Category Archives: Anita says…

Keep Focused

This is a real problem for me. I am very easily distracted. Today I saw this post on Facebook and thought it really summed me up. I can’t remember who posted it now but thank you.

keep focused

Over the years I have developed strategies to help me keep focused on my writing. I thought I would share a few of them with you today.

I have found making lists of what I need to do helps. But I have narrowed it down to three things a day. Each day I ask myself:

“What three things do I want to achieve by the end of today?”

This helps me prioritise and makes my goals manageable. I have even started messaging my now grown-up children three tasks they should concentrate on each day. My daughter has even messaged me on occasions to ask what her tasks for the day are.

However, it is no good if you make the task too large such as: ‘Write a picture book’. This is not helpful. The task for writing a picture book needs to be broken down into smaller parts such as:

  1. Brainstorm ideas for a picture book.
  2. Decide who is going to be the main character.
  3. Think about what the main character wants to achieve.

This may be enough for one day’s work.

The other thing I have found that helps me to concentrate is tidying my study.  When I have been working on a commission I tend to accumulate books, printed research and pieces of paper with rough notes doodled on them that pile up on the desk and the floor. Before I can start a new commission I clear everything away so I can start fresh with no potential distractions. A tidy environment helps me to keep a tidy mind.

I hope you find these ideas helpful.

Flat fees v Royalties

This is a very old debate in the world of writing educational resources. These books were written by me and my editor at the time Steve Rickard. He wrote the non-fiction at the front of the book and I wrote the stories at the back of the book. They were published under the pseudonym Cathy West. I am very proud of these books. I received 5% royalties as they were co-written. I do not think I have made much from these titles although, they are excellent for school visits.

Starstruck Collage

In the Society of Authors’ magazine The Author, Winter 2006 issue, Jenny Vaughan said amongst other things:

You should ensure you’re not being taken advantage of.

This is good advice. It is so easy for all authors to undersell themselves. However, both forms of payment have their advantages and disadvantages.

On the plus side, flat rate fees are very useful as you can receive an often vital income quickly, whereas royalties provide a more long-term gain. But sometimes, you can spend ages writing a book, which is to be paid by royalties only and have very little come back if it does not sell well. Whereas, with flat rate fees it often means you sign your rights away and you are usually writing to a very specific and tight brief. I wrote these books for a flat fee. I am very proud of these books too. They have been sold all over the world in many languages and are still in print. Sometimes I wonder how much money I could have made if I were getting royalties.

Season collage

Remember you should re-negotiate your fee on second editions. The publisher should pay a top-up fee and you should check the rights revert back to the author if the book goes out of print. The NUJ provides a very useful Freelance Fees Guide.

Investigate Viewpoint

No matter what the viewpoint you need to think:

Is that my character speaking, or is it me?

If you change a text into the present tense it could become more immediate and subtly changes the feel of the story. Try it yourself and then compare this to a more traditional narrator style viewpoint, like Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland.

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In an action-packed writing scene, it is easier to use third person, as there is not so much reflection and interpretation to stop the flow of the action. The reflection requires prior knowledge of what is going on and tells the reader how they should feel about this. We need to avoid telling the reader what to think.

A tighter viewpoint helps the reader to see and feel the action. The actions needs to go at the speed of the character – seeing what they see, in the order it happens. Strangely, the third person, even if it is written in the past tense gives the experience of reading it as it happens. In intense danger scenes, a tighter viewpoint adds more tension but, you can pull back this tension in other scenes to let the reader reflect.

Student Reading a Book

With viewpoint I think it is better not to be overtly original but, to let your story do the talking. A lot of YA books are written in first person. When writing in the first person and present tense you have to consider how much the reader is supposed to know at any one time.

The omniscient narrator, such as the Victorian, ‘My dear reader’, can work in a different way but it distances the reader. The omniscient narrator where you don’t even change scenes to change viewpoint might suit a big saga but I think it is distracting in a children’s book. When using the omniscient narrator, it is important to make sure the character is mentioned before you change viewpoint.

A character narrating back-story can slow the pace. When adding back-story, the writer needs to seriously consider if it is really needed. In my opinion, it is better to take out this narrator intrusion. It slows the tension and you may find you do not need all the detail. Ask yourself:

Why you are putting it in?

It is good to experiment with viewpoint within a story as it is such a large part of the story as a whole. But remember it is often better to read a book and not remember what person it is written in – it is the essence of the story that is remembered – the viewpoint is so entwined and so good it disappears.

Dream a little dream…

Does anyone else out there dream their stories?

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Well, I have very vivid dreams and more often than not I remember them when I wake up. I can dream whole plot lines. When I was stuck on a plot of a recent book I was writing I would read where I’d got to in the story just before I went to bed and somehow when I woke up I had a vague story line. Granted I think the story probably needs a lot more work and maybe a lot more sleep.

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I keep a notebook by my bed most nights and often write down the stories I have dreamt. One day, I am going to write them all up as different novels. Right after I finished the commission I am working on at the moment. But for now, I can officially say I am still working even when I am asleep.

Walk the dogs

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If you find yourself stuck for ideas, or unable to think what to write next, don’t sit and stare at your computer or your notebook, go for a walk. You’ll be amazed at what pops into your head. I alkso find I am so much more productive after I’ve walked the dogs.

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As well as being an excellent tip, this is an ideal opportunity to post a slideshow of my gorgeous dogs.

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Face Your Fears

I am sure I am not the only one who has got to a point in my writing and lost confidence in what I am doing. I often get about half way through and realise there is still so much to do and  the end is still unclear and a muddle in my mind. Then I think what I’ve done so far is all utter rubbish and is only fit for the bin.

Maybe your manuscript is also full of gaps and glitches and your desk is like mine and covered with strange notes and ramblings that have lost all meaning because you – like me – are overwhelmed. Is the dreaded question storming through your head too?

How am I ever going to finish?

doubts

It is easy to lose faith and wonder whether it is actually worth the effort. The hard part is remembering this is NORMAL. It is how you know you are a real writer. We all get tired and disheartened. The trick is to take a deep breath and carry on.

The only way you can get over the hump is to face your fear and nagging doubts and get on with it anyway.

Force yourself to work through it.

Don’t think about it! Go on Try it!

Poetry

Poetry should be ageless but, should have a target audience in mind. Your voice has to appeal to the child of today.

Poems for children can be divided into three age ranges: 5+, 9+ and YA.

  • A-Z: The best children’s poetry from Agard to Zephaniah compiled by Michael Rosen
  • Please Mrs Butler by Allan Ahlberg
  • The Day I Fell Down the Toilet and Other Poems by Steve Turner and David Mostyn

The Poetry Society is an excellent resource for poets: www.poetrysociety.org.uk

If you want to target you poetry in an event remember National Poetry Day is the 4th October.

There are often opportunities for aspiring poets for children in anthologies and you can see your name alongside big names such as:

  • Michael Rosen,
  • Carol Anne Duffy,
  • John Agard,
  • Pie Corbett,
  • Paul Cookson,
  • Roger McGough

If want to write poetry for children go to local bookshop and browse their most recently published anthologies. See who published them. Write to them and say interested in submitting to the next anthology and could they put you on their list. Include a selection of poems as example of your style and voice. Try and include a poem that would have been appropriate for their latest anthology as a similar theme.

poetry anthology

Poems can be timeless and you are often able to re-use them. My poem The Fairground is in the Teaching ICT with Story and has previously been featured in a teacher resource called ‘Here comes the Fair’ published by Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust, in conjunction with the University of Manchester and Manchester City council and is now part of an anthology of poems for speech and drama teachers, Poetry for Performance published by The Playing Space.