How many of these hack writing techniques are you guilty of?

Hack writing is the fastest way to go from interesting story to trite and boring without really trying.

In almost all cases hack writing is a result of lazy storytelling often combined with a failure to write for the reader. How many of these have you been guilty of?

Having a character look into a mirror and describe themselves.

When telling a story from a first-person perspective, the hackiest thing you can do is use a mirror. Not just because it is cliche (which it is) or because it represents a fundamental failure of imagination (which it does) but because it just is not realistic.

When I look in the mirror (which is something I avoid doing as much as possible) I don’t consider my blue eyes with a hint of green at the centre. I do not cast my eyes over my slightly receding hairline and note, with great detail, the ever-increasing level of grey in my hair and beard. I certainly do not stop to appreciate that I have long hair and a ponytail.

What happens is: I look for as short a time as I can. Either I think, “not bad; I’ll do.” or I think, “I look scruffy. Where is my hairbrush?”

When telling a story from the first person perspective you are letting us see the world through the eyes of the character. Do you know what they cannot see? Themselves. Which is why you are struggling to put into the narrative that description you worked so hard on. That’s a good thing – because it is not relevant.

Forcing details into a story that don’t advance the plot.

This hackish technique is often what is wrong with your opening chapters. When a character first appears you give a full description, a brief summary of their life history, their blood type, and inside leg measurement.

Not only is that unrealistic (so unrealistic) but it slows the pace of the story, obscures the important details, and is really boring to read.

When I introduce two of my friends to each other I don’t give each one a full CV’s worth of background. I simply say “Jack, this is Barry. Barry, this is Jack. I think you two will get along really well because you are both champion call of duty players.” After that, I can leave them to it because my work is done.

Take, for example, The Story of Samson and Delilah. Describe Samson.

You probably said muscles and long hair. What colour was Samson’s hair? We don’t know. What about his eyes, facial hair, or the tone of his skin? We don’t know these things. We don’t know because they are not relevant to the plot.

Samson’s hair matters because that was a pretty important plot point as (spoiler warning) when Samson’s hair is cut off he became weak.

Please, for the love of all that is good about writing, don’t force details into your story that don’t need to be there. This hack writing technique is just about the fastest way to get your story rejected for being boring.

Describing everything the protagonist is wearing.

Go back to Samson for a moment. Did the Biblical author tell you about his clothes? No, of course not. That was an irrelevancy. His clothes were unremarkable. That means not worth remarking upon.

I used to own a book which I would show to other writers. This was known as “the worst book in the world” (because it was that bad). In it, the author describes the heroine, then goes into detail about her outfit. A page later she changes into another outfit and we get the full mirror treatment again.

Do you know what importance any of this had on the plot? If you said “none whatsoever,” then you were right. All that text did was serve to fill out several pages and inflate the word count.

Like every other hack technique on this list so far, this crime against writing is throwing information at us that we don’t need.

Writing a Mary Sue

A Mary Sue is a character who is just a little too perfect. If they have any flaws they are likely to be endearing or actually strengths with a touch of false modesty.

A Mary Sue in a story is someone everyone (except maybe the bad guy) loves, admires, and generally agrees with. They are a thin stand-in for the author.

Just ask TV Tropes:

The prototypical Mary Sue is an original female character in a fanfic who obviously serves as an idealized version of the author mainly for the purpose of Wish Fulfillment. She’s exotically beautiful, often having an unusual hair or eye color, and has a similarly cool and exotic name. She’s exceptionally talented in an implausibly wide variety of areas, and may possess skills that are rare or nonexistent in the canon setting. She also lacks any realistic, or at least story-relevant, character flaws — either that or her “flaws” are obviously meant to be endearing.

There are many reasons not to include a Mary Sue (in any form, ever) but the most important one is that they are so damn boring to read.

There are a few things you can bolt onto a character to avoid Mary Sue. Things like an average background; skills and abilities appropriate to the setting; real character flaws and thus an ability to change; weaknesses they struggle to overcome; or even just some toning down of the god-mode powers.

Once again, this hack writing technique is a failure to consider the reader and it is boring as all heck.

There is nothing wrong with wish fulfilment. Many of my best ideas started off that way. Just don’t expect anyone else to read your daydreams; at least until you’ve refined them into something other people can relate to.

Female characters that are just men in dresses

This hackish for of writing happens most often when the (usually male) author just fancies using a female name but does nothing to make her gender in any way real.

I’ve talked about this at great length before. If you could change Jill to John and the character is now a male, then this was just a man in a dress character.

A female character is going to have female friends. She may experience sexism. Her attitude may be different to all the testosterone-filled characters. In short, she should be a real live human being.

When you write a female character, do me a favour and use little details to convince me this is really a female. Anything bra related probably does not count.

Show me the complexities of societal pressures that shaped your character. Show me how gender identity influences the character in the situation you are presenting. In other words, let me walk a few miles in the shoes of a female through your story.

New Powers as the Plot Demands

This is a hack technique that many otherwise good shows are guilty of. Not to mention comic book writers. Oh, superhero genre – what are you thinking?

This is basically a Deus ex Machina with funny glasses on. If as a writer you have not at least attempted to foreshadow the power and just pulled it out of your bum to get out of a corner you plotted yourself into – this is bad!

One of my favourite shows – Doctor Who – does this from time to time. Int he very first season (aired before I was born) he had no powers at all. Then he sort of gained all sorts of abilities (like telepathy, regeneration, immunities, etc.).

Take, for another example, this instance pulled from TV Tropes:

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Lupin repeatedly points out that the Patronus charm is incredibly advanced magic. He highlights that only very powerful wizards can pull it off, and that even fully qualified wizards struggle to master it. By Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, pretty much everyone in the narrative can cast a full corporeal Patronus without any trouble whatsoever, including most of the adolescent members of the DA. By the seventh book, they can also be used to send messages in the caster’s voice.

Let me put this another way – please do not do this. It is bad writing. Even when semi-justified (even by just being damn cool) it makes suspension of disbelief harder.

Let us make our writing better than that of our favourite authors.

What crimes of bad writing are you guilty of?

They say confession is good for the soul.

Have you been guilty of some hack writing before? What sort of hack writing did you engage in and how terrible was it?

How to write interesting and compelling female characters

Female characters. For whatever reason, they do not get the same page time as their male counterparts. There are no good reason for it aside from perhaps a lack of understanding of how to write a compelling female character.

Following the pattern from before, I’m going to look to game design for some lessons on this.

The problem of too few compelling female characters.

Female characters are not a new topic. I mean, tor.com covered this two years ago, so did Creative Writing Guild at around the same time. Two years before that Alice Leiper explained how to write deep and interesting female characters. I could go on but I don’t want to bore you.

It quite clear to me that there is no mystery to writing strong and interesting female characters so what gives? Why is fiction so lopsided in favour of just one gender?

We’d probably need an entire blog, a team of writers and a lifetime to get into the specifics of why and how we come to find ourselves with so few good female characters (especially in games) and an equal deficiency in the variety of ethnicity.

My suspicion is that the industry is lopsided because it has been lopsided. Publishing houses are notoriously conservative. Seeing books with strong males and unimaginative females selling well, they greenlight more of the same. Rinse and repeat.

We writers may be to blame too.

The writing industry might not be all of the problem. I have no doubt we writers have part of the blame here too. Especially us men. As a man, a white man at that, I tend to write strictly what I know – white males. Specifically, slightly socially dysfunctional geeky white males with a gift for science and long words.

In other words, I write about myself, as we writers usually do.

While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it is hardly helping anyone but far worse it is not exactly expanding any frontiers for my readers or myself. In short, this approach runs the danger of being boring.

One thing I have noticed running writing groups is that we males are pretty clueless when it comes to writing female characters while the ladies are much more confident writing different genders. That may be because there are a lot of sterling examples of male characters in print already or maybe lady writers are just more flexible. Who knows?

But this creates a natural bias towards male characters. The thing about biases is that they are often self-inforcing. That’s not good. Worse, it robs us as readers from an interesting variety of characters.

One of the many signs of a good writer is that they can write from perspectives other than their own. This should be a problem we writers can correct.

The problem of culture.

Cultural ideas of gender have caused all sorts of not quite true ideas. Nowhere is this clearer than in the way men tend to write women in fiction.

“How Genre Stereotypes Limit Games and Players” by Extra Credits looks at this issue for gaming but, like three things games can teach us about writing, there is a lot we can learn from this discussion as writers too.

To help us break out of the cycle of not giving female characters enough “air time” in our stories, we are going to take a look at how to go about writing a believable, interesting and compelling female characters.

What makes a compelling character in the first place?

First, let’s talk about what it takes to write a decent character. Extra Creditz has us covered here too.

The character journey.

It is widely held that a character should take us on a three-stage journey.

  1. Compassion (or pity)
  2. Fear
  3. Catharsis

When I say “widely held”, I mean it has been widely held since about the time of Aristotle in his Poetics.

It is this first stage – compassion (pity) – that causes us to feel positive empathy for a character. Regardless of gender or race, we need to experience a degree if believable sympathy in order to connect with a character. However, those aspects of a character – gender, race, sexuality and so forth – must be presented in a realistic way. Simply falling back on stereotypes, apart from being cheap, will rob your story and character of much-needed depth.

This pity, fear, and catharsis pattern follows the analysis pattern of the three-act structure. Not that I am saying that you should write to the three-act structure – trust me, don’t do that – but it does roughly follow it anyway. Mostly because that is what makes the three-act structure so ubiquitous to start with.

That story pattern applies to film, game, and novel equally. Here’s a better explanation than I can offer.

Real vs stock characters.

Take, for example, the use of child characters. The presence of a child character in a story or game can offer the opportunity for the player or reader to experience the emotions of family and parental relationships. Reach for the stereotypes though, and you will almost certainly create forgettable child characters or worse, deeply annoying child characters.

My “go to” game discussion series Extra Creditz takes a look at an example of this done right in the game of “The Walking Dead”.

Details matter, they are not add on extras.

Your character choices in setting, time period, character, gender, sexuality, race, and so on – all should have profound but subtle influences over your character, their worldview, the way they behave towards others and the way that others behave towards them.

Take, for example, the true life story of Mary Anning. Who she was, her gender, her socioeconomic status, and the time in which she was born all have a profound influence on her story. If Mary Anning’s brother had walked her path in life the story would be different.

Gender and race are not just extras to colour your character.

If you can change hats and have a different gender, race, and setting while the character remains unchanged then you never actually had those things to start with. Racial tensions are, at least for us white males, often difficult to portray and so we can avoid doing so. Yet racial and gender disparity are part of the wider truth of our world that, as writers, we should be shining a light on. The same sorts of insights are needed as writers to handle those sometimes subtle differences.

I’ve never played LA Noire but, according to Extra Creditz, LA Noire, for all its faults, is a good example of using racial tension in a believable and character-defining way. That is despite the character being a white male. Race issues affect us all and, as writers, we need to be ready to show that truth.

Applying this to writing compelling female characters.

Let’s bring this back round to the topic of writing interesting and compelling female characters. There are questions that, as the writer, you need to answer. Those answers need to come in what you show us in the story.

  • How does being female influence the way people react to your character?
  • How does her feminity change the way she reacts to the world?
  • Does her gender limit her options? (Such as for Mary Anning).
  • Does her gender offer options not available to male characters?
  • What is it like being a woman in the world you are showing us?

These answers need not be blatant. There is no particular need to smack us in the face with your research but you need to have considered them enough to flavour the narrative with the answer.

We are going to take a look at some of the more specific questions that we writers might need to consider (especially if we are males).

How does being female influence the way people react to your character?

Nothing happens in a vacuum. Gender, for good or ill, influences the way others react to you.  We’ve looked at this a little already but we will take a further look before we finish.

The feminity of your character will influence the ways (some) others react to her. This is where you can show us that your character is really a female.

It may not be necessary to drum up a token bigot if there is no scope for one in your story but that does not mean that your female character is not going to encounter men that hit on her, men that ignore her, bosses that pay her less, men that get promoted first, men or a man that underestimates her, otherwise reasonable men that make crude comments… There are many ways, often subtle, that being female is not the same as being male. Make use of this in your storytelling.

There are many ways, often subtle, that being female is not the same as being male. Make use of this in your storytelling.

For example, a female kidnapper might be able to walk a child right from the school gates without anyone noticing whereas your hairy ape in a suit character probably would not. Then again, the school might have sensible precautions in place.

If you really don’t know how being female differs from being male – say, on account of being a man – then I would recommend that you talk to sisters, mother, girlfriend, wife, or one of the many females that populate your world. I think you might find it an eye-opener.

How does her feminity change the way she reacts to the world?

This might be obvious but your gender colours the way you see the world. After all, it is part of your identity as a human being.

Again show us how this works for your character.

For example, who are her friends?

I don’t know about you but I tend to make friends with people I have a lot in common with. That tends to mean I have a lot more male than female friends. A lot of my friends are geeky. Many of my friends are open-minded. In short, my friends are great because they are similar to me but different in many more ways.

It is not enough to simply shoehorn in one female character per story and claim to have solved “the gender issue”. I’ve seen that happen, I kid you not. After all, most women have friends that are women. Women talk to their friends just like men do too. Well, not just like men – there are some differences (less toilet humour on the whole). The point is that it is unreasonable to try and jam a single token female into a story. No character exists in isolation.

The point is that it is unreasonable to try and jam a single token female into a story. No character exists in isolation.

Does her gender limit her options?

In some societies, gender can be decisive in determining your options in life. If this is the case – show us.

Today, for example, we have unreasonable pay gaps. We have whole fields where women are rarely found (some parts of IT have a woeful lack of ladies).

We also have jobs (midwifery, for example) that are largely seen as female only jobs.

Not so long ago we had male-only clubs.

The answer to this question changes with time and culture. In a male-dominated culture where women are just possession, being a female will be very different than it is today.

This experience is what we readers want you, the writer, to show us. History is a great teacher here.

Remember what I said before, about taking examples from history? Looking at famous women of the past can help you form a well-rounded idea of what a well-rounded female character might be like.

I would advise that you look at examples in fiction but, as we said earlier, there is a paucity of good examples there.

We’ve got you covered if you don’t know where to start. Here are a few women that you would do well to Google.

  • Ida B. Wells
  • Harriet Chalmers Adams
  • Jeanne Manford
  • Nellie Bly
  • Harriet Tubman
  • Elizabeth Kenny
  • Kathrine Switzer

You are missing out, as writers, if you do not let yourself learn at least a little bit about each of these women. Knowing your history gives you a context for what it is like to be a woman today.

Does her gender offer options not available to male characters?

Often times, the reverse is true but when and if gender-specific opportunities exist they are worth noting. If only because they say something about the world.

Opportunities and insights that set your character apart from others are what make your character interesting to read about. Show us these differences.

I’m not just talking about the opportunity for motherhood. As a writer, I am sure you can do better than that. Or maybe you can’t. In some settings, men had all the options. It might not be fair but it is a truth we writers should be exploring.

Which leads us on to…

What is it like being a woman in the world you are showing us?

As you might have guessed by now, my advice is to show us the world from a female perspective.

As a reader, I want to live through your characters. I want to feel what they feel. With compelling female characters, I want to come away from your story having experienced life as a woman, if only for a moment.

Let us take a look at what it is like being a woman today.

Being a woman today.

If you happen to be a boy that is far too shy to actually talk to girls (honestly, they don’t bite) I’ve compiled a few videos that should get you started.

Boys, notice that there are a bunch of different ladies in these videos. And. They. Are. All. Different.

Some insight that, as a writer, you might want to pay attention to. What it is like to be a girl

Our next video is a look at what it might be like to be an attractive female. Warning, you could use this limited information wholesale but only if you want to end up with flat generic characters.

Show us women, not men in dresses.

The takeaway here is that just as all these women are different, your characters can be different and unique too. In fact, if your female characters are interchangeable or worse, men in dresses, you have failed as a writer.

Wait, what? Men in dresses?

Men in dresses are “female characters” that if renamed to Bob or John would instantly be male characters. That’s just a “man in a dress” character. Don’t do that.

If you have tried to answer the five questions then you are unlikely to have written a man in a dress.

  • Show us how her gender influences the way people react to her.
  • Let us see how her feminity changes the way she reacts to the world.
  • Make us feel the frustration of gender limiting her options.
  • Explore the few options not available to male characters.
  • Show us what it is like being a woman.

Just don’t write a man in a dress for goodness sake.

The secret of writing authentic, interesting, and compelling female characters.

Wait, you waited until now to get to the secret?

Why, yes I did. I waited because if I put the secret at the top, there is no way in heck that you would believe me. So, are you ready for the secret of writing interesting and compelling female characters?

The secret, lads, is this: Listen to women, try to understand the perspective you are given when you listen, try to imagine what it is like to be that woman. If you can do that then you will not only be a better, more interesting writer but a better more interesting person.

Like almost everything in writing, the secret is research and empathy. Now you know everything you need to know about developing characters that are not you with a different hat on. Go and write amazing stories.

Fun fact for shy boys – listening to and understand women enough to write about women authentically will make talking to girls much easier and, if that’s your thing, will make you a better boyfriend or husband. It will also make you a better son and/or brother too.

You can never have enough research material. So here is yet another video of what it is like to be a woman online. Hashtag, not all men suck (we promise).

Over to you.

What advice would you add on crafting compelling female characters?

Can you recommend any stories with a truly compelling female character?

Are you, yourself, female? Who are your female remodels and what can we, as writers, learn from them?

What makes you a good writer?

What makes a good writer? Specifically, what does it take to make you a good writer?

This post is inspired by Thanet Writer and author, Matthew Munson’s blog post. I took his main points and examined them one by one to see if I agreed or if I could come up with any further points. You should probably check out Matthew’s blog and his new book which is coming out soon.

What makes a good writer?

What Matthew Munson says makes a good writer.

Good writers serve the reader.

Matthew’s first point (and a point well made I think) is that good writing serves the reader, not the writer. It does this, he tells us by anticipating reader questions and answering them.

He is right. All writing is for an audience. That audience could be the writer themselves (a diary, for example) or millions of people (a popular newspaper column for example). Whoever it is for it is for someone.

One of the important tools we writers have is to keep our readers firmly in mind. If you are telling a story, you are trying to put the images, sounds, smells, and emotions from your head and transmit them with words into the heads of readers.

If you are telling a story, you are trying to put the images, sounds, smells, and emotions from your head and transmit them with words into the heads of readers.

With non-fiction work, you are trying to transmit facts and ideas in exactly the same way.

Good writing is grounded in facts with context.

Yes and no, Matthew. Good factual writing should, of course, be grounded with solid data, well informed by objective truth, and given proper context. Poetry and prose, not so much.

Fiction, by its very definition, is able to play fast and loose with the facts.

Opinions – for example, editorials and similar blogs – are again expressions of the self. There is a cross over in that where such writings talk about the real world the best ones talk about what is real and provable rather than plucking “facts” that sound right and fit the current prejudice. Even so, this has nothing to do with good writing and everything to do with journalistic integrity.

Good writing can be anything but grounded. Good writing takes you on a journey. Honest writing might have a solid foundation of objective truth. Trustworthy writing might be well researched. Valuable scientific writing might have a solid grounding in data. But, despite all this, good examples of all of those also take you on a journey with those truths, research, and data.

On the other hand, writing lacking any moral compass might convince you the sky is pink, the earth is flat, and the Nazis were jolly nice people. It could be good writing that makes a very compelling case. In which case the author should probably go to work for somewhere like the Daily Mail where words like integrity are worth nothing more than the 13 points they get you in a game of scrabble.

Good writing happens with the rewrite.

Dark Editor

This is only mostly true. Good writing happens with editing and rewrites, it is true. Yet good writing can be hindered by that selfsame process too.

 

When the inner editor tries to object to a grammatical form too soon, you can end up never finishing the sentence and losing the wider meaning of what you were trying to say. In the Thanet Creative: Writers group, we call this the Dark Editor. If writing were a religion, the Dark Editor would be the devil.

So to clarify Matthew’s point – good writing happens with the rewrite at the right time. (Say, after the first draft).

Good writers aren’t smug.

Dear God, I wish that were true.

I have known very many writers over the years. I can tell you that good writers are frequently smug – it is what has stopped them becoming great writers.

It is not an ordinary smugness – the kind that gently invites a punch to the nose – no this is usually a deep sneering smugness and loudly demands that you hope with every ounce of your being that karma is a thing and that you are still around to see it pay out.

Pride may go before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall but when you meet a truly smug writer – especially when the smugness is ill deserved – that fall cannot come soon enough.

There is something else Matthew says on this point:

…the label seems more meaningful when it’s bestowed upon you by others.

I have to agree. No matter how strongly you acknowledge that you write and by definition, you must, therefore, be a writer, it is still wonderfully uplifting when another acknowledges you as such.

However, being a writer is rough. It is a truism that we are going to see more rejections than you can encompass in a hastily invented simile. To weather that, we need a degree of toughness – either through unreasonable smugness or through a quiet assurance that we know what we are doing.

It is the only way to see off imposter syndrome and the doubts of the Dark Editor.

The best writing is collaborative.

When Matthew is right, he is right. Writing cannot happen in a vacuum.

A common fear among writers is the fear that someone will steal your ideas. The truth is no one is going to steal your ideas because any writer worth his salt already has more ideas than they know what to do with and those that lack an abundance of ideas tend to lack the skill to use yours.

Indeed, as Matthew points out, without the support of beta readers, proofreaders, and copy editors, your work is unlikely to get finished.

While very few blog posts are run past editors and proofreaders, the process of blogging – the feedback from readers – serves the same process. Over time, you simply become better at writing good posts. This still does not happen in a vacuum.

One of the best places to find a supportive community is your local writers’ community. For those who have written and need that vital early feedback – beta reading – a writers’ group can be of incalculable value. Find out more about our writers’ group Thanet Creative: Writers on Facebook or Author Buzz.

 

Remarkable writers read.

readingI would go further and say that only the very worst hack writers don’t read. Reading is a vital part of writing because writing (as we just covered) does not happen in a vacuum.

Reading is a vital part of honing your craft. As I said when talking about how writing should serve the reader, you are trying to communicate to others. How though can you communicate effectively if you have no experience of being communicated to?

In some ways, saying writers need to read is as obvious as saying Chefs need to eat. Reading is simply part of the writing process.

Writers must have patience.

This is probably true. To be a good writer you must have dedicationa and that is, more or less, the same thing.

Yet I could also argue that to be a good writer you need impatience. You should impatient to get back to writing, impatient to get it all down on paper, impatient to get on with the story and cover the background details later (and only if they prove important).

Perhaps, then, it is fairer to say a good writer must be both patient and impatient at the same time. After all, in so many aspects a writer is a living contradiction anyway.

Good writers are good listeners and observers.

This is another point that I am unsure if I agree with. Certainly listening and observation skills are very useful to a writer. A writer with these skills has a lot more material to draw upon. Does that mean that you cannot be a good writer without them?

I don’t think it does.

Perhaps the corollary here is that if you want to be a better writer then developing listening and observation skills will make it happen.

What else makes a good writer?

So what else might Matthew have missed out from his list?

A good writer writes.

Perhaps it goes without saying but you cannot be a good writer if you do not do any actual writing. Writing itself is the final act of the creative process but it is the expression of the other skills we have discussed. Without putting the craft into practice a person can at best be considered a potential writer in theory.

Good writers write. The best writers write every day.

A good writer takes constructive criticism to heart.

Remember that we said writing cannot happen in a vacuum? It follows from that idea that the feedback you get must be considered and acted upon. Otherwise, it is as useless as if you had none.

A good writer must develop not only a humility compatible with having others (including less skilled writers) school them and critique them but must also learn how to tell when the feedback is just wrong. That is a skill set which is more art than science.

Good writers express ideas clearly.

You could have all the other skills in abundance but without the ability to clearly express ideas, you will never be a good writer. Not ever.

To be a good writer you must learn to express ideas with clarity. That is, perhaps, what Matthew was getting at when he said that a good writer considers the reader.

Remarkable writers connect the dots for you.

A truly great writer needs to be a sort of visionary reporting back what has been seen from afar. Again, this is part of considering the reader but also aprt of expressing ideas clearly.

The best writers see connections that others have missed and then express those connections so that others can follow along. They connect the dots in a new way and reveal the pattern that was always hiding there.

Remarkable writers could use sci-fi to show us where things are going or they might as easily explain a complex theory. What most writers of fiction do (or should do) is show us a new insight into the human condition. The best and most memorable fictions in any genre do this.

Over to you.

How much do you agree with Matthew Munson’s take of what makes a good writer? Would you agree with the three additions we came up with? What else, would you say, sets good writers apart from the rest of the pack?

September Writing Competition

A new site, a new competition! Are you ready, writers?

Explain the series of events that ties these images together

How to enter

Unlike our last competition which ran week to week, this one will run month to month. Also unlike the last one entering is as simple as submitting an article. So grab a free account and join us in Thanet’s best writing competition.

To enter simply submit an original story to us before the end of Septemeber. But don’t hang around. There is a definite advantage to being early.

The winner will be determined by the story with the most on-blog likes. As I said, getting in early helps.

You can enter more than once but second and subsequent entries may be delayed by the arrival of first entries from other people.

How to set out your entry

You are free to choose any appropriate title and opening that you wish. However, at the end you should state that story is a competition entry (and link to this page). The editors can help with that if you get stuck.

I suggest you make a heading that says something like “about this story”. You could use that opportunity to slip in an author bio if you wish.

Closing date for submissions is Saturday the 30th of September. The winners will be announced five days after the last entry is posted or the first of October if all the entries are in and posted by then.

5 ways to blog from Thanet now

keyboard and newspaper

Thanet Creative exists to create opportunities for Thanet’s many writers. Some of us writers like to blog – here are five ways you can.

Blogging for sites related to your field of writing is a fantastic way to get new links. Those posts will increase exposure for a website you already have up and running. In other words, it can help build your author platform.

Blogging can also be a good way to just blow off some verbal steam on an issue that has you feeling all worked up.

If the thought of setting up and running you own blog is off-putting, you have options for when you want to blog from Thanet but don’t want a blog. (If you did, Author Buzz UK, has you covered).

Here are just a few places that you can submit your thoughts for publication. None of them are likely to get you paid (directly) but if you just want to get your stuff out there then this might be the list for you.

5 ways to blog from Thanet (today)

This is a follow up to our original post on our old website – “5 ways to blog from Thanet” updated to reflect the way things are now.

Thanet Star

Thanet Star is a blog that has been going a very long time and has built a solid reputation both with readers and with search engines. It covers all topics relating to Thanet. Mostly, it tends to have a news or political slant.

Thanet Star is a great choice if you want to write about local events, politics, or life in general here in Thanet. I often post on the Thanet Star Facebook page looking for guest writers.

Facebook, Google+, etc.

facebookIf your main objective in posting a blog is just to blow off steam social media might be the answer. For example, if you don’t care about links and the only people that you want to see the rant are friends and family, then Facebook, Google Plus, and similar social media sites are ideal.

On the down side, they can be quite limited in terms of formatting and the ability to add illustrative pictures.

Additionally, you are quite unlikely to reach a wider or different audience. It is possible to “go viral” with the right content but if you want to express a depth or breadth of opinion this might not be what you need.

The Isle of Thanet News

A relative newcomer, The Isle of Thanet News is a local news site that has won awards for local journalism. Like Thanet Star, The Isle of Thanet News tends towards news related content. However, they have a dedicated opinion section for which they take outside contributions.

The site is run by Kathy Bailes. Kathy’s background includes 13 years in Journalism. She is the winner of the Kent Press and Broadcast Awards Kent Digital Journalist 2017.

If you are interested in writing for The Isle of Thanet News you can email the editor at isleofthanetnews@gmail.com but I recommend ready a few items first to get a feel for the kind of items that are accepted.

Huffington Post

If you feel your idea has legs and could be of interest to a much wider audience than just Thanet, you can always pitch it to the Huffington Post.

The Huffington Post is a huge blog with localised editions for many countries including the UK. They don’t pay although they could probably afford to.

The lack of pay despite ability is something that Wil Wheaton has made mention of:

…it’s the principle of the thing. Huffington Post is valued at well over fifty million dollars, and the company can absolutely afford to pay contributors. The fact that it doesn’t, and can get away with it, is distressing to me.

So, pitch it to the Huffington Post, or don’t. That’s up to you.

Thanet Creative: Blog (yes, us)

The Thanet Creative blog, like its predecessor, is run on WordPress. Which means that we are already set up to allow multiple contributors.

We will be happy to take anything that relates to writing, poetry, or creativity in general. If we get a lot of submissions, we will favour those from people with a connection to Thanet or the charity.

We are also happy to take fiction or poetry of a sufficiently high standard as well as book reviews.

We can accept a one off contribution which you can send to us via email. Someone (probably me) can then see to the nuts and bolts of publishing it. Ideally, we ‘d like an image to go with the post – a nice photograph of you works well.

The process for being a regular contributor has gotten a lot simpler since our transition to the Author Buzz network. All you need is a free Author Buzz UK account.

While we are getting set up here, you will need to leave a message for us, either in the general forum or in the group. Someone will manually add you as a contributor and away you go. Once we are settled in here, we hope to add a contributor’s form so you can add yourself as a contributor.

Over to you

Do you agree with our list of places to get a blog post published? Do you feel we’ve missed one off – what would you add to the list of ways to blog from Thanet? Let us know in the comments below.

What do we mean by “Thanet’s writers”?

woman typing writing

A term that we have used on this blog a lot is “Thanet’s writers”. What do we mean exactly?

It could, for example, be taken to mean the historical writers from Thanet’s past. People like Dickens, for example. This is, I hope you might guess, not exactly what we mean.

For some people, “Thanet’s writers” might be taken to mean only full-time writers from Thanet. This is not what we mean. Obviously, we include full-time writers but for us, the phrase means so much more.

Others might assume we mean only those who self-identify as writers and are from Thanet. again, this is not what we mean but it is closer and does include these self-identified writers.

When we say Thanet’s writers, we are always talking about everyone who expresses themselves with words; especially if they do so creatively. Writing has two stages:

  1. The art of coming up with something to say
  2. The act of writing it down

We are almost always talking about the art, not the act.

For us, Thanet’s writers include (among others) poets, spoken word performers, journalists, playwrights, bloggers, essay writers, songwriters, musicians that compose, and of course fiction writers too. All of these are forms of writing and most of these are creative too.

For us, the act of writing is so much than putting words on a page. Writing something down is the mechanical action of writing – that is rarely creative in and of itself. However, the art that goes into choosing the words, beats, or notes – that is creative; at all levels.

This is why we changed our name from Thanet Creative Writers to Thanet Creative. While we will probably continue to talk about Thanet’s writers, we want to be clear we are talking about the creative drive, not the physical act of making marks on paper (or typing).

Thanet Creative (formally Thanet Creative Writers)

Thanet Creative Writers is now Thanet Creative. If you want to know what’s up with the new name, keep reading.

At our AGM yesterday members voted unanimously to simplify our name from Thanet Creative Writers to Thanet Creative. This was in order to better express the breadth of creative activity that we hope to support.

We are still the same charity. We are still just as keen as ever to support writers and authors but we feel that the new name better encompasses the fact that we are a charity that cares about poets and other forms of creative expression too.

As an added bonus, this neatly side-step the cybersquatting problem where mean people have purchased domain names that we should have been using and then directed them to websites that were not us.

In short, this is just a minor rebranding to fit with our wider identity as creative souls. After all, creativity has – and always will be – at the heart of what we do.

As part of that change, we are setting up shop with a new website. Over the next few weeks, we will be moving the best and most important content (that is still relevant) to this new website.

We hope that you will continue with us on this next stage of our creative journey.

Hello world!

Welcome to Thanet Creative on Author Buzz Blogs. This will be the new home of the site of the charity previously known as Thanet Creative Writers.

Here we will be posting the same great stuff that we had been sharing on our wordpress.com website but with the added power of Author Buzz UK.

Give us a week or so to get all the best and most relevant stuff moved across from our old site. The old site is still there but it will be slowly packed into mothballs and serve as an archive. That way all the lovely links you have given us will not become “dead links”.

Creating a safe space for writers

baby hands

Establishing a safe space for writers to share work is one of the most important things a host must do.

As hosts, we have a responsibility to look after the writers that we receive into our gatherings. Some writers, perhaps many writers, are vulnerable people. For some, writing is a way to deal with a great deal of emotional or physical pain.

Sharing what we have written is not so different to being totally naked.

It is very easy to feel exposed or at least a little nervous when sharing our work. After all, it a very intimate expression of our inner-self set before total strangers. As hosts of events, our job is to make our guests feel safe enough to share.

Creating a safe space for writers should be the objective of all hosts and organisers. I don’t know how it is in all writers groups, but I would like to think that most try to do just that.

Encouragement and support

While members are finding their feet within a group, one of the best things we as hosts can do is try to build up their confidence.

This can mean different things in each situation. It may mean encouraging members to give criticism which includes enthusiastic praise for what was done right, rather than focusing on what needs fixing. It may mean simply thanking a member when they share for the first time and acknowledging that the first time is always hard.

Sometimes all we really need to do is remember what it was like when we were starting out and remembering that we are not all on the same level (and that is perfectly fine).

Setting a good example to create a safe space for writers

As hosts, we often set the tone for an event and should be setting an example of exactly what we would like from other members. That’s not always as easy as it sounds.

For example, there have been times when I have been utterly shattered and a budding writer puts some work in my hand that is, frankly, hard to read. When I am tired I find it harder to concentrate on roughly written work and I find it even more tiring to maintain an even tone with my response.

For me, it is a cop-out to hand it back and simply claim “that was very good”. That’s what your mums is supposed to tell you but writers come to a group for more than that.

No matter how tired I am, or how little interest I have in the manuscript in my hands, I know, as host, that I must keep reading until I can give a mix of praise and a candid yet kind appraisal. I need to give something that the writer can use to further their craft.

Giving everyone a fair share of the time

A fair share of the time is not always the same thing as an equal share of the group’s time but the two are fairly similar. Sometimes it can be helpful to allow one member to occupy more time than any other – so long as it is not the same person each week.

On the other hand, it pays to watch out for “the talker”. I am a person that loves to talk – it’s what helps me overcome my own dyslexia and write anyway – but just as I have had to teach myself to shut up and let others speak there are times when the host needs to call time on a person.

If you ask, I will be the first to admit that when I am excited about a subject I can talk about it for a very long time. I mean seriously, have you seen how long this article is?

However, I have become acutely aware of just how much time I can take up talking about my work, about my thoughts on other people’s work, or my reaction to the latest Star Wars film (don’t get me started unless you love Star Wars too). This is why I write blog posts – so I can talk about topics I love and people who find those topics interesting can read them, we both win. But in a group setting, where time is finite we hosts must be a bit more careful.

Give shy people a chance to shine too

Part of creating your safe space for writers is making sure that strong personalities do not unduly dominate.

The talkers in the group can, without meaning to, deny the shyer members of the group a chance to contribute. In an open mic session this is less of a problem as you probably have set time limits but in a group discussion setting, we hosts need to be mindful of how much time any given member is using up.

The talker is usually someone who seems to love the sound of their own voice, or it can be someone like me who just gets very excited about stuff. As hosts, it can be helpful to have a clock or watch handy. It will not be long before it is clear who the most talkative members are. The trick is in figuring out how to gently bring them to a stop and draw out the other members so everyone can contribute.

We also have another responsibility – dealing with keen contributors that do not know what they are talking about. As hosts, we need to be aware of when bad advice is being offered and be ready to offer alternative views.

I can’t tell you how many times I have found myself saying the words “playing devil’s advocate for a moment…” It is a lot, I know that much.

Of course, this also requires that we ourselves know what we are talking about.

Knowing our craft

When people come to events we host, either as writers and poets or just as interested on-lookers, there is an expectation that we, the host, know what we are talking about.

I am not about to suggest that only experts can be hosts, far from it. Yet we must, I feel, do two very important things in this regard.

  1. Do our best to learn the theory of our craft
  2. Be very honest about our own limits

In fact, of the two tasks, honesty is perhaps the most vital and least easy. Let’s be honest, it takes a certain amount of ego to write things down in the expectation that others will find it worth reading. That same ego can often blind us to our own faults and shortcomings.

It is very easy to think that we know everything, or at least most of everything, even when we are barely more than rank amateurs ourselves.

Keeping egos in check

Just as we must make the effort to keep our ego in check, we may also be called upon to keep other egos from overwhelming the group too. That’s not always easy.

There have been times when that rare combination of strong self-confidence, an admitted talent, and many years of writing arrives along with a prima donna attitude. More often, the prima donna attitude is undeserved. In both cases, it is off-putting and intimidating.

I don’t envy the host who finds themselves faced with the task of keeping a huge ego sufficiently contained that the other members still have space to grow. I am not sure that I even have any particularly helpful advice to offer.

Fortunately, I have found that huge egos are not so common. Unfortunately, in place of a huge ego can come with another problem – the potential to overwhelm and bully.

Protection from bullies

Back in 2013 I started hosting writers workshops in my home. I had very little idea what I was doing. I was simply looking to engage with other writers on a topic that I loved. Surprisingly to me, this was a popular idea. But it was that very popularity that brought with it a harsh lesson.

The harsh lesson arrived in the shape of a charismatic yet dominating man. This guy made every effort to take over and control everything he could. He soon figured out who he could lean on to present his ideas for him.

Suddenly we had secret cliques and conflicts arose. “For the good of the group,” he would say before laying out his “reasonable” demands.

It turns out that just because I am a person who wants nothing more than to share a love of writing and to engage in reciprocal kindness and support not everyone is like that. There are those who, if I am honest, are best described as toxic people.

Dealing with toxic people is hard

Dealing with toxic people is hard. Yet, to maintain a safe space for writers, it is something we must do.

Sometimes toxic people are just people with more than their fair share of needs. In which case, good support can help them become better human beings and a great asset to a group. Others, well, with others the best you can do is wish them well and send them on their way. I can tell you this – it is not an easy decision to make.

If you are unlucky enough to have a covert bully among your attendees, they can do a lot of damage. Damage both to the group dynamics and the well-being of your writers. This can happen before you are even aware there is a bully.

Even once you have realised that there is a toxic person in the group, it can be hard – especially if you are somewhat sensitive – to bring yourself to remove them.

From experience, I can tell you that if you let a toxic person put down roots in your community, they can cause a lot of damage on the way out. I have learned that the hard way.

Being the sort of person who is unwilling to give up on anyone, no matter how hopeless the cause, this was not an easy lesson to learn. I can’t say that I have fully learned it yet but I am trying.

Yet, learn this skill I must. It is a vital skill that must be coaxed into existence, in much the same way a difficult scene must me, for the good of all the members who attend.

Setting some ground rules for a safe space for writers

Most of a host’s responsibilities could be summed up in a set of simple group rules. Those rules may be different for each group but they do exist.

Good rules can be an important part of creating a safe space for writers.

Rules such as “only one piece of work to be read per guest”, can help you be consistent. It helps to be consistent with the way you treat the people who attend. If only because people can learn to trust you when they see you are fair.

The “rules” can focus your attention on the areas that need it. I try to work on a rule of “everyone should be allowed an equal share of the allotted time”.

Work out how much time we have and divide that by the number of people. That is how much time it is fair for a single person to take up.

Rules need not be explicitly stated

It is not always necessary to express the rules, or even draw any attention to them at all. As long as you are consistent with your application of the rules, they will soon become part of the culture of the group.

On more than a few occasions, I have been delighted to hear members telling newcomers about the way we do things. I hear them explaining the rules which I’ve used but never told anyone about. There was no need to explain the rules because I was demonstrating them in the way I was acting.

I have noticed that the group culture is something people generally try and fit in with. Rules are there to be broken, it seems. Group culture, on the other hand, can quickly become set in stone. What that group culture will be is entirely down to you. As host, the way we act towards guests sets the tone.

Over to you

Those of us that host events for writers are doing something truly special. We are giving the community something very valuable. It is not always easy but I think it is always worthwhile.

I am sure there are many other things that we hosts can and maybe should be doing to create a safe space for all writers. What one would you add?

Have you been to an event with a particularly great host? What was it about the host that impressed you the most?

Do you host a writers’ event? What challenges have you faced and how did you tackle them? Have you had to deal with any of these issues? How did you approach them and what was the outcome?

Don’t let Imposter Syndrome stop you

imposter syndrome

Impostor syndrome is that nagging feeling that you are really a “fraud” and do not deserve your success.

For us writers, that nagging doubt that we are “not really writers” can be crippling. At Thanet Creative we have been talking about imposter syndrome and how it affects us. Some of our writers expressed surprise that it was actually “a thing” but most of us have felt it at one time or another.

Impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achievers. somewhat ironically the more talented a person is the more likely they are to feel this way. The opposite of impostor syndrome is illusory superiority, a cognitive bias whereby individuals overestimate their own qualities and abilities, relative to others.

It could be said that worrying that you are not good enough is a positive thing as it can indicate that you are doing well. On the other hand, the mistaken belief that you are miles better than everyone else should be a red light but often is not.

This disparity in confidence is why mediocre people sometimes out-perform true geniuses. Sometimes a little confidence (even if it is somewhat unjustified) can make all the difference.

According to the Telegraph, impostor syndrome is particularly a problem for women. This could explain why more men than women come to Thanet Creative Writers events. I would love to say that I had all the answers but I don’t. What I can do is tell you that no matter how good or bad you think you might be, just keep writing and you will improve.

In a truly ironic twist of fate, writing therapy is one of the best ways to overcome impostor syndrome. As a writer, if you are worried that you are not good enough, the answer may be to simply do more writing until the nagging doubt gets bored and leaves.

As writers, it is important to remember that if you write, then you are a writer. Something I try to remind myself and other writers on a regular basis.

A couple of years ago Forbes ran a story recommending that you stop comparing yourself to others and own your success. That is some good advice. Remember that if you write, then you are already a writer. So what good can come of negative comparisons?

Qz.com goes one step further, suggesting that if you don’t experience impostor syndrome at least some of the time, then there is a danger that you really are an impostor and don’t realise it. Impostor syndrome, they say, is a sign of success. They might be right.

For more advice, Writers Unboxed have an article on “how to overcome imposter syndrome as a writer” and Writers Hub have a page that advises “how to keep writing despite feeling like a fraud“. Jill Hackett, an author and writing coach, writes about overcoming imposter syndrome and making the transition from being a writer to being an author.

You are not alone in feeling like a fake. The secret is to just keep writing anyway.

Over to you.

  • Do you feel like a fraud?
  • Have you ever been the victim of imposter syndrome?
  • How did you cope and what kept you going?