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.

Writing goals 2: Short-term targets, long-term goals

The first post in Write for Your Life’s ongoing ‘Writing goals’ series encouraged you to aim high, but manage your expectations. Now, it’s time to look at how you approach your writing once you’ve decided what you want to achieve.
I’ll use my own writing as an example. It took me a long time to write my novel, partly because I also had to hold down a full-time job, but also because it took me the best part of a year to work out how to set achievable goals.

The problem was, I never did set myself goals, as such. Instead, I had just one singular objective: write a novel. That’s all I wanted to do. It’s what I was working towards.

In 2005, with 10,000 words under my belt and some handsome feedback, I took two months sabbatical from work and moved to a friend’s house in Bath. My goal was to complete my novel, in peace, while I was there.

On leaving Bath, I had just 24,000 words. I would go on to write another 35,000 over the next two years before finally achieving my ‘goal’.

The reason I wrote so little in that time was a lack of planning and foresight. I had a goal, but no idea about how I was going to reach it.

What I needed, was short-term targets.

Writing targets and writing goals

Okay, so what’s the difference between a target and a goal? Here are a couple of relevant definitions from dictionary.com.

Target: a goal to be reached.

Goal: the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end.

So yes, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. A target and a goal is pretty much the same thing. Well, okay, they’re definitely the same thing.

Actually, that doesn’t matter, because it’s what goes on in your brainbox that counts. It’s you who defines what a target is and what a goal is.

This is how it works for me:

A goal is a long-term project with a definite ending or result to aim for, such as completing a novel. A short-term target is an event or milestone that seems achievable and has a clearer time-scale, such as completing a chapter.

A goal, therefore, is made up of a series of targets.

The dictionary might not recognise a difference between goals and targets, but you can. Truth is, the words themselves are irrelevant. You can call them what you want. If it’s easier, or just more fun, you can call your targets bananas and your goal a fruit salad and no one’s going to stop you.

The important thing is to think short-term to achieve your long-term objective.

Step by step by step by step

There are obvious advantages to working with short-term targets. When I was in Bath, without realising it, I put myself under enormous pressure to write.

I wanted to finish my novel so much, that I didn’t think clearly and my creativity dried up. Instead of waking up each day and setting myself a target of, say, 1000 words, I simply got frustrated at my lack of progress towards ‘the end’.

By setting short-term targets, you adjust your mental approach to your writing and gain more freedom by focusing your energy on what you’re doing in the here and now.

And although my example is something very long-term, writing a novel, the theory works for shorter pieces of writing too.

For instance, I’ve just spent the best part of a month on a copywriting job that saw me and a team of writers craft around 200 case studies in pretty quick time.

It was a frantic process with tight deadlines. A case study was between 350 and 380 words. To make sure I got the work done, I forced myself to break each case study down in to paragraphs – physically and mentally.

I knew that if I started thinking, ‘Arrrgghhh, I’ve got to research and write all this in an hour,’ I wouldn’t get it done. So I took each case study one paragraph at a time, working step-by-step towards a whole (or goal (or fruit salad!)).

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!

So, short-term targets help you achieve long-term goals because they give you focus and help you adjust your mental approach to your writing. Lovely stuff.

However, I think there’s also another benefit that’s equally, if not more important.

To go back to my novel, once I started working short-term, I was able to better understand what my long-term goal actually was. I could appreciate the task more. I had respect for it.

When you approach any meaty writing project, you never exactly know what you’re letting yourself in for. All manner of things can happen along the way: writer’s block, lack of motivation, pregnancy. I had problems with at least two of these things.

In terms of time, long-term goals are often subject to change. If you don’t have short-term targets, you can end up losing your way and find yourself forgetting what it is you’re aiming for.

By approaching a project as a step-by-step process, you can manage it more effectively. You can recognise patterns in your writing and predict where you’ll be at any given point in the project’s timeline.

Essentially, short-term targets allow you to manage your writing, so that your writing doesn’t manage you.

Share and share alike

So now you know how useless I used to be and how unrealistic my goals were, it’s time to tell us your objective-setting experiences.

Can you work long-term without short-term targets? Do you gave an ingenious technique that allows you to structure your workflow? Are you a bit confused by the fruit salad bit?

How Twitter can help you improve, market and publish your creative writing

There seems to be an awful lot of hoo-hah about Twitter at the moment.
I first set up my Twitter account a couple of years ago and quickly abandoned it, thinking it a twaddlesome alternative to text messages.

Well, I don’t mind admitting, I was wrong. For those of you who have done a similar thing, try reading Joanna Young’s recent post on why it’s worth sticking with Twitter, over at Confident Writing.

I went back to my Twitter account when I launched Write for Your Life. Since then, I’ve come to understand Twitter’s ability to provide access to all manner of people who are either writing, interested in writing or writing about writing.

Not all, but there are many creative writers who might consider a platform like Twitter to be counter-productive. They might also think it a place for journos, bloggers and beatniks, but not, in their fictional words, serious writers.

It’s nonsense. All writing is serious, now more than ever before. Creative writers need to start taking the bull by the horns and realise that in today’s world, there’s more to writing than simply the act itself.

At the moment, Twitter is ‘the thing’. How long that lasts is irrelevant. As a writer, you can harness its power right here, right now.

Meet other writers

This has to be the number one reason why you should use Twitter if you’re a creative writer.

Writing can be a lonely process at times. There are plenty of writing groups, courses and spoken word events out there, but they can be hit and miss and don’t suit everyone. However, all writers need support and advice at some point, and Twitter is an absolute goldmine.

Imagine a huge, and I mean truly massive, network of writers who share similar passions and interests, and are willing to share their wisdom and experience. Well, that’s Twitter.

If you want to meet and share ideas with fellow writers who are going through the same highs and lows as you are, sign up now.

Make contacts in the publishing industry

Maria Schneider recently posted a list of good publishing industry people to follow on Twitter, over at Editor Unleashed. High Spot Inc also posted a directory of book trade folks who are using Twitter.

Together, these lists cover the full range of publishing types, from literary agents and publishers to libraries and print suppliers. These people are right there, on Twitter. They are online and directly engaging with writers, every single day.

Let me say that again.

Online, people in the publishing industry, including literary agents and publishing houses, are interacting with writers. An industry that for so many years has seemed closed off, is finally opening up. It has to. The world’s gone digital and they’re rushing to catch up.

Make the most if it. Get a Twitter account and follow people and organisations relevant to your writing. I’m not saying send a quick message to Bloomsbury saying, ‘Wanna publish my novel?’ and you’ll end up with a six-figure book deal. Of course not.

What I’m saying is, through Twitter you finally have a chance to communicate and create a dialogue with the industry. Get involved. Chat to people. Watch trends. It’s all happening and it’s happening now. Like never before.

Promote and market your writing

Perhaps the main reason Twitter has taken off is because it provides a quick and dirty route to promoting your work, whatever that may be.

For example, as soon as I hit publish on this post, I’ll Tweet my near-300 followers (woohoo!) and tell them about it. That’s near-300 people who might decide to click on the link I give them and find themselves right here, on Write for Your Life. And if that’s you, right now, may I welcome you with a quick, ‘Cooeeee!’

But this is a blog I’m promoting, a format that relies on online marketing and social networking. How can a creative writer, whose work is (usually) in a very tangible and offline format, use Twitter to market their work?

Well, first, see my previous points on meeting writers and making contacts in the industry. These people and organisations are a good place to start if you want to tell relevant people that you’ve got a poetry collection coming out soon, or you’ve been signed by a literary agency.

But Twitter can also give you access to potential readers. You know, the general public. Particularly if your writing is in a specific genre or covers a certain subject.

For example, if you’ve written a novel that revolves around, I dunno, basketball, you can follow, chat with and mention your work to people who like to shoot the ol’ hoops. Or if you write erotic fiction, say, Twitter can give you access to, well, people who read erotic fiction. It’s that simple.

In an economic climate where writers are expected more and more to take on the responsibility of marketing their work, Twitter is an excellent tool for reaching out to your audience.

For more information on how to promote your writing on Twitter, I heartily recommend ‘Using Twitter for Book Marketing‘, a post on Self-publishing Review.

Publish extracts of your writing

There are plenty of writers out there who are using Twitter as a publishing platform in itself. Sometimes it’s for a bit of fun, such as Copyblogger’s recent haiku competition, which ludicrously, I didn’t win.

Competitions like this and other attempts at 140-character creativity tend to involve writing something from scratch. There are Twitter novels, Twitter poems and many other methods for using the Twitter format to create something new. Quite exciting, really.

But what if you want to publish an existing piece of writing that doesn’t necessarily sit easily with the 140-character format?

Well, poems are made up of lines and stories are made up of sentences. If you occasionally throw in the odd choice quote from your writing, it can help you a) market you work, and b) express your personality as a writer. It doesn’t matter if it’s completely out of context, so long as it’s, you know, thought-provoking.

Here’s a potential tweet of mine:

From the start of my novel: Benny paints pictures with his eyes closed.

Again, I’m not saying that publishing extracts on Twitter will bring you fame and fortune, just that it can add to you experience as a writer.

Jude Calvert-Toulmin is a regular in the comments section on this blog. She’s been tweeting extracts from her work and has even set up an entire Twitter account dedicated to her novel.

Create a virtual notepad

Finally, here’s a suggestion for those writers who consider Twitter a social networking time drain and nothing more than a chance to waffle our lives away.

Truth is, if you have a Twitter account, you don’t actually have to follow, be followed by, or communicate with anyone whatsoever. You have that option. It’s in the settings.

And what would that leave you with? Well, it would leave you with a single web page that you can post short messages to from your desktop, web browser or mobile phone at any time of the day or night.

That’s a virtual notepad, right there. A quick, easy-to-use space to store your thoughts and ideas.

Personally, I’m all for carrying an actual notepad, with pages and everything. But sometimes it simply isn’t to hand and I need to find somewhere else to track my thoughts.

And really, that fits Twitter’s remit perfectly.

Where do I start with Twitter?

Well, first of all, head over to the Twitter homepage and set up your account. Then, for more technical information about the ins and outs of using Twitter, Darren Rowse’s TwiTip is a great place to go.

After that, start following people with similar interests and if you have a problem, ask your new found cyber-friends!

Share, share and share some more

So there we go, a few ways in which creative writers can use and benefit from Twitter. Over to you.

Has Twitter had an effect on your creative writing? Have you seen any novel (pun very much intended) ways that people have used Twitter to market or talk about their writing? Or is Twitter just a great big waste of time?

What do you keep in your writer’s tool belt?

Guest post by Manuela Boyle
I never thought I’d say this, but I envy plumbers.

They have a set of tools they need to do their job well, all shiny and useful, and they often wear them on their person, as if to say ‘I’m a plumber, I’m kitted out, and ready for work’.

If I could buy a writer’s tool belt, I would. It would probably be utilitarian in look and feel, made from thick red canvas, and have my initials embroidered on it in gold thread. In it, I’d keep the tools of my trade. Which, of course, will vary from writer to writer, but I’m sure you’ll see some tools on the list that I’m about to share with you that you recognise.

Whatever floats your boat

A word of warning before we go any further: sometimes our tool belt contains essential items which propel our writing forward, help us when we get a bit stuck, and are fundamental to the act of writing.

Lurking in there also are crutches… tools we don’t want to throw away because they make us feel comfy and safe, but can be bad for us and actually get in the way of writing.

My list contains both, ‘cos I’m only human. See if you can tell which is which…

  1. Thesaurus
    Sylvia Plath knew the power of the thesaurus. How else do you think she found out about all those bonkers words she routinely sprinkled into her poetry, like arsenic on a freshly-baked cake? A thesaurus is a writer’s friend, and don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise. Sometimes you’ll find a new word in there you never heard before, or exactly the word you needed to make a line of poetry scan. I’m never without mine and I don’t think it’s cheating either. I prefer the alphabetical listing variety, dictionary-stylee. Roget and me just don’t see eye to eye.
  2. Idiom websites/reference book
    Similar to thesaurus. I’ve got my copywriting hat on now, and I must say, I spend a lot of time on English language idiom sites, looking for inspiration for a job that requires a particular copy theme. The client wants food-inspired headlines for an employee engagement initiative… so off I trundle to a food sayings or food idioms website which, granted, normally look horrible, are full of adverts and smilies, but, they give me the material I need to do the job in hand. ‘Peas in a pod’? Perfect. I intend to buy an idiom reference book very soon so my design sensibilities are no longer offended by bad websites, and of course, so I can pop it in my tool belt.
  3. Coffee
    Opinions are split on this one. I am a serious caffeine fiend, and firmly believe that I need my coffee crutch next to me to do my best work. However, there are plenty of writers out there who subscribe to the Glengarry Glenross school of thinking that ‘Coffee’s for closers’. Hot drink making can be a distraction from your work, a way out of a difficult sentence or section, a procrastination, or a reward that comes too early. The next time you think ‘this is really hard, I’ll put the kettle on’, think again – are you putting off the inevitable? Alternatively, ask someone else to make that cuppa for you.
  4. Cigarettes
    I can hear the boos from the back of the hall. Less intrusive than coffee, but clearly, a whole bunch of wrongs in the long run, fags are my best and worst writing crutch. I smoke when nothing’s happening on the page, smoke when something is… even writing about it is making me want one now. Yes, sadly, I’m a paid-up follower of the Hunter S Thompson smoke-while-you-work philosophy. There’s no doubt, cigarettes can affect your focus, distract you from your writing, and yet, give you the space for that little by-yourself meeting you sometimes need to turn a corner.  I realise I’ve not reached a conclusion on this one, *coughs*. Let’s move on.
  5. Word count tool
    Again, a writing tool that’s good for some and bad for others. I once had the good fortune to ask Will Self for his top writing tips, and he was very down on the word count tool. Likening it to the devil’s spawn for writers, he told me to never check word count of what I was writing until the end of my writing session. It’s a false reassurance, something else to check that gets in the way of the act itself. And yet there have been times checking word count has been my personal cheerleader, waved a pom-pom at me, and said ‘you’ve done far more than you thought you had, keep going!’ But Self knows his onions, doesn’t he? I still word count though – it gives me the encouragement I need as I sit there, my computer and me, writing, lonely as a cloud.

What’s in your writer’s toolbelt?

So, that’s my writer’s tool belt. What’s in yours? Is there something that you just can’t do without when you’re writing? Do you have certain handy helping devices, healthy or otherwise? Let us know by sharing your thoughts in the comment section below.