Thursday, 28 January 2010

Learning on the Job

I had a brilliant afternoon at a local primary school interviewing the head teacher and a teacher. I managed to find the school okay and they were very welcoming. My fears that one day someone I go to interview doesn't believe that I'm a writer were allayed instantly. It was such a great experience and I feel enthusiastic and full of beans about the project. I don't know why I think someone's going to not believe me or be really awkward because I've done a fair few interviews now and it hasn't happened to me yet. In fact it's been the opposite - people are only too willing to speak to me, which has been fantastic.

I love going out and about and meeting people for my articles and I know that this career change from nursing to writing was the right one for me. It hasn't been easy, but with a lot of hard work and persistance it is starting to pay off. I am at my happiest when I am researching and writing and love the sense of satisfaction I get when I send off my completed work and getting it accepted is just a bonus! I'd write whether I got published or not.

That's where a lot of beginner writers go wrong I think. They don't fully understand how hard the writing process is, or appreciate how difficult it is to get published. I don't really think I did when I began writing, to be honest! But it's a process we all have to go through and I find that comforting - that all over the world there are millions of writers writing! Many having similar writing experiences and rejections as we have. It's like a club - a society, and one that I am proud to be part of.

Tips of the day

1. Take along a folder of some sample pieces of your most recently published work - particularly that of a similiar nature / publication as to the article you are writing now to give the interviewee an idea of what the finished article may look like and the quality of your writing. There can be no suspicions that you aren't a real writer then! I e-mailed a copy of my recent article in Writers' Forum to a manager of the charity I am writing about now, plus a copy of an article from the actual magazine that I'm aiming the piece at I downloaded from their website and it definitely helped me get interviews and the information I needed.

2. Join a recognised writing association: there are several out there. I belong to The Association of Freelance Writers and you get a membership card you can put your photo on. It's certainly opened doors for me (even if it is a terrible 'Prisoner Cell Block H' photo!) For the journalists amongst us there is also The British Association of Journalists   both have excellent benefits. There are many more out there so have a google. Something to think about.

Happy writing

Julie xx

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

On the line

I had a wonderful phone interview  this evening with the Director of Services of the charity I'm doing a series of articles on at the moment. It's always a pleasure to speak with someone who loves to talk as much as I do! It was fantastic. She was so relaxed and such a mine of information I know I can write some really good pieces on the charity.

I don't have any recording facilities on my phone so I have to make notes. As I said before, I don't try and write every word down and I don't know formal short hand - so I just write key words and phrases and use my own hieroglyphics that only I can interpret (most of the time!). I've just finished typing up the interview and put it in my folder to keep all the info together so I'm not hunting for it when I've lost it all!

I also sent my list of questions to her a few days before the interview to give her time to think about her answers and it was obvious that she had given them a lot of serious thought which helped. I prefer this so I'm not going in cold or have the problem where the interviewee doesn't know what to say and there's an embarrassing silence down the phone line!

The most exciting news about my contact with this charity, though, is that I have been invited to their annual do in the House of Commons in July. They have speakers  including teachers and children who have benefitted from the charity's work and they are hoping to get a children's author who was a volunteer reader and won an award for his books to speak to. I'm so excited! I so hope I can go. She suggested I might like to do a follow up article about the do - so I guess I'll be doing more interviews. And taking photos, if allowed - I don't want to be carted off and arrested as a potential terrorist for taking photos in London do I?!  You never know where your writing might take you! A night in the cells by Julie Phillips!!

Tomorrow afternoon I'm at a school in Shrewsbury interviewing the head and a teacher about their experiences with the charity - it's the same school my old English Teacher who I interviewed last week is a volunteer reader at so I'm hoping to see him again too. That will be the last interview for this project so you all know what I'll be doing over the weekend!

Take care and grab those writing opportunities!

Julie xx

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Getting to the bottom of it

I love talking to people and I think that helps, and is why I like interviewing. I like getting down to the bare bones of someone or something. I think people lead such fascinating lives and it's such a pleasure to find out about them. The first interviews I did were back in June last year when I attended the Wenlock Olympian Society games in Much Wenlock.  What an experience they were! I know I haven't yet had an article published from that experience but I will. For me it was an exercise in throwing myself in the deep end and seeing if I could swim! The overriding thing that has stopped me from producing an article about it is that the society have to vet it first and you have to tell them which specific magazine the article is for - so if you want to pitch it to a magazine you have to fill forms in and wait for the societies verdict before submitting it to the articles - so complicated and a bit like being back in school - so you can understand why I've been reluctant. Plus they ask for a 20% fee from the amount the article sells for! (I don't mind donating some of the fee to a charity like the wildlife center etc, though  -  that's the right thing to do).

I've interviewed people in a variety of way: Face to face (by far my favourite), over the phone (the one to the USA was brilliant), and via e-mail (the fastest way but so impersonal). It's good to get used to interviewing people in a variety of ways so you can be flexible and give the person you want to interview the choice. Some people are shy and would be uncomfortable talking face to face and would prefer to be 'faceless', a voice in the ether. Yet others insist on face to face contact and I'm sure a lot of that is so they can check you out and make sure you are who you say you are.

I love face to face interviews because you get to see the 'whole' person. I love the interaction. You can gain so much information from their body language, facial expressions, mannerisms and gestures and it's much nicer to be able to include the human element into your articles - something editors like. The person behind the face.  People are intrigued by other people - look at how popular the soaps and fly-on-the-wall documentaries are, Big Brother!

I'm not into digging out and dishing-the-dirt sensationalism.I like to write positive and uplifting articles where people triumph over adversity or engage in an interesting hobby, have an unusual job, or do wonderful things for society - and, of course, writing! My favourite interview so far was with the archery group - they were stunning! So very, very, funny and I'm so pleased my article about them will be in Shropshire Life soon, as I'm sure they will be too. There will be much mead drank when it comes out I should think!

So don't be afraid of interviewing people - they don't bite (well in my experience they don't). Just make sure you do your homework and are prepared before the interview- before you ring them to ask if you can interview them is ideal as if you can show the person you know a lot about them and tell them why you want to talk to them. They are more likely to agree if they know you are truly interested in them.

I also tend to dress smartly and carry all my bits for the interview in a smart black case so I look as professional as I can and give a good impression - this point cannot be stressed enough - you have to look the part even of you don't feel it! And put the person you are interviewing at ease - make them believe that they are in good, safe hands because they are.

Face to face interviews afford you the luxury of adjusting your questions in resonse to how the interviewee answers the last. On the phone you can't see the person's face (unless it's a video phone or via computer webcam link) so you can't see if your questions are upsetting or annoying them. You don't get the essence of the person. It's like interviewing someone through a brick wall.  It may be more convenient and is better than interviewing by e-mail. But if speed and immediacy are important these methods are better than face to face that can take a while to set up. I'm off to interview a head teacher and a teacher at an infant school (not my daughter's) on Thursday and I'm really looking forward to it as it's the last round of interviews for a current set of articles I'm writing - so once I've spoken with them I can finish the articles off and submit them to their respective magazines. Then it's time to start on the next lot! Hamster on a wheel springs to mind!

However you interview, enjoy it! If you appear genuinely interested and aren't scribbling on paper throughout the interview (I take my digital voice recorder and then just note down key words to jog my memory later) then the person being interviewed will relax and enjoy the process too.

Happy writing  - get out there and meet people - you never know where your next writing idea may come from!

Julie xx

Friday, 22 January 2010

Keeping on track

We're coming up to the end of January, that classic time when the excitement of the Christmas festivities and the promises that a new year carry have long gone and our new year's resolutions hace weakened, or dissipated altogether. We all have ups and downs in our lives, events that appear to conspire against us - vetoing our best laid plans and wondering if someone 'upstairs' is out to get us. It's the same with our writing. We get rejection after rejection punctuated with a couple of successes and wonder why we make the effort. It's at our low points that we most need the help and support of other writers who are going through a good run of successes to bolster the spirits and resolve of those of us who are struggling.

That's why blogging and social networking is so fantastic. It gives writers the opportunity to learn from published writers who have a lot more success and experience than we do. They give their advice so generously because they know that at any second they too could be getting a few more rejections through the post than they'd like. They started from where we are now and appreciate how hard it can be to become published. They know what it's like to struggle and how we feel when we are getting nowhere.

 Something that has lifted my spirits today through the dreaded lurgy I've picked up was the arrival of the books I'd ordered through Amazon with the voucher I received for a winning letter in a magazine for school Governors. Amongst them was the 2010 edition of Writer's Market. They did have a website but that seems to have folded? Does anyone have any other information on that? I urge to buy this book if you are serious about your writing. It's jam packed with useful features about writing and of course the usual listings of all the magazines etc you might like to write for. I've had a flick through it and it's fired up my motivation levels again to get cracking. I glimpsed a few possible new markets I want to try to sell my articles to. It's so exciting! Have a look at the book and the website too and I know you'll be inspired too.

Don't let your resolve weaken, or your enthusiasm for your writing diminish. You have to keep trying if you want to be published and this book and website would be a great place to find new avenues for your writing and keep your creative writing on track. Make it your goal  each week to peruse the newsagents for a new magazine that you might submit to. And when you've read it and decided what you could write for them, read or request their submission guidelines, pitch it to the editor, or send your manuscript in, and see what happens. You really have nothing to lose. There was a chap in one of the writing magazines recently who was going through this book alphabetically and pitching an idea to each and every magazine outlet in there! Stupitidy, or sheer ingenuity and determination? I like his spirit, but you decide! Whether he'll achieve his massive goal, I don't know, but I'm rooting for him. He's showing all the signs of a great writer: determination, research, flexibility, tenacity and a 'can do' attitude. You can't fault him on that. I'm not going down his long road but I do intend to pitch at least one new idea to one new magazine each week. Why not give it a go too? It will be interesting to see where it takes us and how we fair!

Happy writing Julie xx

Monday, 18 January 2010

Scouring the magazines for writing opportunities

I had a 'thanks, but no thanks, reply to one of the proposals I sent out last week. The editor said they weren't commissioning any new pieces this year (and it's not even February yet!) but he would keep my details on file which is positive. I'm not disappointed - I would have been a few months ago but I know that one of the secrets of success is to send the idea elsewhere. So I'm going to look at other markets that may also be interested in the article I'm planning. If one editor says no, another might say yes, so it's always worth putting yours out there again somewhere else. I was pleased that the editor had got back to me so quickly - it doesn't always happen like that: you either hear nothing for months and then get a 'no, or, worst of all, you hear nothing at all. I know it was a 'no', but it was a quick no, and I don't mind that. It means there's no time wasting and I can get on pitching the idea to someone else or carry on working on another piece. The ideal situation is to have several pitched ideas out there with editors so when one comes back it's not such a big deal and you have others out there under consideration. It takes the sting out of it all!(Well a bit any way!) This wednesday I'm out interviewing for an article and I'm really looking forward to it as I haven't been out in the 'field' for a while! I really must get going on the next assignment for the Writers' Bureau Journalism course I started too. I read the whole course folder, did the first assignment and that's as far as I've got. Must make more effort there as it looks a fantastic course and so useful for improving my articles. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to improve their article writing or is planning a career in journalism. Yes, I could have just done their article writing course but I wanted to increase my knowledge and expertise in the whole field of journalism - you never know when these skills may come in handy. I know I will never be a journalist in the newspaper reporter sense, dashing out at the drop of a hat to cover news stories. I never have had or will have a desire to do that. But it's helpful to know how they operate. Talking about the Writers' Bureau, Simon Whaley mentioned on his blog about one of his students who had done an article for an assignment but when he'd submitted it to a magazine it was declined. But did he just toss the article aside? Oh no he looked at it again, pulled an interesting element out of it and worked it into a new article, submitted it and he sold it! It works so his student's experience has given me the kick I needed to get going on a couple of my declined articles - thank you Simon and your student. Good luck with your writing projects everyone and remember: 'Every exit is an entry somewhere else' Tom Stoppard. And 'It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.' Seneca Julie xx

Friday, 15 January 2010

Very Impressed

I'm writing an article at the moment which involves some reasearch and contact with a charity and I have to say I'm impressed by their willingness to help me and the speed at which they are moving and sending me data etc. It's brilliant! Plus I was going to ring their area manager today but she rang me! And I'm meeting her next week.I love it when I approach people for interviews and to write about them and they are as enthusiastic, if not more so, than I am. It just makes the writing process so much easier and enjoyable. They are a very positive charity and their enthusiasm has motivated me again! Wonderful.And I already have one market interested in the article. I'm taking the good advice I had from a speaker at our last Wrekin Writer session as apart of a workshop for the Wellington Literary Festival back in October, and Simon Whaley's always saying it too - try and get at least three articles out of one theme! But I'm having difficulty emailing one magazine as the emails (I've tried five times now) just bounce back - how annoying is that? It's the email address they have on their website and in the magazine but for some reason known only to computer geeks the system doesn't like my emails - I've even tested it by just emailing one word through in case my email was too long or something silly like that. I've also emailed it through using their link but that doesn't work either! Still will move on to the next market. I'm off to do my lunchtime assistants job up at the school now so I'll see if I can find a copy of the magazine in question and fathom it all out! Snow is going! Wooh hooh! Best wishes and happy writing Julie xx

Sunday, 10 January 2010

What Makes A Good Article Writer?

I was thinking about this the other evening. What is the difference between a good published article writer and a non-published article writer? And no it's not the start of a joke - well if it is, I don't know the punchline! I know when I first started out in the crazy world of writing I had no idea what I was doing. I initially wrote reader's letters to local and then national magazines and newspapers and then to The Link (NAWG) where I progressed to blogging and I was encouraged to adapt some of my blog posts to articles and submit them, which I did. I also sent articles to free local magazines and the local daily paper, as my confidence and daring grew. Being brave and having the courage to sit down and write and eventually send your work off is important for all writers, whatever they write. It isn't easy and all writers start from the same place - a pen and notebook or computer. The first step in the writing process is recognising that you want to write, then you discover what you want to write. Your own internal deliberations about whether you actually can or can't write shouldn't come into it. But it does and one of your first jobs as a writer, one of the skills that will do excellent service to your writing if you can acquire it, is to be able to shut off your inner critic, that voice that tells you what you are writing is rubbish and that you will never make it as a writer. If you can shut that off you're on to a winner. If you can't shut it off then the next best thing you can do is learn to live with it, as I have to do, and develop a resistance to it. Let it have its say, listen to it graciously, then take what it says with a pinch of salt (if you can find any at this time of the year when most of it's on the roads). It's imperrative that you don't ignore it as that will infuriate it and it will up its attempts to sabbotage your work. You need to have a positive mental attitude to your writing - not view it through rose tinted spectacles, but neither let the negativity about the flaws you perceive to be in your work render you incapable of writing. We've all been there and it's not a nice place to be. There are enough editors and would be writers out there who are too afraid to write themselves so will take their frustrations out on you and bombard you with negativity without you doing it to yourself too. Build yourself an imaginary but strong shell and let the external criticism bounce off you like a rubber ball. lots of people make New Year resolutions to start writing or improve their writing: this is the year they are going to finish writing that novel, or send those short stories out. But I wonder how many of them will still be writing come March/April time. That's one of the differences between writers who are published and those who are not. The majority of published writers have done their homework; they've studied the market; they've learned how to write in a style editors want; they've pushed themselves and worked hard. Most importantly they perservered:they didn't let their inner critic stop them from writing; they didn't fall down at the first rejection - or the second, or the third or the thirtieth - they carried on, all the time learning and adapting their writing style - and that's they key. If you are new to writing - don't think it is going to be easy, as in the majority of cases it isn't. It's hard and scary and takes a long time - there aren't many 'overnight successes'. But being a published writer isn't impossible. It can and has been done by people just like you and me. So what kind of writer are you going to be? The one who travels through life dragging his burning desire to write behind him because he gave a few half hearted attempts to get published but failed and so just gave up? Or are you going to be the kind of writer who learns to roll with the punches and carries on writing, getting it out into the world. I know which one I am and the one I know you can be. So come on, pens out, notebooks open, computer ready - where is your writing journey going to take you today? Julie xx

Saturday, 9 January 2010


Well, it came. My copy of February's issue of Writers' Forum. I had to admit, though, that I felt decidedly squeamish as I tool the plastic wrapper off after it had plopped through my letterbox, and I was distracted for a moment by the sight of the poor postman fighting his way through the sudden snow storm that had whipped up. You see, inside this issue is my article about writing courses!You may remember I was venting my frustrations at how long it takes to get anything in print in a previous post - well I submitted the proposal for this particular article in March 2009. I heard nothing back so decided to make enquiries with the editor on June 9th 2009. He asked me to send it in, which I did that day and it was accepted quickly but he wanted to keep it for a while hence it's publication date. That's 10 months from proposal to publication! See - it can take a long time which is why we writers need nerves of steel and the patience of a thousand saints. But it is possible to get published - I never thought I could - but I have and so can you. Some of you are more widely published than me and so you know all too well what it's like waiting to see if your work is accepted. I have to confess that I hate reading my own published work. I don't know what it is, but I have to read it through my fingers and with one eye closed! I never think my work is good enough and even when I have it published in Writers' Forum - one of the biggest selling trade magazines for writers - I still don't like my own work! I still think it's not worthy to be in these magazines - why? The editor obviously had faith that my work is of a good enough standard and that it would appeal to his readers, and yet ...... Ruddy women - well all writers really, we're never satisfied are we?! I have to say that my writing group have done us proud this month. I had an article in Writers' Forum, Simon Whaley had one in Writing Magazine (which I was interviewed for, alongside Jan and Di. Sue Ross had a letter in Writers Forum and Fee had two letters: one in Writing Magazine and the other in Writers' News! You can do it if you writing group do it! Best of luck everyone in your future writing endeavours. Let's see how many bloggers we can get in these magazines!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Make The Most of It!

Lots of lovely snow out there and lots of lovely photo opportunities! So if you can't get to work or you're stuck in a snowdrift, or stuck in your car trying to get to work, don't get mad or panic. Take a few deep breaths and get your notebook and camera out. You do have your notebook and camera with you don't you? Tut, tut, tut if you don't. ;0)

If you're lucky enough to be at home in the warm and dry and are all cosy with a cup of hot chocolate and a crumpet or two then use that and look out of your window at the view, people passing by, anything you notice at all. It doesn't matter how silly or insignificant it might seem at the moment. We are writers - we notice everything (it's also a good excuse to be nosy and lazy and just stare out of your window in the name of research!)

Write down everything you can see, what you're thinking, every sensation too and take lots of photos. You might get an article or two out of it for next winter, or you might get enough data to inspire you later on to write a short story or poem.

It's a great opportunity to hone your observational skills and sharpen your senses - particularly if you stand out in the snow and get cold! Be a child for the day and make snow angels or build a snow man, have a snow ball fight! It's what I'm going to do later (pity my husbands at work or I'd have thrashed him at a snow ball fight!) We once entertained the neighbour's children one year when we had an impromptu snow ball fight on the drive. I pelted my husband until he was cowering and backing away! We didn't realise the kids next door were watching through the window until they started cheering!

Time to find your inner child again and then write about it?

Julie xx

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Just Do It!

I was feeling a bit (okay a lot) sorry for myself this morning as a brain fog had descended, rendering me incapable of rational thought. I had a few days off writing over the past festivities and although I was glad of the break, I seem to be sitting in the bad ship Inertia at the moment when it comes to writing, but I think I'm gradually coming unstuck and my trusty old sea vessel is starting to creak and groan as the wood expands and she starts to break up the ice.

What has helped me this morning is the arrival of Freelance Market News through the post this morning. It's always worth a read as it's packed with new and established markets you might want to consider to send your work out to - magazines you might not have looked at, or heard of before. It's surprising what's out there if you search hard enough.

It's given me the kick I needed to get going again. The brain fog is lifting and I'm blogging to warm up the old, tired and flabby writing muscle after the festive break. I can feel the warm glow beginning to radiate out from my heart as the writing ideas begin to flood in again and by the time the day is out I will have sent some proposals out so I will - or my name's not Julie Phillips Freelance writer!

Goals this week:

Stop being so silly and get some proposals out there.

Buckle down and edit two articles ready to send by Monday.

Write down some possible article ideas I can chase up through the year - arrange interviews etc.

Look at possible new markets for my work and investigate re proposals/submission guidelines.

Ask me next week how I got on! Come on everyone. It's time to take your heavy winter coat off, get some exercise and breath new life into your writing by losing a few pounds and cutting the flab! Can we do it ........?

Julie xx