Friday, 15 March 2013
Here's a lovely guest post from a blog-reader who wants to remain anonymous, telling how she began writing and how an editor at People's Friend gave her the initial encouragement she needed to keep writing, keep submitting. I think we'll all relate to that - we can all remember the first praise for our writing that actually meant something.
Writing for Bill
‘A romantic complete story by ...’
It was 1995 and I can still so clearly remember sitting with a copy of the People’s Friend in my hands, looking at my name in print for the first time. It was a familiar enough tale of a girl who returns home to her childhood village, and falls in love. It’s often said that there are no new stories, just new ways of telling them, and my way obviously sparkled enough that day.
Like so many writers, I was the little girl who always wanted to write. The first time I went to a meeting of the Women Writers Network, it felt like attending an AA meeting. There was no internet then; I’d never met anyone else who admitted to this secret addiction and suddenly all around me were women saying quite openly that they wrote poetry, non-fiction, literary novels, short stories ...
So - “Hi, I’m Kate, I’ve always written. I can’t help myself. I have notebooks full of words. I had imaginary friends. I wrote diaries from the age of seven and two historical novels when I was a teenager ...”
Clearly I didn’t get out much. But how did I get from that girl who wrote in her bedroom to this point where I have a respectable stack of magazines containing my stories?
Well, I’m in the spare room now but over the years in between, I did venture out. I joined the Romantic Novelists Association and the Women Writers Network. They had speakers at each meeting – that was where I met Lynda O’Byrne, the fiction editor of Bella. I listened, I made detailed notes and I sold – she was lovely to work with.
I was helped by the fact that I worked for the BBC. I was only a PA and researcher, but it taught me about considering your audience and I learned how to write scripts – writing for radio has much in common with magazine work - the same need to connect and make an immediate impact in a very small number of words.
When I started, I studied the magazines consciously; now it’s automatic. I took the magazines apart, I read the letters, the adverts, the fashions – everything. After all, it’s the job of the magazine’s editors to know their readers, so I followed where they led. It sounds clinical but fiction for magazines treads a balanced path – you have to write from your heart, but there is no shame in writing for a brief. It’s a skill, a craft. The right number of words, the right sentence structure, the right themes – without those your work won’t sell. If they
ask for double quotes for speech, give them that – it’s professional.
For creativity, I do all the familiar things – I keep notebooks full of ideas and fragments that spark my interest. (NEVER delay in writing them down – ideas are skittish things that need capturing fast.) I read, I walk around muttering to myself searching for the end of a story. I have books of baby names – I can’t write a nameless character and I shudder if a sub changes them!
Most of all, though, I write for the magazines that I enjoy reading. There were years when my children were small and I couldn’t write, but I read the magazines every single week, specials too. I believe that, to write for a magazine, you have to understand its audience, but more than that, you have to empathise with it, you have to have affection for it and you have to respect it.
That is the case with all three of the magazines I have written for regularly. The People’s Friend, though, has a particular place in my heart because they were the first to buy that story. Even more so because Bill, the man on the fiction team who wrote me that first friendly acceptance letter passed away some years ago, but on my shelf here in the room where I write, in my box of special things, is a letter he wrote to me when he was ill. He generously told me I was a good writer and urged me to continue and every once in a while, when writer’s block overcomes me, I take out that letter. There have been many others over the years who have continued that process, but it was his encouragement and advice that started me off as a professional writer.