Writing Tips

Top tips for writing fiction, non-fiction and promoting a successful blog

  • Writing Tips

    Ask the Author

    I’ve just added a new section to my website called ‘Ask the Author’ where I’ve described what a writing day tends to look like for me.

    I’ve also answered these questions:

    What sort of research do you do for fiction writing?

    How do you write a novel? Where do you start?

    If you have any questions you’d like to ask me, please let me know.

    The page starts like this:

    What is a Day in the Life of a writer like?

    I start my day reGill_writer-003asonably grumpy and in need of a nice cup of tea. By about 10am or maybe 11am I’ve made it to my desk. This is not because I get up terribly late (although sometimes I do) but more to do with the fact that I usually exercise at some point between my porridge and my shower.

    So to my writing. Ask the Author

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  • Writing Tips

    Picture this!

    A blog without the picture is like wet weather on your holiday. Disappointing.

    Your blog post is much more likely to be read if you have an image. Research has shown that articles with images get 94% more views than those without. Also the image you use can be easily carried over to social media sites such as Facebook so that the link to your blog post is much more likely to be clicked on.

    Natterjack toadWe live in a very visual age – people love to click on pictures! Interesting pictures. Interesting due to their content. Or maybe intriguing? Why is there a photo of a natterjack toad on this page? Just because I have a sense of humour!

    How to find the right image.

    • Search in Google for royalty free shops. This is probably the quickest way of getting an image and doesn’t cost anything as long as it is royalty free.
    • Invest in a library shot. I use the image bank, istock, but they have become very expensive recently, so you may just want to invest in a few images you can use frequently.
    • Organise a photo shoot to get a library of images, you can use. All you need is a decent camera and good natural light.
    • Ask customers or clients to send photos to you – this might be before and after they’ve used your service or used your product.

    Whatever you do, add an image to your blog post and see your number of readers rides, rise, rise!

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  • Writing Tips

    Write a blog post – Make it EASY

    Do you find the task of writing a blog post a bit daunting? You are not alone!

    Keep Calm and Blog onTry these six EASY steps and you’ll have written it sooner than you think.

    1. Headline – you need a compelling, eye-catching title. Don’t worry about it until the end! It will come to you.
    2. Opening paragraph – this might answer the question you pose in your headline but whatever you need to get straight to the point! (Alas some of your readers may get no further – attention span is low on the internet so you really need to grab them!)
    3. The filling – expanding on the opening paragraph. Get it all off your chest now and say what you really want to say.
      Use bullet points and lists to break it up. Sub headings are good for this too.
      It’s worth noting at this point that you are aiming for 300 to 500 words in total for your blog post. So don’t feel you’ve got to write ‘war and peace’ every time!
    4. Conclusion – and so, that means…. Sum up your main point here. It may well be a repeat of what you had in your opening line. Don’t worry about that; repetition is good!
    5. Find an image that illustrates your blog. This is very important! See my blog: Picture this!
    6. Back to the headline – this is going to be what’s on Facebook and twitter except to draw people in so many Kate, scintillating, funny and/or uplifting.

    Examples of headlines:

    • Are your feet a thing of beauty? (Podiatrist)
    • Have you got a wardrobe full of clothes and nothing to wear? (Image consultant)
    • Do you put off writing blog posts, because you think it’s not fun? (Blogger)

    That’s it! You’re done.

    If you think you’ve got more to say on the subject, why not put it in another blog post and link the two? For lengthier subjects you could have a series of blog posts. Remember, people always scanning pages on the Internet, and only dwell when they find something that really resonates with them.

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  • Writing Tips

    I run my own business: what do I blog about?

    A blog is a great way to inform your audience about what you do in a non-salesy way. By putting out free information you attract new followers and ultimately new customers.

    So what do you write about? Here are five ideas.

    1.      Educate and inform your audience about what you doComing up with blog ideas

    Answer the questions that you often get asked by your customers or clients. This might be during initial discussions or treatments, workshops, classes, events or networking.

    • Maybe you get asked questions after you do your elevator pitch?
    • Clarify different concepts and ideas related to your business. Take the mystery out of it.
    • Develop top 10 tips on…. a specific area of your expertise – people love these on social media!

    2.      Share experiences

    This could be anything from living in a different country for a year or visiting and reviewing all the coffee shops in your area.

    You may be involved in a project and want to blog about your progress from beginning to the end result.

    3.      Significant days / changing of the seasons

    Write blogs on significant days or as a new season starts:

    • The start of spring (hoorah!)
    • 26 April – The London Marathon
    • 4th and 23rd May – Bank Holidays
    • 19th Chelsea Flower Show (I actually went last year – it was amazing!)
    • 23rd May – Eurovision song contest – always good for a laugh!

    4.      Who in your industry/life, do you really admire?

    Pick someone and do a profile on them. Even better: interview them if you can.

    5.      Guest Blogging

    This is where someone with a similar target audience to you allows you to write a blog post which they put on their blog site. You may want to reciprocate and invite them to guest blog on yours.

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  • Writing Tips

    10 ideas for blog posts that anyone can write!

    1. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA3 things I can’t live without
    2. What’s in your hand bag? (Sorry, this clearly discriminates against men – pockets? car?)
    3. FAQ type of post – questions I am always being asked and the answers
    4. How to….. Share your knowledge
    5. Create a guide to something – e.g. A guide to buying and looking great in jeans
    6. 10 top tips for….. Again using your field of expertise
    7. A photo tour of a part of your town/city or where you work
    8. Review of a restaurant you like / local theatre / film / or book you’ve read
    9. Share a recipe on a theme (e.g. easy mid week meal) – one that you (and your family) enjoy often – mine would be baked risotto with pancetta, tomatoes and herbs
    10. Share your thoughts on the non-fiction book you have read that has influenced you the most in your life so far

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  • Writing Tips

    Research for Fiction?

    Even though fiction is made up it might still be factual in terms of the places the story takes place in and perhaps the way certain characters behave. Often the experiences of the characters are based on the experiences of real people who have been in similar situations.

    Highgate Village
    Highgate Vllage

    I read Joanna Trollope’s book: The Soldiers Wife and I know the author spent quite a bit of time with soldiers and their wives so that she understood the intricacies of their lives before she wrote the book. As a result it is a very interesting insight into the challenges these people face as well as being a good story.

    Before I started writing Forever Lucky, I went to Highgate Village in London (where it is set) and walked around taking in the ambience of the place, lunching at one of the cafes and taking endless photographs. This provided rich material for me and actually made the writing easier in terms of developing the story around my key idea. As a writer you can mix some facts that you like with your characters and storylines.

    The view from Waterlow Park
    The view from Waterlow Park

    I chose Highgate because I had lived there for a short time as a student but that was a long time ago (yes, very long) so I wanted to update my memories with how it is today as the novel is set in present day. Also, I am so much more observant now as I wander around. As a student I was pretty blinkered!

    When I first started writing I thought that having to do research would make the whole process too time consuming. I do admire those that write historical novels; you need a really good knowledge of your chosen period (how did different classes behave then etc..) before you can even make a start!

    Anyway I’m happy writing contemporary novels hand picking the factual details that serve my story well whilst developing characters that are completely made up. Ha!

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  • Writing Tips

    Hand writing or keyboard tapping? Which is best?

    Do you prefer the creative connection of putting favourite pen to beautiful notebook OR the speed and efficiency of onscreen typing?

    Putting pen to pagePutting pen to notebook

    • You can write anywhere with a notepad and pen
    • When friends and family know you are a writer they tend to buy you notebooks! And if they don’t you can indulge your love of stationery.
    • Waterstones and Paper Chase do some lovely notebooks.
    • You write more slowly and have more time to think about it
    • You get a truer connection to yourself and your deepest thoughts
    • Fiction, which is more of a creative process, may lend itself better to hand writing.
    • Putting pen to paper is a more fluid experience
    • Going back through what you’ve written and making changes can get very messy

    The cool efficiency of screen typing

    • Quicker if you can type at a reasonable speed. If you are still at the two fingers stage it might be worth doing an online touch typing course e.g. www.typingclub.com
    • typing
    • Easier to go back and edit
    • If you hand write you will still have to type it up making that process even longer (although speech to text software may help with this.)
    • Non-fiction might lend itself more so to typing as it is a more structured form of writing
    • To ensure you don’t lose anything you have written make sure you back up. I use Dropbox so my files are available to me on any computer. So, if like Louis de Bernières you lose your laptop with 4 chapters of a brand new novel on it, you will not lose your work too (as he did).


    So which do I advocate?

    I do both.

    I love scribbling in a cafe as I watch the world go by and I always have a notebook with me wherever I go. So if the mood takes me, I’m ready to go.
    I have Dragon software which enables me to talk my work into a Word document but I can’t honestly recommend this as there are always mistakes in every sentence. The danger is that it will type something that is not what you said but that is correct grammatically and spelt accurately so that spell check doesn’t pick it up. So you have to read it back with a beady eye.
    By the time you have corrected the piece, it most definitely isn’t quicker but it does cut down on the amount of typing which for those who are still at the two fingers stage is a bonus!

    If I’m at home I tend to go straight to a computer. I have a writing desk set up downstairs in the living room which looks out onto the summer room and the garden beyond so I have a nice view!

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  • Writing Tips

    The power of writing your own story

    My friend Julie Willard read my novel, Unlikely Neighbours, and then gave me Hidden Talents by Erica James to read. 

    ‘Have you thought about writing more? she asked me. Looking at the near-500 pages in my hand, I realised she meant a longer novel. (Mine is around 200 pages.)

    It was a question, I pondered, as I read Hidden Talents.

    I really enjoyed the book. The characters became like friends, all well penned and I felt I pretty much knew them by the end. The storylines, whilst quite dramatic in places, are gentle with you and everyone turns out to be basically good even if they have had their moments.

    Woman with book in parkIt is about a group of writers who meet once a week and, to that extent, it was very interesting for me as I started writing in the same way. Dulcie is a retired sixty-something and decides to advertise for local writers to join her on Thursday evenings. As they read their work to each other, you hear storylines of infidelity, marriage breakup, romance and dramas various.

    One thing that struck me about the newbie writers was that they were writing their life stories.  They say that to begin with you should write about what you know, and this was definitely a case of that.  It meant that the members of the writers group inadvertently got to know each other through their life stories.

    I thought about my own writers group and wondered if the same thing had happened. Perhaps it did but in my naivety, I hadn’t realised. Although, John’s book, which was a sci-fi thriller seemed an unlikely scenario for his own life! However, his book on the struggles in Northern Ireland which started in the late 1960s was more likely to be a cathartic scribbling, as he grew up during the troubles.

    When you write from experience you write from the heart and this makes your work more powerful. Whilst it doesn’t have to be a completely true story, many people’s ‘real’ story is rich material to draw upon.

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  • Writing Tips

    First draft complete? Now for the edit…

    When you’ve finished your first draft and you’re happy with it – let the editing begin!

    The good news is that you can’t do all this yourself; you need to get some help. The bad news is that you still have quite a bit of work to do.

    So here are some top tips:Attract readers for your book

    1. Check for consistency

    I keep an Excel spreadsheet going from the minute I start the book and for each chapter I note all the significant things that happen, and also any character features that are mentioned.

    Another tool that might be helpful is a character reference sheet which you would create for each person making a note of hair/eye colour and any particular traits.

    You may find it helpful to look for images online of people that best represent your characters. Alternatively you might like to think of the famous actors who might play the parts when your book is made into a film!

    I’ve decided that the character, Birch, in Forever Lucky would be played by Bill Nighy – mainly because I’ve got a bit of a thing about Bill. Did I mention that?

    2. Grammar – keep it simple

    The main thing is to use commas and full stops correctly to aid the reader. Long sentences may leave the reader breathless if there are no commas. A comma is a pause. It also helps the reader to make sense of it.

    Semi-colons – make sure you know how to use them before you start littering your work with them. Here’s a good example:

    We have paid our dues; we expect all the privileges listed in the contract.

    The bits before and after the semicolon support each other.

    3. Formatting

    Make sure you use consistent fonts for chapter headings etc, and the same amount of indents spacing for paragraphs.

    4. The Story

    Make sure you clearly have a beginning, a middle and an end to your story.  Be sure, you can pinpoint these three sections.

    5. Don’t switch tenses

    The easiest way of doing it is just stick to the past tense throughout.

    6. Get someone you trust to read it through

    Ask them to read it with a critical eye for consistency and grammar.

    Note: whilst you might listen to their feedback on particular characters or the plot line, this is really your domain and so consider any comments they have carefully and decide whether or not you, as the writer, want to make the change and how you want to make it.

    7. Cut out the dead wood

    For each section, ask yourself:  Do I really need this?

    It is important that each chapter moves the story along in some way to keep the reader interested.

    Avoid overly long and wordy sentences.

    Take out any repetition i.e. where a piece of the story is re-told in dialogue or by the narrator. We only need to hear it once.


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  • Writing Tips

    How do I get my book on Kindle?

    There are three stages, and the first one is by far the most challenging! Sorry, I don’t make the rules.

    1. You need to take your draft or manuscript (as it is often called) and turn it into a format that Kindle will accept.
    2. You need to have a front cover for your book in JPEG format. You’re probably familiar with JPEG format as it is commonly used for digital photographs and other graphics.
    3. You need to open a Kindle account. Easy peasy when you know how.

    This blog is just going to address the first stage which is: Converting your manuscript into a suitable format for Kindle E-book
    Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) will accept the following file formats:

    • Word (DOC or DOCX)
    • HTML (ZIP, HTM, or HTML)
    • MOBI (MOBI)
    • ePub (EPUB)
    • Rich Text Format (RTF)
    • Plain Text (TXT)
    • Adobe PDF (PDF)

    Amazon says (not me) that for best results, you should upload in DOC/DOCX (.doc/.docx) or HTML (.html) formats.

    So how do you go about it?

    Option 1: Amazon has a free step-by-step guide on how to do it yourself.

    If you decide to go down this route you need to be aware that it can be quite tricky, and if you don’t get it absolutely correct there are likely to be errors in the Kindle version of your book. Anyone buying your Kindle book will have seven days during which they can return it for a full refund. The most commonly cited reason for returning books is poor formatting. So it needs to be spot on.
    Having said that, once you’ve uploaded your file to Kindle, you have the opportunity to view it as it will appear on various mobile devices, including a Kindle and an ipad. In order to do this you have to download a piece of software from Amazon. The download you need is right there on the page when you get to this bit so it’s easy. I would highly recommend doing this, as it costs nothing, apart from your time, and it means that you can be sure that what you are putting out there is correct, and how you want it.

    Click here for your free guide Building Your Book for Kindle 

    Option 2: What I did: buy Scrivener software from Literature and Latte

    This is what I did. It costs $40 (about £25) at the time of writing, and you upload your manuscript to Scriviner so that you can output it as a Mobi file (see list above). Scriviner is an award winning writing tool and is used by writers to produce novels, non-fiction, scripts for plays and more. It makes formatting and editing your manuscript easier and will compile your novel, for example, for Kindle as well as other medium. Originally it was designed for Mac users but there are versions for Windows as well as Mac users now.
    Literature and Latte have support forums which can help you when you get stuck.

    Option 3: You can also pay someone who offers a conversion service.

    I’m afraid I can’t recommend anyone at this stage as I haven’t used such a service but I will let you know if I find someone.

    That gives you a flavour for the different routes and I will explore this topic more in the weeks to come as I produce my own Kindle edition of Forever Lucky, my next novel.

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