How CCTV can help improve your productivity

Okay, so as I mentioned in my post about prioritising your priorities, I’m spending much of this summer editing my novel into shape. That’s because I now have a literary agent, which is very exciting, although not what this post is about.
If you’d like to know more about that, you can do so by going here and I’ll no doubt be blogging about it on Write for Your Life in time. There’s lots of good stuff in the pipeline, so don’t go away!

CCTV = productivity

Anyway, I’ve spent most of the weekend in the kitchen with my laptop, notebooks, various drafts and a cup of tea. Yesterday went pretty well and I got quite a bit done. Today though was much more sluggish and I found myself really struggling to, you know, ‘get my head down’.

Then I had an idea. A silly idea really, but one that helped force me to stay in one place and get on with my work. Essentially, I filmed myself writing. More than that, I filmed myself writing with the promise (to myself) that I would show the results to other people (that’s you).

And it worked out pretty well! Knowing that I’d get caught out if I got up and did something else for half an hour, I more or less rooted myself to the chair. Of course, there were natural breaks, including cat feeding, phone answering and toast making, but on the whole, the experiment was a success.

The results can be seen by watching the video above. It was filmed over roughly three and a half hours where I got more work done than in the rest of the day put together. Obviously, it’s rather boring viewing, but that’s not the point. It helped improve my productivity at a time when I was struggling.

How did I do it?

Well, I have an iPhone (sorry), but not one of those fancy new ones with video capability. So instead I found an application called TimeLapse, which can be set up to take still images at a set interval. Stitched together, those images provide a cut down version of events.

Obviously, you can also use a normal camera to create similar time-lapse videos, so long as it has the ability to automatically take snaps at set intervals. You could also just film yourself with a normal video camera or phone with a video recording function.

Over to you!

So what do you think? Might self-inflicted CCTV help you with your writing? The key thing is that promise. If you don’t commit to showing other people, you could still take your half an hour breaks and no one would be any the wiser. For me, the filming worked because it created that positive pressure.

I’d be really interested to know if you have a go at this yourself. In fact, I actively challenge you to do so! You never know, together we could create the most boring, yet potentially fascinating video gallery in the world. Posssibly. Maybe.

Share your thoughts using the comment section below.

Five fantastic computer programs for writers

This post is a few years old now and so a little out of date. However, I post a writing app of the week as well as a host of other articles and inspiration for writers in my fortnightly newsletter.  

You can sign up below. It’s completely free. No spam. And you can unsubscribe at any time, no problem at all. 

Here’s the original post.

As you know, I also edit the relatively new and doing-very-well-thank-you, Websites for writers [Note: Site no longer active]. It’s what I’ve been calling an independent directory of online writing resources and it’s jam-packed with useful, well, websites for writers. Probably my favouritest thing about it is the fact that almost all content so far has been user-generated. Writers have arrived at the site and took it upon themselves to recommend sites to other writers through the built-in submission form. And I love that.

What I didn’t really think about though, when I set the site up, was how great it would be for me to learn about all these new writing resources. As editor-in-chief (as I like to refer to myself), I get to see everything that goes on the site, and it’s been marvellous!

Hey, Mr Soft-ware

Over the last two months, Websites for writers has seen a number of submissions that have fallen under the ‘Tools’ category. For me, the most interesting of these are the various computer programs designed to make writers’ lives easier, from bespoke word processors to storyboarding software for scriptwriters.

It seems to me that this type of software is a fairly untapped source for writers. Like me, your techno-pencil case probably consists primarily of Microsoft Word, or if you’re down with the open-source crew, something like OpenOffice.

But maybe we’re missing a trick. Is there a program out there that’s ready and waiting to change the way you write forever? It’s possible, and some of the alternatives are certainly worth experimenting with.

Five of the best

The following list of programs is taken from submissions to Websites for writers. For the record, I’ve previously used just two of them, Final Draft and Storymill, and some of them are free, others you need to buy. The detail here is taken from promotional material and provided for your reference (ie not as direct recommendations!).

Final Draft

Final Draft is the number-one selling application specifically designed for writing movie scripts, television episodics, and stageplays. It combines powerful word processing with professional script formatting in one self-contained, easy-to-use package. There is no need to learn about script formatting rules – Final Draft automatically paginates and formats your script to industry standards as you write.

StoryMill – Mac OS X

The latest release in Mariner Software’s long line of writing and creativity software. StoryMill introduces aspiring authors to multi-level writing methods of tracking characters, scenes, and locations, while professional writers will appreciate StoryMill’s time-saving ability to oversee and manage the full creative process with Smart Views.

For fiction writers, StoryMill provides features like word frequency counting, a cliche meter, and a progress meter to help you meet your daily writing goal.

Celtx

Celtx is the world’s first all-in-one media pre-production software. It has everything you need to take your story from concept to production. Celtx replaces ‘paper, pen & binder’ pre-production with a digital approach that’s more complete, simpler to work with, and easier to share.

Celtx helps you pre-produce all types of media – film, video, documentary, theater, machinima, comics, advertising, video games, music video, radio, podcasts, videocasts, and however else you choose to tell your story.

Scrivener – Mac and Windows

Scrivener is a word processor and project management tool created specifically for writers of long texts such as novels and research papers. It won’t try to tell you how to write – it just makes all the tools you have scattered around your desk available in one application.

yWriter – Windows only

[yWriter is] a word processor which breaks your novel into chapters and scenes. It will not write your novel for you, suggest plot ideas or perform creative tasks of any kind. It does help you keep track of your work, leaving your mind free to create.

Update 28 August 2009: I’ve just discovered this page which provides comprehensive information and makes my post almost entirely obsolete – you should check it out!

Why bloggers should perform their writing

Reading your writing out loud is generally a good thing to do, whatever the medium, genre or format. It helps you understand the rhythm of your writing and, more often than not, it helps you discover punctuation and grammar glitches that you might not otherwise have noticed.
Spoken word events are popular the world over with aspiring poets and budding prose writers. And I know that a lot of people who read this blog have their roots in creative writing and may well have read their work at open-mic nights.

But what about you (us) bloggers? In fact, what about journalists, non-fiction writers and all the other wordsmithery that goes on away from the literary world?

Well, I’m here to tell you all to stop being shy and get out there with your work. From my experience of performing at and organising spoken word events, so long as your writing is able to hold an audience, it doesn’t matter what medium it’s in.

Good writing is good writing and that’s all an open-mic crowd wants to hear.

But what’s in it for me?

Good point. But then really, what’s in it for creative writers either? I’m set to see a literary agent or publisher offer someone representation or a book deal on the back of a reading. In fact, I’m yet to see a literary agent or a publisher attend a spoken word night that wasn’t part of a major festival (though I’m sure it happens).

The truth is, creative writers perform their work because it helps them guage an audience’s reponse. It also forces them to think about the structure of their work; the natural, or otherwise, ebbs and flows of their writing.

I honestly believe that reading your work to a live audience can tell you as much about a piece of writing as several days, even weeks, of internalising and deliberation.

What if it all goes wrong?

Well, that’s very pessimistic of you. But yes, you could fall flat on your face. You might get an audience of literary snobs who, when it comes down to it, don’t know their over-writerly arses from their over-writerly elbows. And they might turn their noses up. But who cares? You’ve had the gumption to get up and do your thang and if they don’t like it, that’s their problem.

Over the last couple of months I’ve been to a couple of spoken word nights and twice read posts taken directly from this blog. On one of those occasions I also read the first chapter of my novel, but the other time I was just a blogger with a thing or two to say about the writing process.

And I found it useful. If I went back and wrote those posts again, I might change a few things. But perhaps as important, I got just the same buzz out of performing as I do when I read my fiction. Plus the audience seemed to dig it.

I’m still here. Nothing terrible happened. You should give it a try.

Time management and prioritising your priorities

Prioritise your priorities. Not my words, but the words of Rachelle Gardner over at her blog about her life as a literary agent. But they could be my words, because that’s pretty much what I do when it comes to my writing.
As you may already know, I’ve had to do some writerly juggling over the past few years. I’ve written a novel (as part of a Masters course) while working full-time as a copywriter, with lots of side projects in between (you’re reading one now). And there have been times when it’s felt like I’ve had rather a lot on my plate.

But somehow, I’ve always got things done. And that’s because, over time, I’ve learnt to prioritise my priorities.

What not to do

Rachelle’s post really struck me. In particular, it was the line about the big secret to her time management being  the list of things she doesn’t do. Sounds odd doesn’t it? But it makes sense, when you think about it.

In case you don’t want to head over and read the full article (and you should), here’s what she says:

I’ve dispensed with a lot of non-necessary things in life… things I’d like to do if I could! But the path I’ve chosen means I’ve had to let go of some things.

Now, she goes on to list ‘things’ like keeping a scrapbook and growing a garden. Personally, I’d like to hang on to those parts of my life if possible (the courgettes are looking particularly good this summer), but in terms of my writing and related projects, there are things I’m prepared to let go.

For example, when I decided to set up Write for Your Life, I knew that I would probably have to give up Words Aloud, a project I’d been tied to and loved to bits for two years. I hadn’t the time for both, so one of them had to go.

Similarly, when it came to the crunch for completing my novel, I realised the only way was to pass up the chance of editing a second edition of Matter, a literary magazine I was involved with at the time.

And now, I find myself in the same position again.

After some exciting and Summer-changing news, I’m spending the next couple of months returning to my novel for a little editing and plenty of graft. And that means I have to prioritise my priorities and draw up a new list of things that I don’t do.

And why? Because when it comes down to it, my novel and my creative writing is what means the most to me. That’s my number one priority. Everyone should have one.

Panic ye not

Of course, you might be wondering if this is the end of Write for Your Life. Well, I’m pleased to say that no, it’s certainly not! I’ve enjoyed my blogging experience so far and have really, really appreciated all your kind thoughts and feedback.

No, instead there will be a new strategy in place to keep the blog going with plenty of new posts (possibly more!) being published while I’m beavering away. It’s going to be great, so don’t go anywhere!

More on that at a later date, but for now I implore you to read Rachelle’s post and have a think about your own writing priorities. And don’t just think about what you do do (feel free to snigger), but also the things that you don’t. Or the things that you’re prepared to give up when the time comes.

Jean Hannah Edelstein (part one): publishing and putting together a proposal

Write for Your Life recently spoke (well, emailed back and forth with) Jean Hannah Edelstein, author of Himglish and Femalese: Why Women Don’t Get Why Men Don’t Get Them, which was published by Preface this month and is available from all good book stores.
We covered a range of topics, including research, the world of publishing and putting together a proposal. Look out for part two in the next week or so.

Your book, Himglish and Femalese, came out last week, but when did the writing process start for you?

It was quite undefined, but I guess it started in the autumn of 2007, when I wrote and shopped (or rather, my agent shopped) a proposal for a similar book. My editor and I first met in early January of 2008 and I wrote the revamped proposal and sample chapter then.

I started writing the book in earnest in May 2008 and wrote the bulk of it between August and November. So overall the first draft took about six months, I revised it December – February and it was published in May.

And what about research? When I wrote my novel I spent a few weeks at the start researching, and then kept a pile of textbooks with me throughout. How did you approach it?

Ah, that is interesting because I took a completely different approach. I’d been thinking and reading about the issues that I address in the book for a long while, and the book is very anecdotal, so basically I outlined the things that I wanted to write about, did a bit of preliminary research, and then researched as I went along.

This meant I used my ideas as my points of departure rather than departing from other people’s research.

And did you choose to work like that for a specific reason?

I felt it was important in order to keep the book fresh, as obviously it is on a topic that has been explored quite a bit. Admittedly, this is also how I generally did my coursework in university – it just feels most natural to me, but I’m well aware it’s not for everyone.

That said, I think sometimes people get so caught up in research that they’re afraid to start writing – and I’d definitely advocate starting projects sooner rather than later, because you can research any topic forever and research can turn into procrastination rather than anything useful.

Absolutely, sometimes you need to make that first step and everything else follows naturally. Of course, your book is non-fiction though. Would you say non-fiction requires more research than creative writing?

It completely depends on what you are writing, of course. My book is heavily anecdotal, so a lot of the ‘research’ involved speaking with my friends/colleagues/etc and, of course, mining my own cache of experience.

In that respect, then, I probably spent a lot less time in the library than someone, say, writing a historical novel. Ultimately, whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, you need to convince your reader of your authority to tell the story, and thus research accordingly.

And what about when you were at proposal stage? What process did you have to go through then as a non-fiction author?

Writing a proposal is a daunting and tedious thing to do! Definitely my least favourite part of the process, since I just wanted to get in to writing the book, rather than have to spend ages explaining and outlining the book.

But not only is a sharp proposal the best way to secure the deal, it turns out to be so useful during the writing process – countless times I’d think, ‘oh, dear, what should I do now?’ and then remember that I had a detailed outline to refer to.

Was it the first time you’d had to put a proposal like that together?

Well, I was lucky enough to get schooled in proposal writing when I worked in two literary agencies before I commenced my writing career.

The most important thing to remember about writing a proposal, I think, is that you have to boil down the concept of your book so that it grabs the editor, and you also have to show how it is commercially viable. That is, what will set it apart from the other books in the market.

And what about us creative writers? Should we have the same mindset when approaching agents and/or publishers?

For literary-minded writers this second part of proposal-writing can seem a bit beneath your lofty ideals, but the bottom line is that publishing is a business, and you have to prove that your book will sell, or you are not going to get a book deal.

On the bright side, however, figuring out what makes your book marketable can make your writing sparkle when it comes down to actually writing the bulk of the book, because thinking ‘what will make this book fly off the shelves?’ means bringing your most creative ideas to the fore.

Check out the second part of this interview now!

About Jean Hannah Edelstein

Born in the early eighties in New York to an American father and Scottish mother, Jean Hannah Edelstein is a London-based journalist with a signature style that combines New York sass and British wit.

Following two years in publishing, Jean began writing professionally in 2007 and has been published in print and online by numerous newspapers and magazines, including the Guardian, the Observer, the Sunday Times, the Independent, and the Independent on Sunday, and has also appeared as a commentator on radio and television.

Her first book, Himglish and Femalese: Why Women Don’t Get Why Men Don’t Get Them is published by Preface.

Tumblr as an online scrapbook for writers

Ideas come in all shapes and sizes and can be generated or inspired by almost anything.
As writers, we’re encouraged to read, read, read, but our imaginations are just as likely ignited by the things we watch, the things we listen to and the people we hang around with.

All of which brings me neatly on to Tumblr.

What is Tumblr?

Tumblr is what’s techtastically known as a microblogging platform. For me, it sits somewhere between WordPress, a full fat blogging experience, and Twitter, with its 140 character’s worth of tiny talk.

Tumblr’s ‘About’ page says it’s the “easiest way to express yourself”.

It also says this:

Tumblr lets you effortlessly share anything. Post text, photos, quotes, links, music, and videos, from your browser, phone, desktop, email, or wherever you happen to be.

Of course, all of that is true, but the same more or less applies to every other blogging platform out there, doesn’t it? And having used it for almost exactly a year now, I know that Tumblr offers so much more.

So what is different about Tumblr and how can you use it as a scrapbook?

What makes Tumblr so special?

I have a Facebook account and I use Twitter. I also have a last.fm profile, a Vimeo page and a LinkedIn profile too. But the only social media platform I return to on a daily basis is Tumblr. Here’s why:

It really is easy to use

To post something to your blog, or ‘Tumblelog’ as they’re known, you simply choose from seven different post types: Text, Photo, Quote, Link, Chat, Audio and Video. And because each post type is pre-styled, you don’t have to worry about what it will look like. It means you can crack on with finding and adding content, which is great.

It’s how social should be

Arguably the best thing about Tumblr is its social aspect. I know that there are various communities and groups of people who regularly communicate through services like Twitter, but it’s not the same, I promise.

As a platform, Tumblr is growing and growing, but it still seems to retain a certain ethos that I love. Essentially, you interact with people by reposting their material and saying, ‘Yeah, I like that. Other people should see it too.’

Imagine Twitter as a major record label. Tumblr is the indie that’s not only cooler, but always has its heart in the right place.

It’s the perfect online scrapbook for writers

Like most other social-type platforms, Tumblr comes with its own little bookmarklet that sits in your browser toolbar and allows you to post to your Tumblelog without actually going to your Tumblr dashboard.

Effectively, that means that when you see something you like, whether it’s a blog post, an image or a video (see full list above), within seconds you can have it appear on your Tumblelog. It will also appear in the dashboard of anyone who’s ‘following’ you.

Nothing revolutionary there, but with Tumblr it’s all so visual. You’re not farming links, you’re assembling a collection of media that inspires you, flexes your brain-box and makes you laugh.

And everyone else is doing the same, so you’re not building a scrapbook for your writing on your own, there’s a community (with plenty of writers, actually) there to help you out. Plus it’s all so effortless and quick.

So, what now?

Well, first of all you can head over to Tumblr and have an account set up in no time at all. This post is just a very brief overview and there really is no explanation that can do the job better than simply getting stuck in.

Have a scout round, post a few things and then find a couple of people to follow. Ahem.

If you take to Tumblr, you’ll no doubt use it however best suits your needs. But I’d encourage you to approach it with the scrapbook notion in mind. Be creative and don’t restrict yourself.

Remember, your Tumblelog is not your novel, freelance work or ‘proper’ blog. It’s a playground of ideas. If it looks like fun, have a go on the slide.

How to find your perfect writing partner

Writing collaboratively can be a fantastic experience. However, you don’t necessarily need to work on the same project with someone to benefit from having a writing partner.
Rather than team up with another writer to produce a joint story, script or series of articles, why not use their knowledge and experience to better your own work? And, of course, you can do likewise for them.

Because I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, writing can be a solitary pursuit. Rather than lurk in the shadows of your study for hours, days or weeks on end, find yourself a writing partner instead. Develop a good working relationship another writer and reap the rewards.

Why do I need a writing partner?

Good question.  You might not need a writing partner. If you’re able to write a novel or churn out blog articles without the slightest dip in quality or any editorial guidance, that’s just brillio.

Seriously, top work. Some people love the introspective side of the writing process and can produce high-quality work consistently. And that’s great. However, it doesn’t apply to everyone.

A lot of writers need some form of guidance, whether it’s basic editorial help or problems related to confidence and motivation. We get incredibly close to our work and it can be tough to find that guidance from within.

A writing partner helps to take the pressure off. They provide both practical advice and an outlet for your ideas and frustrations. It’s a real commitment from both parties, but a good partnership can help you to take your writing to the next level.

It can even be the difference between completing a project and abandoning it mid-flight.

Finding ‘the one’ – the three Ts

I know some writers who have had the same writing partner for several years, but my experience with partners has typically been project-specific. Basically, see what works best for you. But don’t stick with the same writing partner if the relationship isn’t helping your writing.

When trying to find a partner,  I think that there are three criteria thatmnust be met. Conveniently, they all begin with the letter ‘T’.

Trust

When you have a writing partner, you have to put your faith in their judgement. That doesn’t mean  you have to go with every amend or suggestion that they give you, but you should trust them enough to know that any critique is done with thought and careful consideration.

Likewise, if you’re providing feedback or emotional support for another writer, you’re in a position of genuine responsibility. Don’t let the partnership down by abusing that trust. You only get what you give, as they say.

You have to enter the relationship with agreed expectations and work together to make sure that you’re both getting what you need out of it. You have to be able to trust your writing partner. It’s essential.

Time

The most practical of the three Ts and arguably the most important. Before you agree to working with a writing partner, you need to know that the other person has the time to commit fully.

This is particularly relevant if you’re working to deadlines. The last thing you want is to be relying on your partner to proofread your work the week of submission, only to find that they’ve not got the time or resources to give you the support you need.

To avoid this happening, you need to agree how much time each of you is expected to invest in the partnership from the outset. Don’t get caught out by not establishing the finer details of your relationship.

Talent

Sometimes the easy option is to share your work with a friend or family member. I’d say that unless that friend or family member is a working writer, or at a similar stage to you in their writing career, don’t bother.

You wouldn’t ask them to fix your pipes (so to speak) unless they were qualified, so don’t ask them for detailed feedback on your writing unless they know what they’re doing.

You can only benefit from a writing partner if their support, technical or otherwise, is of a high quality. If you find that you disagree with all of their suggestions, the partnership isn’t working.

Similarly, if you don’t enjoy or believe in your partner’s writing, you might want to try someone else. The process should be positive, a pleasure even, so don’t get held back by a lack of talent. Harsh, I know. But true.

Where to find your writing partner

So, you’ve decided you need a writing partner, but you’ve no idea where to find one. Here are just a few suggestions. Please feel free to expand on this list in the comments section.

A postgraduate writing course

I use this example first because it’s where I met and worked with other writers the most. Postgraduate writing courses are expensive, but you know that your classmates will be like-minded and committed to the cause. Also, having been through a strict vetting process to get on the course, they should also know what they’re talking about.

Writing groups

Writing groups are all around us. Google ‘writing groups’ in your local area and see what you find. Hopefully, they’ll have a website and contact information.

Online forums

Popular over recent years, there are many writing-related forums on the web. I’m a member over at the Editor Unleashed forum, although I’ve not used it for partner purposes, I must admit. And yes, I need to post more.

Social networks

Yup, turns out social networking does have real-life benefits. Truth is, there are writers talking to each other and teaming up every day through social networks. Twitter is the place to be at the moment, but there are other networks to look at, including LinkedIn, Virb and of course, Facebook.

One-off courses

A one-off course is a great way of improving your craft and learning new skills. However, it’s also a fantastic way to meet other writers. In the UK, there are the Arvon Foundation courses, or you can even pack your bags and head for the sun on a writing break, like the one offered by Joanna Young from Confident Writing.

Book groups

Potentially, a long shot this one. But if you’re part of a book group, there might well be a closet scribe amongst you that you weren’t aware of. It’s up to you to seek ‘em out.

And finally…

It’s worth reiterating, writing partners aren’t for everyone. However, you never know until you try these things. I’ve benefited hugely in the past from having someone there to check my work and keep me going. Give it a try – you might have a similar experience.

How to use Cueprompter – a free autocue service

What you get here is a very rough and ready overview of a free online autocue/teleprompter service called Cueprompter. It’s a very simple, nifty little tool that I think you might be able to use in your writing.
The podcast features a short screencast in the middle where I show you how Cueprompter works. It might not be fantastically clear quality-wise, but it should be enough to give you an idea of what Cueprompter is all about.

Also, look out for yet another kitten-related incident towards the end of the podcast. I had no idea she was hiding back there, the little scamp.

How do you use yours?

In this podcast, I give you some thoughts on how you might use Cueprompter in your writing. However, the beauty of all these free tools is that we can each take from them what we need and use them in whatever way takes our fancy.

With that in mind, I’d be really interested to read your thoughts on how you might use Cueprompter. Is it something you use already? Is an autocue something you’ve ever considered before? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

Watch this episode on Vimeo

How to write about your life (without upsetting friends and family)

Whether you’re a poet or problogger, you will, at times, have an instinct to write autobiographically.
As writers, we regularly follow the common piece of writing advice, to ‘write about what you know’. It’s in our nature to draw on personal experience and, in one way or another, write about our lives.

But of course, it’s almost impossible to write about our lives on a regular basis or in any depth without referring to the people around us – our friends and family.

And this can sometimes lead to problems.

Decisions, decisions

You novelists and scriptwriters will understand the difficult decisions you have to make when a character starts to resemble someone you know.

Do you plough on regardless or do you stop and think about whether what you’re writing will have any repercussions in real life?

And what about you bloggers and journalists? What you write is effectively a permanent archive of material that can be accessed at any time by pretty much anyone. That’s a lot of responsibility.

Do you stick with a good story or article no matter what, or do you run it past the people it might affect to make sure that your work won’t bring heartache later on?

Writing about your life can be a tricky business, but there are a few things you can do to make sure you don’t get yourself in an emotional tangle.

They can handle the truth

Once you’ve made the decision to write about your life in a way that might affect someone you know, be open and honest about it. More importantly, ask permission.

There’s no harm in telling that person that you’re writing about them, or that you’ve been inspired by something they’ve said or done. Most people will take it as a compliment and maybe even help you out with any research that you might need to do.

But it’s vital that you’re up front with them from the get-go. Otherwise, what you write may just cause upset later on. And by that time, it’ll be too late to do anything about it.

Be inspired don’t imitate

Another alternative is to simply use a snapshot of a person or event.

You don’t always need to go the whole hog and base an entire character on one person, or relay exact events that reflect their life and actions.

When I began writing my novel, I had no intention of using any part of my life as inspiration. But inevitably, it happened.

My lead character’s father shares many similarities with my own father, including his job, dialect and some of the phrases he uses. But he’s also a borderline alcoholic who may or may not have had an affair with his daughter-in-law’s mother.*

My character, that is. Not my Dad.

The point is, I’m never going to write a story, poem or blog article based entirely on someone I know personally. But they can still inspire me, and I can use that inspiration in a way that won’t compromise the relationship.

Write anonymously

Here are some practical examples for when you really have to write about a friend or family member, but need to protect their anonymity:

  • If you’re writing fiction, give someone a different name. Make one up. It’s obvious, I know, but worth saying.
  • If you’re writing fiction, give someone a different name that doesn’t sound very similar to their real name or have the same initial. Don’t laugh. It happens all the time.
  • If you’re writing non-fiction, reduce the name to an initial, so Sally becomes ‘S’ and Bob becomes ‘B’.
  • If you’re writing non-fiction, use a different name and include a disclaimer that indicates what you’ve done.

Put yourself in their shoes

Another way of looking at it is to try and put yourself in their shoes.

Read your work again. Would you like to have the article or story that you’re writing written about you? Would it hurt your feelings or jeopardise a relationship?

The old saying, ‘treat others how you would want to be treated yourself,’ is a pertinent message for writers.

With the power of words comes responsibility. Think about how your words might affect you if the shoe was on the other foot. I know that’s way too many shoe/foot analogies, but the point is a good one.

Do the write thing (sorry)

Finally, what I think is probably my most important piece of advice. If you think there might be any chance that what you’re writing will affect someone you care about, don’t do it.

It’s just not worth it.

The written word is our passion. For many of us, it’s our occupation too. But it will never be more important than the people we love.

When your work starts to have a negative impact on the people around you – your friends and family – it’s time to find a new subject and move on to the next idea.

* It’s less complicated than it sounds, I promise.

Why you should always stay proud of your writing

This post came about after a brief email exchange last week with Richard Crowther, a fellow wordsmith and regular commenter on Write for Your Life.
As an afterthought to a more general conversation, we were both derogatory about some of our old writing. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but later I found myself questioning what I’d said.

Correct me in the comments section if you disagree, but I think it’s fair to say that most writers, at some point, feel either embarrassed by or somehow divorced from a lot of their earlier work.

As writers, we have a tendency, a need almost, to think that whatever we’re currently writing is our best work yet.

And that stands to reason, of course. Because although the very best writing requires that special indescribable something, essentially, it’s still a craft. It’s something that we can work on.

The more we write, the better we get.

Repeat after me: I write, and I’m proud

So, if we accept that practice makes, well, not perfect, but for improvement and progression, then are we right to feel a little red-faced about the things we wrote, say, a couple of years ago?

Well, of course not. And here’s why:

  • Old writing gives you a benchmark
    When you revisit old work, you need to make a simple distinction, and then use it to your advantage. If you think it’s awful, acknowledge it for what it was and use it to measure how far you’ve come, and where you can still improve. If it’s wonderful and chest-beatingly brilliant, you know the standard you’ve set and need to strive for and surpass from now on.
  • All writing is of its time
    Can’t bear to reread your collection of heartbreak-laden poetry that you wrote following the split from your first boyfriend or girlfriend? Grit your teeth and go and read it immediately. Remember, that’s how you felt at the time and by writing those poems, you’ve become better at your craft. Don’t bin your work. Assign it to a certain time in your life, stick your chest out and be proud.
  • All writers are in the same boat
    If you think you’re the only one to look back at old work and cringe, you’re wrong. We all do it and it’s just part of the writing process. No one writes perfectly at the first attempt. Novels, poems, scripts, articles and blog posts – they all go through several drafts. Accept it. Be proud of your commitment to getting it right.

As a little treat, I’ve managed to dig out the first poem I ever wrote. It’s terrible, of course (I have long given up writing poetry). But I’m terribly proud of it, because to this day I remember my English teacher’s kind feedback. And then my decision to write another poem. And another.

You can download He is the Pint Glass here and now. Don’t laugh.

Share your thoughts

Do you look back in anger or mild embarrassment when you think about your past scribblings? Are you a serial shredder or do you keep all your old writing for prosperity? Let us know in the comments section.