Category Archives: Writing tips

Using submission calls as a writing prompt – and an invitation

Using submission calls as a writing prompt – and an invitation
Using submission calls as a writing prompt – and an invitation

Here’s a little invitation to come to sit at my table and join my weekly writing group for a session – without leaving your computer.  I thought I might share what I do in the two hours I run the group and perhaps you’ll want to join in with us all…. you may be on a train, you may be at home, or a cafe. You’re welcome wherever, whenever!


We have been looking at form this term. Last week, we explored Tanka with mixed enthusiasm. This week, I wanted to look at how we write in form naturally, with our own language and unique experience and ability to get our message across.

So the first exercise was to write a list of all the forms of writing each person uses without necessarily thinking about on a day to day basis. This could include thank you letters, health and safety reports, evaluations, tweets, advertising copy etc etc.

Then each writer picked up one of the photographs and postcards I collect and had scattered round the table – obviously you can’t do that, so I suggest you google ‘surreal images’ and pick one.  Don’t try to think too hard, the best results come when you think ‘oh my god, I can’t make this work. I really can’t, this is hopeless…’ until, click, something slips into place.

Because…. you are now going to use one of your written forms and link it to the image. We had some wonderful surprising results – an advert to win an afternoon of someone’s happy childhood, a thank you letter expressing what someone really thinks, a health and safety report for a cow with wings etc etc etc.

Set your timer for eight minutes and go….

Then we read out – with these first draft readings we just listen and admire, rather than comment. It’s always one of my favourite parts.

Following this we read and discussed this piece on actively getting 100 rejections by Deb Wain in Tulpa Magazine, and looked at what it meant – not just shifting the emphasis from product to process but also discipline. It’s part of the writing circle. Too often we can get stuck in freewriting, coming up with the ideas but not finishing them off which uses a different part of the writing brain.

Then we had coffee, filled up our drinks, caught up with other writers for five minutes. It’s not all hard work!

Coming back to the table, I handed out a sheet with these five current (as I’m writing this) submission calls. The writers had to pick one and come up with something then and there. Before they started writing, I discussed how some of my best work has come from commissions – because I often had to work hard to find out how I connected with the subject, where my heart was, why this often random subject could become mine.

So here you go…. good luck! If you need another way into these subjects, I offered that they might go back to the original list of writing forms they wrote at the beginning and use one of them to approach their chosen prompts…

Do let me know if you follow any of these, perhaps send a link if you get one published, and I hope you find this mini writing session helpful! 



  1. Write inspired by this picture… anything, anyhow… (

visual verse

  1. Write a piece NO MORE than 300 words using as many of these seven words as you can… (

On December 15th, 2017, we learned through reliable news sources such as the Washington Post that the Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the Center for Disease Control from using seven words in their official documents: The words are as follows: “evidence-based”, “science-based” “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” and “fetus.” This isn’t dystopian fiction. This is real.

  1. Write a non-fiction piece on something beautiful in your every day. It should be 250 words or less. (

Glimpses, glimmers, meditations, moments, reflections, refractions, interrupted shadows, river shimmers, darkened mirrors, keyholes, kaleidoscopes, earring hoops, slabs of cracked granite, cracks where the light gets in. Beautiful things.

  1. Write a poem based on the theme of women’s suffrage – 100 years anniversary… (
  2. Use ‘contagion’ as your theme…. (

We are intimate with the end of things. Infection comes from close contact. Out of control, it makes us crazy. Suspicion plants its roots deep and spores. Trust nobody. This is the threat. It is enormous but made of tiny things that are everywhere. We speak for it with our words that aren’t ours. Nothing is ours. The threat is panic. What sneaks in will eat us up whole. It is getting too close, it is sticky on our fingertips. Are you afraid of other people? How they touch you, love you, need you, change you? How they look like you and can rearrange you? We come together in touch. This is contagion. Don’t be touched if you want to survive. And you want to survive. With plague comes suspicion, comes isolation, comes hysteria, comes total destruction.

Five Ways To Get Published!

Five Ways To Get Published!

I was lucky enough to spend Saturday with ten other writers at the Get Published! Course I was running for the University of Kent. I’ve run this several times, and it’s one of my favourite workshops – not least because writers come full of (often self-induced) pressure about what they ‘should’ be doing, and leave seeing WHAT they could do. It’s too easy to forget that writing and publishing can be fun, but this is what people said after the course:

I am not sure what I imagined but this was beyond my expectations. I think I had expected just to sit writing notes but your talking and exercises certainly made me think. I really hadn’t realised there was so much out there. I didn’t have the tools… but now I do. KB

…it has definitely inspired me to take the step and get some of my work out there. AH

Very many thanks for the motivation which floated and fluttered around the room in Tonbridge on Saturday. It was such an enjoyable day and just what was needed to spur us all into action (sounds as if some have already been spurred) … KM

So let me share just five points from the workshop:

1. Never submit your writing as a way of telling you whether you are a good writer, or not. Even bestselling writers get rejections…. Write your best piece. And then edit, and edit. If it comes back, it may be that that wasn’t the right place for you. You have two options – to cry and swear you will never write anything ever ever ever again OR send it out again and write another piece…

2. Make sure you read contemporary poetry and fiction. Support literary magazines. This is the world you want to be part of, after all. If you can’t afford subscriptions, or don’t know where to start, visit The Poetry Library at the Royal Festival Hall. It’s free to join and anyone can read through the marvellous wall of up to date magazines they have there.

3. Be prepared. We wrote author biographies and looked at submission letters so that we were all ready to submit our work. How, we wondered, are biographies written in third-person, with a smidgeon of interesting personal facts, and consisting of just 50-100 words are so PARTICULARLY hard to do. Look at magazines to see how other people have done it and don’t feel embarrassed about asking someone else to look over it. Often we forget to include the key things about ourselves.

4. Don’t spend all your time writing just one perfect poem and then researching the one perfect place to submit it too. In fact, use submitting work as a prompt to write more. Visual Verse may be a good place to start, as it provides a monthly photograph to write to.

5. Don’t be rude, follow the guidelines, respect the editors who might be volunteers and, if not, certainly won’t be making a fortune from you anyway. They are wonderful, and we should be grateful to them for reading our work. S0 say hello, say thank you (even if it’s a rejection) and remember editors are human too. And if you think I’m joking – read this poem by Josephine Corcoran.

And yes, have fun!

Details of more workshops can be found here

Six ways to keep motivated while writing long projects

Six ways to keep motivated while writing long projects

I’m midway through two long writing projects at the moment. Lucky me, but you know, there are times when I miss that PING of adrenalin that comes from actually finishing something.

So here are the six things that are helping to keep me on track and motivated right now:

  1. – This site is all about encouraging you to write 750 words every day (it’s kind of in the name!). Run by two writers, it’s based around The Artist’s Way morning pages, but you write online and it provides all the challenges, badges and graphs I could hope for. It also keeps your writing safe in case you wanted to come back to it at any time, but I cut and paste for my own files.
  2. Balanced – my writing friend, Viccy Adams, told me about this app and I love it. It’s not for writing, or at least not just for writing. How it works is that you fill in certain things you want to do and how often, and it keeps a check on them for you, gently reminding you if you’re behind. They can just be simple things – I put down to go for a walk every day because, daft as it seems, when I’m in the middle of writing a scene I can forget to step outside. It’s a bit like a nanny – it’s even got me to drink lots more water, but you can add fun things too. Dance twice a day…. I like it!
  3. TeuxDeux – I use paper to-do lists as well because I’m a to-do list person, but this version – which links across my phone and computer – is the most easy and accessible one I’ve found to use. If I don’t write it down, it seems, I just forget to do things. Ho hum. I even wrote down to do this blogpost today so now I can give myself a great big …tick
  4. Pomodoro – this app is an oldie but goldie, timing you in chunks of 25 minutes writing, short break, another 25 minutes, and so on. I’ve found it a lot more effective than writing in one long gulp. Of course I could just use a kitchen timer, but that having my phone click away the minutes means I’m not checking emails or twitter. (nb I use an iphone so the link above is to apple, but there are others here)
  5. Freedom – speaking of internet distractions, I hate love this one. Download the programme, then type in how long internet free time you want and it won’t let you on back on at all until that time is over. No matter how much you beg. Essential.
  6. Yoga with Adriene – and lastly, I’m lucky in that I have a great yoga studio just down the road, but when I’m working well I don’t always want to break the mood for too long. I don’t know who Adriene is, but I think she might be an angel because she offers great yoga lessons absolutely free. Most are approximately 30 mins long, and can be done without complicated equipment, right in front of your computer. Because you know,  the writer may be the one who stays in the chair until the words are down, but I still don’t want to be particularly shaped like the chair when I finally type the end!

So that’s my list – what helps you write?

Getting it right

Getting it right

It still makes me smile when beginner writers beat themselves up for not writing a perfect draft first time round. So in the spirit of sharing, here’s a current work in progress…. there may be a word or two of the original left by the end, but I’m not entirely sure!