Wish You Were There?

A postcard full of lush scenery to inspire you: a beach, a pool, the sea, a sunset, a dusty road, palm trees, red cliffs, an archway, more beaches and pools.
If you’re stuck for ideas, let this postcard be an inspiration.

“The postcard is from far away, the postmark is local. What’s the story?”

As we enter a seventh week of Coronavirus lockdown and holidays have never seemed further away, this writing prompt seemed particularly appropriate.

All credit for this exercise goes to “712 More Things To Write About” by The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto.

What’s the story behind your postcard?

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Rise Above

Image: Proofreader and editor Miranda K. Lloyd flying a plane.

I really didn’t want to write a coronavirus post. I just wanted to carry on with business as usual and ignore it until it passed by. My hands are chapped from all the extra washing and I just want Covid-19 to GO AWAY.

But I guess your hands are chapped from all the washing too. In spite of all my hopes, this virus is definitely serious and here to stay for quite some time. So all we can do is rise above it, carry on as usual and find ways of making this whole sorry mess a little more fun.

So here’s a little writing exercise to keep everyone entertained for half an hour this weekend. It’s great for kids too.

  • Pick a sentence. Any random sentence.
  • Use each word in your chosen sentence to start a new sentence.
  • Keep writing until you have a paragraph and see what you come up with. Bonus points if it makes sense.

Who knows, it could be the inspiration for a new novel, or the start of a short story, or even the seed of an idea for a new avenue of research.

Let’s try it together on that last sentence.

Who do you think I should ask about these bagels?” said Win, holding up the bag and peering inside.

Knows about bagels, does Claris,” said Win’s friend Arthur, nodding wisely.

It could be worth a try,” agreed Win as they moved down the street away from the market stall.

Could be,” added Arthur.

Be happy in life, thought Win as she mused over the bagels. The daily acquisition of freshly baked bread was an essential part of happiness for Win. Inspiration came from creativity, and what was baking if not creativity?

For to bake was to create something wholesome and good. A chilling thought struck her: bagels had not been made in Bagelthorpe for a hundred years, and yet here she was with some seemingly fresh bagels. Novel idea indeed. Or merely some wizard’s deception?

The idea terrified her. Start to think like that and you’ll go crazy, Win thought. Of these fearful thoughts Claris knew nothing. A few short minutes would change this.Short strides towards a life changing conversation. Story Time at the library would be over by now and Claris would be in, settling down with a cup of tea. Or would she? Even Claris deviated from routine sometimes. The routine of 50 years could be thrown over in an instant, and Win might never get to speak to her again. Seed of fear fast growing in her mind, Win hurried to Claris’ front door and knocked. Of bagels she must speak, and speak now!

An aggravating pause and then Claris was suddenly at the door.

Idea forming on her lips, Win thrust out the bag as she spoke. For minutes she couldn’t get the words out.

A moment please,” Win whispered as Arthur drew up beside her, puffing. “New bagels in the market, is that odd?” she finally gasped.

Avenue Z, where Claris lived, was suddenly eerily quiet.

Of these new bread products I have not heard,” admitted Claris, peering out into the street. “Research will be required. I’ll put the kettle on and fire up the toaster,” she said.


This story isn’t perfect. I didn’t plan it. But I did edit it. And I decided to add the last sentence to round it off.

What do you think?

Let me know in the comments if you try this exercise. In the meantime, happy writing and stay safe and well.

(For the story behind the photo at the top of this post, watch the feature about 19 minutes into this episode of Inside Out South).

5 Things I Wish I’d Known Sooner

Image: Person surrounded by questions.

I recently had an enquiry from a new author who was working towards finding a publisher. This got me thinking about the things I wish I’d known when I was starting out.

1. Formatting Matters

Whatever you’re writing, there are rules to follow when formatting your work (here are some guidelines for formatting your manuscript for a novel, for instance).

If you’re an independent author, following these rules from the outset will make your manuscript easier to read and typeset for publication. If you’re hiring an editor, applying the correct formatting before you send them your work will save their time and your money.

They’ll have more time to resolve any concerns you have, and to check for typos, spelling mistakes, and grammatical errors. Of course, if you do find you’re struggling with formatting, your editor will still be there to help.

If you’re looking for a publisher, then it’s absolutely vital to follow these rules. If you don’t, it’s highly unlikely they’ll read your manuscript.

Most publishers also have their own guidelines on how to submit a manuscript, so it’s best to check these out before you send out your work.

2. Writers’ Groups Are Awesome

Most things I’ve learned about writing, including how to format a manuscript, I first learned from my local writers’ group.

It’s a supportive, warm and varied community on your doorstep. It’s face-to-face and full of knowledge about every aspect of writing.

Every writers’ club is different, so it’s important to find one that’s right for you (Reading Writers suits me well). There are some online groups too, such as WriteWords and Critique Circle.  

3. Directories Make Your Life Easier

Somebody once said to me, “Think about the kind of stuff you like to write and approach publications that publish that kind of thing”.

If there is a magazine you read or an imprint you really like that you think you’d be a good fit for, it never hurts to investigate their submission guidelines.

This style of hunting can feel a bit overwhelming. The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook is an invaluable resource for taking the legwork out of the situation. A friend of mine also recommends FirstWriter, an online directory of agents, publishers, magazines, and competitions.

4. There’s More Than One Way To Get Information

Podcasts and videos are so, so good for getting more detailed information on specific subjects. I really like this episode from The Editing Podcast, which neatly explains different types of editing.

5. You Can Always Ask An Editor

An editor can offer you an utterly non-judgemental perspective, complete confidentiality, and a friendly smile. If you have a specific problem you’d like advice on, or you’re looking to improve your writing but just don’t feel comfortable sharing your work with people you know, asking an editor could be the solution.

What other tips would you add? Please leave your ideas in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!