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This month I’m trialing a new format for blog posts. Inspired by podcasts (notably the Dead Robot’s Society) I’m going to start with a little update on my writing and then dive into more depth on a writing topic I’ve been thinking about. This month I explain why my writing is taking a back seat, and discuss introducing characters.

April 2019 update

From the end of March and all through April, my life is a totally different beast. My wife and I welcomed our first child at the end of March, and the month became a blur of nappy changes, sleep deprivation and housework. The impact on my writing is total – I haven’t been able to get anything done. This post represents the first time I’ve felt that I can write something that won’t become a garbled mess of words. The bab is sleeping, my wife is taking a well earned nap, and the house is filled with a relaxing playlist.

And you know? I wouldn’t change it for the world.

The meal planner has a new column. Somewhat lacking in diversity at the moment

So I have no stories to share this month, I have no competitions entered and I have no news on my creative writing. I hope to remedy in May, but new babies have a tendency to take plans and vomit all over them, so it’s a bit of lottery.

Available now!

However, something has happened. Due to miraculous nature of Amazon pre-orders, my first non-fiction book, Writing Advice, is now available for purchase on Kindle. I’ve once again limited this book to an Amazon release, if only to take advantage of Kindle Unlimited.

You can buy the book here. Please do, and write nice reviews. You may see advertisements on Amazon for it as well as I try something new.

How should I introduce characters?

Having a bab (Birmingham/English definition below) in the house limits my writing opportunities as it’s difficult to write when one hand is rocking a Moses basket, holding a baby or folding tiny tiny clothes. I didn’t want to lose my connection to creative writing though, so I have made a conscious effort this month to try and intelligently consume TV when I watch it.

This leads to a question that, while I’ve thought about it in the past, In my writing, how are characters introduced? And how can I bring that into my own writing?

When watching TV counts as research (kinda)

Intelligent consumption of TV and books adds another level to how I take in stories. Rather than just watching the show or reading the book, I ask questions throughout. Why did the writer make this decision? Why is this happening now? It’s a little like research, only less formal.

The quality of the story makes this easier or more difficult. If I am really enjoying something, I find it more difficult to take the step back required to analyse it. If this happens, it’s probably something worth looking at again, and a rewatch is in my future.

With bad TV, or bad books, taking it apart as I watch it is much easier. In fact, it adds to the fun. Being able to identify clumsy plot holes and terrible character decisions can help me avoid similar mistakes in my own writing.

Thoughts on introducing characters

As I watch and read this enormous amount of content, I’ve tried to focus on how the writer introduces characters to the audience, Whether it is a cop show, a comic-book adaptation or a fantasy book, the introduction is key to setting the audience’s expectations of the character.

The speed of the character introduction

Have a watch of the first five minutes of GoldenEye.

GoldenEye Opening Scene - YouTube

When I watched this I noticed how long the writer took to introduce the character. Although it’s a bit of a trope of James Bond movies to do this, especially when a new actor is playing the super spy, this is used in a lot of movies and books when a writer wants to build up a bit of anticipation for a character. By building up a character as a sum of their parts, the audience can build their own picture of who the character is.

Other introductions are quick and brash. Take Tucco’s introduction from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Intro Scene - Tuco Escapes - YouTube

I’ll admit, it takes a while to get there due to some great misdirection from director Sergio Leonne. But the audience see everything they see need to in the first few seconds of the character’s appearance (helpfully frozen as the caption appears).

Show, don’t tell

Even though “show don’t tell” is good advice in general when writing, it’s key when introducing a character. Too much exposition from the writer can bore the reader.

If I can show bad guys something bad and good guys doing something good, I’ll highlight the alignment of the character with the audience straight away. The action has to be relevant though – there’s not point showing someone doing a charity fun run if the continuing story is about drug running in Sudan.

A referee tying a footballer’s laces. Image from Unsplash:

Think about the picture above. If this was the opening scene of a story, what would the action about tell the readers? Yes, it’s a kind act tying the little footballer’s shoelaces, but, the game is continuing in the background. Shouldn’t the referee be focused on the game? Isn’t that a bit irresponsible? Or is there another referee helping with the game, who the first trusts to look after the children?

That’s a lot to take from one picture, I know, but every now and then I like to look at images to start myself thinking creatively.

In terms of characters, the exercise above helps me think about the first ‘image’ of the character. Are they surrounded by fog, stepping in the murder scene? Or are they soaring above clear sky like an avenging angel?

It’s important to think about the number of these introductions, and what level of character I want to use them. Minor characters do not really need a significant, strong introduction. The police officer who holds the crowds back doesn’t really need to enter on a horse. I don’t want the writing to feel forced.

The tone of the story

Character introductions should never be just about the character. Even if I create a different character (like the antagonist police detective in a heist story) I don’t want their introduction to be totally different to the rest of the story. It’s easy to think that by being totally different in an introduction I’m being edgy and highlighting the difference.

I will avenge my son/climb that mountain/destroy that bridge. What makes this image striking? How does the add to the overall tone of the story? Image from Unsplash.

Instead, I think I’m confusing the readers and taking away from the overall tones and themes of the story. Even if the character is completely different to the rest of the cast, I need to make sure that he or she is introduced in a setting that adds to the overall tone of the story and fits in with everything that’s going to happen.

Know the character to introduce them better

I recently started thinking about my next story, and the characters within it. By thinking about how I’m going to introduce them to the audience I’m able to define not just the characters, but also the world around them. Do I want fast paced, quick introductions? Or do I want the story to take it’s time a little more, allowing me to slowly introduce characters?

What this post has helped me do is think about how important knowing the character is before I start writing. I need to know what I want that character to go through, what I want them to achieve before I start writing their introduction. Not only will that help me with the tone of the story, but it will also let me know how I want to introduce them, and how they will stand out to the reader/watcher.

The post Introducing characters appeared first on Write with Phil.

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I’m pleased to announce that, after a huge amount of work, the Write with Phil book, Writing Advice, is available for pre-order from Amazon! And I’ve decided to promote the book in an extremely silly way. Personalised stories!

The offer

I will pledge to write any purchasers of the book a short, 50 word piece of flash fiction. Totally made up, totally for them. It’s the least I can do. To get this freebie, all you have to do is:

  1. Buy or pre-order the book on Amazon
  2. Subscribe to my mailing list
  3. Write a review on Amazon
  4. Send me an email or message with one item or place you want the story to include.

And I’ll send my response to you as soon as possible. Depending on the numbers of books I sell depends on how quickly I’ll get the story to you. The more books I sell the longer it will take. But, for the first few, you can expect a pretty quick turnaround.

About Writing Advice (the blurb)

This book is for writers struggling with productivity, lacking motivation or confused and distracted by those around them.  I was fed up of ‘write more’ being given as the best writing advice. That doesn’t really help! So I started my own book. Offering tips and ideas to improve your writing practice, each chapter solves a problem I came across when writing my novels and plays. Although I’ve taken my blog (available at writewithphil.com) as inspiration, I re-worked each of the chapters to make it worth your money, and to create a fresh look at the craft of writing.

Why call it Writing Advice?

I’m also aware that there are thousands of writing books around. I had a lot of titles scribbled down for this book, but instead I went with something plain and simple. Something that people would just search for, and would point towards my book. It’s not imaginative, but by calling it Writing Advice I’m hoping that new people will find it and try it out. Then they’ll come and join the gang at WWP.

A long road

This is my first non-fiction book. While it started as a quick job to get the blog into a book form, it became something quite different. I had 12 month’s of posts to dig through – over 60 blog posts – and chopping them down into a 20,000ish word book took a lot of perseverance. There were posts that I loved, but couldn’t fit in with the tone of the book. There were posts I realised I hated, and considered taking them down from the blog altogether.

There was also work to be done on the text itself. Many of my posts were directed at the reader. There were a lot of ‘you’ and ‘you should.’ This was the way I put the blog together in 2018, and you can see some examples of that here. For the book I wanted to change the tone, to make it more friendly for readers who aren’t on my mailing list, and don’t know me or my writing.

The post Writing Advice: buy my new book and get personalised flash fiction! appeared first on Write with Phil.

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On the 9th March, I found myself in Chelmsford, speaking at Essex Authors and You. I’d volunteered to lead a session way back in January, after visiting last year and being inspired by the speakers and the discussions. So this year I asked if I could speak about “World Building in Science Fiction and Fantasy.”

I am writing up my notes from the talk over the next couple of weeks, but in this post I’m sharing my initial thoughts about the day, and what I learnt. I was lucky enough to have an official photographer (also known as a bored wife) so I’ve managed to get some pictures of the day throughout the post.

Speculative fiction

Saturday was the first time that I’ve given any thought to the term speculative fiction.

After the talk, one of the attendees asked me if I’d heard about speculative fiction. According to the ethically debatable ‘gradesaver’ website, Robert A Heinlein coined the term back in the 1940s, as a way to avoid using the term science fiction. More recently, Margaret Attwood ‘provoked the ire of science fiction fans’ (Wired website) by using it to describe her books.

I’m not going to get into a debate on whether speculative fiction is a substitute for science fiction, or whether it can be used to describe fantasy books. That’s a debate for another time. However, debate it I will, as I might use it to describe my latest (as yet unfinished) book. Science fiction has certain connotations that goes along with it, as does fantasy. Would speculative fiction open my work out to a wider audience?

Or speculative fiction

If nothing else, as the attendee pointed out, saying that would be a lot quicker than ‘science fiction and fantasy’, if I ever redo the talk.

Be honest

At the start of my talk, I was really honest with the audience. I set the scene by explaining this website, and I talking to them about The Unjudged. However, I also mentioned that The Unjudged had been 12 years in the making, and that I was currently struggling with the latest draft of my latest book. I might have imagined it, but showing that vulnerability seemed to release the tension in the room.

Speaking at the ‘writer slam’

After the talk, I noticed some other speakers at the day who, while they spoke very well, felt rehearsed. Listening to them had the feeling of watching an interview with a celebrity who has told the same ‘funny story’ a dozen times to a dozen different journalists.

Following my experience presenting to listeners and listening to presenters, I will make sure that I’m as genuine as possible in any further situations. I don’t want to ever run through the motions when I’m talking to other writers, I want to make everyone in the room get as much from it as possible – and being honest is the best way to achieve this.

I’ve even looked at the latest draft of my writing advice book and changed a few of the chapters to make them a bit more personal. It’s just more friendly!

There are writers out there

The best bit of the day? I got to talk about writing, with writers. In the real world. It was great. I made me realise that, while there are great resources available online (like my blogs for authors) and there are thousands of social media pages that have some great discussions on, nothing beats just talking about writing.

Final prep on the train

I haven’t been to Colchester Write Night for a long time, because (and this sounds pretentious) I’m too busy. I remember really enjoying the time I spent there, and attending the author day made me remember why I enjoyed it so much. It wasn’t the fact that it helped me start The Unjudged, or the short stories I would write there. It was because it was just fun to talk about writing. I must resolve to do that more often, not online in discussions that can be interpreted incorrectly and end up in shouting matches. I’m not even sure how you have shouting matches in online forums. Once you’ve gone CAPITAL, what’s next?

More events

I should make the effort to attend more of these events. If anyone based in Essex knows of any that are going on, please let me know via or in the comments. I’m likely to be busy over the next couple of months with family stuff, but I’d love the opportunity to attend some in the near future.

The post Essex Authors and you (and me) appeared first on Write with Phil.

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I’m used to eating breakfast alone, a bowl of cereal propped on my knees as I half-listen to the BBC news. A cup of instant coffee within reach of my left hand, a glass of orange juice close to my right. Every morning, the same routine, the same bowl, the same spoon. The same cat stood by the back door (I really should get a cat door installed) waiting to be let out when I’m finished. Everything in its place, everything perfect.

Nothing is perfect today, nothing controlled. Today I’m in Suffolk. About to climb a mountain that doesn’t exist.

The maître-de, a forty-something woman with short black hair, stops me as I enter the dining room. She raises an eyebrow, expecting a name.

“Grace Kelly.” I say, instantly regretting using my full name. She traces a forefinger (with immaculate nails) down the list of guests on an expensive looking clipboard. “Room 402. I think the room was booked under Bronte.”

She nods, taps twice on the paper, and points to a table in the far corner of the room, hidden beneath a beautiful painting of a beautiful woman long dead. Hunched over, chin resting on intertwined fingers, her lips moving in a silent conversation with herself, is the person who once hated me more than anyone else in this world, Siobhan Bronte.

“Your friend has already ordered her breakfast.” I can’t stop looking at Siobhan. She hadn’t arrived when I did last night, and I locked myself in my room. I didn’t want to talk about what I did. About who I did it with.

I wonder what she sees when he looks at me. I’m thirty-three, looking ten years older, wearing grey jogging bottoms and a baggy sweatshirt adorned with a sports team I don’t know anything about rescued from a charity shop. Walking to the hotel’s restaurant I’d been aware of the noise my blue flipflops were making, but I hadn’t thought about how they looked.

Even my toenails look awful.

I pause for a second, wondering if I should ask for another table. Would dining alone offend Siobhan? After all, until last week we hadn’t seen each other for twelve years.

I look forward to Saturdays. In the summer, without exception, I head to The Big Essex Car Boot, just outside Colchester. There’s something about the bustle of the place, the sound of people haggling over pennies for junk that they don’t really need, the smells of the burger van grilling sausages, bacon and burgers.

I have a stand. I sell curried chicken wings, made using a marinade that I describe as top secret, but in fact I took from a Jamie Oliver cookbook. I bring out a George Forman grill with the branding scratched off and heat them through, charging three pounds for five. Cheaper than Asda.

Last week I was grilling away, a couple of people in the queue and a family waiting for their wings, when I saw her, floating near a van selling knock-off workout DVDs. I rubbed my eyes, forgetting for a second I was wearing my blue latex gloves, and felt the burn of the chilli I added to the marinade.

By the time I’d torn my gloves off, washed my eyes, and handed the family their wings, she wasn’t there anymore. I took two more orders and tossed the wings onto the grill, convinced I was going mad. Had I seen her before I rubbed my eyes, or after? She’d looked different. Different hair colour, different clothes. Maybe I’d not seen her. Maybe I’d seen a ghost.

It had been twelve years. She’d forgiven Him, not me, moved to Japan, taking Him (or rather, to give him his full title, Cheating, Lying, Thieving Him) with her. Why would she be in north Essex, at a car boot sale, dressed like a goth, checking out DVDs?

The line moved as I handed a customer a portion of wings. In front of me, a sad smile on her face and an A4 piece of paper in her hand, was Siobhan Bronte.

“The coffee’s good.” Siobhan says as I pull the chair opposite her away from the table. She doesn’t move anything but her eyes. Her black hair is pinned away from her face with bright pink hairclips, the only colour I can see her wearing. Everything else is black. It’s a touch melodramatic, but who am I to say anything? Both of my parents are alive and well, sitting on a beach outside their timeshare in Granada.

“I’m not drinking caffeine,” I reply. Why did I lie?

“Are you pregnant?” she mutters. No chance of that.

I say, “I just don’t like caffeine.”

“It’s good you’re not pregnant.” I ponder the meaning behind her statement as Siobhan sits up, cracks her neck, and raises her hand. Across the front of her hoody a necklace falls. It holds a small silver cross, and I realise that I don’t know if she’s wearing it due to a resurgence of her faith, or because she thought it looked nice in Debenhams.

A waiter, an eager young girl with long blonde hair pulled back into a long ponytail, appears at the table and asks for my order. I ask for a full English breakfast. She notes it down, reassures Siobhan that her food won’t be much longer and skips away. I watch her go, envious of her youth.

“She looks like you,” Siobhan says. I cough. It’s all I can do to stop laughing. Her tone implies an insult – but whether it is aimed at me or the waitress I’m not sure. Siobhan tucks the necklace away, and with it my chance to ask about it. “You know, when you had blonde hair.”

I tilt my head back, taking in the wooden beams across the ceiling. My hair is still blonde, but I no longer have the money to colour it like I did when she knew me. The brightness, the platinum, has long since faded. I look back at her, and she avoids my gaze. “Remember when I dyed it pink?” I ask.

Siobhan nods to the memory, hiding a grin she doesn’t want me to see. She must remember helping me dye my hair in a cramped toilet, watching the pink dye streaking down my face, my white jeans stained pink and red – and the pair of us sharing embarrassed giggles for the rest of a train journey to Manchester.

We drop into silence again. I wonder what new memories she made in Japan, what friends she made over there, and whether she’s still with Him. Can I ask? Can we catch up like nothing happened, like our friendship didn’t end?

From behind the George Forman I stared at her. I didn’t know what to say. Siobhan Bronte. I was her best friend, her worst enemy, her Judas. She was in front of me again, barely looking a day older than when we last saw each other. What did she want? Why would she come back after all these years?

“We need to talk.” she said. Behind her two more people joined the queue. Closing the stall would mean losing money.

I pointed to the queue. “I have customers.”

Siobhan held the piece of paper out. I didn’t have my glasses on, but I could see the large font at the top of the page. The last will and testament of Niamh Bronte. Siobhan’s mum. The woman who was the life and soul of any room. The woman who helped me when my own mother was too busy. The woman who took me to the clinic after the incident with Archie Notley. Dead.

“Oh God,” I stuttered, a lump in my throat. “Siobhan, I’m so sorry.”

She shrugged. “We need to talk.”

Alongside Siobhan’s eggs benedict the waitress adds a fresh cafetière to the table arrangement. She doesn’t take Siobhan’s away – this was ordered in advance for me. For a moment I’m mesmerised by the steam escaping around the top, and the smell of the roast. It smells great, better than the instant I’m used to at home.

My old friend doesn’t stand on ceremony. She dives into her breakfast, grace with the speed of a starving barbarian. I lean back in my chair, impressed. The years of using chopsticks appear to have given her a level of dexterity that I could never achieve. I could have done with that dexterity on the train to Manchester.

With a gulp of coffee, she finishes her meal.

“Thank you for coming,” she says, tapping the top of her hair to ensure it is still in place. As she does, I notice tiny roots at where it is parted in the centre. Her natural red hair, a source of jealousy, hidden away under black dye. I wonder what made her do it, I wonder if it was Him. I wonder if it was a new boyfriend, a Japanese boyfriend.

The waitress arrives with my food. It’s a full Suffolk breakfast, apparently. The menu gives clues as to the difference between this and a standard fry-up – this has local pork, eggs and bread. No mention of the tomato sauce, which sits in a reassuringly familiar bottle. I pick it up and remove the lid, shaking it for good measure.

A blob of sauce falls out, missing my plate entirely and landing on the white tablecloth.

“I’m here for your Mum,” I say, trying to clean the mess with the white napkin on the table. I fail, instead smearing it across everything. Siobhan looks less than impressed. This is why I stay in, this is why I like my cereal at home with my awful coffee. I can’t do social situations. I can’t –

She stands. “I’ll meet you at the front door in fifteen minutes.” It’s an order, not a request. There is no room for negotiation. I nod, silently, feeling like I’m sixteen again and she’s telling me to go upstairs with Archie Notley. I feel my shoulders tighten. This isn’t Archie Notely. She walks away from me and I tell myself I’m a grown woman, with a house and and a love of curried chicken wings.

After I’d closed the stand we moved and found two old plastic chairs half submerged in mud outside The CuP (with a capital P), a Citroen van converted into a mobile coffee shop. The owner, a hipster who would only let people call him Bank, watched me sip his too-hot tea, massaging his thin beard and adjusting his thick rimmed glasses.

“There aren’t any mountains in Suffolk,” I said. Then, catching myself, “Are there?”

“No.”

“So why did she ask us to climb one?”

She still had her finger on the relevant clause in her mother’s will. The clause in which Niamh Bronte – the eccentric, mischievous and far too brilliant, Niamh Bronte – demanded Siobhan and I go to the tallest mountain in Suffolk to spread her ashes. Without evidence, taken on my phone and presented to them by me, the solicitors where not to release any of the inheritance.

Siobhan shook her head. “They agreed that the tallest point in Suffolk will do.”

“Where?”

On the plastic table between us she dropped another sheet of paper, this time with a Google map printed on it. One of those red pin things was dropped in the middle of green area with a few white roads criss-crossing around, but very little else.

“Great Wood Hill,” she said. “It’s outside Bury St. Edmunds.”

A third piece of paper appeared and was placed on the previous two. A reservation in her name for two rooms in an expensive looking hotel in Suffolk. I didn’t need to look at the date. As long as it’s not a Saturday morning I could do it.

Siobhan knocks her cup to the floor. The tea spills out of it. Behind her Bank stops stroking his beard as his mouth falls open in shock.

“I’m taking Mother there anyway, if you want to come along, that’s up to you.” Her challenge laid down, she turns on her heels and walks away, squelching in the tea-moistened ground, leaving both me and Bank staring after her as she left.

The girl still knew how to make an exit.

Great Wood Hill is as unremarkable as you would expect. There’s a tall telephone mast about two hundred feet tall, dotted with satellite dishes and antenna, a row of trees – hardly a Great Wood – and not much else. I’m grateful for the landmark, otherwise I think we would have driven straight past it, further extending the most awkward car journey of my life. I didn’t realise that it was possible for two people to be that silent. If it weren’t for the sound of the engine and the Sat Nav, I would have thought I was going deaf.

Siobhan has her mum’s ashes in her hands. The current residence of Niamh Bronte is plain and practical, a million miles away from the woman when she was alive. I take my phone from my pocket and open the camera app. There’s a slight breeze. I feel like the weather has let her down – it should have been a whirlwind, a hurricane, a tornado.

“Ready?” I say.

Siobhan doesn’t reply. Instead she walks towards the phone mast. I hold the screen up and hit record. But she doesn’t stop walking when she gets a decent distance away. She keeps going.

“Siobhan!” I shout, and start to walk with her. I’m careful to keep the camera on, in case I miss it. I wasn’t going to come this way and miss the big moment.

The mast is protected by a wire fence, but Siobhan doesn’t stop. I record as she finds a hole in the fence – a little too quick for it to be a coincidence – and ducks through. I shout after her again, and she turns.

Her eyes are full of tears. “My Mum. Needs a proper send off.”

I don’t move to her, I don’t try and stop her, even though I know what she’s going to do. I keep recording. She’s right. Letting her do this – it’s the least I can do after my betrayal.

She tucks the urn under her chin and starts to climb.

I wonder what the combined height of the tower and Great Wood Hill are, and if the lawyers will understand when they see this recording. I don’t wonder why Siobhan is climbing, and I don’t wonder why I’m letting her do it.

Niamh didn’t hide behind black clothes and hair dye. Niamh didn’t sit in her house and follow the same routine every day, just because it was easier. Niamh didn’t escape to the other side of the world when things went wrong.

If there are no mountains in Suffolk, for Niamh Bronte, two old friends will create one.

Great Wood Hill By Bob Jones, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9314623

The post No Mountains in Suffolk: A short story appeared first on Write with Phil.

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Write with Phil | Productivity and time .. by Phil@writewithphil.com - 5M ago

February is a hard month, were I find my feelings are too often dominated by the weather. When I open my curtains in the morning I honestly don’t know what to expect. Will I see lovely (if cold) sunshine, pouring rain or (and this the most likely) just a dull, grey sky that sucks the life from the world around it? In the UK, the possibility of snow is real in February, threatening to send the country into chaos with a meagre few centimetres of ground cover.

There is hope, however. It’s about now that I notice the days start to get longer. On my morning commute sunshine takes the place of artificial lamps and strip lighting. Even on the most miserable days, I start my journey home in daylight, and if I’m lucky I get to see the sunset from my train window. The first snowdrops have appeared, and the first of the trees are blossoming. February might be a cold, hard month, but it’s not without it’s beauty.

Of course, all this horrible weather also gives a writer plenty of opportunity to stay inside and get some work done. That’s what I’ve been trying to do, with mixed successes.

Essex Author Day

As part of the Essex Book Festival, in March, I’ll be speaking at “Essex Authors and You” in Chelmsford. It’s not often that I get chance to talk about writing to a room full of writers, so I’m excited about this. I asked to speak on world building in sci-fi, something that I had to struggle with when writing The Unjudged (and am battling again with False Sanctuary). I’m hoping that, rather than me just chatting away for an hour, I’ll be able to convince people to join in with the session and help me make it a really interesting discussion.

I’m not allowed to record the session, unfortunately, but I’m going to write a summary what I’m going to cover as part of next month’s update. As I’ll be there the entire day, I’ll also have the chance to flog some copies of The Unjudged, and increase awareness of the blog. I’m trying not to go in with any particular expectations, as I don’t know who will be attending, or what they’re hoping to get out of it. I’ll be happy if anyone turns up to my session.

If you’re interesting in attending, you can book here.

Write more isn’t enough (The Write with Phil book)
The draft cover

This is still underway, and I’ve made significant progress this month. I’m giving it another run through in what I hope is the final order with a view to publishing early March. After some significant editing, this won’t be a heavy book, but what it lacks in length I’m hoping it will make up for in substance.

The main problem I’ve had with this book is trying to bring together the changing writing style of WWP in 2018. I’m the first to admit that I was often rushing my blog posts last year to meet the publication deadline, and as a result some of the posts were too random, too scatty and too confused for a real book. So what started out as a simple compilation of blog posts has turned into something quite a bit different. Although some of the titles are similar, a lot of the content is now completely new.

As well as creating something of high quality, going back over the posts has helped my think about the structure I used for the blog posts, and how I might improve it going forward. A lot of the posts last year were brain dumps. The information was in there, but how I presented it was very different. Reflecting on this can only improve both my creative and non-fiction writing.

Short story

Last month, I powered through a submission for the Mogford short story prize. It was great. I loved writing the short story, and I was really happy with the outcome. This month, however, I got myself into a pickle. I saw the prompt that I wanted to write for – the Writing Co-operative/PS, I Love You competition on Medium – but for whatever reason I couldn’t create a narrative out of the idea that I had. I think that moving into Romance (or in this case, anti-Romance) was a step to far for my creative brain.

Finally, this morning I made the decision to call the project dead. This was a big call for me, as one of my goals this year was to enter a short story competition a month. I’m now halfway through the month with a blank page. I’m not even sure what competition to enter. 15 days is plenty, though. I’m sure I’ll manage something. I’m determined not to fall at the first hurdle.

Help needed

If anyone wants to help with the WWP book, I’d love a volunteer to do a proper proof read, preferably towards the end of the month. This is simply a grammar job, I’m not looking for detailed feedback at this point, just someone to make sure my sentences make sense.

So, my friends, I’m off to enjoy a walk on a frosty morning. The sun is low and not giving off much heat, but it’s better than nothing. Plus I might get some pretty pictures, like the images on this post.

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Would you ever describe yourself as a content creator? I dabble in a number of different formats, and in a number of different mediums, creating content. But I would describe myself as a writer first, content creator second. I started wondering, was that right? Do I need to become more specific with how I describe my writing online?

And is there anything wrong with being a content creator anyway?
More more more content! Image from Pixabay on Pexels

I’ve spent a bit of my recent time writing on Medium. And reading on Medium. It seems that there are a lot of people pushing content creation as a viable option to make some money. And rather than writing for other sites, or writing on blogs, I’m being increasingly told that I should be writing for Medium.

(By the way, I’m well aware that I’ll be posting this on Medium as well. The irony is not lost on me).

But would I still be a writer then? Or would I be a content creator? And if I am, is there anything negative about that?

How Medium is encouraging the content creator

It’s my opinion that some writers need to start describing themselves as content creators. This is a new role, an offspring of blogging and SEO and other online writing jobs. It’s not beautiful, it’s not aspirational, but it exists – we just haven’t embraced it yet. Blogs started the process, although they were difficult to monetise (read about why I stopped putting adverts on my blog here). Platforms like Medium are becoming more and more popular as the monetisation is done by a central ‘owner’. These platforms pay writers based on the number of views and the number of likes/claps/stars they receive.

The exact algorithms are a closely guarded secret. I can’t tell how many claps on Medium equals how much money, or how many page views I need to break $100. No one, other than those inside Medium Towers (assuming that they have a tower), could let me know that. That’s frustrating for me, but it must be especially maddening for writers who depend on the supplementary income that Medium provides.

Writers have adapted in a number of ways. Some are positive – writers are encouraged to look for topics that interest the readership, to stay topical, and to keep their writing easy to read and clear. Some are not so positive – every other article on some pages are lists, promise a quick fix to something, or are have borderline clickbait headlines that have no relevance to the article. The negatives and positives of these adaptations are up for debate, but I don’t want to touch on them in this post. Instead, I want to look at the only way that I can see of guaranteeing income from Medium.

The easy guarantee: write as much as possible

If I don’t know the algorithm, or the trick, to having a single successful article, the best way to maximise my chance for payment is to write as much as possible. Flood the system with content and I’ll start to play the averages game. Why spend three hours researching and writing one article, when I could spend an hour each on three, and have a three times as high chance of one of them going viral, or getting a certain number of claps, or appearing on the front page?

Does more content lead to more problems? Image from Raw Pixel on Pexels.

This isn’t a new problem. Amazon has it with their self-publishing platform – and in fact Amazon is playing the same game, just using other people’s time do the work. Where there are no barriers to entry, more is best. The best estimate I can find is that there are over six million books self-published books available on Amazon (source). More search results mean that more people will likely find something they like. When something does take off and become really popular, Amazon doesn’t care how many books fail alongside it. They get their cut.

As a consequence, there are dozens of posts on Medium about writers who have explored writing every day, or who give you hints to write every day. But if everything I am writing is a standalone, separate blog post, how well researched can it be? How strong can the writing really be?

Content is king

When writers are not thinking about the quality of their work as much as the amount they can put out, I argue that they should really be describing themselves as content creators. Their aim isn’t to write something that’s going to change someone’s life, or really discuss an issue (like I’m trying to do with this post), it’s to get as many views as possible and maximise revenue.

I’m not knocking writers that spend their time like this. Someone’s going to get paid for writing, and it may as well be them. I don’t think it’s for me though – and here’s why.

Being a content creator is not easy

I have a lot of respect for content creators. Being able to turn out 1,000 plus interesting and engaging words in a day is not an easy skill to master. Many people would love to be able to write this much. I have, in the past, dabbled with this level of productivity, but I often start to fail after a few days.

It’s not just the writing, you see. Good content creators are able to write articles that have something interesting to say about the time of year, relevant news of the day, or a hot topic. They look at things with a specific lens and are able to add their voice to it. The very best content creators often have a following who enjoy reading their updates, and without it would feel quite lost.

Sound familiar? It’s nothing new – it’s the blogging game, starting up again, with a centralised source.

Sorry, Medium, this isn’t new. But it is clever. Image from Pixabay at Pexels

I think there are some simple guidelines writers can follow, though to make sure what they’re writing adds value to the reader – and doesn’t just waste their time.

How to be a good content creator – three thoughts

I think there are three principles to follow when writing anything non-fiction, whether it’s on Medium, a blog, or anywhere else. I was going to call them rules, but I think they are much more strategic than rules.

  1. Respect the time of the reader. I won’t write for the sake of it, or to get my numbers up or increase the number of views that I’m going to get. Those writers are everywhere. Instead, respect the amount of time that a reader will spend reading my work and put together something really thoughtful and intelligent.
  2. Respect the source material. It would be really easy for me to take something that already exists and twist it so, on a superficial level, it seems fresh and new. In reality, though, it is nothing of the sort. Readers pick up on things like that, and will not return to me if they don’t think I have an original perspective to share.
  3. Respect my own time. Everything that I put together takes much, much longer to write than it does to read. This article has taken me a few hours to put together, but it’s taking my readers about 5 minutes to read. That’s fine. But it’s worth thinking about what I want from an article. Is it simply to receive a few more likes? Or is it part of a longer term market building strategy? These are the type of questions that I should be asking, otherwise my own time will end up seeping away, with very little to show for it.

Content might be king, and becoming a content creator is a way to make money, and even start a career, but I’m trying to make sure that I don’t get caught in some of the traps that seem to be built into the system. Hopefully, it will make others think a little about what they’re writing too, and steer them in the right direction.

Further reading (both free Medium links):

We are all publishing way too often – Jonathan Greene
I was never trained to be a writer – now I make a living from writing – Tom Kuegler

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Bring it, 2019

Christmas and New Year are a good time for reflection, and for planning the year ahead. You may have noticed – I’ve done enough of it on the site over the last few weeks. I know that some people are reluctant to put resolutions in place, but I’ve found them really useful in the past as a way of focusing my efforts in a year.

So, in now particular order, my two priorities for 2019.

Objective 1 – the blog

Looking back over my posts of 2019, I’m really happy with the way that the blog has gone. I think I’ve put together some really good articles, and I hope I’ve helped a lot of writers out there. I mentioned in my wrap up post a couple of weeks ago, I do think that 12 months concentrating on the blog has helped me put in a lot of routines and good habits that I’ll continue into 2019. The blog continues to be a place to meet people (all the author interviews were a great way of building connections) and for people to contact me.

Although I need to mention my resources for writers pages a little more.

However, I’m also aware that my creative writing has suffered as a result. Although I’ve put together a second draft of a novel, and am making headway in my next secret script, overall I think the blog has taken my focus away from my writing. As well as this, I have commitments away from writing (I have an allotment, a pretty fast paced job, and my family). I just don’t think the blog, in its current form, is going to be sustainable in 2019.

So I think I need to find a compromise.

I’m going to try, in the first half of 2019, to reduce my main post frequency to once a month. However, to make up for this, I’m going to spend a little more time on them, and make them more substantial. I want to be able to cover more meaty topics, and discuss them in a little more depth. The internet has enough how to lists, in my opinion, and I need to think about what makes Write with Phil different. Why would people visit my blog when they have dozens already bookmarked?

Longer, more in depth posts would also help me with that horrible beast – structure. Looking back over the last year, some of my posts have been a little difficult to follow, and bounced around a bit. I often get feedback on my writing that says similar – good story, good dialogue, but difficult to follow. Posting longer pieces may go against what the internet wants (who decides what the internet wants?) but I’m not fussed. I hope that my readers will enjoy it anyway.

I’ll also get that flippin’ WWP book out at some point as well.

Objective 2 – creative writing

My priority for this year is to get False Sanctuary finished. If it kills me, I will get another book on my Amazon author page.

I also want to get the script I’m working on drafted and out to BBC Writersroom in their next drama window. I love the story I’m putting together for this (although I would say that!) and I want to get it out there as much as possible. It definitely doesn’t deserve to sit around doing nothing, so I’m going to make it work for me.

Available from Amazon now – sequel in the works this year (hopefully)

And finally, to help scratch the ‘something new’ itch, I’m going to write a short story a month for whatever competitions happen to be on. I have a massive OneNote page full of ideas that are sticking in my head and not getting out there. Why should they hang around when I can get them one (digital) paper and into (real) hands. It doesn’t matter if they do well, it doesn’t matter if I win anything. But I want to start getting my writing out there. I should be able to find the time to write one short story a month, right? I’ll share my monthly update with you on the blog.

…and that’s it. I’m not going to write any more objectives for my personal writing. Last year I was restrained, and gave myself realistic targets. I’ve got a busy year coming up, and I’d rather do those two things really well than do another four or five half-baked.

Bring it, 2019

The next year is going to be an interesting one. I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to a 12 months more in my life. I hope my readers will stick with me through it. Time for a change.

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For the last few years, I’ve created a little video for Christmas. This year I’ve decided to mix it up a little bit, and post a short monologue/story that I created a few years ago. I believe that stories should get their time in the sun. The story isn’t Christmassy at all, so anyone not too keen on the festive period needn’t be put off. It’s embedded on a PDF, which I think looks the best, but I’ve copied it below it you’re reading on mobile or email.

So, here it is…

The Empty Room by Phil Hurst The-Empty-Room

And here’s the actual text:

Scene 1

A bedroom. McFell, early thirties, sits on the bed.

Yesterday was the first time I’d seen her.  I heard her before, shuffling downstairs.  Heard her TV once or twice – but not too many times, thankfully.  But yesterday morning I was up using the toilet – I haven’t been sleeping well anyway, and my bladder only needs the slightest encouragement to deny me any more – and I decided to get a look at her.

I’m always a little dubious about new neighbours.  Especially as downstairs is a rental.  People who rent don’t seem to realise that there are certain things you don’t do in a flat.  You don’t have the TV up too loud, you don’t have loud sex, and you don’t keep pets.

She has a dog.

Still, she’d been living there for a couple of weeks and, the occasional bark aside, I’d not heard or seen her.  So I suppose curiosity got the better of me.  I went into the empty room and waited for her to leave.

I didn’t have to wait long.  Out she went – and oh my God – she is stunning.   The dog came out first, running to the end of the path in the excited, enthusiastic way that dogs do.  But following this pathetic litte creature came an angel.

Bright blonde hair, pulled back into a long ponytail that finished about halfway down her back. Tight black leggings that showed the curvature of her behind perfectly, and a bright orange one of those supportive bra-come-t-shirt things.  There wasn’t an once of fat on her.

I think I fell in love.  Right there, in the empty room.

My bladder groaned, and I hobbled to the toilet, relieved myself and slid back into bed.

Ellie barely stirred.

A herd of elephants could charge through the bedroom, and Ellie would barely stir.  It’s a skill I believe she perfected when I staggered back from award shows and events, pissed and obnoxious.

Here’s to us.  And all that bollocks.

The alarm buzzed less than an hour later, she keeps it under her pillow so that the vibrations wake her up.  Probably give her brain cancer in the future, but… what does she care?

She climbed out of bed and headed off to work, dressing in the empty room so to not wake me.  I pretended to be asleep throughout.

Fade.

Scene 2

A hospital waiting room/corridor

There’s a queue for the physio again.  There’s always a queue.  They ask you to get here fifteen minutes early, then make you wait.  It’s like they don’t understand that some people are busy…

It’s not getting better, anyway.  The shoulder.  I can feel it. Still not as strong as it was.  Can’t open a jam jar.  A jam jar.  Used to be nothing that could stop me.  Now a jam jar can reduce me to tears.

But the calendar has a green star over the date, so in a taxi I jump, and to the hospital I go.  Fifteen minutes early, as requested. 

When I go in though, it’ll be the same old routine.  A shake of the head, a questioning look at my latest x-ray.  He won’t be able to understand why it’s not getting better.  He won’t be able to fathom how a shoulder can stay so weak, for so long.  Next time it’ll improve, he’ll say.  Next time there’ll be some improvement.

Then he’ll ask me if I’m ok.  You know, in my head.

And I’ll tell him I miss hearing (because you never see the exact moment) the contact a golf club makes with the ball.   That bittersweet moment when the swing is completed, and you look up to catch the flight of the ball. 

Those few microseconds, until your eyes make contact with it, the uncertainty, the excitement…  And when it goes exactly where it is intended to go – that feeling…

Perfection.

And he’ll tilt his head, and ask if that’s all I miss, and I’ll tell him to fuck off and leave the room.

Apparently there’s a website.  What happened to Adrian McFell?  What happened to the prodigy who promised to set the world of golf, who made the likes of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods weak at the knees with admiration?

I don’t go on those websites.  It’s not my place.  Someone will tell them eventually.

I just go and look at the trophies in the empty room.  I touch them, with the one arm that can reach above my head, and hope that some of the talent that earned them can somehow infuse itself into me, that the events of that night will somehow undo themselves, and my shoulder will be fine, and we’ll be back on the golf course again, sun on our backs, smiles on our faces…

For the last few days, I’ve been pretty much camped at the window while Ellie’s at work.  Willing the girl downstairs, in the middle of the day when I know she’s at work, willing her to go for a run.

I can stare at that path for hours.

Anyway.  I’ve a plan for that girl.  I’ve decided.  It’s perfect.  I’ll be her sugar daddy.  I’m older, wiser, experienced, not entirely unattractive.  She’ll be putty in my hands.

“Mr McFell to room 242” echoes down the corridor

Here we go then.

Fade.

Scene 3

Back at home, in the bedroom.

We ran into her on the way back from Sainsbury’s.  Her name’s Olivia.  But we should call her Liv.  Twenty-five.  Public relations to some celebrity agency.  Anyone we should know?  I asked.  No one you’d particularly care about, she said.

She asked me if she disturbed us with her early mornings.  I looked at Ellie, gave her my best confused face, and said no.  Ellie laughed.  I’m dead to the world when I shut my eyes at night, she said.  We all laughed.

I was aloof.  But not too aloof.  Ellie’s known me almost as long as I’ve known myself.  She knows I’m a nice person.  So if I’m not nice she’ll know something up.  Even though nothing’s up.  Yet. 

You’ll have to bring your boyfriend for dinner one night, I said, a double date.  See what I did there?  Assumptive.  Probing.

Oh, she said, I’d love that.  I’m not threatened by him.  Probably some annoying little know-it all yuppie.  Easily discarded. 

Ellie wasn’t sure later – they’re ten years younger, she said, what are we going to talk about?  I pointed out that the psychiatrist said that meeting new people and broadening our social circle is an important part of the healing process.

She doesn’t have a clue about my true motives.  I’m sure of it.

She’s in the empty room now.  Sleeping.  Meditaiting, something.  I don’t listen.  I know it all upsets her.  I know she blames herself.  I mean.  It was her fault.  But she shouldn’t blame herself.  No point.  I suppose she looks at the trophies and wonders how things could have turned out.  No point.  I don’t.  I don’t look at young Liv and wonder what if?  I think, I’m going to get that.  Positive action.

The affair will help, I’m sure of it.  I’ll be happier, I’ll be more receptive to looking after Ellie.  I’ll listen more, because I’ll be too busy thinking about fucking Liv.  Maybe she’ll fall in love with me, and move in.  I’ll be one of those trendy and cool men you see with a harem of women following him around. 

I could do that.  A different room each night.  Alternate them. Stimulating conversation with Ellie one night, discussing politics, religion.  And then next night, swinging from the rafters with Liv.

The best of both worlds.  It’s perfect.  I’d be a fool not to.

I mean, once I’ve redecorated the empty room.

It needs doing.

Fade.

Scene 4

A kitchen. The sound of food cooking in the background.  Wine being poured.

Ellie’s not here.

She’s on a business trip.  All week.

She came home all sullen and miserable and told me the other day.  Apparently there’s been some minor industrial accident in one of their French factories, and they needed on the site expertise to deal with the fallout.

So off she went, crying the second the taxi door shut.  She was worried about me, she said, worried how I’d do without her.  I told her not to worry.  I’m a big boy.  I can take care of myself.

I told her I’d take the week to redecorate the empty room.  She asked me not to call it that.  It needs doing, I said.  It’s part of the healing process.  She asked me to leave it alone, and to stop calling it that.

I slipped a note under Liv’s door.  Invited her up for a drink this evening.

He takes another glass from the cupboard.

You should see her.  Knocking on the door as soon as she came home.  Her boyfriend’s giving her grief apparently.  Some London hotshot, apparently.  She thinks he’s letting his secretary suck his dick, apparently.

She’s been drinking already.  Eyes kept glazing over as she chatted away.  She’s ranted about his tiny penis, about how she’s sick of men her own age, how she’s thinking about turning lesbian.

I pointed out that turning lesbian is not really something you can do on a whim.  Then she asked me for that drink I’d promised her.

You should see her.  Skirt suit, tailored to her body perfectly.  Hair loose now, flowing over her shoulders.  A blouse that just keeps opening over her chest.  That perfect creature I see every morning is now sat on my sofa right now, letting her skirt ride up her leg and laughing at all of my jokes.

He takes a bottle of vodka from the fridge and adds it to one of the glasses of wine.

I’m not a bad person.

Liv’s boyfriend’s a bad person.

He’s fucking his secretary.

Fade.

Scene 5

The bedroom.  McFell is a state.

I told Ellie everything.  I wanted to.  I met her at the door… wearing exactly what I am now.  God knows what she thought had happened.

I sat her down in the empty room and told her everything.  The plan.  My obsession with Liv.  My plan to seduce her, to create a new live with both of them.  My harem.

I told her about getting Liv up her.  About how she was already drunk and angry, and how I kept giving her drinks and listening to her complain.  I was a shoulder to cry on, a kind ear to listen to her troubles.

When Liv had eventually leaned in to kiss me, how I had kissed her back.  How her hands had run all over my body, how they’d caressed my shoulder and made the pain go away.

Ellie didn’t cry.  She didn’t scream and throw things at me.  She just waited for me to finish.

I told her how Liv had led me upstairs, and how she hadn’t wanted to have sex on the bed that Ellie and I shared.  That she’d pulled me into the empty room and made me watch as she slowly stripped down to her underwear.

Her red, expensive, perfectly fitted, underwear.

How I’d not been able to move.  How what I was about to do had frozen me to the spot.  How I’d looked around and seen thing’s I’d not seen in months.  How all of a sudden I saw Adrian’s trophy’s, and his golf clubs, still packed away in the corner.  The walls, covered with his drawings of him and me on the golf course.  His faithful caddy.

Then she’d come over, pulled my shirt over my head, and pushed me back onto his bed.

Onto Adrian’s bed.

I threw her out of the room, I screamed at her, I scared her.

And I left this beautiful young woman, dressed in only her lingerie, crying in the corridor outside our flat, flabbergasted that a man such as me would turn a woman like her down.

I told Ellie all of this, and she just looked at me.

I told her how I’d gone into the room and tidied everything up, smoothed down his sheets and made it just like it was before.

I’d polished the trophies, how I’d thrown her clothes into the corridor.  How I’d looked to the heavens and begged for Adrian’s forgiveness.  How I’d fallen asleep in the middle of the floor, like a dog.

I stopped.  I looked up at my wife, and I asked her why she hadn’t asked me any questions.  She just looked at me.  Then she stood up and walked into the room.

I followed her – what was I supposed to do?

She leaned in and sniffed the pillow.  She looked up at me, a look of relief on her face.  I stood in the doorway, silent.

She asked me if I still thought it was an empty room.

I said no.

It was Adrian’s room.

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At the end of last year I wrote a quick post about my highlights, and what I wanted to accomplish for 2018. As we steam toward the end of the year, it’s time to look back and see what I achieved, and what I missed. These type of reviews can be hard to do, but they’re important for writers, as it lets you manage your expectations for anything you do in the future.

When I’ve put this post together, I’ll give the some thought over the Christmas period, and share some targets for 2019.

The blog

Write with Phil has taken a lot of time this year. I’ve posted at least once every week (although I think I missed one in the summer) and every now and then I’ve even managed two.

Author interviews

My author interviews, which concluded in the summer, were a great way for me to get in contact with other authors and screenwriters, and see how they work, and why they write. I learned a lot from their interviews, so I would like to say thank you to everyone who took the time to answer my questions.

Wide range of topics

I’ve also written on a variety of topics this year, a natural extension of the original aim of WWP to be based around productivity. Part of this flows from concerns I discovered about burnout and the pressure that writers put themselves under. From talking to people both in the real world and online, I realised that websites that last year I loved can have a side-effect. They can make you feel that they work you are doing isn’t enough, or you’re not writing fast enough.

Missed targets

I had three targets at the end of 2017.

  • Post at least once a week
  • 10 Guest posts on WWP
  • 10 posts by me on other blogs

I’ve missed one of them – getting ten guest blogs on other websites. Although I started strongly,with posts on

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