Friday, 15 March 2013

Guest post

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.

Thanks, Bill.


Wendy's Writing said...

What a lovely story. I'm sure we all have special people we could dedicate our successes to at The People's Friend - I know I wouldn't have had as much success if it hadn't been for one very encouraging member of their fiction team.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post, I felt as if I was living the experience. Such warmth, such feeling I can see why the writer has had such success. I hope some of the magazine editors out there get to read it. It shows how much their kind words can inspire us writers even if they come with a rejection. I recently started to write again after a gap of almost twenty years since a frantic eight-month period where I was fortunate to have some successes, though many rejections. I was only able to dip my toe back into the water because I remembered the kind words of an editor fro Women's Realm who although never purchasing my work told me me that the writing in one of my stories was beautiful. I hung onto that kind praise. Amazingly, twenty years later I have had a little rewrite of that same story and sold it! Let's raise a glass to all those thoughtful people who have the spirit to say something positive about our writing even when it is not for them. Thanks to Anon for a lovely post and you too Womag for hosting it. All good wishes KH

Della Galton said...

I loved your post. I can relate to this so much. I've had very similar experiences with DC Thomson myself. Angela Gilchrist, now the editor of PF, as you know, was amazingly encouraging to me. She used to work for My Weekly and when she moved across to the Friend she asked me if I'd like to try a story for them too. Also, the late Ian Sommerville, former fiction editor at My Weekly, encouraged me so much. He had an amazing sense of humour and was an excellent critic.

Patsy said...

A lovely post.

I agree that early encouragement can make a huge difference.

Rosalie Squires said...

Wonderful. Thank you.

Simon Whaley said...

Editors often have a perception of being nasty people who always say, "No," yet this lovely post demonstrates that there are some wonderful editors out there!

Janice said...

What a lovely post! I can only agree with everything that Anonymous has written - and everyone else's comments, too.

And as for me... Well, my success - modest as it is - is one hundred percent down to 'My Weekly' - and a generous-spirited man called Dan McDaid. I don't know anything else about him except his name - and the fact that for every story he rejected (and there were many) he wrote me a long, long letter explaining why it didn't work. Equally importantly, he told me what in the story DID work! Such encouragement was wonderful and the reason I never gave up.

Even today Liz Smith is a wonderful Fiction Editor, offering professional - and always accurate! - feedback. Without people like Dan and Liz and companies like DC Thomson, I would have given up years ago.

Thank you, Womag - and Anonymous, too - for a lovely post.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for a lovely inspiring post. I, too, have to thank DC Thomson for my first magazine story sale - in this case the very encouraging late Ian Sommerville of My Weekly.

Karen Clarke said...

An amazing, moving post - beautifully written.

I think we all remember that first sale fondly - mine was a phone call from Norah McGrath, and my heart started beating so fast I had to sit down!

Wishing you continued success x

womagwriter said...

DC Thomson editors do seem to be the ones everyone falls most in love with! They are truly supportive of writers, and I think your comments go to show how much that is appreciated.

Shirley, PF, and Liz, MW said...

Liz and I have read these comments with tears in our eyes because we both worked closely with Bill and Ian and knew them so well, and learned immeasurably from them. Both lovely men, and outstanding at their jobs. To hear your praise of them reminds us, if we’re ever in danger of forgetting it, that writing for magazines is a partnership based on mutual trust and respect. Writing letters of praise, encouragement and criticism is so much a day-to-day part of our jobs, that it can be easy to forget the impact that our words can have. Posts and responses like this serve to remind us. Thank you to you all.

womagwriter said...

Thanks, Shirley and Liz, for dropping by.

Anonymous said...

Crikey! I'm the guest blogger and I've been away from my computer for a few days with a child who's not been well. I came back this morning feeling sluggish, disorganised and a little down after a rejection letter. And then I found all this! Thank you so much for all the kind comments and thanks to Womag for hosting me. OK, back to the stories now!