Monday, 20 September 2010

Alan Plater

I watched Alan Plater's last play, Joe Maddison's War, on television last night.

It had all of his trademark quirkiness and compassionate observation.  We've owned the Beiderbecke Trilogy for years and return to it whenever we want something that offers a sense of the ridiculous and wonderful characters.

This week my sister and I are making our annual visit to Scarborough for the jazz festival.  I never had the privilege of talking to Alan Plater but I saw him in action at Scarborough a couple of times.narrating tales of unsung heroes of jazz with his usual humour and passion.

His recent death robs us of a superb writer and we'll be the worse for not having his wry humour to draw on.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Di Slaney - 'sME Poetry Collection

Had a wonderful surprise in the post this morning.  Di Slaney has sent me a copy of the poetry collection I reviewed for her.  Looks wonderful- Black with gold lettering.  Just what you'd expect from a successful graphic designer.

If you're interested in more details about the collection email

If you want to read my thoughts and Di's about the collection see

She very kindly acknowledges my help and more important the help of Jenny at Candlestick Press who I've mentioned before in the Writer's Little Book blog.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Writing business: how it grows and changes

I set this blog up earlier in the year to have a place for longer posts rather than the short punchy entries I make in Writer's Little Book blog.

Now I'm changing the way I do things and it set me thinking how my business is changing.

Like any small business, when you start it's a temptation to take any work because you need the income.  Sometimes that leads you to disaster if the client is wrong for you or they don't appreciate what you do. 

I was lucky that I attracted some great clients right from the word go.  But even then there's a change in the way you view them.  Like many writers I prefer to have a mixture of what I'd call bread and butter work and the more challenging projects.

Eventually it's the challenging projects that provide more growth and development as a writer but they can take your business in a different direction from what you'd expected.  When I first started I thought I'd be writing a lot of sales letters.  Which didn't happen but I did work on many websites which are themselves a form of sales letter. 

Then I was asked about books.  Helping people write them that is... which put me in a bit of a panic because I'd never done it before.  But I reasoned that I hadn't done a lot of other things before so it could be learned.

Having brought my first book project to a successful conclusion, it whetted my appetite for more.  And I found myself being asked by more people about writing books.  How you do it, how you start, how you stop and how to get over those writer's blocks we all fear.

What I love is to help someone take action and create something that had only sat in their imagination before.  Of course we'd all love an instant best seller, but it often doesn't happen like that.  But I do believe the mere action of putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard kicks off a process that can lead to all kinds of things beyond the act of writing.

So my business has changed and is changing.  I'm emphasing what I can do to help writers.  Next month I'll have a new website that will be branded under my own name.  And that will open more door to me.

I'm taking over to the new site all the Writer's Little Book material and it will offer a full range of services to writers.  There are some exciting developments coming along with the possibility of having videos of interviews with writers on the site as well as more guest blogs.

It's a development that has me buzzing and I'm looking forward to sharing what I find out with you.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Writing articles to increase your reputation: 3 reasons to invest the time

What can articles do to help you stand out?

In disciplines where there are many practitioners, people often struggle to gain space enough to tell people what they can do. You can shout louder than others which might work in the short term, but if you’re looking for a solid long-term career, you need to look at all the avenues open to you that get the word out to prospective clients.

Here are three reasons for writing to help you decide on the type of articles you can write.

Record your successes

Depending on your trade, profession or area of expertise, you can base an article on a successful piece of work.  Consider laying out a recent project in the form of a case study then extract the important general principles that you can pass on to others.

Where possible avoid bragging or trying to sell your services directly. Positioning yourself as the expert able to find solutions to challenging problems is a much better advertisement than any paid ad.

In your personal details at the end of the article, you can then point the reader towards your website, other resources and testimonials. All these can confirm the picture of your skills you’ve built up in the article.

Point the way to your book

The best business card you can have is a book. It conveys immediate authority on you. After all you have to be an expert to write a book don’t you?

Many people believe that writing books is time consuming and difficult. It can be like anything else if you don’t choose to prepare to do it.  If you feel sick at the thought of writing a whole book, then consider this.

Ten reasonable length articles say 1,500 words each can provide you with the bones of a substantial book.

For your work I expect you can find 10 questions that people ask about all the time. Answer those questions and that creates 10 basic chapters. Add on an introduction chapter, a conclusion and you’ve turned articles into the beginnings of a book.

Show them you're a person of influence

Everyone knows someone who knows so much about a topic they’ve considered influential. How about being that person in your field?

Writing articles is a great start to creating your sphere of influence. And if you’re happy to share your expertise, you can have articles turned into pdf documents which you can hand out at networking events, places where you speak and meetings with prospective clients.

It only takes a few of these articles to be passed around among other influential people and you have a ready made reputation.

Being prepared to invest time to write some articles is future money in the bank because of the return on investment it can bring you.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Writing your book; how many assumptions are you making?

Working with writers is endlessly fascinating. 

And challenging.  And frustrating.  And...

I guess you get the picture.  It's different every time which I love and even if there are similar topics to books, the unique perspective the author has, creates that difference.

But... there are some common threads when I work with them.  And it's to do with assumptions they make.

About themselves as writers.
About their prospective readers.
And most important about the connection between the two.

Assunptions about themselves as writers
  1. They can't write a book because it's different from anything else they've done.
  2. They have nothing to say because it's all been done before.
  3. They don't have the time.
All of these are practical issues not literary ones.Once we've worked through them and I've offered them some suggestions to consider that usually sorts them out.

Assumptions about their prospective readers
  1. That because it's written, the readers will oblige by buying, reading, recommending.
  2. That readers have the time to sit down and read at length.
  3. That readers don't know what's what.
Again these are practical issues; assumptions held because they either do relate or don't relate their own behaviour to that of prospective readers.

The first is the old better mouse trap situation.  Nobody has to be interested in our books.  We have to find compelling reasons for them to be interested.

If they don't have the time to write the book, why do they believe the reader has the time to read it.  The argument might run that it takes less time to read than to write, but that makes the fatal assumption that everyone reads at the same rate, with the same discipline and enjoyment as we do.

Pay attention to how you present your information

Imagine there is someone who could really use the advice your book offers.  But they don't like reading and they don't have the money to spend on one to one consulting.

Are you going to create a book that excludes someone who might change their life for the better having read your book?  It's not a case of dumbing down material.  It's a case of presenting it in a form that's easily digestible and simple to apply.  If you want to write an academic book that only 20 people in the world that's fine. 

That doesn't apply to most of us so we have to pay attention to not only the information we present, but how we present the information.

Assumptions about the connection between writers and readers
  1. That there is none.
  2. That what the writer wants to do is more important than what the reader needs.
  3. That there's only a one way connection.
I've met writers who don't care about their readers.  Period.

They want to tell their story and that's it.  Like it or lump it, the reader gets what they get. That's an okay place to be if you don't want any connection and the thought of readers make you feel slightly soiled.

Yes readers are irritating because they react in ways different from what you want or imagine.  But developing as a writer, especially if you write non-fiction means taking account of what's happening in the world beyond your computer.

Which involves being connected in some way to readers.  And which leads to the two, not one way connection.  Listening to what readers tell you about how your book met their needs or didn't, can give you feedback many companies would shell out large sums in market research to discover.

Recently I met a reader of my first book, Writers Little Book with Big Ideas.  What she took most from the book was to simply get on and write.  Now that might seem a straightforward statement but you wouldn't believe the number of people I meet who suffer from that very challenge.

Of putting pen to paper or fingers on keyboard and doing it.

You see much as we think we know what our readers need, how they'll react to our writing and what they gain from it, we don't.

Not really.  Because readers always surprise you by finding things in your books that you had no idea were in there, or intended to be in there.

So the fewer assumptions you have in your head about your readers, your ability as a writer  before you start to write the better. 

Not knowing is a good place to start and you'll write a more rewarding book for you and your readers working from there.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Stanley Middleton

On Saturday I attended a celebration in honour of Stanley Middleton, the Nottingham author who died last summer.  It was a moving and happy  occasion including all aspects of his life, not only his work.

His close family were there with his granddaughters playing a central role, reading his poems and singing his favourite pieces.  Better critics than me talked about why they believe he is an underrated author.

Why did I enjoy his books.  Well in the same way that Jane Austen's books are full of the everything and nothing events that make up our lives, so I found his writing to cover similar ground.  He was described at the event as focusing on small details and that was true.  He wanted us to know what his characters were made of.

Often I found his books disturbing as well as comforting.  A confirmation that we get through everything but a reminder to look at our motives as we do so.

There is one last book to be published in August called A Cautious Approach then it will be a matter of re-reading what there is to gain more insights into us as humans.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Writing paralysis

Yesterday I met with a coach who wants to write a book.  And she's wanted to write for some time; we discussed the subject when we met last year.

She has made progress; she's worked through a model book proposal format, so she done some in-depth work on the book and received feedback from friends. 

Why hasn't she gone further with her writing?

Three reasons for writing paralysis:
  1. We want it to be perfect.
  2. We think everything's already been said.
  3. We aren't completely connected with the book.
These are common challenges people face when they set out to write a book and they probably stop 8 out of 10 people from going further. 

What can be done to break writing paralysis?

  1. You can only do the best you can at any given point in time.  There's always a second edition or reprint if you find other things you wished you'd included.  It will never be perfect.
  2. You can only write from your unique perspective.  It's your life experience that creates the difference because it can never be the same as the next person.  Even if you went through exactly the same events and circumstances, you'd still come out differently because you would have your own perspective on events.  That unique perspective is the place you begin to write.
  3. You have to create writing your book as a visceral experience.  Not academic in your head, but a down to earth getting your hands dirty job that you know will make a difference to someone.
It was interesting that we both work from the same place.  That if what we do helps just one person to move on further with their life path then what we've done, the effort, the ideas and the passion, will have been worthwhile.

If you want to write a book, then ask yourself if you have the right to deprive someone of your wisdom and life experience when it might be the one thing to make a difference for them.

Friday, 2 April 2010

What feeds your spirit?

Though I'm a luddite generally with machines, there are some parts of our new technology that I love.  E-mail because it helps me keep in touch with family on the other side of the world.  And teleseminars because they also help me keep in touch; with writing development, with business development and with spirit development.

For the last few months I've taken advantage of generous people who are sharing an enquiry they're making about the future of spirituality. Led by Craig Hamilton they've gathered together an interesting group of people.

Now I have no idea what your faith or beliefs are.  We might agree or not.  That's not important.  What's important to me is that I want to offer you the same opportunity to listen to these people who are in their own lives forging ahead in how they integrate their spirituality.  Despite my initial misgivngs about the series, I've learned something from each speaker.

Like - we are made of Stardust from Connie Barlow.  That thought had me singing to myself for a whole week.  The link below takes you to a download page.  I hope that can find something of value there.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

What makes a 21st century writer?

Going to the Writing Industries conference last Saturday was a new experience for me because my normal networking is business focused not writing focused.

My usual experience networking is to be the exception that proves the rule.

Writers do exist outside their garrets and the pages of their books.

For me to meet up with another writer is rare and we huddle together like distant cousins of a long lost tribe.
And talk about. . .

Commas versus semi-colons
The use of adverbs
And how can you persuade clients to listen to your advice about not putting Welcome to my Website as their header.

Sad sacks aren’t we?

So going to WIC was like being in a family gathering. A family that might argue, speak different dialects and travel down strange paths (vampires anyone).

But at the same time speaking the same basic language.  We love writing, connecting with readers and the power of words.

What does it take to be a writer these days?

1. You have to be nimble on your feet. Creating success in any writing field is about flexibility.

Write novels? Try your hand at poetry.
Write non-fiction? Give a novel a go.
Write plays? Why not try non-fiction.

This applies no less to business writing. It amazes me, the people I talk to who with total confidence tackle creating workshops but pale at the thought of writing a book

To me it’s the same difference. Once you’ve worked out how to connect with readers, the medium matters not a jot. Blog, articles, Tweets, workshops, books are all tools for a confident writer to use.

2. You have to want to connect

That may sound obvious but the amount of text I see that sets out to put off readers is growing not reducing.

Long sentences
Even longer and denser paragraphs.
‘All about the writer’ text.

As a writer you have to get over yourself.  We’re not important. Our readers are.

3. You have to work at it.

Inspiration doesn’t exist in a special bay at the supermarket.
It's not surrounded by flashing lights so you can recognise it.
The inspiration fairy doesn’t leave it under your pillow in exchange for being good.

The conference was called Writing Industries Conference and the keynote speaker Graham Joyce underlined everything I believe about writing.

You may have talent as a writer. If you’re lucky you may be blessed with exceptional talent like Shakespeare and Dickens.  But even very talented writers fail.  And it's usually for one reason..

they haven’t worked at it.

That’s the bottom line….

You have to work at it.

Every day.

Without fail.

Whether you feel like it or not.

Can't get started as a writer?

People often ask me how to get started in writing.

‘When do you write?’ I ask.

'Oh well I don’t get much time' At that point I switch off.

Because the only way you can improve on any talent you’ve been given is to write.

And study other writers.

And read

Then write some more.

I know you’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy.

Writing challenge

If you want to write but think you haven’t the time, I challenge you to find 15 minutes every day for the next 30 days and write. Stop watching yet another house purchase programme and write instead.

By the end of the 30 days you’ll find out  either you can’t bear the thought of another 15 minutes of hell, in which case I advise you to give up on your dream/illusion of being a writer…

Or more likely, you’ll have found that 15 minutes isn’t enough and are snatching extra time from feeding the cat, the goldfish or even the family.

Like one writer I met last week who said ’I resent anything that takes me away from my writing.’

Doesn’t make us No 1 in Miss Peabody’s charm school maybe but if you’re like that lady and me you’ll have found something that makes your toes tingle and your brain fizz.

Welcome to the working world of writers.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Happy Birthday Elizabeth George

Today is the birthday of one of my writing heros - the wonderful Elizabeth George.  She's been an inspiration to me for many years.  I've read her with delight, satisfaction and awe at the way she constructs her plots and writes her characters. 

If you've never read her book about writing 'Write Away' published by Hodder, then I urge you to devour it.  There are so many lessons there for those of us still trying to achieve success in our novels.

It's not so much a writing primer, as a way that one successful novelist approachs writing.

Now I'm waiting to pounce on the new book, This Body of Death, when it appears this year.  Long may she continue to write.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Writers in the Leicester/Nottingham areas

The next meeting of the Creative Coffee Club held at the Phoenix Centre in Leicester is 3 March 2010.  Meet up with like-minded people and find out what's happening.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Business writers:artists or constructors?

What are you; a writer or a constructor of words?

In the past couple of years I've been helping people write books.  On business mostly.  And every time I start my intention is to show them how to do it faster and easier.  For some people this means destroying their fear of the blank page.  For others it means taking away the fear that they can't be a 'real' writer because they aren't creative.

I can understand both of these fears because I've been through those dark tunnels.  So destroying them for would be writers is a priority for me.

How we label things has impact we often don't understand till too late.  Like 'your grammar is rubbish'.  Or 'you don't have a creative bone in your body'. 

Too many people assume that they have to wait for inspiration before they begin.  I believe that's wrong.  All writing needs scaffolding like a new build.  It needs the support of a structure that assists you in moving through the process.

Now I revere writers.  People whose work I look in awe at and I think it would be impossible for me to write like them.  For example Chekhov and Shakespeare.  But that's not where my writing is situated.  I'm not writing masterpieces that will last for 500 years where the language has become an integral part of how we speak.

What I've evolved over the last 8 years is a way of writing that works in my situation.  That has taken away the fear of starting, creating something and finishing.  And it upsets me when I see otherwise effective, capable people put blocks in their own path by assuming that writing is different from every other activity.

It's not.  It can be taught, learned and passed on.  The skills that go into producing an article, a website or a book are all achievable by anyone who has acquired other skills.  Applying the same learning methods to writing can create amazing results for you in your life and businesses.

Because writing does change you.  However you achieve it, writing will alter how you feel about yourself.  Especially if you go on the adventure that is writing a book.  I defy anyone to try it and not be different at the end of the process.

It's scary.  You put your heart and soul on every page.   Even if no other human being reads it, you would still be different.   Now I'm not saying that you don't have to work at it.  And if you're honest you wouldn't expect that would you?   Everything else you've achieved has taken some effort.

Same thing with writing.

That's no reason not to start is it?  And if it helps to rename what you're doing, then go for it.  You can probably find enough pieces of business writing you've already done that you can use as your scaffold. 

Take a look.  You might surprise yourself at how fast you can collect enough for a book.

Good constructing!

Friday, 12 February 2010

Writing; what's genuine?

I was working on a client's website this morning to show what she's been doing recently.  It's one of the sites I love to work on because she's a graphic designer.  But coming from a background of designing for children gives her a fresh take on business design.  That's what's genuine about her and that's what I do my best to put across to people who visit her site. 

Years ago when I first went into business, I became frustrated and demoralised at many of the business practices I met.  Wasn't me and I found it difficult to fit into that setting.  Which is why I've always tried my best to offer honest service and straightforward dealing in my own businesses.

How do you get across the real in business?

Since I started writing for business, the question of what's genuine has come up time and again.  Because without putting too fine a point on it, many of the approaches in writing for business were and still are all about the business.  Too little attention was paid to what the reader of business documents like brochures and websites needed and too much was written about the business.

My writing training was in direct marketing where the focus is all on what do I need to do and write to get into the reader's mind and solve the problem that's uppermost.  All facts, features and elements of the business or product were there to prove that the product worked for others and would work for the reader with the same issue.

What effect has the internet had?

The internet has made it more difficult to convince, and many marketers have now flocked to use direct marketing methods as opposed to image marketing.  And online marketers are increasingly using techniques that are loose and chummy compared to former business models.

Whatever model you use, I believe it has to come from a foundation of respect for your reader and their needs.  Yes sometimes they may misuse what you offer.  But that's their issue.  Better that we behave honestly with all, than that we pick and choose. 

So where does that leave us as writers and marketers?

It means we have to be choosy about who we follow and are influenced by.  It means we have to be choosy about who we work with. And it means that our writing should sing with the joy and passion that we and our clients have for what they do. 

That's what's genuine.

Let me know what you think about this.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Transliteracy conference De Montfort University - update

I'm still digesting what I heard yesterday.  We were presented with a wide range of information in a short time.  Coming from the business community I tried to focus on what could be passed on as useful tips.

These are my musings so far; I think they're applicable to both business owners: and writers:
  1. How we read is being altered by the way we use the internet.  We already know that readers on screen want information fast.  Now we have to consider how we can involve our readers.
  2. Keeping up with the trends is very difficult for any of us above teenagers.  I talked to a 23 year old PHd student who said she'd noticed in the last year that she no longer was keeping up seamlessly with new trends in social media, and was starting to choose what she used.
  3. We're all in the business of education; we need to educate ourselves, our customers and our wider audience.  To make sure we reach as wide an audience as possible, then we have to offer as many ways of absorbing the information as possible.
What did come out loud and strong particularly for writers, is that there are so many more opportunities out there for us than ever.  To make the most of them, we need to pay attention to what's available.

More musings on this in a few days.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Writing in 2010

Whatever your interest in writing, 2010 is an exciting year.  Tomorrow I'm off to a conference on transliteracy at De Montfort University, where the implications of the digital age and its effects on book writing will be considered.

I'm looking forward to finding out how all the available technology can be harnessed to widen the reading population.  There are bound to be trends that I haven't even yet considered, though I'm trying to use social media networks to advantage.

As writers we often bemoan that we can't get published.  It seems to me though that there are so many more avenues open to us than in the past.  And really it's up to us to find out what's out there and how we can use it to help out case.