Everything You Need to Know About Writing Brilliant Blog Posts

Over the last eight years, I’ve written hundreds (probably thousands!) of blog posts for dozens of different blogs.

I’ve also written quite a bit about blogging. Today, I wanted to share five of my favourite pieces about blogging, all published here on Aliventures over the past couple of years:

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“Show, Don’t Tell” Doesn’t Always Apply: Here’s What You Need to Know

If you’ve been in any writing groups, read any writing books or blogs, or hung out in any writing-related forums online … you’ve probably come across these three words of advice:

“Show, don’t tell.”

It’s a very commonly quoted writing “rule”. There’s enough truth in it that I wouldn’t call it bad advice – for that, check out my posts Four Dangerous Pieces of Advice for Writers and Four More Dangerous Pieces of Advice for (Fiction) Writers.

However … it’s not a rule you need to stick to all of the time.

Plus, even when “show, don’t tell” does apply, it can be tricky to be sure exactly what’s meant by it. Where’s the line between “telling” and “showing”?

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Four Dangerous Pieces of Advice for Writers (And What to Do Instead)

Any writing-related advice that says you should always or never do something can generally be taken with a very large pinch of salt!

I’m sure you’ve heard lots of poor writing advice over the months, years or even decades that you’ve been writing. Here are some that I come across quite frequently – from often well-intentioned people.

Several of these might work for some people in some circumstances. Some are best ignored altogether!

Today, I want to look at some advice that almost all writers will hear at some point, whether it’s from an interested friend, a fellow writing group member, or a self-styled guru…

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Why Some Writers Are Much Faster than Others: Four Quotes and Six Key Reasons

I’ve written before about writing fast versus writing slow – but it’s an issue I wanted to look at again, particularly in terms of how many words per hour or per day is a “good” rate of writing.

In my late teens, I mentioned to a fellow member of my writing group that I normally wrote 1,000 words in an hour. Their reaction suggested this was a surprisingly fast rate!

Since then, I’ve come across writers for whom a hundred words in an hour is great … and others who won’t be happy unless they’re hitting 3,000 words per hour or more.

Are the slow writers just procrastinators?

Are the fast writers just hacks?

I don’t think so. I think that there are a lot of factors affecting how fast (or not) writers physically get words down onto the page – and neither fast or slow is “better”.

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Short Story Competitions: Are They Worth Entering?

Over the years, I’ve entered a fair few short stories into competitions.

I’m a novelist by inclination, and so most of my fiction writing has been on much longer projects … but I’ve found short stories a great way to try out different techniques, to work to deadline, and to simply have fun.

If you’ve never entered a writing competition, why not give it a try?

You might be worried that everyone else will be amazingly good – but unless you’re going for really big competitions (like the Bridport Prize), you’ll probably  find that the other writers entering aren’t at a super-high standard.

Back in 2007-8, when I was still a relatively inexperienced writer working a full-time day job, I managed to get a couple of shortlistings and a couple of small prizes (a 3rd place and a 2nd place) in Writing Magazine’s competitions.

Looking back at those stories, I cringe a bit: they’re definitely not my greatest writing, but they did well enough to get somewhere in a competition – which was hugely encouraging to me at that stage in my writing career.

After quite a few years focused on novels, I’ve gone back to short story competitions again this year. I entered a couple in January and February – one story sank without a trace; the other (rather to my astonishment) won first prize and was printed in Writing Magazine. You can read it, plus the judge’s lovely comments, here.

So even if, like me, you’re not a particularly experienced or accomplished short story writer … think about giving competitions a go.

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Is Your Writing Just an Expensive Hobby (and So What If It Is?)

Do you see your writing as a profession or a hobby?

Or both?

While some writers insist that writing is much more than a hobby – it’s a job, a business, even a calling – you might find it helpful to (at least some of the time) treat it like a hobby.

I know that some writers feel that “hobby” has negative connotations … but hobbies have plenty of advantages, after all:

You’re not expected to make money at a hobby. I enjoy reading; I’ve no ambitions to be a paid reader! I can spend time reading without anyone (including me) expecting that I’ll make even a small part of a living from it.

You can spend money on a hobby. Think of golf, sports, craft, even enjoying a particular band: so long as it’s reasonable within your household budget, you don’t feel bad about spending on these things.

Your hobby is (generally) a relaxing break from the rest of life. When I write fiction, I try to see it as something I do – first and foremost – because I enjoy it. A couple of weeks ago, I spent a whole evening working on a short piece that may or may not ever become something I publish … but it doesn’t matter, because I really enjoyed writing it!

 

I’m certainly not suggesting that you shouldn’t be ambitious, or that you can’t turn your writing into a paying job. I do think, though, that treating your writing as a hobby, at least some of the time, can take the pressure off.

If, for instance, you want more writing time but you’re struggling to explain that to your partner or family, then you may find it easiest to frame your writing as a hobby. Everyone needs (and deserves!) some down time. Maybe their hobby is playing football on a Saturday; yours is writing.

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What to Do When Your Writing Goals Seem a Long Way Off

What do you want to achieve with your writing?

You might have all sorts of goals. Here are just a few possibilities:

  • You want to win a short story competition.
  • You want to make an extra $500/month freelancing.
  • You want to make a full-time living as a fantasy novelist.
  • You want to sell 100,000 copies of your latest book.
  • You want to get a book onto the New York Times bestseller list.

Some goals are more “realistic” than others. Some goals might take years or even decades to achieve.

Whatever your writing goals are, you might feel like they’re a very long way off. If you’ve currently written a total of two short stories, ever, then making a full-time living writing fiction is going to take a while.

When your goals seem so far away, it’s easy to get discouraged – or even to give up entirely. If you’re going to keep writing, you need to do three key things:

  • Set intermediate goals
  • Get support from other writers
  • Review your progress regularly

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Using Google’s “My Maps” to Keep Track of All the Locations in Your Novel

I’ve got a particularly bad writing habit – and I suspect I’m not the only person who does this…

All too often, I leap straight into the next scene with very little thought about where exactly my characters are located.

If I was writing something focused on a single place (neighbours in a small town, friends at school) then this might make sense. But in my Lycopolis trilogy, my characters are scattered across the UK. Often, they need to journey from one place to another … and in drafting the novels, I tend to simply ignore the finer details of where exactly everyone lives and how they get from A to B.

(I’ll admit that geography isn’t my strongest point in real life, either: if I’m going anywhere new, I tend to look at a map every 30 seconds, and even then, I often take a wrong turn…)

My lovely and longsuffering editor, Lorna Fergusson, often has to pull me up on this – reminding me that readers will want to know what road a character is driving down, or where a particular house is located.

And she’s absolutely right.

The best tool I’ve found for keeping track of everything is Google’s “My Maps”. This is really handy for not only pinning down points on the map, but also for checking driving (or walking or cycling) distances and times between different places.

Note: Obviously, this won’t help you if you’re making up a location (whether that’s a fictional town in the real world, like Sophie Hannah does with Culver Valley in her crime thriller series, or an entire fantasy world).

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Editing Your Novel on Your Kindle: Creating a .Mobi File and Using Send-to-Kindle

Editing your novel on your kindle -- creating a .mobi file and using send-to-kindle

You’ve got a finished draft of your novel – hurrah!

Of course, you know the hard work isn’t over. You’ll want to edit your novel (and quite possibly run it past some beta-readers).

Like many authors, I prefer not to dive straight into an edit on-screen. I think it’s really helpful to read through the whole manuscript first, getting something closer to a normal reader’s experience of it.

In the past, I used to print draft manuscripts using Lulu. I’ve still got the very early drafts of Lycopolis:

For the past few years, though, I’ve been transferring draft manuscripts onto my Kindle Fire and reading them like any other Kindle book. (I also give them to my earliest readers for their Kindles.)

The best way to do this is to turn a Word document manuscript into a .mobi file for Kindle. Luckily, Amazon provides an easy, free way to do this.

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