Goal setting for writers who don’t set goals

It’s the 21st January and the odds are that you have no resolutions or goals in mind. That you deliberately ignored the possibility that you might start 2013 that way. After all, goals don’t work for you, and neither do resolutions. A lot of people talk about goal setting – in books, on websites, in podcasts. Studies show that 87% of people don’t set goals. Of the 13% that do, only 4% (of the 13%) actually carry them out in any kind of sustained way. That sounds like a lot until you translate … [Read more...]

Goal Setting Backwards!

Every year I like to start thinking about my goals on the 1st of January. Call me silly! But it's psychological, and it works for me. However, notice that I only said "thinking". I don't rush in and make a whole huge list of new goals and expect them to be half-completed by the end of January, because that's not reasonable. A big factor is something called rest. After working hard all year, I've decided that the first half of January needs to involve lots of rest, recreational reading and … [Read more...]

Writing AROUND Your Novel

It might seem like it's hard enough to write a novel and finish it, let alone do a whole lot of extra writing. But this is the age of the "stand out novel" - you're going to hear that term, and others like it, many times in the coming year. What it means is a novel with depth and resonance, a novel in which characters feel totally real and complex and intriguing, a novel in which the story world is evocative and meaningful. It's pretty hard to write a novel like that by just sitting down and … [Read more...]

Writing That Crucial First Line

People can quote opening sentences from novels. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. “ “Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last.” You may well think – so what? These are like proverbs or pithy quotes. We remember them because they strike a chord. But your first sentence, if it’s a real winner (or a hook, or startling in some way), will entice … [Read more...]

Practical Grammar: that pesky its and it’s

This would have to be one of the biggest bugbears for writers - which one to use? But two simple tests will help you every time. 1. It's is a contraction of it is. In your sentence, read it out loud and substitute it is for the it's. Does it work? If not, use its. e.g. The dog scratched it's fleas - if you read this aloud as The dog scratched it is fleas, you can tell immediately the apostrophe is wrong. 2. It's is never used as a possessive. People get confused because they associate … [Read more...]

Practical Punctuation: the semi-colon and colon

Certain elements of punctuation go in and out of style, and writers sometimes fixate on them. A few years ago, semi-colons were the thing. Quite a few writers (who would deny it now!) used semi-colons with happy abandon, substituting them for commas in every third sentence. It wasn’t long before editors, teachers and grammar enthusiasts called a halt to it. Not because those semi-colons were necessarily wrong grammatically, but because they are much better used sparingly. A semi-colon can … [Read more...]

Practical Punctuation: Commas and Full Stops

I’m not sure what is being taught at school these days when it comes to punctuation, but it continually amazes me how few people (younger, usually) don’t seem to know where to put a full stop. I realize that a lot of this problem comes from not being able to parse a sentence. I can already hear some of you saying, “Parse? What’s that?” It’s the mind-numbing yet vital skill us oldies were taught at school – what the different parts of a sentence are and how they work together. Nouns, verbs, … [Read more...]

Are you stretching your description muscles?

This week I was working with a group of kids (Grades 5 and 6) on poetry, and one thing I like to do is expand their use of language through the five senses. We talk about details and how they bring all kinds of writing alive, both poetry and prose. In poetry it’s often called imagery – I like to call it word pictures. If you can describe something in a way that “transfers” the image from your mind to the page to the reader's mind, then that’s description that enhances your writing. There are … [Read more...]

The hero’s journey structure – what it offers you

One of the main reasons the hero’s journey works so well for writers is because it contains some of the key elements that will help you to create a story full of tension and reader engagement. On the outside, through action, the journey gives you these: A concrete goal the main character is aiming for, whether it’s saving the world, the princess or their own life An inciting incident – the call to adventure has to be so strong that even after a refusal, the main character MUST act and move … [Read more...]

The hero’s journey – introduction

Most writers at some point will have at least heard of the hero’s journey. Its genesis is through a famous mythology scholar, Joseph Campbell, who wrote The Hero With a Thousand Faces, and the structure was morphed into the basic structure for all of the Star Wars movies. George Lucas (the Star Wars man himself) was a protégé of Campbell’s, and there is even a documentary where they discuss how Lucas turned the hero’s journey into his recurring story and character arcs. However, the structure … [Read more...]