bring it back out again and make your piece shine.

Above everything else remember why you write in the first place.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Seven Big Fears: Rejection

Rejection is the writer's enemy and a number one fear and it is an unavoidable one, even the most experienced and successful writers suffer rejections. Lord of the Flies was rejected 20 times before being published and Agatha Christie did not get published for four years.

Rejection is unfortunately part of being a writer and, although it does get easier, it still gives a pang of pain when the rejection slip arrives but there are methods to help you tackle what can be a debilitating worry.

1. Don't take it personally- a piece can be rejected for numerous reasons and it is not necessarily due to the quality of the work. It may be that a similar piece has already been accepted. If the rejection does give any feedback this is valuable and worth considering.

2. Once you have submitted a piece get working on the next- otherwise you may feel you have everything invested in the one you have submitted.

3. Try not to send too many submissions out at once- no matter how confident you are it can be crushing if you are unlucky enough to have a lot of rejections land within a week.

Most importantly accept that rejection will happen, once you accept this it should help you worry about it less and realise it is nothing personal. Never let a fear of rejection stop you from writing.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The Seven Big Fears

Money, time and competition are just some of the obstacles would-be writers have to overcome in order to make any sort of progress in their writing career but the most debilitating aspect is usually the writer themselves.

'Your Writing Coach' by Jurgen Wolff also makes this point stating that the number one obstacle on your road to success is you. It's a hard opening statement but one that is often ignored in a world of numerous creative writing course and writing guides. There are huge parts of becoming a successful writer that are somewhat beyond our control, such as market fluctuations and whether a prospective publisher is in a good mood the day he reads your manuscript, but what we write and they way we write it are not.

Jurgen Wolff explains in Chapter One that the obstacles we give ourselves stem from a fears which he calls The Seven Big Fears:

  • The fear of rejection

  • The fear that it won't be good enough

  • The fear of success

  • The fear of revealing too much

  • The fear that you have only one book in you

  • The fear that you're too old

  • The fear of being overwhelmed by research

Do you recognise some of them in you? I was immediately able to identify with three of them. All writers encounter fears at some point, we would not be human if we did not, but what is important is how we overcome them and not allow them to hinder what we do.

I will be doing seven follow-up blogs on this exploring each of the fears and how they effect writers as well as how they can be overcome.

'Your Writing Coach' by Jurgen Wolff is now available to buy on Amazon.

Saturday, 30 April 2011


This weekend I thought I had discovered the answer to my prayers, a perfect method to develop my novel's plot and characters and it could all be done without losing out on sleep. Reading the current issue of Mslexia I came across Clare Jay's article on Dreamwriting where 'Clare Jay explores a new route to inspiration'.

I have always had vivid dreams that I can remember clearly so the idea of dreamwriting sounded ideal. What Clare describes is using lucid dreaming, whereby the dreamer is aware they are within a dream, in order to explore how a scene might plan out for example, somewhat like a movie director. At was at this point in the article I began to have a little less enthusiasm for the idea. It seemed like an awful lot of thinking to be done at I time I am supposed to be resting.

Clare later goes on to explain how elements of dreams have prompted ideas and it turns out she is not just one of these airy fairy types but she actually has a PhD on the subject! Again, my interest was peaked. Being creative whilst dreaming might not be that restful but it could be a whole area of my life I am failing to tap into and use even if it is only at infrequent intervals.

On the basis of this new tool of creativity I have since made efforts to explore some lucid dreaming but it has not worked. I go to bed thinking that I need to become aware I am dreaming but nothing. I had assumed, dreaming as much as I do normally, this would have come naturally to me, however, up until now my new plan to write while sleeping (it did sound too good to be true) has yet to succeed.

If anyone has had success with lucid dreaming or any tips of how to do this and use it creatively please let me know.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Where to Begin?

For some time now I have had the germ of an idea niggling away at the back of my mind, waiting to begin building towards a novel. It is something I do feel passionate about, which should help, but how does the inexperienced novelist develop that niggling germ into a full-blown manuscript.

It is not just a question of 'to plot or not to plot', but where is the initial focus of development, character or plot? It is like the chicken and the egg question. Character and plot both develop one another.

It is a question I recently asked on Talkback, the popular forum on the Writers' News website, and the most common response I had from the forum was 'it depends'. That does not sound particularly helpful but the more I have looked into it the more that does seems to be the case. Will the story be plot or character driven? In many cases this is also dependent on the genre.

You may accuse me of sitting on the fence but personally I think it is beneficial to work with them both together to some capacity, focusing on either the plot or the character too much and neglecting the other may mean that you have either a weak plot of unbelievable characters. Beginning at the first hurdle you need some sort of spark of an idea to begin with, there needs to be some focus to work around that can hold it together and from there the plot and character can be built upon.

My plan for the time being is to carry out some research in the area that the novel is focused upon, this will not only fill in some gaps of factual knowledge, but should also assist in where I decide to take my characters and plot. Maybe that is the best place to start after all, before digging into plot and character, carrying out some basic research is possibly the best way to give everything a kick start. It is the method I will be trying for the time being so I will report back on how this develops.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Talking Writer's Bottom with Jane Wenham-Jones

On Tuesday I had the pleasure of conducting a lovely interview with Jane Wenham-Jones, writer of One Glass is Never Enough, Perfect Alibis and writing guides Wannabe a Writer and Wannabe a Writer We've Heard Of.

I have carried out interviews before but, for convenience, these have always been by email meaning this was my first ever telephone interview and prior to it I was extremely nervous. My method for dealing with this was to put up post-it note prompts for how I can lead from questions, as well as post notes with 'calm, calm, calm' written on them, just incase I forgot.

Jane was lovely to talk to, very relaxed and pleasant, and this made the whole experience much easier and enjoyable. She gave thorough and insightful answers and took the courtesy to ask about my own writing.

Now, the biggest difference between an email interview and a telephone interview is the recording of it. Emails are easy, the answers are written by the interviewee and it is mainly a case of copying and pasting. With a telephone interview, unless you have a fancy recording device, it involves a lot of note-making, which is easier if you can write short-hand, which I can't. Jane was very helpful in this when she realised I was making notes and did offer to help me out via email if I struggle writing up from my notes.

I would suggest to anyone carrying out an interview via the above method to write up any notes immediately afterwards, it can be extremely difficult to read scribbled notes and once time as passed the interview will be more difficult to recall. I made a point of writing everything I could recall and had noted immediately after the interview and simply edited later.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

In The Book Show Audience

I am pleased to announce this weekend has been enjoyable and productive, and one of the key moments has been attending a filming of The Sky Arts Book Show at the Words by the Water festival in Keswick.

The festival is an annual event ran by Ways With Words. This year it has been sponsored by Sky Arts, which is good news in the growth of the festival and its publicity, and Saturday was the filming of two episodes of The Book Show featuring writers attending the Words by the Water festival.

I attended the second filming at 12.10pm featuring Chris Mullin, Salley Vickers and Manju Kapur. Based on Mariella Frostup's comments this was the plan of most attendees and the morning filming was much quieter. It would seem we are late-risers here in Cumbria, Mariella's hotel couldn't even provide her with a 6.30am wake-up call.

I have never been at a television filming before so it was fascinating watching the switch between different cameras and participating in prompted clapping. One thing I did however find strange, was attending an event where the presenter speaks to a camera rather than the audience.

The first guest was Salley Vickers who spoke about her latest book Aphrodite's Hat and who's earlier book Miss Garnet's Angel has sold over 350,000 copies. Salley gave insight into where the idea from Aphrodite's Hat came from and how she rebelled from her upbringing. Manju Kapur's ideas also come from her upbringing and are heavily influenced by her Indian heritage. Her latest book Custody centres on a couple as there relationship falls apart and a custody battle ensues.

The final guest was former MP Chris Mullin, who added humour to the line-up and spoke about the frequent departmental changes under the Labour government, the problems in Libya and the political memoirs of other MPs.

Attending the filming, as is often the case when I see other such events, has also given me a sense of inspiration and enthusiasm. I'm also looking forward to seeing the airing of The Book Show and trying to spot myself in the audience.

The Book Show is on Sky Arts 1 Thursdays at 7pm.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Virgin on the Airwaves

It is an enlightening moment when you first hear your own voice on the radio and, unless you are overflowing with self-confidence, I can pretty much guarantee you will hate it.

There is a definite argument to be made that what we hear of our own voice differs vastly from what everyone else hears. It would explain why so many people auditioning for the X Factor believe they are amazing only for the cringing public to have to suffer through a terrible performance before the judges promptly dismiss them.

This week I am on Radio Cumbria for the Little Cumbria slot. I actually missed my debut this morning and it was an email from a friend that alerted me (thanks Nick). Catching the drive-time repeat I could not help but feel excited on hearing myself introduced as 'Emma Bragg- a writer from Whitehaven'.

Unfortunately the reality when I did hear myself recounting the arrival of my little sister was one of confusion. To me, it did not even sound like me. For a start I sounded a lot posher than I expected, secondly it was horribly monotone!

On the positive it is exciting knowing my voice is being promoted across the airwaves. Maybe promoted is not the best description, but it is getting out there and there is no harm in that as good preparation for when I am a best-selling author and in high demand on Radio 4.

You can hear my first attempt at radio on listen again here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/p00dfs4s/ and I'll be on Radio Cumbria for the rest of the week at 9.40am with a repeat at about 5.40pm incase you miss it.

A big thank you to everyone who will make the effort to listen.

(a former radio virgin)
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Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Competition of the Month: Onward Short Story and Poetry Competition

The Onward Short Story & Poetry Competition is aimed at raising funds to restore the endangered Theatre Royal Hyde, an Edwardian gem that dates back to 1910.

Although winning the competition will not sound as good on your writing CV as say the 'Bridport Prize' the winner does get a small prize plus critique and profits go towards saving Theatre Royal Hyde so it is a good cause too.

The competition is looking for stories of up to 1,200 words and poems of up to 40 lines are required on any theme.

Closing: 28.2.11.
Prizes: £50, £30, £20. Plus critiques
Entry Fee: £3 each, £5 for two.

To find out more about The Onward Short Story & Poetry Competition including full entry details and rules visit the website here.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Wanna Be a Writer We've Heard Of?

Over the past week I have been absorbing a wealth of information from Jane Wenham-Jone's latest writing guide 'Wanna Be a Writer We've Heard Of?'. The follow up to the popular and humorous 'Wanna Be a Writer?', it focuses on self-promotion after publication, an aspect of being a writer many find the most difficult.

From her own experience, and as a self-confessed 'media-tart', Jane gives her readers advice on how to raise their profile with talks and articles and the best methods in how to do this.

Various contributions have been made to the book from PR experts and other writers, such as Jill Mansell, giving the reader a wide spectrum of expertise with areas covered including the launch party, networking and book signings.

Even as an unpublished writer I have found the book helpful, instilling information and advice within me that I hope to be of some use in the near future when I AM published. More than this it inspires me to get published so I can have that amazing launch party and become good friends with my local book store.