We’re very much looking forward to NaNoWriMo, even though 50,000 words in a month is a LOT!

Lots of writers from the group are taking this challenge, including Vicky Newham writing ‘The Exchange’ a sci fi novel set in 2030, John Wilkins writing a novel about  an undercover detective infiltrating a protest group, Jeff Cook writing a romcom set in a yoga retreat,  Linda White writing ‘Gods versus Heroes’ a fantasy novel about a gaming clan, and me (Jo) with ‘The Yes Let’s Club’ about a secret adventurers club.

Check out our info about NaNoWriMo in Kent here, and good luck to all..!

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The three ingredients of writing success

I had an interesting conversation after the last Writers of Whitstable group.

It went a bit like this…

“Sandra is such a good writer, she is so obviously talented! I love everything she does, but why doesn’t she want to write something that stands more chance of selling?”

“Graham is so hardworking and dedicated, I just know he’s going to get somewhere. You really need that kind of discipline. I just think he needs to learn a bit more about story structure.”

“Tom came along this week, he had such an amazing idea for a story. I’m still thinking about his story – I’d buy the book. I just don’t know if he’ll ever get to the end of anything, he has such a busy life.”

Names have been changed to protect my poor group members, and I am a writer so all of the above is embellished..!

But the point is, most of the writers in the Writers of Whitstable group demonstrate strength in their writing, but lack all the qualities I think an agent or publisher will be hoping to see.

I believe those three magic ingredients are:

  • Hard work
  • A great idea
  • Talent or writing craft

I see 2 or 3 of these thing in most projects, but it seems almost impossible to have all 3 going on in any one work. I count myself in on this too, I’d say my current project is written well enough (for a first draft) but I don’t think the idea’s hugely marketable, and I’ve stalled at 25,000 words. Somehow my dedication dribbled away in the last few months.

Here’s a few thoughts on each factor, I hope it may help me with my writing problems, and maybe it will help you too.

Hardwork and dedication

You know, some writer’s say ‘I’m going to write every day’ and they actually do it. Or else they set a deadline for a project, and you know they’re going to make that deadline. These are the writers who turn in something in at every monthly meeting. They have the essential writer’s tool of being hard working writers.

Often these writers have time to write, but some have full time jobs and/or families, but despite that they find a writing routine that works for them.

This is definitely something every writer can aspire to. I think sometimes finding the right project can inspire the dedication to write 1000 words at 7am before work each day.

Marketability and great ideas

Some writers come along to the group, and they talk easily about their story idea and other books that are similar. They’ve clearly thought about the selling side of writing.

Sometimes the writers who seem to be ‘good at ideas’ cleverly self select. They’ll talk about a few ideas, then describe why they’re writing what they’re writing. They seem to have a knack of knowing that your first communication with any future reader is the, ‘So what’s it all about?’

When they get that right, they make me want to read page one, and all the rest.

I think this is something any writer can achieve. Often writers write from the heart, choosing a project that is close to them, but I think most projects can be tweaked to fit a genre, or to maximise the ‘ooh, I want to read that!’ factor.

I know when I write short stories I regularly write the first thing that pops into my head,  I know I should think of four or five ideas and select the best.

Talent or writer’s craft

Sometimes you begin to read, and pages get turned, time passes and you lose yourself in a story. I believe this kind of ‘talent’ in writing is earned through experience, reading thoughtfully, and listening to feedback.

The reason I believe the craft of writing can be learned is because most amateur writer’s who make me think, ‘They’re great!’ have been writing for a long time and rewrite a lot. I feel sure practice and a perfectionist streak count.

The flipside to this ‘talent’ point is that my idea of ‘excellent’ could be someone else’s ‘mediocre’, so perhaps another part of a writer’s skill is presenting your work to the right reader?

I expect that there are a lot more than three things to thing about on the way to writing  success, but these three thing are things I’ll be thinking about as I get back to my novel. I’ll be tweaking it to fit a genre (good idea) getting back to my 300 words a day routine (hard work) and listening to feedback and rewriting a lot (craft.) Let me know if you have any tips at the next Writers of Whitstable group!


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John Hughes

51hLEKRh6DLI wanted to write something about John, who died last Thursday; a few months after he’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

John only came to our writers group once, and sent an apology for not fully engaging with the group as he was feeling unwell. He emailed a week later to tell me about his cancer diagnosis. I know that if he had been well  then he would have been a valued regular at our meetings.

I first met John at another writing group in town, where he told me he had an opportunity to publish his novel. It was an offer from an independent publisher, I was never quite clear whether it was paid-for self publishing or not. The thing is, that didn’t really matter.

John liked to tell the story of how he’d written his novel as an exercise to recover from a stroke. His doctors had not expected him to finish the work, and he delighted in explaining that he’d written his book at a time of recovery to prove something, to himself and perhaps the world. To get that book published seemed like a way of showing his illness who was boss. He got the book finished when a stroke could have stopped him, he got it published when self-doubt would have stopped many. Now you can find it here on Amazon. He penned it under the name Alex J Owen. I always meant to ask why he’d chosen that name.

The majority of writers start a book and won’t get to the end, if they do they send it to a few agents, get rejected, then put it in a drawer and start another. I remember John quietly defending his work from another writer’s criticism, and whoever was right or wrong was irrelevant.  John liked his own words on the page,  and he went the whole mile to get  them out into the world. I respect that decision. He wouldn’t live to see his book’s reception, but I don’t think that was the sole focus for him.

When he announced his book launch party he did it with a, ‘Very excited, my dream has finally come true.’

The book launch was cancelled because he was in hospital.

I know too little of John’s background and family, like many writer friends there is a professional distance ‘we’re only here to talk book notes’ plus some shyness – often on my part. It takes a while to get close. I always wanted to get to know John better, he was a writer friend I admired for his belief that writing is just doing it, loving it, not stressing what others think. If his writing dream came true before he died it’s because he made it so.

John’s funeral is Thursday 15th August, I will be there. I just bought his book on Amazon, because I promised I would get a copy at his launch party – and that isn’t going to get rescheduled.

I like to think his novel will be an inspiration to me to live his kind of practical writer’s life. His book offers a cover  picture ‘I found from the internet’ (I didn’t ask!) and it will be real in my hands, not floating in someone’s head or buried as a printout in some drawer. He did what few of us do, John (aka Alex J Owen) was an author.

I’m sorry I didn’t get to know him better in his life, but I am glad there will be something of him in a book package envelope from Amazon. Well done John, for living on the page, and for showing the doctors, and us would-be writers, how best to be immortal.

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The 300 word challenge

Well why not? I’ve decided to start a little blog about writing, here at the WoW website.

You will find witterings with a writing theme, insights and tips from writers in our group, and hopefully some future posts about the success of Whitstable writers!

Last night we met for the first time in the Marine Hotel. It seemed to work well as a venue. It was a beautiful sunny evening, but we sat inside to make use of the biggest table. We shared feedback on two member’s projects, then had a drink and a good chat.

I have two scripts on the go that badly need rewrites, but I’m finding it hard to find time for such big projects. A lovely new member suggested writing just 300 words a day, and I’m already enamoured of this idea. Who can’t find just 300 words of daily writing time? Even on a busy day at the office I can email myself 300 words of novel (not really boss!)

So, this morning before breakfast I wrote 300 words of chapter 1. I’m aiming for 50,000 words, so we’ll see if in 166 days I’ll have finished it. I’ll let you know if this slow but sure approach works for me.

I’m aiming to produce 300 words of ‘good’ writing each day, and by that I mean writing each 300 words carefully. I’ve tried NaNoWriMo and a few ‘script in a month’ challenges, but while I get the projects finished this way, it always turns it a  daunting task to rewrite a big pile of words So, this timeI have two rules.

  1. 300 words a day
  2. 300 words of thoughtful careful writing.

I’m converting a well planned screenplay idea into a novel, so I hope that will help. This has the happy side effect of turning an expensive film idea into a novel of wild imagination, all for a budget of zero. I love that with fiction I can get a great big pile of amazing made-up stuff for free!

My 300 word challenge is a minimum daily requirement, and I’m eager to go. (It’s the early days!) So I will write a few more words tonight to get ahead of the game.

January 12th 2014 is my far away deadline. Will I have a novel in the new year? We shall see.

– Joanne Bartley

Marine Hotel, Tankerton

Marine Hotel – Thanks to Vicky Newham for photo.

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