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Need help?

I am so blessed that from the day I started to work with writers on critiques and edits, I have never been without a steady stream of work. I also work with Cornerstones and so take work from them, at the moment I mentor three lovely writers. I arrange my day so I write in the mornings and then  some days, like today, I just work, but it’s great and I am so grateful I get to do what I love every day.

On my wall is a plaque that reads ‘Create The Life You Love’ and I can’t actually believe I did.

I plan to introduce a couple of day-long workshops next year; one will be local to where I live, another might be in London if we have enough interest; a day workshop on writing and where to take your edits. If anyone is interested in the London one please let me know as I will need to look into venues. I also would like to offer some more mentoring with novels or short story collections as I feel this works really well so might open a couple of spots initially for people with serious intentions of making 2017 their year. So if interested in this, please let me know.

If you are simply looking to hire an editor or someone to really critique your work then please do check out my website. It gets busy but I am happy to pencil you in for edits — a couple of spots still available for 2016 but then I am booking for 2017.

Check it out!

www.debzhobbs-wyatt.co.uk 

So I wish you all an amazing weekend whatever you do… and remember if you want to give an unusual Christmas presie to a writer friend why not give them a gift card for a critique of a short story (2- 5000 words) £50 including follow-up… or for shorter pieces up to 2000 £25 and  I will send a certificate and they can use it any time in 2017.

That is all!

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Making a Quick Dash {Copy Editing Quick Note Series) 1

Short and sweet like a dash

hyphens, en dashes and em dashes

 

So this is what we all do wrong a lot: we use hyphens to separate sentence clauses.

The man – the one wearing blue – got off the bus. Wrong dash!

I tend to prefer good old commas for this but you can use dashes but not hyphens. The one I prefer is the spaced en rule or the en dash.

Create an en dash the long way: type the word, type a space, type one or two hyphens, a space, next word and as you type the space after the next word watch what Word does to the length of your hyphen! (Note where it doesn’t work is if the word after is a contraction like it’s in which case insert space after it and then edit back to it’s! Convoluted right?) Or easier: short cut hold down control-minus sign (but only works with minus sign next to your numbers on the right panel not along the top of the keyboard as this makes your screen text smaller, another function.)

The man – the one wearing blue – got off the bus.

You can also use the em dash but this is seen more in the US actually: this has no space and it’s the same dash you use for interrupted speech:

Type word no space hyphen hyphen (one doesn’t work) no space next word and now when you add a space see what it does to the dash!

Or short cut control-alt-minus sign in number panel — no spaces here remember.

The man—the one wearing blue—got off the bus.

“But—”

Care with the latter use to invert the closing speech mark or type “But” and then go in and add in the em dash or the speech mark is the wrong way round.

Also use en dash or em dash for time intervals like: 2001—2002

Hyphens (the short dash) ‘-’  are only used to break words like twenty-five, run-on, ice-cream (can be without too) or a three-year-old child etc.

 

Bonus extra:

If you have a missing letter at the start of a word and use an apostrophe — Over ’ere, Boy — if you’re using the curly speech marks of New Times Roman it will put it the wrong way so you need to invert it:

Over ‘ere, Boy Wrong.

So you need to type the closing one and then delete the first one:

Over ’ere, Boy  Correct.

At the end of a word it will be correct:

Nothin’  Correct.

Got it! Here endeth one of my short copy editing notes! More to come over the summer!

 

Dashes

 

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Workshopping

“Write this down,” I said, feeling like a school teacher dictating the words of Sir Terry Pratchett:

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

 

I have been to a number of workshops over the years, and some have been good, many mediocre and some not so good. Just because you can write does not mean you can critique well or teach well, and I have always been conscious of that. So I only ran short sessions in a couple of workshops for a while and often questioned how useful they were. Especially as I am not too hot on writing on demand myself. Yes the exercises get the juices flowing, but what do they teach?

So when I set up a series of Paws Workshops for children I decided to really look closely at what would be the best and most interesting ways to learn something; and not cover the same old ground but find a new perspective. For children I found showing them what makes a good story work with the story arc as a blueprint,  really helped direct their writing and came off curriculum too so was a different way of looking at things. We even had them acting in the manner of the word to illustrate showing and telling — describe how someone does something, don’t tell it. These workshops have been really successful, not that I do that many.

I was also asked to run a workshop after I won the Bath Short Story last year focussing on How To Write A Psychological Thriller and that was great as I could really look at one key genre and its expectations, while knowing that all of the principles for good writing apply to any genre but the short workshopping exercises were about creating a good premise for a thriller like this and then how to create tension.

 

Workshop 3

Working them all hard, look at the concentration… oh and spot the supersize bookmarks!

Some time ago I also put together a more general workshop I did as part of a workshopping day with our writing group, but what I did on Saturday was another new workshop using some aspects of the others but switching the focus not so much on the nitty-gritty showing, telling, viewpoint, clichés (although we had that) but on how to think differently when we approach an edit and so what questions to ask. I put together a series of short writing exercises. The first was aimed at showing how we tend to write instinctively — which shows what our comfort zones are, asking do you know why you tend to use that voice or that tense and could you maybe try something else? That choice might work best for some stories, but all of them? Maybe not. I also created plot structures to work within as an illustration of how confining it can be when you already have a framework — which is exactly what you do when you edit a completed piece of work — hence sometimes the need to deconstruct to reconstruct. Something I have had to face with my edit of Isle of Pelicans recently.

We also looked at story arcs, themes, plots, structure etc and had an exercise to illustrate the importance of exposition (we told the antagonist’s story from the previous exercise) but then talked about how we are so tempted to tell a story with too much back story and the devices for trickling that in on a need-to-know basis.

 

Workshop 1

 

On an aside the antagonist’s back story can be great fun because all evil has to come from somewhere (that’s if you have evil antagonists!) or as Stephen King puts it: “Before horror comes love.” I think the overall message is everyone has a story and what motivates action is important, builds reader empathy — but we don’t need all the details!

The final exercise was about how we write the dramatic moments — the climax of a story and how that’s when we usually (although these students were talented and didn’t!) tend to either gallop to the finish line or overload with the mind racing, heart pounding, adrenaline coursing through the veins clichés at this point.

The last section before the Q&A was the nitty-gritty stuff we usually see in workshops — and I also provided some copy editing notes that promoted quite a discussion on setting out dialogue and the different dashes!

Soon it was time to make our own dash! But the comments and the feedback since has been wonderful, so I think we can say it was a success and I want to do more of these. Yes workshops don’t work for all, some favour the more one to one approach, and if you’re new to writing it can be a little overwhelming and so might not work for you, but seems from the response it did work well!

The take-home message is that with the right feedback and supporting writer friends, writing does not have to be isolating.

Workshop 2

Keep thinking…

I will be putting more information on my website soon and plan to offer workshops to writing groups for a set fee and happy to travel in the UK and also might arrange my own as one-offs or even a short course once I move back to Essex!

Email me if you think your writing group would be interested and we can talk fees and timings!

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Dissecting Process to Learn

One of the things an MA taught me was to think closely about my own writing, why I choose a particular voice, tense, technique, am drawn to particular genres, what I want my work to say etc.

We don’t always think too closely about that, but I think understanding process is what helps us be better writers. How can we move on, learn, experiment, play with style if we don’t get why we do it that way in the first place?

I am thinking this as I plan my workshop on Saturday. I have been to many workshops over the years, some better than others and the ones that I got the most out of, were those where I came away seeing something in my work I’d not seen before. Most workshops tend to cover the same old, and it’s hard to get away from that as the showing/telling, meandering viewpoints, overwriting exposition, clichés, clunky phrasing are the kinds of mistakes we all make. So I have to cover those things too but the hope is the workshop allows us as the writer to be more discerning about our work — be able to get up close to it and dissect it to learn from it.

I know time will fly so we can not cover everything but I hope what we do cover is empowering and full of insights!

There are a mere 2 places left now so if anyone is in or near Bangor next Saturday there is still time!

Have a great day everyone! http://www.debzhobbs-wyatt.co.uk/Pages/Events.aspx

Bangor Workshop 2014

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When Ideas Fall From The Sky

With my creative writing workshop looming, and having run a session recently, it reminds me that I am not that hot on writing on demand. You know that eerie silence when the leader of the workshop says you have fifteen minutes to write — ready, have an idea and… GO! Sounds of scratching pens burrowing into your soul?

Although, ideas do generally come, even if not good ones and what you write is so first draft you hope you’re not asked to read it out and show yourself for not being able to write at all, you still write something. Right? Of course you can write, it just doesn’t suit everyone writing on demand. I have sat on Arvon courses where people read these pieces that sound so polished I have to wonder if they’re just writing something they already had, bending it to fit the remit? Or they really are literary geniuses — closes notebook and pretends not to have written anything.

Some people do run with the ideas planted at workshops, so I do see their importance. I tend to use them in a workshop to get a feel for what people write (bearing in mind some, like me, don’t produce their best work that way) and it also helps me see what comfort zone they fall into. Yes, I did say comfort zone.

You see, the get set go thing has you writing what you know, there isn’t time for different. So it does show what we define as our comfort zones and prompts questions like — do you always use first person? Do you always use narrators like yourself? Do you always favour past tense? It’s actually quite a good way of seeing the ways we get set in, and suggesting come out of that and writing first person, present tense, child narrator instead of past tense, third person, elderly gentleman, might add new life to your writing. And it also shows us our weaknesses, the key being how to spot them. Writing books are great, but sometimes you don’t see the no nos, the head-hops and the telling in our own work, right?

I have some exercises in mind for my editing workshop that also show how we write, and how we define our viewpoint. And who knows where some of these prompts will lead, but what they really do is help us to look inside our own writing and ask of ourselves why we write like that. Because there lies the key to how to develop and not stay in the same place.

 

SO:

Is a great story one defined by a great idea, or can great writing carry a weak idea?

Now there’s a question and I hope you’ll answer — you need a great idea and great writing, right?  But great ideas do not come along that often, so we often have to settle for good ideas and amazing writing. Actually, as I have said here before, often the simplest story arcs and the neatest plot lines (before we get carried away with the embellishments) are often the best and the execution, in terms of how well the writer tells the story (shows the story should I say) is what will bring it to life. We can’t all have WOW ideas, but we can make a story feel wow by how well we tell it.

I am not so sure even the best writing can carry a weak idea too far though.

Take the literary story, where the character drives it, often these will make bad movies because the action might be in one room inside the head of one character, and it might be a simple conflict, making a decision to, say leave a husband? So it terms of plot and story this isn’t going to be up there with some of the plots that wow us, but give it voice, quirk (you know I love quirk) and execute it with skill and finesse and you have something special. These stories win prizes all the time.

Perhaps it’s just as well not all stories need the wow plot or we’d struggle. And anyway, I find just by being in the moment, just by showing up at my desk every day and writing, ideas do sometimes fall from the sky. My lovely little dog learned a long time ago that if she walks in the kitchen while her mum chops vegetables or slices bread, just sometimes, even when we’re not expecting it, good things sometimes fall from the sky.

Have a wonderful day everyone, always a moment away from a miracle…

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Ps — still 4 places left on my workshop… so book now! http://www.debzhobbs-wyatt.co.uk/Pages/Events.aspx

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Do you need an MA in Creative Writing to be a Better Writer?

Last week in Manchester I was on a panel talking about creative writing and whether you can teach it. How much do students need some inherent skill to hone in the first place or can anyone learn to write? I was asked specifically  if I think having a Masters in Creative Writing helped my career/taught me to be a better writer.

Now there’s food for thought and it is something I have addressed here before. Clearly we need to be taught the skills that will make us better in anything. People start from different places and some people find it comes more naturally but we can all learn to be better, right? If not then what are we doing here? Can you learn to have good ideas? Now that’s something to ponder. I would say the more I write the more the ideas come and it just seems to be part of the process. Having an idea on cue is not something I cannot do just like that. But since we all have something to say I guess we can all find a way to do it.

But do you need an MA?

There has been a lot of contention surrounding this issue, reports that MAs in Creative Writing are a good way for universities to make money, but then aren’t so many degrees? What I said last week and will say here is no you do not need an MA to be a better writer. What you need to be a better writer is to learn your craft from wherever you can get it; you need good constructive feedback — be that a professional critique, writing groups, courses, books on writing, reading (oh lots of reading ) — actually all of the above. For me the MA was one of the parts of this process where I got the feedback I needed (but not the only place I got it) and also something else. It taught me to look at my work critically and to think about why I was writing, and in that way and what question the writing was asking. So it did make me think about what I wanted to say as well as the techniques I used.

But did it make me a better writer?

The answer is yes and no. Not on its own, but it’s the sum of all parts. Take one or two away from the list and I think I would still be here, but maybe not so fast. And for me it does add credibility to my offers to help other writers through my professional editing and critiquing business. But it’s that old argument again — educated in the university of life, on the job or at a professional institution? I think both. I like to think when someone is thinking of hiring me they look to check I have the qualification and then they see that I can put my money where my mouth is and show it through my own writing successes. Prove knowing it translates into doing it, right?

But what do you think?

 

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Have a fab day!

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Glowing in the Limelight

A little later than usual this morning as got up and got on — lots done early, mainly house cleaning!

But here I am. I’ve had a crazy few busy days since I came back but three big crits successfully delivered and can now just write today and look forward to my visit from Lee’s parents and my trip back to Essex tomorrow. I have other work lined up too so will get to that before Christmas but nice to relax a little and do what I love the most — WRITE!

I will keep this post short and sweet and leave you with the link from my interview in Glow Magazine!

GLOW

Enjoy!

Keep on LIVING THE DREAM GUYS!

Keep on LIVING THE DREAM GUYS!

 

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