Tag Archives: advice

200 words

200Phil: A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that at the Writing West Midlands networking event, Liam Brown had given the best bit of writing advice ever. However, before passing it on, I wanted to test it.

The advice is: Write every day. Even 200 words is enough.

Simple, and brilliant.

Truth is, “write every day” is good solid advice for any writer. To get the book finished, you have to put in the time at the keyboard.

Like any journey, the hardest part is the first step and so it is with writing. But 200 words doesn’t seem that much. I can knock those out in a few minutes (I haven’t timed myself but for the purposes of motivation, I’ll retain the fantasy) and feel good about myself.

Of course, you don’t stop at 200, or at least I haven’t. Which means several chunks of our second book are fuller than they were. Meeting Candice for lunch yesterday, I checked through the work and while there’s lots to do, there’s quite a lot done too. Not finished, but blocked in 1st draft style. Every 200 words is a step in the right direction.

This post is 200 words long.

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Chop that plot!

The World's Largest AxePhil: One of the standard pieces of advice given to any writer is that you must remove anything that isn’t absolutely essential to moving the plot forward. This is certainly uppermost in our minds as we work through the suggestions from our publisher.

I’m inclined to suggest that it’s rubbish.

Yes, you need to remove pointless padding from the story. Keep things tight and the reader will be swept along by the text, but you can go too far.

Imagine this:

Boy is born, grows up, has a son and they defeat the baddies.

That’s all 6 Star Wars films in 13 words. If you’ve not seen them, I’ve saved you a lot of time. With the possible exception of the first 3, it wasn’t as much fun as seeing them was it?

How about:

Man meets old girlfriend. She leaves him.

Casablanca. None of that “Play it again Sam” stuff, just the plot.

I think reading a book is like eating a good meal. Yes, you can get all the nutrients from a single substance, but as the manufacturers of Soylent (not the one made from dead people) are discovering, eating is about more than just absorbing enough chemicals to keep you alive.

Likewise, reading is about going on a journey. Along the way you need twists and turns. Sometimes you need to stand and look at the scenery. Reduce a book to its bare bones and while it will be quick to read, the result will be a joyless affair.

Like a good steak needs a bit of fat, a good story needs a little padding. It’s just that both need only a soupçon of each.

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Pity the man who has to say no

I'm sorry, butPhil: Following on from Candice looking at things from the literary agent point of view, I thought I’d relate a recent tale along those lines, one that will hopefully provide some guidance to anyone hoping to see their name at the top of a magazine article.

One of the jobs I have is editor of an on-line model railway magazine. It’s basically an edited letters page with added news and other articles. We don’t have a budget for submissions but that doesn’t always put people off. Our ranking on Google is pretty good and as a first place to see your name over an article, it’s an excellent choice. You might not get paid, but it could be a stepping stone to greater things*.

The first and most important rule when approaching any publisher is:

Write what they are looking for.

Don’t pester Motorcycle News with 5000 words on growing pansies. It doesn’t matter how good a piece you’ve written, they really, really, aren’t interested.

In the book world, if your publisher specialises in sickly romance, your mix of Andy McNab and vampires, probably won’t spend much time between slush pile and bin.

We have been very careful to send our manuscript to agnets who have worked in the same genre in the past. We know they aren’t likely to be looking to make a hard job any more difficult by looking for a news set of contacts, even if they do hold the best book ever writen in their hands.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I received an e-mail from a lady who wondered if I would be interested in a piece for the mag. I replied saying I would be but pointing out we had no contributors budget. She wasn’t phased by this.

A couple of weeks later, my in-box was home to a really well written and interesting article. At 2000 words long, it was a good length for on-line reading. None of it had been obviously lifted from the web, or if it had, the re-write was sufficiently good to move from plagiarism to proper research.

The only problem was that it was a short history of the hobby, obviously aimed at people who knew next to nothing about it.

So, here I was with a very good quality lesson on sucking eggs that it was proposed I present to the thousands of grannies who read my mag (they aren’t grannies, I’m using a metaphor, stick with me). I looked long and hard at the piece. It was good but no matter how I thought about it, the fit with my mag was poor. I could have run it and just let it go but I knew the letters page would have been full of moaning or people wondering what the heck I was doing.

Eventually, I wrote a nice (I hope) note rejecting the offer. My suggestion was that it needed to go to a general interest magazine such as “Readers Digest” where the fit would be as good as the last piece in a jigsaw. I never heard anything more.

It’s not fun saying no, but sometimes you have to do it.


*Writing for free is fine as long as it’s a stepping stone. The trick is to learn when to stop. (Hint: Quickly)

Membership of a special interest society such as for your hobby means there will be a newsletter editor always on the lookout for free words and this is a great place to start. Look to move on to submitting to places where you get paid pretty quickly though, at least if you aspire to turning writing in to a job. Be warned, the world is full of people advertising great opportunities to write for “up-and-coming” websites where the only thing on offer is exposure. Trust me, real editors are not cruising the web looking for random writers. They have enough to deal with looking at stuff sent to them in the post.


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