Word Puzzles

On a zoom meeting today, a fellow writer fretted about losing work as she was unable to save new documents into MS Word. She was using a workaround involving saving to her desktop first.

She has up to date software and subscriptions and was still experiencing pretty basic issues. A knowledgable relative thinks she’s heading for a new laptop, even though the current one is not old.

This is an increasing problem with modern technology. It’s great when it works and a monumental headache when it doesn’t. Both hard and software aren’t designed to last. I remind you of the two fridges in my kitchen: the small, old-fashioned one which was ancient when we moved in over 20 years ago, and the big, modern, American-style fridge, which is the third we’ve bought since moving in. The other two ‘new’ fridges broke.

I’m still using Word 2007 on a combination of Windows 7 and Windows 10. It’s developed the odd idiosyncrasy but largely behaves perfectly. I vastly prefer the Windows 7 environment (and am resisting the inevitable PC upgrade) as it seems a lot simpler.

However, today I entered a free short story competition flagged up by writer Helen Yendall. The entry needed to be in pdf form. You can’t now convert to pdf in Word 2007 unless you record a macro: I didn’t trust strangers on YouTube enough to try that. Adobe wanted money to do the job, which seemed pointless for a free competition.

What to do?

I opened the document with free software, Open Office, and hit the ‘export as pdf’ button. Ecco! as the Italians say. One pdf file.

I stick with MS Word because it’s the industry standard, but how long it will stay like that when you have to pay an annual subscription and free software works just as well?

Answers on a postcard, please…

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Set New Year Goals not Resolutions

As New Year approaches, it’s time to make resolutions. We all know these flop, however, so many writers now set goals instead.

What’s the difference? A resolution is a promise to yourself to do or not do something: I will lose weight, I will join the gym, I will swear less, for example. A goal is a specific target: ‘I want to fit into that size 12 dress in time for Auntie’s wedding’ or ‘I want a six-pack’.

Image by ijmaki from Pixabay

Goals work better because they are to a greater or lesser degree SMART—Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Timed. In other words, we know exactly what we want to achieve, when we wish to achieve it, and those around us agree it’s doable.

Let’s say you vow to join a gym and actually do that on January 2nd. Then what? You’ll probably go regularly for a month before attendances tail off. Why does that happen? Because you have no endpoint, something to keep up your motivation. It becomes a thankless chore. But if you’d said: “I will join the gym to take the recommended 150 minutes of aerobic exercise and 2 sessions of strength-building per week and so reduce my heart attack risk.” you will know if you’re hitting that target week by week. On the other hand, it is an open goal. When do you stop? Do you know what your heart attack risk is? Will you inadvertently increase your risk by rewarding yourself after each session by going for coffee (with cream and marshmallows) and cake with friends? So it would be better to be even more specific.

The same goes for writing goals. Vowing (or resolving) to ‘write more’ is doomed to failure because it assumes you know how much you write now, and are you talking about words, hours or finished projects? In other words, how do you measure how much you write? How will you know if you are writing more?

Making your goals SMART brings focus and clarity.

I will write moreI will write 100 words a day at least 5 days a week
I will focus on short storiesI will submit at least 3 short stories this year
I will do NaNoWriMoI will write 50K during NaNoWriMo having first completed the planning stages on the website so I have a plot to go
I will spend less time on social mediaI will disconnect from the internet during my designated writing sessions
the difference between vague resolutions and specific goals

As a result of my SMART(ish) goals last year, I sold two pocket novels and more than paid for my Writer’s Forum sub from published First Draft columns.

One goal failed. I did not find new homes for old stories for three reasons.  First, I have concentrated on writing pocket novels. Second, I stopped writing for several months during lockdown. Third, WOMAG markets contracted: That’s Life Australia stopped publishing fiction and The Weekly News folded. That’s fine. Life happens. Lot’s of people had their plans thwarted this year by a certain virus.

Another goal was so easily achieved it was pointless. I wrote ‘consider a serial for The People’s Friend’. I did that in 2 seconds: ‘Yep, could do, but I won’t.’

My Xmas present planner for 2021. I must use it.

These are my writing goals for 2021. The default deadline is Dec 31st 2021, but I have chosen a different date for some because allowing a full year will encourage me to procrastinate.

  1. Learn to use the dreaded WordPress block editor before I lose my sanity
  2. Develop a new idea for a pocket novel for My Weekly, write the first draft during Camp Nano in April. Ideally, submit it to Maggie by September.
  3. Submit a story to My Weekly (a new market for me) every submission period.
  4. Write and submit a synopsis for a serial for The People’s Friend by December.
  5. Write in my lovely new week-to-view planner at least 5 days a week.
  6. Earn more than last year

This list is not exclusive, but I will concentrate my writing efforts here.

Now it’s your turn: what SMART goals will you set yourself for next year? Don’t go mad and pick something totally unachievable. You won’t write 5000 words every day, I guarantee it! Don’t set yourself up to fail—it’s dispiriting. ‘Write something every day even if it’s just a shopping list’ will do. 100 words is the length of this paragraph—something most people can rattle off at the end of a busy day. The important thing is that it means something to you and you know you can do it with the right motivation, time and support.

Positive vibes for Christmas

Let me start with a picture from our morning walk. If ever we needed a wonderful start to the day, it was Christmas Day 2020. If the rain gods can manage the same for New Year 2021 as well, I will be a grateful bunny. Not that I believe in portents or anything like that. No sirree.

I promised to talk about how I managed to sell my rejected first novel. Actually, it wasn’t my first novel, but the first I dared to send out into the wide world. Dispiritingly, it was rejected after only 3 days.

I considered this a bad sign. The agent so hated my book she hadn’t even opened it. But I was told by SJ Watson* and Henry Sutton** (who were running a crime-writing workshop in Harrogate) that it was a good sign: it had caught her attention.

So how did I get from there, through ‘I’ll abandon all hope for this one and move on’ to publication? I saw My Weekly pocket novels wanted to start a second line of pure crime fiction and needed MSS of 50,000 words. I had one of those seeking a home.

This was probably 8 years ago or more. Several days after sending my query, the editor rang me up. I, being wet behind the ears, assumed this was normal. Unfortunately, they were not starting a cosy crime line after all. Could I introduce a romance between the two main characters, Georgia and Mike, to fit the requirements of the current line?

No, I said. Georgia and Mike rub each other up the wrong way and I intended they continue to do so through the whole of their long-running series. Moonlighting would not have lasted beyond the first episode had Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis fallen into bed straight after the first skirmish, would it?

Since then I learnt that ‘enemies to lovers’ is a classic romance trope, and that if an editor rings to ask if you can tweak your story a little, unless you’ve got a cast-iron reason not to, you answer ‘yes, of course’ and worry about the ‘how’ later.

Eight years ago, I’d never written a romance and, no matter how easy they look, there is a definite art to it. Thanks to the Romantic Novelist Association New Writer Scheme and romance writer friends, I have acquired that art. Even though I am by no means a master of it yet, I have gained enough tools and experience to craft a passable ‘enemies to lovers’ story without them unaccountably falling into each other’s arms at the end.

Which is why I have finally just sold that first submission, Fingers in Pies – a tale of missing pastry goods and serial killings, to the same editor. It will be published on April 21st 2021.

What is the message from this?

  • If you (and especially your writer friends) believe in a book, don’t give up on it. Keep looking for the right outlet and tweak it for the available markets
  • If an editor rings you up – listen hard. Ask yourself ‘can I possibly do that?’ If you don’t have the skills then say so. Or if they want something unreasonable, walk away. Otherwise, say yes.
  • Above all, don’t stop writing and don’t stop scanning the market.
  • Network with others in your genre for inside info and invaluable advice. I know many writers are introverts, but joining the appropriate Facebook group or association, or even a small private group of likeminded writers will help you get where you want to be.

*author of Before I Go to Sleep

** writing tutor at UEA and author


Never say Never, or SALE!

So far, December 2020 has been good to me. Far better than the rest of the year.

You know how writers go through those spells where they doubt they’ll sell

For writers, the red line is often through ‘success’, leaving doubt to run rampant. Image courtesy of Pixabay.

anything ever again? How all the writers they know are better than them? How the project you are currently working on sucks and no one will want to read it? 

On Dec 1st, I was in one of those phases. With five, I think, stories sitting in the black hole that has become The People’s Friend editorial office, I was struggling to write short stories. I haven’t even been able to write a story for My Weekly, whose closed list I am now on: with 100 submissions every call, what chance have my stories got?

Nanowrimo was good in that I finished the first draft of another pocket novel, but disappointing in that editing another pocket novel has convinced me I’ve got the wrong plot, characters, tone.

Image by ijmaki from Pixabay

Why, I started asking myself yet again, do I do this to myself?

Then I got a lovely little email from Alan, my editor at The People’s Friend. They’d like to buy the 3000-word story I sent them in September.

Yay! My first sale to them in years. Maybe I do still have it after all.

Meanwhile, my U3A writing group meets up twice a month on Zoom. After setting a task of writing a children’s story, our leader refused to set the next homework because she’d found her previous one, a children’s story, utterly impossible. I suggested the Writer’s Forum flash competition: write an upbeat Christmas story set this year, with no dead bodies!

Most people found this a challenge but came up with something. I already had an idea to go. As I mentioned in my last post, my son’s girlfriend requested a tiny pot of Cook Towers honey to put in an advent calendar she was making for her grandmother. What a fabulous idea.

I wrote that story up for our next Zoom meeting and called it ‘Christmas in a Tin’. Someone else, though, wrote a very understated piece about two strangers meeting regularly on a park bench and deciding to not risk meeting their family on Christmas Day, but to meet as usual and exchange photos of themselves without their masks. It was one of those stories you have to read again and again to appreciate the brilliance of it.

So, I thought, if I can’t write the best story out of a group of 7, what hope has ‘Christmas in a Tin’ got in a national competition?


Writer’s self-doubt. Just ignore it!

Christmas in a Tin won.

What happened later on that day? I got an email from Maggie at My Weekly. You see that description of me at the bottom of the page? The one that says I’m the writer of a crime novel that was rejected in world-record time? I just sold that book to My Weekly as a pocket novel.

I first submitted Fingers in Pies in, I think, 2010. Certainly it grew out of the banking crisis of 2007/8. I’d given up on it, even though friends I’d met at the OU told me to keep trying. Then I had this idea of how it might work as a pocket novel.

I’ll tell you the story of how I turned that one around next time. But for now, the message is if you haven’t sold a project yet, don’t give up on it. It might not have been quite right for the time or the market or the phase of the moon, whatever. Keep it in mind for quiet moments. Who knows, its day might yet come.

Oh, and I suppose I’d better change my ‘about me’ description now…

#amwriting #WritersLife #writemotivation



Writing a Happy Christmas

The flash fiction competition in Writer’s Forum magazine this month is for a 500-word flash set this Christmas in the real world. It should be upbeat, not a children’s story and involve no dead bodies.

How do you do that when we’re all imprisoned in our own homes and no one knows it they’ll see their loved ones on the 25th or not?

That’s where being a writer comes in. My U3A writing for fun group thought this would be more challenging than last month’s children’s story, and yet we’ve already shared some good efforts.

My flash entry was inspired by a request from my son’s partner to provide a tiny jar of our home-produced honey.

a miniature jar of Cook Honey

She wanted it for an advent calendar she’s making to give to her grandmother who is in her 90s.

What a fabulous thing to do.

What a fabulous idea for an upbeat story!

Inspiration can come from anywhere, even if you don’t leave the house. Conversations with loved ones, snippets of news on the web, memes, you name it, you just have to open your mind and let the possibilities flow.

Meanwhile, if you’re having difficulty seeing yourself as a writer right now, listen to this podcast which our NaNoWriMo group leader played for us during one of our write-ins. It’s Joanne Harris (of Chocolat fame) with a cup of tea explaining that all writers start off as bad writers. It takes time and practice to become a good writer. So just keep going and say these magic words “I am a writer”. It’s the first of ten plain English TED-type talks, only 10 minutes and a great focus for a quick NaNoWriMo break.