My Writing, Writing advice

Writing articles: coming up with ideas

I’ve had a few friends ask me how I get articles published, so I thought I’d write a series of posts about the process. This first one is about where to get ideas for articles. It is mostly geared towards print magazines, as that’s where the majority of my work gets published, but a lot of this will apply to online publications and newspapers too.

Go into a supermarket, newsagent or WH Smith and you’ll find hundreds of magazines. And most of these magazines will rely on freelance writers to produce at least some of their content.

I have a few different approaches to generating article ideas. There are lots of ways to go about it, and this is based on my own experience – there’s no wrong or right way to create ideas!

Browsing magazines

One way is to browse magazines and think about whether you could write something for them. Often I’ll be reading a magazine and find this sparks my imagination, finding myself thinking about articles I could write that would fit.

The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook lists hundreds of magazines and newspapers – I like reading through and highlighting any that sound promising, and then go and research them in more detail by reading through.

Write what you know

I regularly brainstorm ideas in my notebook, thinking about what I’m interested in or have experience of that could be used in an article. For example, one of the main areas I’m interested in is disability: I’m disabled, and have worked in the sector, giving me a good grounding in various topics.

I think about what themes or topics I could cover based on this. So, I might list “being a disabled student”, “disability travel”, “disability and employment”, etc. I would then think about these in more detail. Let’s take “disability travel”, for example. I could think about places I’ve travelled to and could write about, or advice for disabled travellers, or hotels that cater well to disabled people, etc. I would then research potential markets and think about what matches up.

We all have things we can write about. Think about your job, your hobbies, your travels, any challenging experiences you’ve had… Are there interesting angles you could take on these? I find creating mind maps or doing some free writing on a topic helps me think through potential approaches.

Combing the two approaches

Often, I find that my article ideas come from a mix of these two approaches – I may know I’d like to write for a certain magazine, especially one I am already familiar with, so I’ll brainstorm ideas that could fit that publication.

Or, I may know I want to write an article on, say, the Lake District, so I’ll read relevant magazines and think about what angle I could write.

It’s important to remember that it’s hard to sell generic articles. So, with my Lake District idea, a simple “Guide to the Lake District” is likely too general to get taken up by an editor. One of the first articles I had published was for Cumbria magazine where I wrote about my experience of going to the Calvert Trust outdoor pursuits centre for disabled people in the Lake District. I was writing about something quite unique that it’s likely hadn’t been pitched to the editor before, giving it a much stronger chance of publication. While I did interview someone from the centre to add depth to the feature, I mostly drew from my own experience to write it.

Next steps

Keep a list of all of your article ideas, even when they’re really rough. I have a spreadsheet with two tabs: one of what I’ve pitched and where, and one with a (sometimes pretty vague) list of article ideas and potential markets. I also have jottings down in various notebooks where I’ve brainstormed ideas. I often find article ideas can take a while to form. I’ll make rough notes and then come back to these a few days later, finding taking a fresh look can help me see the idea from a new perspective.

Once you have an idea as to which publication you’d like to write for, it’s important to really understand that magazine. The next blog post in this series will look in more detail at how to analyse potential markets in order to develop your initial idea further and to get the best chance of being commissioned. Go grab a notebook and start creating some ideas!

My Writing, Travel, Uncategorized

DadaFest Artist Development Programme and a day in Liverpool

Today I had a wonderful time exploring the city of Liverpool. I was there for a meeting with the disability arts organisation DaDaFest about being supported by their Artist Development Programme.

Blue Coat LiverpoolDadaFest are based at the Bluecoat creative hub in the city centre, in a characterful historic building. It was a really positive chat and I left feeling excited about what’s on offer, in particular setting up mentoring for me with an established writer to further develop my creative practice. I’ve now got some thinking to do around what support in particular I’d like from the programme to help with my writing career. This year I’m making a real push with my writing, and being part of DaDaFest’s Artist Development Programme looks set to be a big help.

My fiancé Gary and I then had a few hours to ourselves in Liverpool. I’ve only been once before, even though it’s not that far from Stoke, so it was good to have an excuse to explore. At Sam from DaDaFest’s recommendation, Gary and I headed to The British Music Experience on the Liverpool Waterfront.

The museum traces the history of British rock and pop from the mid-twentieth century through to the present day and has a whole lot of costumes, instruments and memorabilia, from the inevitable Beatles members’ guitars through to Geri Halliwell’s (in)famous union flag dress. Gary and I both love music and enjoyed exploring its history.

Caroline GuitarThe museum has selection of instruments for visitors to play, so Gary and I had a bit of time trying out various guitars. Gary showed off his shredding and serenaded me with songs from his band, Skybald (who have a gig coming up in Stoke, local music fans!), while I tried to remember the bit of Smashing Pumpkins and Green Day songs I learnt years ago (it’s a while since I picked up a guitar). We’d definitely recommend The British Music Experience if you’re ever in Liverpool.

There were several museums and art galleries that we didn’t get a chance to visit today, but we will definitely be returning to this vibrant city.

 

 

My Writing, Travel, Uncategorized, Workshop

A week at an Arvon course

Recently, I was lucky to spend a week away at Arvon’s The Hurst writers’ centre in the beautiful Shropshire hills.

As I sat in the bright book-filled lounge with eleven other writers who’d travelled from all over, including one from the US, I wondered whether I’d made the right decision coming here. A week dedicated to writing was a lovely idea, but would I find it too exhausting? Would I be able to make the most of my time, or would I run low on ideas? What would the people I’d be sharing this grand old house with be like?

The course was on writing young adult fiction, tutored by the wonderful authors Anthony McGowen and Sheena Wilkinson, and I knew it was going to be an intense week of workshops, tutorials and time dedicated to writing.

20190413_095338Of course, I needn’t have worried. Everyone – my fellow participants, the tutors, and the Arvon staff – were warm and welcoming.

Each morning we took part in workshops, led by Anthony and Sheena, from 9.30am-1pm. It sounded like a dauntingly long amount of time, but each session, covering topics as diverse as characterisation, dialogue and editing, was so engaging and enjoyable that they passed so quick. I filled my Moleskin notebook with notes and ideas generated from the writing exercises set by the tutors.

Our afternoons were less structured, with time to work on our writing, one-to-one tutorials with Anthony and Sheena, or walking in the grounds. The Hurst is set in beautiful woodland, and I took many opportunities to go exploring, both on my own and with fellow writers.

20190410_155428After a delicious dinner (cooked on a rota by participants), each evening held something different – readings from the tutors, a guest author, and a free evening on Thursday. All accompanied by copious amounts of wine and writerly conversation. The Friday evening was a celebration of our work, where we each read a five minute piece of our own writing. It was wonderful to hear everyone’s pieces, ranging from the humorous to emotional.

As I was waiting for my fiancé to pick me up on the Saturday morning (we did a trip to the historic town of Shrewsbury on the way back to Stoke), I couldn’t resist looking on the Arvon website to see what other upcoming courses they have. I know I will definitely be returning – whether to The Hurst or one of Arvon’s other centres in Yorkshire or Devon. I left Arvon with a renewed confidence in and love for my writing, and the promise to myself to dedicate more time to this passion.

My Writing

Flash 500 long listed story

I’m really happy to have a short story, Two weeks after the world ended, make the long list for the Flash 500 competition. If you scroll down to the bottom of the results page, you’ll see my name!

Like many writers, I occasionally take a chance and enter my short stories into competitions. And, like many writers, results day passes by and I realise I haven’t been successful. It’s been a while since I entered a competition, partly because I came to believe it was a hopeless cause, so it was a lovely surprise to make the Flash 500 long list.

Flash fiction is a style of short story that I enjoy writing. Different competitions and publications have rules about the length for a flash fiction story. With Flash 500 the limit is, as the name suggests, 500 words. Some competitions have even shorter lengths, such as 300 or even 100 words. With so little room, when writing flash fiction every word really has to count and pull its weight. Sometimes writing something so short can be more challenging than writing a 4,000 word story.

This success with Two weeks after the world ended has given me a needed boost, especially in relation to my short story writing. Maybe I’ll start entering some more competitions. After all, you have to be in it to win it…

 

MA, My Writing

Handing in my final MA assignment

It’s taken a while, but I have handed in (well, emailed…) my final assignment for my MA in the Teaching & Practice of Creative Writing!

The assignment was really interesting to write. It’s a mix of my own creative work and research into life writing, especially in relation to mental health. I, like many others, find writing cathartic and it has helped me through some very difficult times. While working on the assignment I came across a word for this: “scriptotherapy” – the therapeutic value of writing about traumatic events, and crafting your own narrative to explore your life.

After doing this MA for so long, it feels weird to think that it’s done. It’s going to be a strange feeling no longer being a student – I have some thoughts about progressing further with my studies, but for now it’s a case of just waiting to see what happens. I’ve found that’s a common theme in a writer’s life: waiting. Waiting to hear back on assignments, on pitches, on submissions. Being a writer is a lesson in patience!

Still, if all goes to plan and I haven’t spectacularly screwed up this last assignment, I should be graduating this July.

 

My Writing

Setting writing goals for 2019

I regularly review my short term writing goals, such as planning to pitch an article by a certain date or to hit a certain word count on a longer piece of work. As 2018 ends, I find myself thinking about what I want to achieve in 2019.

Book SimonOver the holidays I’ve been reading The Positively Productive Writer by author Simon Whaley. It has been helpful in setting myself some pretty ambitious writing targets for the coming year. Unlike many of the writing books on my shelves, Simon’s isn’t about the art of writing itself but, rather, how to be a positive, productive and therefore hopefully more successful writer.

He covers areas such as how to set yourself a mix of short, medium and long term SMART goals, dealing positively with rejection, and organising your writing life. I really want to make a big push with my writing career in 2019, and this book has been useful in planning ahead.

My fiancé, Gary, and I had a wander around Hanley earlier today, weaving through the crowds of post-Christmas sales shoppers to go for a coffee and mince pie at Caffe Nero (it is honestly one of my favourite places) where we chatted about our respective resolutions for 2019 (his music, mine writing), followed by a browse around Waterstones. I picked up a copy of Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2019, which is an invaluable guide with lists of magazines, publishers and agents, as well as containing useful articles about various aspects of writing. I’m going to be making the most of the remainder of the Christmas break by reading through this book with a highlighter, finding inspiration for possible places to send my work in the coming months.

What are your writing aims for 2019? What helps you set them?

My Writing, Uncategorized, Workshop

Writing and wellbeing feature in Mslexia

MslexiaI’m really thrilled to have a feature, “Writing in the World: Mental Health”, published in the current issue of Mslexia magazine. I’ve been a Mslexia subscriber for years and it’s a publication that is well regarded in the writing community, so seeing my work in its pages is pretty exciting.

The article shares my experiences of running community creative writing workshops and how writers can work within a wellbeing context to support participants in a way that is inclusive and encourages creativity.

As I wrote the feature, it was useful to reflect on my practice as both a writer and workshop facilitator. Mental health and wellbeing is a topic very close to me, and I’m passionate about the benefits of art and creative group work – I’ve experienced these benefits myself through periods of ill health when I have been one of the people around the table who’s apprehensively taking part in an artistic activity, rather than being the one delivering it.

It made sense to write an article that combined these passions of mine, and they are areas that I’m hoping to explore further in my writing.

 

Travel, Uncategorized

Coffee, books and zines

Last Saturday I took the train down to London to spend the day with my good friend, Anahita. We met at uni but even though we now live far away from each other, we still make the effort to meet up as often as we can.

I love London. Every time I visit I find it such an invigorating place, with so much going on. After meeting at Euston (and stopping off at Boots to buy an emergency bottle of sunscreen), we headed to VX shop and café near Kings Cross for a chat over vegan junk food, before a quick wander by the canal and then heading to the British Library.

The British Library is an impressive modern building, which is free to enter. You need to apply for a pass to access the reading rooms, which we weren’t there for, but we had a look around one of the exhibition rooms. It featured old manuscripts – I was particularly interested in the display of Marx’s old letters and documents, including one of his tickets for the reading room at the British Museum.

We managed to nab the last available table in one of the library’s cafes so we could sit and have a good catch up over a soy latte. It’s useful for me know now where the British Library is and what it’s like in case I ever need to access the reading room for research.

somerset houseOur next stop was Somerset House, located right by the Thames. When we arrived late afternoon there were dozens of children in swimwear jumping around in the fountains in the cobbled courtyard while their parents sunbathed nearby. Who says you need the coast for summer fun?

We were there specifically to see the free entry Print! Tearing it up exhibition. Exploring the history of independent magazines, with a focus on their modern relevance in a digital age, the exhibition featured hundreds of indie mags from the past century, with accompanying information about some of the publications. It was interesting to see old copies of magazines – like Time Out and Private Eye – that have gone on to become mainstream, as well as lower-circulation ones. I have been interested in zines for a while (I wrote in a previous post about making a zine for my MA), particularly as a medium for marginalised voices, so I really enjoyed Somerset House’s exhibition, especially the political zines.

I know that London is a great place for independent restaurants, but with not long before my train home, we headed for Pizza Express. Which was good. Even if they did put non-vegan salad dressing on their vegan pizza.

I’d love to return to London again soon to explore more cultural sites. We only visited the one exhibition at the vast Somerset House – I’d like to have a look round the rest sometime. But, of course, sunny Stoke has its own cultural gems, some of which I still need to visit. Lots more day trips are on the cards!

 

Uncategorized, Workshop

Festival Stoke Writing Workshop

caroline_workshop1Yesterday evening I ran a creative writing workshop as part of Festival Stoke’s Art Street line up. There was a really good turnout, around fifteen of us in the Art Stop workshop space.

The workshop focused on characterisation and using our day to day experience, such as the journey to the session, as a springboard for creative writing ideas. As is typical in creative writing workshops, I set a few writing exercises to complete during the session and then everyone took it in turns to read back their writing to the rest of the group. I always find it really interesting how much variety one exercise creates in the work that’s fed back.

I’m running another creative writing workshop as part of Festival Stoke, focusing on the show, not tell technique. It’s next Wednesday 5th July, 7pm at the Art Stop Stoke, 108 Church Street, Stoke-on-Trent, ST4 1BU. It’d be great to see you there.

Uncategorized

Events For All Workshop

This morning I went along to the Events for All workshop in Stoke run by the lovely Iona Jones. The session was all about how to organise and run a community event and I learnt a lot, from funding to permits to marketing. Being a disabled person, I found the discussion around how to make events accessible particularly interesting and I enjoyed the opportunity to share some of my knowledge around this too.

As a writer with an interest in community engagement it was really interesting to hear from other participants about their experiences – it’s left me feeling really inspired!