Saturday, 27 February 2010

It's in!

My article about archery in Shropshire is in the March Issue of Shropshire Life! I have to say that I'm really pleased with it and it looks better than I ever imagined. I still can't quite believe that it's my work! It's a three pager including my photos. An electronic version of it plus a gallery of my photos can be viewed at http://www.shropshirelifemagazine.co.uk/  under Latest Articles if anyone's interested.

It also shows that it can be done! You can get articles in these magazines if you work hard and pick the right subjects to write about. I used to read Shropshire Life all the time but it never crossed my mind that I would ever get anything I had written in there, but I have. And it's a paying market - always a bonus!

Remember this article was declined by another local glossy magazine because they didn't like the photos - they never even saw the article! So I pitched it to Shropshire Life and they took it - photos and all! So never give up. If one magazine say no, another may say yes.

Shropshire Life are also publishing another article of mine later in the year, so I'm looking forward to seeing that one in print too. I am currently working more on my short stories for the next month or so, but I will be making notes on other articles I could do at a later stage, so I'm ready to go when the urge to do some article writing hits me again.

I've also sent the second assignment off on my Freelance Journalism Course with the writers' Bureau and I'm currently half way through the third assignment on writing letters and fillers to magazines and newspapers. It's all go so I could do with a few more days in the week to do all the writing I want to do! But prioritising and working to deadlines - whether they are self imposed or imposed by editors  - are a good thing and an essential skill for writers to learn.

Happy article writing

Julie xx

Thursday, 25 February 2010

One down, one to go.

I submitted an article yesterday so I have one more to go of my present batch of articles and that will be it for a while (she says!) My writing tends to go in cycles where I either have the urge to write articles, or short stories, or poems, or novels and I feel that I have just come to the end of my article writing phase. I've looked for inspiration in article writing but nothing grabs my attention enough at the moment, so until I find something that does, I'll be taking this hiatus as an opportunity to get back to my fiction writing (but I'll still cary on doing my journalism course too).

The good news is that my article about archery will be in the March Issue of Shropshire Life - there is a version of it on their website http://www.shropshirelifemagazine.co.uk/ with a gallery slide show of  the photos I took too! After the issues and frustrations I had with another magazine who wouldn't even see the article because they thought my photos weren't good enough, the feeling my article has been published by another magazine is sweet!

So don't be put off or despair if one magazine says no to your articles  - it's not the end of the world! Have another look at it and look at the submission guidelines for other magazines that may take it, edit it to their style and specifications and pitch it!! You may be pleasantly surprised, as I was.

Happy writing and don't stop searching for new things  to write about or new markets to aim for.

Julie xx

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Catching Up With Courses

Hurrah! I have finally got round to doing the second assignment of The Writers' Bureau Freelance Journalism Course I started back in October 2009! The reason why I am behind is that just after I enrolled on the course I started getting more articles accepted for publication, and I've been too busy writing articles and getting them accepted to do the course!! Typical - but I'm delighted. I still intend on finishing the course as it looks a fantastic and interesting course and we can all do with improving our writing. I've learned a lot from it already and I'm sure I will continue to do so.

The first assignment was just a simple introductory one for the tutor to get to know me and my style of writing: my background; what I write, why I write; what I want to achieve with my writing. I wrote a piece of sample writing on Much Wenlock Farmer's Market and completed a personal profile questionnaire. I was so pleased with my tutor's positive and encouraging comments on my assignment and she gave me some good pointers on how I might improve.

This second assignment was more indepth as I had to choose a magazine and write a full analysis of it; write an outline of an article I could submit to them and the actual article! It's nothing I haven't done before but it's great practise for me and nice to have it looked at by a professional writer and tutor before I submit it to the magazine - will let you know how I get on!

I must keep on track with this course now as I'd like to finish it in reasonal time and go back to my original plan and do the Open University course I wanted to do so I can get a Diploma in Creative Writing. With one thing and another I had to back out of it at the last minute and I didn't think I'd be able to do a course at all until this October - but as luck would have it circumstances changed and I could do the journalism one. I'd love to do the Writers' Bureau short story writing course as well - so I'm wavering between the two at the moment! Either way I know I'll enjoy it.

I think it does writers good to take a course or two along their writing journey. It's done me the power of good and has certainly improved my writing. As my recent article in Writers' Forum pointed out: there are so many courses out there for writers that it can be difficult for writers to know which courses are best for them. I hope my article helped writers to decide which courses to try and I know I've been lucky with my course choices so far.

My article writing plans this week are to finish the two current articles I'm writing on the subject of writing  and get them submitted. After this I'll be doing assignment three (on letter writing and fillers in magazines / newspapers). Then I will be taking a break from article writing for a while so that I concentrate on the reason I initially started this writing journey: short stories! I will  still be posting on here anything useful that pops into my head to do with article writing and keeping you updated on the progress/fate of any articles I have out there at the moment - I just won't be writing any new ones unless, as does usually happen, I get a great idea for one and am compelled to write it (or I get fed up with the short story writing and start diversion article writing!)

Happy writing

Julie :0)

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Getting it Right

We are almost into Spring and it can't come quick enough for me. I'm fed up with all the cold, the dark days and long nights - mind you the way it's been snowing here today I think Spring's further away than we think!!
I like to sit down around March time and take some time to take stock of where I am with my writing schedule and where I am going. I'm quite excited because I know I have a couple or three of my articles that I completed last year (sooooooo long ago!) coming out in March. And after the hiccup yesterday that sent me into a tail spin, I feel confident and I'm looking forward to reaping the rewards of my labours and taking my article writing forward again.

I haven't been keeping such a close record of what I have sent out this year as I haven't sent out much. I still have my records on computer. This is due to me swapping over from the multitude of letters I used to write to various magazines and newspapers to the more labour intensive articles - and I'm so glad I made that leap! It's taken a while but I am finally getting into magazines that pay! I still write for some of those that don't as it's good practise and you never know where it might lead. Plus I'm very grateful to those editors who took a chance on me and my earlier writing!

I often get asked by relatives and friends and other acquaintances how I do it. Some see it as an impossible task, whilst others think it's easy and they could do it if they only had the time! I think I do it like this:

1. I search the local newspapers/ magazines and I listen to people out in the street/town to get a feel for what people are talking about - what has sparked their interest and see if I can write about some of it! I take quite a bit of time doing this and it's important to listen and read carefully so you don't go down a road that leads to a dead end. It's all about keeping your writer's eye open and finding the writing opportunities that are out there - and they are there if you tune into them.

2. I listen and look when I'm going about my daily business in my other 'jobs': reading support, lunchtime assistant at the nursery, school governor, mother, wife, daughter, sister, and see if there is anything I can write about here. I don't write anything directly about the school or my family as I don't want people to think that I'm cashing in on my volunteer roles and I don't want to write about my family!! But there are general issues I pick up on and adapt.

3. I pitch my ideas in no more than three short paragraphs to the editor of which ever magazine I think would be interested. This process can take months! It's rare to get your first idea for an article accepted, so be prepared to send out loads of them -don't give up after the first few NOs! Keep going until the editor shouts NO MORE! (They won't!) It was my sheer persistance that got my first article in Writers' News and then another one which is either going in Writers' News again or Writing Magazine in the April issue. I know it was because the editor said so!! So don't be put off by stony silences or No - keep at it!

4. I read up about people/places I'm interested in writing about before I contact the person or organisation - or visit the place. This way I can prepare a list of potential questions I want answered and get some background on paper. Again, I take my time doing this, using a variety of media: newspaper cuttings, Internet, books etc. I always try and verify my information by going to at least two different sources  to ensure accuracy.

5. When I contact the person for the first time I either e-mail them or, if there's a telephone number I use that. Sometimes organisations or people have PAs or media contacts and it is essential that you contact these first - they are the gate keepers and if you treat them courteously and with respect you are far more likely to be welcomed and get the interview you want. If I don't hear back from them, I leave it a week and try a follow up email/phonecall. Sometimes people aren't interested so I move on! Life is too short!

6. Once I've got all the information I need, I lay it out in front of me on the floor and with a highlighter pen I highlight quotes I want to use. This usually leads to some kind of initial structure I can build on later. I then leave it for a few days and get on with something else: sourcing photos, if I haven't taken any myself, looking at any leads the person has given me for more information and the like.Or I switch off completely from that article and write a poem!

7. Once I feel I have everything I need, I read through all the information I've got and add this to the quotes to form a very rough first draft. It can be difficult to do this if you can't think of a good first line, but this doesn't matter! Any line is better than no line, so I just force myself to write whatever comes into my head about the person or place I'm writing about. Quite often this is the most important or interesting thing and it is the first good line!! Another great trick is to read the articles in your target magazine and get a feel of the layout and language used in there and structure your article in a similar way.

8. I continue writing until the first draft is complete. I then put it away for a couple of days and then get it out and look for spelling, grammer, inaccuracies, queries, flow and this forms my first edit. It then goes away again and the third draft is done. I read it through many, many, times and go back to my original research and interview transcripts to check everything is accurate. Any queries, no matter how small I usually go straight to the horses mouth to verify.

9. Check, check, CHECK again!! As we all know by my recent mistake - checking is not infalliable! But it reduces the chance of errors. I get my husband to proofread it and I will now get someone else to proofread it too(!!) Once I'm satisfied I send it off to the editor and get on with the next article while I'm waiting.

10. I don't give up and I work hard at producing copy of a high enough quality for publication. I am flexible and if an editor wants something changed I change it. It's their magazine. I spend hours at shaping, editing and getting my text the best I can get it. It doesn't happen over night and you have to be prepared to give it 100% . You also have to be willing to accept advice from other writers and editors with way more experience and knowledge than you and act on that advice (this is most important!) If I hadn't listened to the person who generously advised me, (they know who they are and how grateful I am to them but their head is already big enough and doesn't need inflating ;0) !) I wouldn't be where I am now with my article writing.

It takes a lot more than talent to get your work published: hard work, determination, flexibility, learning, adapting, listening and practise, practise, practise. If you want to be published you have to write and that's that! Then gradually you will progress, like I did, from letters to articles - the more you have accepted the more you will want to write and build up your portfolio. It's not a case of who or what you know, it's a case of how hard you are prepared to work, listen and learn. I certainly didn't know any editors or people who could help me get my foot in the door when I started out - but I still got published! I had a lot of rejections on the way and it wasn't easy but I enjoyed the journey and glad I'm still on it!

There's always something to write about and something to learn. You can and will do it

Happy article writing

Julie xx

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Getting it wrong

Oh dear. I had a phone call from an editor asking me to phone them back urgently this afternoon as they'd just noticed a discrepancy in my text and photos. They just wanted clarification on two points as they were about to go to press and the editor had done their final read through of the proofs.

I don't know how it happened and I was so sure that I had labelled all my images correctly and I had been through the text with what I thought was a fine toothed comb - but obviously I need a finer comb! It was easily fixed, however but even now my heart is thumping and my cheeks are red with embarrassment. It took me a couple of hours to calm down and I still can't shake the feeling that something is still amiss somewhere. You know that feeling, when you start to second guess yourself and doubt that anything you've ever written or will ever write again is full of inaccuracies.

It's extremely unprofessional and can be very damaging to a writer's career if they get things wrong. Luckily, I was able to rectify my mistake, thanks to the eagle eye of the editor - but they shouldn't have had to do that - my copy should be immaculate and accurate when I submit it. Lesson learned and a warning to everyone else. Check, check then CHECK again all the details in your copy - they are very important! I don't know how I managed to miss it and it's so unlike me - I am a control freak and like to get things just so - but I failed this time - but never again!

I am now obsessively trawling through my articles several times over. I don't want this to happen again. The editor was very gracious and accepted my apology but I still feel daft and so wish it hadn't happened in the first place - will be kicking myself for sometime to come and being ultra careful. I keep imagining what would have happened if the editor hadn't realised and it had gone to print - the people interviewed wouldn't have been best pleased and it could have meant the editor declining to take any of my future work.So be very careful and learn from my unpleasant experience.

I soon cheered up when I read Liam O'Connell's excellent book Don't Feed The Ducks http://www.liamoconnell.co.uk/ Liam is the motivational speaker I've mentioned before on my blog who did a motivational workshop at my writing group last year, and I always turn back to his book when I'm feeling not to inspired or have a shock like today!! And, as if by magic, his words fill me with confidence and I realised that the only disaster would be if I let this temporary blip stop me from writing and learning from my mistakes. As he says in his book s**t happens and it's how you deal with it that makes all the difference.

You can drive yourself demented by the 'What Ifs' and the 'How Could I Have Been So Stupid's' or you can look at your mistake, learn from it and move on. I have chosen the latter and I'm trying not to let negative thoughts hamper my latest writing project and just trying to get on with it.

This time I was lucky but there musn't be a next time.

Happy writing

Julie xx

Monday, 15 February 2010

Lagging behind

Best laid plans and all that - I had hoped to have finished the last two articles in my current batch by today so I could concentrate on the fiction side of my writing for the next couple of weeks. But I was struck down with a tummy bug that started out with a sore throat on Saturday morning and ended up with vomiting the early hours of Sunday. So that was Sunday out for anything other than lying comatose in bed and later the sofa when I had the energy to venture downstairs.

I was so disappointed not to be able to finish the articles but I had a really great sleep last night and, touch wood, the sickess seems to have gone. I'm still really tired and weak, though, as I didn't eat or drink much yesterday so I'm spending today recooperating. It's half term and my daughter is home with me (yesterday my sister took her for the day as my husband was at work all day and I was in no fit state to entertain her), so I won't get much writing done today other than reading through the drafts of the two articles I wanted to finish. Good news is that my daughter is going to a play scheme at the school tomorrow and Weds, so I will have the whole day Tuesday to catch up. Wednesday I'm (hopefully) going to Much Wenlock to my favourite  book shop to do some writing and  for coffee with a fellow writing friend so that should cheer me up and help to get me back on track.

I guess the purpose of this post is to warn you not to be too rigid in your writing plans. Just as a plan for a novel can change completely  half way through as the characters take the author in a direction they had not envisaged, a sudden illness or other such occurrance in your daily events can throw the proverbial spanner in the works and set you off balance. But this need not be such a disaster as it first seems. As long as you make allowances for life's little troubles and do all you can to catch up when you are better, or the crisis is over then you will get there. The real disaster is if you let inconveniences and obstacles stop you dead in your tracks. You have to get over whatever it is and push on with your writing as soon as you feel able. Don't write if you're under par or have other things to deal with - the writing will still be there afterwards and it is important to rest some times otherwise your writing will become stale and you run the risk of burning yourself out.

I hope everyone is fit and well and you all have a really great writing week - or if you're not quite up to it, let it go and take a break - you'll feel all the better for it afterwards.

Julie xx

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Worth doing

My recent article in Writers' News magazine about writing for your community came into being from an idea I had when I was reading my local newspaper. At the back of this newspaper there is a section called Community Lines that lists self help groups, hobby groups, local branches of national organisations such as the British Heart Foundation and the British Lung foundation. And this is where I first saw the charity that my most recent batch of articles are about.

There are so many groups to choose from that it's possible that I have enough potential material within this section to keep me in articles for years! They say that you should try and specialise in a couple of areas with your non-fiction writing - well, I seem to have found my niche. Local groups and charities seems to be my bag at the moment and I'm really enjoying it.

I am pleased to report that one of my articles on this charity has been accepted by the magazine for teaching assistants and another magazines for governors that I sent a query to earlier this week are also interested and will be discussing it soon. I haven't yet heard back on the other article I sent out to the local newspaper but it's early days yet. I'm also waiting for a reply from a parenting magazine. So there you go - that's one definite outlet and three possible others from one idea - and if I can do that with some of the other groups in the paper you can see how many possible articles that could be. Not all of the mags pay, but that's not the end of the world for me as I also write to raise awareness of their cause, plus the copy can go in my portfolio which may well lead on to more work.

Give it a go! You won't know until you try - some won't be interested in talking to you, but if you point out the advantages of them allowing you to do an article on them and you can show them previous articles you have had published, they may be more willing. The more you write and get accepted, the easier this will become.

I also had some great news from the editor of Shropshire Life magazine yesterday who said my article about archery in Shropshire would be in the next issue and that it looked great! So I can't wait to see that. And I can't wait to see what the archers themselves think about it. I still remember them and I don't think I'll ever forget them! They were / are brilliant! Having seen Di Perry's excellent article in there back in December about Ludlow Medieval Christmas Fayre, I know the layout and quality will be fab.

I don't know if anyone else feels like this sometimes, but whenever I finish a batch of articles on a subject I always have a few days of restlessness and slight panic at what subject I'm going to tackle next! I think that the success I've had with my articles so far is just some kind of weird fluke and my luck and inspiration is about to run out. It passes after 48 hours and I'm on to the next lot - I already have an article I'm writing for WF magazine and there's one I had declined on a different subject and magazine that I want to send elsewhere. Then there's one for another writing magazine that the editor has asked me to rewrite from a different angle. So I have plenty to be going on with and I know I have my trusty Community Lines to trawl through if I'm stuck for inspiration!

Thank you to everyone who responded to me plea for help recently re: public speaking. I do appreciate all the help you have all given me. I will keep you posted on how that article goes.

Take care and happy writing

Julie

Monday, 8 February 2010

vetting

Do you let the people/organisation that your article is about see it before you e-mail it or post it off? I don't usually but this time one of them requested this. I have mixed feelings about this: it's good because they can pick up on any inaccuracies in statistics and names etc, but it's also very bad - especially when they think they are the editor and start rearranging your sentences!!

I'm not sure if I like it or not. I have bit my tongue on this occasion and just made some of the changes they requested - but not all! I wasn't going to blog about it but I was just wondering what other people's feelings on this one are. I think that I'm the one who knows the publications I'm writing for and I'm the writer not the interviewee! But then if the prerequisite of the organisation is that they want to see any articles written about them before they are subbed you are sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place I feel.

I could feel my hackles rise when I first saw the alterations they had made to my manuscript (in pink and underlined!) I felt I was back at school. Some of them I could accept because it was to do with their stats and how they refer to their workers  -  but a lot of it was spelling (of which I had spelt right!) I mean if they are going to add words to the manuscript they can at least make sure they are spelt correctly. And changing the sentences around and fiddling like that which I take as a personal affront!! I think it's actually quite rude - but maybe it's just me?  I haven't said anything to them as we've had a good working relationship up until now  and I don't want to upset that - it's not that much of a big deal in the grand scheme of things just an annoyance! I don't mind if an editor does it because that's their job! Maybe I didn't make myself clear enough  -  I did say that I had only sent the article for them to see out of courtesy as they had asked to see them and I asked them to check stats and data but nothing else.

I could have ignored the suggestions and gone with my original copy I suppose, but then they wouldn't have let me sub them. So it called for a bit of teeth gritting and diplomacy - something I'm particularly good at! But next time I'll be reluctant to do it unless whomever I'm writing about has a good reason as to why I should show it to them. I mean I am a professional writer - oooh there look I've gone and said it now! It would be like me telling them how to do their job wouldn't it?

Anyway, I sent them off last night and hope they will come back to me asap so I can sub them. I have other articles to be working on and I've worked on this particular set of articles for too long really - magazines are waiting for the subs! I feel the need to let them go and move on. Will keep you posted on how I get on.

Julie xx

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Scary Picture - keep away from small children!

Oooh-er! Don't look too closely at the photo top left of the front cover of Writers' News! Scary mugshot time!  I knew my article on writing about your community was going to be in at some stage (not this quickly though!) But I had no idea that my photo would be on the front cover! Fame at last?

This could happen to you if you ignore the rejections and just carry on writing regardless! You have been warned!

Julie xx