‘Zest’ – #AtoZ Challenge


Yay! Last letter of the alphabet and day of the challenge…

Every writer, and indeed any committed blogger must agree that in order to stick to writing, it is important to have a zest for it i.e. passion. It’s so damn hard otherwise. I feel I’ve always had some sort of zest for writing but I believe that provided there’s a seed of desire there in the first place, zest can grow, so the more writing you do, the more you actually want to do and conversely, the less you do, the less you want to do which can make any zest you had disappear.

What goes hand in hand with zest is discipline. You always need zest  but then you also need the discipline to sit down and write even when you don’t feel like it. I don’t feel like doing anything today. I’ve been sick all week – in bed with flu, probably due to the freezing cold temperatures we’re experiencing here in the UK, but I’ve still made myself write – not much to be honest; the blogging challenge and a couple of flash fiction competitions but at least I’ve done something. The zest is still there, even if it’s just a flickering flame this week, but the discipline hasn’t disappeared, not completely anyway. I’m hoping that I’ll return to normal tomorrow. It’s a new month after all!


‘Yielding Control’ – #AtoZ Challenge

Y.jpgI’ve come to realise that most good writing (the first draft at least) is a result of yielding control i.e writing freely from your subconscious and allowing whatever’s there to emerge. I feel that when you think too much about writing, your true voice does not come out.

When I was doing NaNoWriMo last year, the best work I produced was during the word sprints. I’d set my timer for 20 or 30 minutes and write for that time. Usually I’d start off with only a very sketchy idea in mind and often this would develop into an interesting dialogue or scene. Sometimes I’d re-read what I’d written and honestly wonder where it had come from. I think it’s a case of trusting the process and knowing that once you start writing, something interesting is sure to come out.

‘Xanadu’ – #AtoZ Challenge


(Okay, not anything to do with writing really, but I was struggling with X!)

When I was 16, I entered the sixth form at school. We were given our own teaching block and certain privileges such as listening to music on a record player, as that was the way we did it back then!
Xanadu by Olivia Newton John was one of the first songs that was played and it continued to be played throughout the year as everyone loved it. The song was old even then but it resonated with me. I found it so beautiful and positive and it made me believe that anything was possible. I found school quite difficult as I was living in my head a lot (I still am to a certain extent!), and this song connected with my hidden feelings.

The dictionary definition of the word, ‘Xanadu’ is ‘an ‘idealised place of great or idealised magnificence or beauty‘ so for it me it expressed a sense of ultimate possibility. I listened to the song just now and remembered exactly how I used to feel back then.

The reason I have chosen this word in connection with writing, is really to stress the importance of memories. For ‘D’ I talked about the diaries I’ve written over the years and how they’ve helped and are helping me with my writing now, and this is because they contain memories, many of which I would have forgotten otherwise. Those memories that haven’t been forgotten such as listening to Xanadu as a shy teenager can be used years later in stories or novel scenes. Nothing that has happened is wasted.

For the last couple of weeks I was taking a flash fiction workshop with Kathy Fish. For one of our assignments we had to intersperse dreams we’d had with actual events. It was a wonderful exercise as they all seemed to merge and you ended up with a kind of hypnotic mosaic of a story. I really suggest that you try this – it brought up a lot of things I thought I’d forgotten.

‘Winning’ – #AtoZ Challenge

W.jpgWinning to me does not necessarily mean coming first, although that would be nice. It’s more about being recognised i.e. making it onto the long or short list of a big competition, and just as being rejected can make me feel rather flat for a good chunk of that day (although it’s definitely getting easier to manage), achieving any level of success can feel wonderful.
I think I’ve reached the stage where I’m able to recognise good writing, certainly writing that’s more deserving of mine to win, and this is great as it only makes me want to improve.

However, it can get slightly disheartening when you feel your story is as good as the winners (I find this more with magazine stories), especially when you’re not sure exactly what you need to do to get better. I think it’s sometimes down to luck or simply the fact that the judge or fiction editor has already read something similar or prefers another style of writing to yours.

The thing I find difficult is that you hardly ever know what the problem was or how close (or far!) you were to/from the winners. That can be frustrating. I suppose the answer is just to get on with another piece of writing. Not giving up can take you one step closer to winning.


‘Vocabulary’ – #AtoZ Challenge

I haven’t been well the last couple of days so I’m catching up on the challenge today. I’ll post my entry for ‘W’ a little later on 🙂

th-1.jpegSince I’ve started writing more flash fiction, I’ve become aware of the importance of using the right vocabulary. The pieces which win flash competitions tend to be those containing images that stay with you long after you’ve finished reading, and although it’s important as a writer to have a wide vocabulary, what matters more is the ability to use the most appropriate word which will enable the reader to truly ‘see’ the image or scene.

I always keep a ‘word bank’ of words and phrases that I particularly like, but when I first started writing, I used to chuck in words that I thought sounded good – the kinds of words that I thought would impress the reader. However, I quickly learned that this was the worst thing I could do. The most important thing when writing creatively is to be able to tell a story and by using a word that’s likely to be unfamiliar to the reader, all this will do is stem the flow of reading, and in effect break the connection between writer and reader as they’ll have to stop to look the word up in a dictionary.

In order to expand my vocabulary and add effective words to my word bank, I write down any that I’ve come across in short stories and flash fiction pieces that resonated with me. In particular, I look out for onomatopoeia and vivid verbs. I also read and re-read good examples of figurative language such as particularly apt metaphors and similes. I think about why they work so well and after which, try to create my own.


‘Unlucky’ – #AtoZ Challenge

th.jpegI used to think that being successful in writing had much to do with luck. I felt at one stage that I should be getting published and that I was just unlucky. However I realise now that I was pretty naive. Since then I’ve done numerous courses, read lots of books on writing, written many pieces, and also looked at magazine and competition winning stories, and I’ve come to understand that even though there is a smidgeon of luck involved in getting published, (writing is after all a subjective pursuit), success has much more to do with hard work. It takes practice (lots of it!), focused study of the market or genre you’re interested in and an awareness of what competition judges or publishers are looking for, based on what they’ve published before. It is also important to read as widely as possible.

There is, therefore a huge amount of work required so success in writing necessitates total commitment to it. I don’t believe it is something you can do half-heartedly. Yet, commitment breeds determination, at least in my case it has, and that determination can help you to 1/ deal with not being successful, whether that’s due to bad luck or not, and 2/ acquire the tools and skills that will (hopefully) lead to success.


‘Success’ & ‘Thinking’ – #AtoZ Challenge

I’ve been so busy the last couple of weeks; mainly with Kathy Fish’s Fast Flash workshop (which I can strongly recommend), and I’m away in Yorkshire at the moment so I don’t have too much time for blogging. I’m already a little behind so I’ll post S and T today and will get back on it tomorrow!



Over the course of this blogging challenge I’ve discussed my writing obstacles; a couple being apathy and self-doubt. Another problem I have is the issue of success. Just yesterday a good friend asked me my reasons for writing. She wondered whether it was purely for my own enjoyment or because I wanted to be successful. It’s a good question and I have to say that it’s a mixture of both. I have always written, mainly diaries when I was younger but then short stories and features more recently, and although I’d love to reach the stage where I’m making money from writing, success for me is more about my work being noticed e.g. by being shortlisted or placed in a competition. It’s not really a question of being paid for my work (of course this would be nice!). Any kind of acknowledgement confirms to me that I have ability and is a sign that I should keep going with it.


T.jpgI thought and thought about this (!!) and decided that I’d like to recommend a great article, To Write Stop Thinking by Joe Fassler in The Atlantic which was provided as inspiration on the fast flash workshop I’ve just taken.

In it, Kathryn Harrison says,

When I’m writing the way I want, the way I love, which is without thinking about what I’m writing, a strange thing happens: I feel simultaneously the most myself I could possibly be, and at the same time totally relieved of self.

I feel that what the writer is saying is that by writing without thinking, you connect with your essence. You’re not focusing on the best words to use, or how to get your message across, you are simply getting the words down and that is when the magic occurs.

When I did NaWriMo in November, I tried to do regular word sprints, which involved setting the timer for 15-30 minutes and writing as fast as possible. I found that in this way I created scenes and got to know my characters, something that would have been more difficult had I sat down and planned it.

Thinking about what to write can often drive you crazy. You’re desperate for this incredible idea that can sometimes only come if it’s given space to breathe. In this situation I always find that writing a few tentative words is enough to get you started. No matter how rubbish you think those words are, it’s important to keep going and get something down. It’s very likely there’ll be a few little gems in there.

‘Rejection’– #AtoZ Challenge

R.jpgRejection is difficult and inevitable if you’re a writer. There was one time in the early days of my short writing career when I simply couldn’t deal with it; not because I thought I had such an incredible talent that it was outrageous that someone didn’t like my work, but more the opposite. It confirmed to me that I didn’t have what it takes to make it. I didn’t consider the fact that the competitions I was being ‘rejected’ in had had hundreds (or in some cases thousands) of entrants; all I could see was that my stories were rubbish and therefore I was rubbish!

My attitude has thankfully changed since then. I still get disheartened when I’m not shortlisted or don’t win, but I’m slightly more philosophical about it than I used to be. I can also acknowledge that judging is likely to be subjective. Recently, for example, I came second in a small competition with a story that I thought was terrible, and when I entered the same competition a month later with what I considered to be a much better story, I didn’t get anywhere.

As much as rejection can be hard to take, success, even a small taste of it can have the opposite effect. This month I was long-listed in the Fish Publishing Memoir Competition and that meant so much to me. It was a tiny sign that I was on the right track, it was a sign that I was improving and it was worth sticking with it.

‘Quiet’– #AtoZ Challenge

th.jpegI’m a quiet person, an introvert I suppose. And yet I have many friends, adore parties and need to be with people regularly. It’s a dichotomy really. But over the last six months, since I began to make small changes to my life in order to focus more on writing, I’ve spent a lot more time than I previously did sitting in silence. I say silence, but there’s never absolute silence. Right now, for example, I can hear a ticking clock, singing birds and distant cars from the main road a few minutes away, but there’s little noise.

I need this virtual silence in order to be creative. I’ve tried working with music or the TV on in the background but all it does is distract me. Ideas, for me, can only flourish in soils of silence.

This week is the second week of my flash fiction course. It’s challenging but stimulating as every day we have a short assignment. As I’m in a different timezone to most of the other participants, I find that I’m posting my work slightly later. This isn’t a problem but I do find myself feeling slightly anxious when I can’t think of anything to write, which was the case this morning. When this happens, I make a coffee, open my laptop and lie back on my beanbag. Then I start to think, in silence and eventually a story begins to form. The writing process is magical and its main ingredient is silence.



‘Prolificness’– #AtoZ Challenge

P.jpgOne of my writing objectives for this year is to become more prolific. In the past it would take me forever to write a story, edit it and get it to the stage where I was happy with it. In fact, I was very often never happy with it yet would give up on it before it was ready and move onto the next one.

Short stories, despite (by their very nature!) being short can often take a stupidly long time to get to an acceptable stage. Indeed, I’m still working on a story I started four years ago, and sometimes it’s difficult to know when to stop. However, what I’m finding now is that by focusing more on flash fiction, I’m producing work very quickly and this has a very positive psychological effect. Granted the piece might be super short but often the hardest part of writing, for me anyway can be thinking of a good idea. Once the idea is there, it’s not so difficult to get some sort of story down. Therefore by getting into the habit of producing lots of very short stories within a short space of time, you’re effectively exercising your creativity, so that as soon as you see a picture or phrase or hear an anecdote, you start to naturally concoct a story, and once you’ve finished one, you mentally move onto thinking of a new one.

I’ve also found that a piece of flash fiction can either be a standalone piece or developed into a short story or scene in a novel, so for many reasons it’s a useful genre to try to write. I’ve already produced more writing in the first four months of this year than I did in the whole of last year so I feel quite happy so far.