This is a blog you’ll enjoy if you like writing! I write for magazines in the UK and abroad and I am also the Agony Aunt for Writers’ Forum magazine.



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How do I become a full time writer? I want to give up my day job.

This is a question I get asked a lot.  Both through my column for Writers’ Forum and also by strangers (and friends) who know what I do. Mostly the people who ask me want to write fiction.  (it’s much easier, incidentally to do it if you write non fiction.)

I asked this question of an author 30 years ago and their first reaction was to say, ‘Don’t do it.’  I ignored this slightly tongue in cheek advice and went ahead! Incidentally, it didn’t take long before I had to get another day job in order to pay my mortgage.

The next time I attempted it in 2000 I was more prepared. Preparation is essential, and will make the difference between success and failure. Everyone’s circumstances are different, of course, but here are my top tips for making the switch

  • You will need to be already established as a paid writer of fiction (or non fiction if that’s your chosen path). Doing both is a good plan I have found. Getting established takes time so it’s important to build up relationships with editors and publishers before you quit your day job.  I had been getting paid for my writing for 13 years before I gave up my day job the second time.
  • If possible, don’t give up your day job until your earnings as a writer equal your salary, or come close. Be prepared to live on half your income for a while. If this is impossible, don’t attempt it.
  • In the beginning you will need an alternative form of income as well. Then you will have at least some guaranteed income a month (important for bills, mortgage etc). This could be a part time job. It could be savings. It could be a pension. (I had savings and a part time job.)
  • Work out exactly what you will need to earn each month. Then work out exactly what you will need to sell each month in order to achieve it. Then write approximately double the amount of pieces that you will need to sell to allow for misses.You are bound to have some.
  • Pick a date and hand in your notice. You can always go back if things don’t work out.

This may all sound a little like a tale of caution. So I will add one more thing. Even though I work longer hours than I did while employed, even though it’s very hard at times and I never feel economically secure, writing for a living is still my dream job. I absolutely LOVE it.

Good luck with your journey.

PS if you want to know if your short stories are publishable, (or even if you just want to make them better) why not come along to my course on Sun 26 August and get some feedback on your story.

Venue: Kinson Community Centre, Bournemouth

Time: 10 till 4.00

Cost £40.00

(email me if you’d like further details)

 

 

 

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Posted in Being a full time writer, Dear Della, Questions from Dear Della | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Elements of a Short Story

I often get asked if there is any sort of checklist for writing a short story.  And yes, I think there is.  Here is what I think a short story should include:

A character who has a problem/conflict which must be resolved by the end of the piece in an unexpected way.

In fact this definition could, very roughly, be applied to all fiction.  If one or more of the elements are missing the story won’t quite work. Don’t take my word for it.  If you have a story that doesn’t work, try running this checklist against it. Are the following elements in place?

  • Character
  • Conflict
  • Change
  • Resolution
  • Surprise

If a story isn’t working, I very often find that one of the last two is missing. Another common problem (oh the irony) is that there simply isn’t enough conflict, i.e. the character doesn’t have a big enough problem for the length of the piece.

Don’t take my word for it. If you have a story that doesn’t quite work, apply the checklist and see if you can fix the missing element and get the story to work.

Happy Editing!

Della xx

PS if you would like some more help with identifying what’s gone wrong with a short story I’m running two summer workshops in Bournemouth on Saturday 21 July and Sunday 26 August.  You can bring along a story of up to 2000 words for detailed feedback.

  • Venue: Kinson Community Centre
  • Time 10 till 4.00
  • Cost £40
  • Email me via this website to book.

 

 

 

 

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Posted in plotting, Short stories for magazines, Tips on writing, Writing, Writing problems and solutions | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Four Reasons We Don’t Write – and What to Do About Them!

Motivation – one of my favourite subjects. Motivating yourself to write should be easy, shouldn’t it? After all, we want to write. Don’t we? So why is it so difficult to get started? Recognise any of these excuses – er hem, I mean REASONS?

Time: I’d like to write but I never seem to have the time.

If that’s you, ask yourself a question. Is it really true?  Do you really not have time? Or are you just not prioritising writing?  Possibly because you don’t feel you deserve the luxury of having time to write when there are so many other things to do, for example, work, friends and family.

Well, if writing is what you really want to do, then don’t you deserve to carve out some time for it?  If you were to allocate half an hour three times a week you could probably write a short story in a month (perhaps even two). Little and often really is the key.

Focus: I don’t know what I want to write.

Many people set off with the idea of writing a novel.  This is very commendable; don’t let me stop you if that’s your burning passion. But there are many other forms. Here are some less time intensive ones:

  • A blog
  • A short story
  • A poem
  • Morning pages
  • A feature for a magazine

Why not experiment until you decide what’s for you. Better still why not pick one of the above and set a deadline to complete it.

Confidence: I’m not good enough to be published.

How do you know until you try? Not many people are good enough to be published until they’ve done some market research and learned what works and what doesn’t.  Writing is a little like learning the piano I think – we wouldn’t expect to be concert pianists without a fair bit of practice.

Laziness: It just feels too much like hard work a lot of the time.

Newsflash – it is! Believe me, I know it is. I write a lot and some days (actually there are quite a lot of them) I would much rather be doing something else. Some days it feels as though I’m wading through sludge.

Usually when this happens, I just carry on. (I have to, it’s my day job).  Very often it’s because I’ve got to a tricky bit. So my top tip for this is that it’s much better to finish writing when I’m really enjoying myself – then I’ll be all the keener to go back to it again. This really does work. Trust me.

If you’re really stuck I once heard a novelist say she used to handcuff her ankle to the desk to make herself sit still until she’d done her allotted amount of words. I can’t say I’ve tried this one – but I’m not ruling it out!

Happy writing

Della xxx

PS I’m running a course in Bournemouth this Saturday. 23 October. Write a Short Story in a Day (Hopefully the title is self explanatory but if you’d like further details please do leave a comment or email me.)

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Posted in Inspiration, Tips on writing, Writing, Writing problems and solutions, Writing Ramblings | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

How to Judge a Short Story Competition

Firstly, apologies from me! I haven’t written a blog for too long. I’ve been writing a novel and it was all consuming. It’s now winging its way to publishers via my agent, who loved it. So fingers crossed.

More on that soon. But here’s a question that came through to Dear Della recently, which might be of interest to you.

Q: I have been asked to judge a short story competition, having been a winner more than once in previous years.  I am thrilled to be asked, but also nervous.  Do you have a set criterion when you judge short story competitions yourself?

A: Yes I do.  The following is my own personal criterion for judging a short story competiton.

  1. Is it a short story and not just an extract or anecdote?
  2. Does it begin well – was I hooked?
  3. Are the characters believable and convincing?
  4. Do I care about the story or do I get to the end and think, ‘so what!’?
  5. Is the dialogue realistic and/or convincing?
  6. Does the plot work or is it contrived and/or predictable?
  7. Is the ending satisfying or does it tail off or feel contrived or predictable?
  8. Does the title add to the story?
  9. Is the pace right or does it feel rushed or drawn out?
  10. Does this story have the X Factor?

As you can see most of my points are measurable.  They will encompass factors like quality of writing, language and grammar. Number 10 is the one I use when I am trying to decide on a winner.  If a story has the X Factor it can sometimes be forgiven other minor faults. It’s difficult to pin down whether a story has the X Factor. They are the ones that send a shiver down my spine – or prompt me to say, ‘Wow.’  I wish I’d written that.  They might be clever or funny or poignant. And yes it’s a personal thing – one judge’s X factor may be another judge’s ‘not in a million years.’ But that is what makes a judge unique.

Have you ever judged a competition? I’d love to know your top tips.

Also on the subject of short stories – my next course is on Saturday 23 June, 2018 in Bournemouth.

Write a Short Story in a Day.

Venue: Kinson Community Centre.

Cost: £45

Please email me for further details.

Last but not least, you can unsubscribe from this email at any time by pressing the unsubscribe button or emailing me and I will unsubscribe you.  Many thanks for reading.

All best wishes

Della

 

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Posted in competitions, Dear Della, Questions from Dear Della | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Happy Christmas

Just popped on to wish you a very, very happy Christmas. Here is Small Hound, lower picture, dressed in her best festive outfit to wish you the same. And Big Hound, not wanting to be left out of the festive fun, stole some chocolate coins from the worktop.

I am cooking for six this Christmas Day and we have decided to go Vegan. Wish me luck, guys. I hope you are doing something nice.  And if you are at a loose end – well it’s a great time for writing.  While everyone else is slaving away over a hot stove, you can slave away over a hot keyboard and get in a head start for the New Year. Thank you for reading my blog.  And have a lovely festive season, whatever you are doing.

With love from Della & hounds!

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Posted in Writing | 3 Comments

Is it possible to make a full time living writing for magazines?

Is it possible to make a full time living writing for magazines? If so, how?

I started writing for womags after joining an Adult Education class called Writing for Profit and Pleasure. The teacher was Jean Dynes (she writes as Barbara Dynes – see her column in Writers’ Forum.)   In that first class, back in September 1987, Jean asked if there was any news.

A girl in the row in front, put up her hand and said, ‘I’ve just sold my 27th story this year to Loving Magazine.’

Wow, I thought.   I want to sell a story. Just one would do. (ho ho, little did I know how addictive it was). But how was it done?

By researching the markets, I learned, which meant reading the magazine. So off I went to buy a copy of Loving, which I read from cover to cover, several times. They bought the 3rd story I sent. Then the 4th, then the 5th. I was on the verge of giving up the day job when they rejected the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th.

We all know how it works. There are far more rejections in this business than successes

It’s always been like that for me. It still is. And blimey the market is much harder than it was. Back in 1987 there were 100 plus womags that carried fiction. In 2000, which was when I did finally give up the day job to write full time, there were 21 markets. Everyone said it was impossible to write short stories for a living.

It wasn’t! But back to my original question.

Is it impossible now? When there are a handful of magazines that still take stories from writers (who aren’t on their list). I think sadly that it may be. There are just too many of us out here. I know so many fabulous writers who get their stories rejected because there are only so many slots. So can we still follow the dream of being a full time writer?

I once heard a brilliant quote from Linda O Byrne, who at the time was fiction editor of Bella magazine. She said, ‘Don’t give up. There is always a market for excellence.’

I think she was right.

I’ve been a full time writer for 17 years. Here’s how I do it. I write short stories for the remaining markets. I am the agony aunt for Writers’ Forum. I have several self published books on Amazon which earn me £200 plus a month. I do some journalism. I do the odd spot of teaching. I write novels.  Last year I struck lucky. The Reading Group was published by a huge publisher (Quercus is part of the Hachette Group) but I wasn’t paid a huge advance to write it which meant I wrote it in addition to not instead of my usual work.

In short, I diversify. My income is made up of lots of bits of writing related work. Lots and lots of bits which means I work lots and lots of hours. Often 60 hours plus a week.

I live in hope of having a best selling novel that will mean I don’t have to worry about money so much.

The bottom line is that I love writing. I can’t stop. I won’t stop. I think Linda O Byrne’s advice still holds true. Don’t give up. There is always a market for excellence. I don’t think I’ve quite reached excellence yet – but I shall never, ever give up aiming for it.

The Reading Group is published by Quercus. For most of November it is 99p. Not bad for 500 plus pages! Click here to buy/find out more. And if you do like it please leave me a review.  Until Sunday 19 November you can win a copy of the paperback by going to www.oapschat.co.uk

£7.99 (paperback) £3.99 (kindle)

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Posted in Inspiration, News, Short stories for magazines, The Reading Group, Writing | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Writing Courses – Five tips on finding a good one?

I am lucky enough to be able to teach creative writing at various venues.  This is Woman’s Weekly’s new home at Canary Wharf. How can you fail to be inspired by this view?

Tip Number One – Credibility

Do the course organisers have the credibility factor? Yes, if they are a respected publisher. such as Woman’s Weekly, they certainly do.  Choose carefully.

Tip Number Two – Marketability

Can the course organisers actually buy the work you produce? Yes, in Woman’s Weekly’s case – they buy twenty plus stories a month. They  also buy features. Which means that what you learn on the course may actually help you to sell your story to them.

Tip Number Three – Venue and accessibility

Woman’s Weekly have courses in London and in Birmingham. They cost £79 for a full day’s course. Choose from fiction, poetry or journalism. Check here for details.

Another wonderful venue, particularly if you are looking for something longer than a day is Writers’ Holiday, Fishguard, Pembrokeshire.   Check out their winter weekend in February 2018 but be quick because it books up fast. £229 fully inclusive.

Tip Number Three – Inclusivity

Does your course include all levels of experience?  If you’re a beginner you don’t want to feel out of your depth. But equally if you’re a more experienced writer you don’t want to sit through a course that is too basic. Check with the organisers.  Both the Writers’ Holiday, at Fishguard and Woman’s Weekly cover all levels of experience, often on the same course.

Tip Number Five –  The Fun Factor

It’s not all about the work, it’s wonderful to have fun too.  Choose a course which has a reputation for friendliness.  This is where The Writers’ Holiday comes into its own. Ann and Gerry Hobbs, who run Writers’ Holiday, are amazing. It would be hard to find a nicer couple. Nothing is too much trouble. Don’t take my word for it. Check out their  website. www.writersholiday.net

And while we’re on the subject of friendly, I’m pretty friendly myself. Here are the details of my next two Saturday courses in Bournemouth. They run from 10 am till 4.00 pm.

Saturday 5 August, 2017 – Fiction Workshop – summer special DISCOUNT RATE £29.00

A day of inspirational workshops, designed to get your creative juices flowing. Workshop based. Places will be on a first come, first served basis.

Saturday 11 November 2017 – Writing Your First Novel £45.00

  • The first chapter and beyond.
  • Writing the synopsis and cover letter.
  • Approaching agents and publishers.

Please contact me if you’d like to book. I will leave you with some biscuits.  These are the ones Woman’s Weekly have on their courses – just saying!

Thanks for reading.

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Posted in Short stories for magazines, Woman's Weekly, Writing, Writing conferences & schools | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

How much research should I do?

I can’t believe how long it is since I’ve blogged. So big apologies.  Where has the year gone? I think it’s summer isn’t it, although it doesn’t actually feel like it in deepest Dorset right now!  It’s all wind and rain!  Anyway, here’s a question that came into my postbag for Dear Della in Writers’ Forum recently so I’ve reproduced it here.  It’s an interesting one and I’m sure we’d all have different answers.

Q: How much research should you do before you write a novel? How do you know when enough is enough? One of the writers in my local group says she does hers afterwards, but I don’t see how this can work. How can you write a novel if you don’t know the facts that you are writing about? Please advise.

A: The amount of research you need to do will vary, depending on your subject and how much you know already. I’d say that more is generally better – definitely don’t skimp because it will show. But if you like research it’s easy to get carried away too.

Paradoxical as it may seem, I think that very often you can do your research after you’ve written the novel. How do you know what you need to research until you get to that point? There are pros and cons for both before and after.

Here are some pitfalls for doing it in advance. You might do a whole pile of research that later turns out to be unnecessary for your story and hence a waste of time. Or you might be tempted to put in every bit of research whether you need it or not just because you’ve done it. I’m sure we’ve all read novels where this has been the case. And finally, and most dangerously, you might never start the writing because you are having far too much fun researching.

On the other hand if you leave it all until after you’ve written the story you run the risk of having to rewrite huge chunks in the light of information you didn’t know previously. So my advice would be to research facts and information before the writing if major plot points hang on it.

It probably also depends on how much you plot in advance. If you plot everything out to the nth degree you may well know all the fine points of what you need to research. If you’re more of a panster (as I am) then you won’t. There’s no hard and fast rule. It may just come down to a matter of what works for you.

***

Incidentally the novelist who told me to do the research after the writing was the late Frederick E Smith, author of the 633 Squadron novels.  I respected him very much, we had many a long chat at the Riverside Pub, sitting outside in summer overlooking the river and putting the world to rights.  So thank you, Fred.  Invaluable advice which I still follow.

I’d be interested to hear what others do. Happy writing everyone.

Della xx

I’m running a course on How to Write Your First Novel in Bournemouth on Saturday 24 June 2017. 10 till 4.00. Cost £45.00.  Do contact me via this website or on Twitter or Facebook if you’re interested.

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Posted in Questions from Dear Della, Tips on writing, Writing, Writing problems and solutions | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Where is your story set?

Settings are incredibly important for fiction. They are where our characters live and they are where we are going to take our readers. So for me, it’s important to choose a setting I know well. The setting for my latest series of novellas, The Reading Group, was a seaside town in Devon called Little Sanderton. The nearest big town to Little Sanderton is Exeter which is 21 miles away and is mentioned frequently throughout the Reading Group.

I should confess here that Little Sanderton doesn’t actually exist but if you were to look up Branscombe, which is in Devon, you’ll have an idea of where I had in mind. When Jojo and Kate go walking to talk about the breakdown of Kate’s marriage in the February, novella they are walking on Branscombe Beach.

Serena’s house where the Reading Group meet each month, is set on a clifftop close by. So is Anne Marie’s father’s house.

The beauty of choosing an imaginary setting is that you can’t mistakenly libel anyone or upset anyone, but you can go and look at actual houses and base your fictitious ones upon them. I tend to use the outsides of real houses and make up what’s on the inside. (So far, no one has actually let me in to have a look around their house, but you never know!)

I also tend to set my stories in places I love. I have some very fond memories of holidaying in Branscombe, which is not a million miles away from where I live. I have walked along several sections of the coast path and spent many a happy day in the local seaside towns and villages, not to mention restaurants. (All in the name of research, obviously!)

Setting a series of novellas in this area was a delight. It meant I could go back there in my mind. Skip back to this idyllic place and take my readers with me. Not a bad way to earn a living, is it!

The latest edition of The Reading Group – April – comes out today 🙂

Click here to buy or get further information.

The Reading Group, all covers

 

 

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Posted in Settings, The Reading Group, Tips on writing, Writing | Tagged | 3 Comments

Genre novels – what are they and how long are they?

Publishers and agents like to categorise novels into genre. Partly so they know which shelf to put your book on at the library/bookshop. Genre refers to the type of story you’re writing. Here are some of the most popular genres and some very ballpark figures on how long they are.

  • Romance: quite a broad spectrum, ranging from Mills & Boon category romance (Approx 55,000 words) to more mainstream romance. (Approx 90,000).
  • Thriller: covers crime, psychological, cosy, political. (Approx 90.000).
  • Historical: Period stories. (Can be 120,000 plus).
  • Sagas: Multigenerational stories. (Can be 120,000 plus).
  • Fantasy/Sci fi: Includes other worlds, past, present and future. (Can be 120,000 plus).
  • Timeslip: (Can be 120,000 plus).
  • Erotica: Includes all genres, from mainstream to niche. (55,000 plus).
  • Literary: (practically any length – depending on publisher).
  • Commercial Women’s Fiction: a catch all for anything that doesn’t come under another category. (80,000 plus).

I should also mention children’s and YA which isn’t a genre exactly but is a law unto itself. Length depends on age group and publisher.

The above list is not exhaustive. It’s simply meant as a very general guide. Publishers will usually state what lengths and genre types they are interested in receiving.

Digital publishing means that there is a great deal more flexibility than there used to be because the cost of printing doesn’t govern the length of a novel. Many publishers today will consider novels from 55,000 upwards and this was once thought to be too short (except for category romance).

It’s usually easier to sell a novel that fits into a genre because publishers see the market as being more defined. Readers of sci-fi like to read sci-fi. Readers of crime like to read crime. However there are, of course, elements of romance in most of the other categories. It’s hard to avoid as it’s so much a part of the human condition!

A true cross genre novel, for example, a psychological thriller cross fantasy tends to be much harder to sell.

Also, interestingly, although publishers don’t want to buy them, it’s very often a cross genre novel that will become an out of left field bestseller. Fifty Shades of Grey was (in my opinion) category romance plus bondage! Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke was historical plus magic/fantasy.

As writers it’s probably better to know our genre and try to stay somewhere within it. However, I also think that we should write what we feel most passionate about and not follow too many rules. Phew! Did I mention it was complicated!

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Posted in Genre, selling your book, Writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments