Thursday, 20 December 2012

Putting a Lemming on it

Whenever Im asked where my writing ideas come from, I often say that I dont know. This response tends to be unsatisfactory, so the only thing I can offer is that I put a lemming on it.

My girlfriend introduced me to this phrase. Whenever she has to do something that involves brainpower, but doesnt need doing immediately, she puts a lemming on it. The phrase is based on the once massively popular computer game where you have to prevent lemmings from stepping off the edges of cliffs or walking into sharp objects. She imagines one of the little fellows taking her thoughts and disappearing off into her subconscious mind. Then when she needs the information, its waiting for her, gathered and collated by a rather industrious lemming.

So, when someone now asks me where my ideas come from, I imagine an army of lemmings wondering around in my head, bumping into one another and occasionally falling into the abyss. When theyre done, they present me with a fully formed story. When I tell people that I put a lemming on it, Im not sure that the answer is any more satisfactory than I dont know, but it tends to stop any more questions.

Monday, 17 December 2012

15 Things to Think About When Editing

Because I find it so easy to get lost in my writing, especially when I'm editing it for the seventeenth time and the meaning of the words don't even make sense any more (time to put it to one side I think), I like to use a checklist of the fifteen things that can often escape my attention. It offers me a modicum of objectivity about my work when I need it most.  

My checklist changes as I get more comfortable with each point on the list. However, as of today, this is my list: 

Writing Checklist

1) Are the five senses included in the descriptions?
2) Am I showing the reader the story rather than telling them it?
3) Character development - How has the character been changed by the story?
4) Is there enough description of both the physical environment and the characters?
5) Unique character traits - What traits are unique to each character and how do I show this in their behaviour / speech?
6) Is there enough conflict? Is the main character being challenged enough?
7) Are there enough moments in the story? (Character interaction and events).
8) Is it too verbose? Only leave what's necessary.
9) Avoid passive voice where possible.
10) Keep the tense consistent.
11) Keep POV character consistent - If it changes, make sure it's signposted.
12) Is the back story necessary, and if so, only do as much as is needed.
13) Does the theme need to be stronger? Do I need more symbolism?
14) Is the main character being challenged?
15) Am I clearly showing my character's motivation? What do they want?

I have pieced this list together from all of the information I have read or heard about writing. This list is very specific to me, so I'm sure that some of the points on here happen naturally for many writers, but i like to remind myself of these in particular. 

I try to keep the list to no more than fifteen items because otherwise it can be too overwhelming and it loses it's effectiveness. Fifteen works for me.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Benefits of Writing Every Day

If there's one piece of advice that I've heard from professional writers, it's 'write every day'. Even if it's just a small amount, the practice of flexing your writing muscles each and every day is much more beneficial than writing for a big chunk once a week. As an aspiring professional author, I have lived by this piece of advice, sometimes to the detriment of every other aspect of my life.

So, with my girlfriend's birthday recently, we decided to spend a night in a hotel and I accepted that I would miss a day of writing as a result of the night out. I've been feeling quite burned out lately, so the chance to take a day off wasn't a bad thing. 

What I discovered however, was that because of my writing discipline, my brain didn't want to shut down for a day. This worked out really well, because instead of having something pre-planned to work on, my brain simply wandered wherever it chose to. As a result I felt super excited and refreshed to get back to my writing the next day and have plenty of new ideas for more writing. I have always understood that rest periods are really important, but I forget sometimes. It was nice to get that reminder.  

I suppose it's about learning when to take time off and how much, which is an individual choice. What I will say for the practice of writing every day is that my brain expects to write each morning much like my stomach expects breakfast, and it often seems like it's ready and waiting for me. The practise of writing every day seems like it's paying off. 

“You must write every single day of your life... You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads... may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.” Ray Bradbury

Thursday, 6 December 2012

The Law of Attraction and The Internet

Having read 'The Secret' by Rhonda Byrne a few months ago, I decided that I should apply it to my writing. I've always had a belief that I'm good enough to earn a living from my passion and I think that self belief in everything is important, but especially in a solitary pursuit like writing. 

'The Secret' is also referred to as 'The Law of Attraction' and the basic premise is that we manifest in our lives what we focus on. If we always focus on being poor, then we will be poor. If we always feel angry then we will attract anger into our lives. If we focus on happiness and peace then that is what we will find. Recently, when I was out walking, I put all of my attention on visualising being published. When I got back from my walk, I had an email with my first acceptance. In that same week I received news of a competition being run by HarperCollins and I knew that I should enter it because I felt like I was attracting things into my life - authonomy Blog | authonomy writing community: Laurence O'Bryan competition winners - I was selected as one of the three winners. Coincidence? Maybe, but it's working so I'm choosing to stay with it. 

One thing I find hard about the law of attraction is maintaining it. Being a writer can be the most invigorating practice, but it can also be exhausting. When I feel like things are not clicking, it can be hard to stay at the keyboard. However, I still love it, and I take solace if two hours writing produces just one good sentence. In spite of this, the less productive times can lead to me feeling less optimistic. I focus on the struggle of writing, the tiredness that I feel for getting up at four in the morning, the questions of whether I good enough and should I believe that I probably won't make a living from it because that's what a lot of people seem keen on telling me. 

What I need at times is a state change and I found this yesterday when I was searching for a quote for a blog entry. I didn't find the quote that I was searching for, but what I did find was thousands of quotes from writers. Suddenly I felt part of a community and I felt much better about my struggle. My mood lifted, I read more and more quotes and then watched a couple of clips from Neil Gaiman and David Mack. 

I realised that the internet is much like the law of attraction. The words that you put in the Google search box is much like directing your attention on it. When you hit enter, what comes back to you is what you've created. Thousands of quotes, or support, came to me from writers the world over, alive and dead, when I asked for it. 

As I've been trying to let go of judgment, I've invested less in internet trolls and negativity, and focused on my positive online interactions. As a result, I've created a very different internet experience for myself. We are where our attention is. So I suppose now that if I want to feel happy, supported, invigorated, I just need to work what I'm feeling and ask Google for the opposite. My partner does a similar thing with pinterest.  

And finally, one of my favourite quotes from yesterdays searching: "You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you." - Ray Bradbury. I believe I create that 'reality' that can destroy me.  
Some days, when I write it feels like the entire universe is working with me, throwing ideas at me like debris in a meteor storm. Some days, like this morning, I feel like I'm in a lead lined box a mile under the earth and I can't find a shred of clarity.

It's days like today when I know that i'm meant to write. At four in the morning, reading and re-reading that same sentence fifteen times should drive me to the point of insanity. I think taking a break is really important, but I also feel that if the breaks are coming before I've even started, then something is up.

Writing today was hard, but with perseverence I ended up a little further along than I would have done if I'd walked away and waited for my inspiration.

I think it's important to keep going and not panic. Everything works out as it's supposed to.

I also found out today that I didn't get shortlisted for a competition that I entered. I'm gutted that I didn't make the shortlist, if I wasn't I would be worried, I think feeling sad about rejection is okay, I think it's what I do in response to it, and tomorrow I will write like I do every day. I feel pumped for tomorrow. I will get up at five in the morning and get back on with editing the chapter that has been holding me back.

Monday, 3 December 2012

After my recent success with the competition on I have decided to upload my recently finished novella, 'Back to Basics' to the website. I'm interested to get involved with the community to see if I can both give and receive feedback. I believe that if I approach this with my only intention being to get my work recognised, then it may not pay off, but if I focus on reading many opening chapters and commenting primarily on other people's work, I believe that good things could come of that.

My intention is to read at least one chapter per day and provide constructive feedback.

authonomy Blog | authonomy writing community: Laurence O'Bryan competition winners

authonomy Blog | authonomy writing community: Laurence O'Bryan competition winners: We love a good competition at authonomy, and this has been one of our favourites of 2012. Last month, we posted the opening chapter of La...
Following the advice of a published author, I have implemented a new regime for my writing over the past six to eight months. The regime is to make the time for my writing. Being a morning person, I get up now between four and five in the morning to write. It can put a strain on our family when I'm locked away in my study each morning, but it's starting to show results. After being published last month, I have just won a competition run by HarperCollins via their Authonomy website.

Laurence O'Bryan is a published author, his first novel, 'The Istanbul Puzzle' won high praise and the best novel at the Southern California Writer's Conference. His next novel, 'The Jerusalem Puzzle' is due to be published soon and the second chapter was released on the Authonomy blog. There was then an open invite to read the chapter and offer a five-hundred word synopsis of where you would take the story next. Having been shortlisted into the final sixteen for my entry, I was then offered the opportunity to submit a five-thousand word short story for potential publication.

Today I received an email explaining that i would be one of three authors that would be published in a special ebook release of 'The Jerusalem Puzzle', It will be published next summer. I'm so grateful for the opportunity given to me by HarperCollins and I now have the chance to get my work seen by a wide audience. I am also allowed to put my contact and social network details in the with my winning entry. 

The story that i submitted was called 'In the Name of Science' and I had submitted it to '' prior to sending it to HarperCollins. However, it seemed like the right story to send for the competition entry, which is why I submitted it to two places. When I emailed '' explaining that I had been published, they informed me that I was going to be published with the same story by them also.

All in all it has been a wonderful day for writing. I also finished my novella today. 

It would seem that all of the extra work I am managing to get in because of the redeye alarm calls is paying off.    
It's been a long time since I've posted on here, but now I have one story published and another accepted for publication, I feel like I should probably come back with an update.

So my first story was published last month on the website Raphael's Village -

The editor on this site was very helpful and when I originally submitted my story, she pointed out where it could be improved upon.

One re-write later and she accepted it for publication.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Writers Bureau Assignment Feedback

Being a writer can be a very solitary pursuit. It's what draws me to it. However, being left alone with the thoughts inside my head with no feedback from publishers other than standard rejection letters, can lead to some very negative thoughts and self doubt.

Years back I gave up writing because of self doubt and the very next day I received my first acceptance letter. I wasn't paid for the work, but it was enough to make me feel like my writing was worth something. Writing has always been very important to me personally, but there's nothing like external recognition.

The feedback from a professional tutor is what appeals to me most about the Writers Bureau.

So although my first feedback in some years was hard to hear on my last assignment, it was valuable and I tried to improve based on my tutor's observations.

For my next assignment I had a list of options and decided to opt for a short story that was a modern day retelling of a fairy tale. I decided to use Pinocchio as my fairy tale because I've always been fascinated by the wonderfully dark adaptation that is the Disney feature length cartoon.

Having studied on an Open University course, I found myself experiencing similar feelings sending this piece off that I had experienced when sending essays off to be marked. I felt fresh at the beginning like I could write the best story the world has ever seen. I then set about planning it and found myself wondering whether it was any good or not. I wrote the story from the plan I made and by the time I pressed send, I thought it was average at best.

This was my feedback from my tutor:

Hello Michael - this was awesome.  it really was an inspiring assignment with some very clever writing.  maybe the idea for your short story was not new, your version of it was however and I think it is excellent.

His comments on the marked assignment read:

Now, your short story for the Bureau competition.  As you can imagine, I have read a number of stories destined for that competition as students try them out on me.  I can honestly say that I think yours is the best one I have read so far.  It really is very good. Emotionally I am a little delicate just now because of family issues that I will not bore you with, but this story moved me to tears because of its harshness to this poor little boy who would not tell a lie.  In the end he cracked, and lied and that was terribly depressing but exceptionally well written.  This is very good – so enter it.

Needless to say I was stoked to receive this feedback. While I appreciate that allowing others to have such control over your confidence in your ability can be very destructive, as a writer I hope for my work to be read, so audience feedback is all important. This feedback from my tutor has given me a push to continue and enter my story into the Writers Bureau Short Story Competition.

The closing date is late May so I'll report back when I know more. In the meantime I will keep everything crossed and hope for the best.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Finding Time to Write

It seems to me that the people who become successful writers are the people who make the time to write. This sounds obvious of course, but it seems to be one thing that most writers talk about. Write every day and make the time to write. I have had many conversations with people who have expressed a desire to write, but have cited lack of time as a reason not to do it.

A previous associate editor for Marvel Comics, Andy Schmidt, who now owns Comics Experience (, a company that teaches people how to create comics, gave the advice that you must find time. When talking on iFanboy's Make Comics Podcast ( he said that you must work out what is important to you and what can be sacrificed. If watching two hours of television each evening is more important than writing, then maybe you're not meant to be a writer.

Another piece of advice that I usually hear, and try to stick to, is that you must write every day. The brain, like any muscle, needs to be trained through repetition. Having a daily scheduled time forces me to sit down and write. Sometimes my inspiration needs a bit of encouragement and this time is perfect for doing just that.

Speaking to Author Barry Nugent ( at the London Super Comic Convention in February of this year, I asked him where he finds the time. Like myself, Barry has had to write his novel, Fallen Heroes, around full time work commitments. Andy Schmidt gave the advice of talking to people who were a step or two ahead of yourself because the experience that they have had, which is relevant to you, is much more fresh in their mind. With Fallen Heroes being Barry's first novel, I found his response very helpful. He explained that he would get up in the early hours of the morning and write then. That way, when his girlfriend was awake, they could spend time together without him being locked away.

Taking this advice on board, I have started getting up at five in the morning, and strangely enough, feeling excited when my alarm goes off. That is definitely a first for me. Previously, I was writing at my least productive time of day, the evening. As a result, I find I am much more prolific with my output, and an hour in the morning is worth several in the evening. For some, the evening is the best time to write and finding the time that suits you best is important.

However, with the demands of having a twenty-month old son, a full time job that goes through both sociable and unsociable hours, and trying to be a good partner to my girlfriend, I still feel that until I can earn enough money from writing to cut back on my work, some aspect of my life will bear the brunt of me chasing my dreams.

I remember a story about Stephen King working long days and then sitting at a typewriter in his utility room in the evening. He would hammer out work until the early hours of the morning, using his tumble drier for a desk. I cling onto this story when I feel like stopping. It gives me hope.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Writers Bureau

Creative courses can destroy your passion for the subject you've chosen to study. Or so I've been told many times and even heard it said by Stephen King. However, with a strong desire to become a published author and an education that consisted of getting high and trying to do as little as possible, it seemed like a logical step for me to increase my writing ability. 

Having originally stared a Writers Bureau course several years ago, with their promise that you'll get your money back if you don't earn what the course cost you from your writing, I decided to resume where I left off. If I'm honest, I don't care about the money back guarantee, it's more about getting valuable, or what I hope is valuable, feedback from experienced tutors, and learning the methods that will hopefully allow me to see my name in print.

My tutor seems like a nice chap, if a little stuffy, and his feedback on my first assignment has helped. I was tasked to write a short story for a market. The idea was to select a market and then write the story. This is lesson one on how to get published - Know your market before you write the piece. So this is what i did. Unfortunately, I write on a Mac and I'm guessing my tutor doesn't. So when I labelled my proposed market and contact details in a header, compatibility issues between the two systems meant that this wasn't visible on the other end. This was unfortunate as most of my feedback was about selecting a market and how I MUST put my contact details on each assignment. 

What was left was a critique on character development that was very helpful. I was asked to make the piece more human. To describe the mannerisms of my characters to give them depth. An example was to show how meticulous a character was by making them roll a cigarette with machine like precision, evenly laying the tobacco. I was also advised, once the market was confirmed, that aiming for The Writers Bureau Short Story Competition probably wasn't the best market. I think I may have been aiming too high!

As a result I lengthened my story and added characterisation that the previous word limit restricted. I have now entered my story into the Fylde Brighter Writers Circle Competition, with a closing date of the twenty-eighth of April 2012. Watch this space. 

My feelings on the Writers Bureau so far is that they are efficient at replying, have easy to understand resources, and offer valuable feedback. Passion still in tact.