Pen To Print

Thoughtful Tuesdays: Recipes For Success

By Eithne Cullen

Our theme this week is ‘Recipes For Success.’ Here at Pen to Print, when we began thinking about recipes for success, we had writing very much on our minds.

My page today features pieces from Juneha Chowdhury, one of the Book Challenge winners and Ian Ayris who has been involved with the initiative from the start as a creative writing tutor and Book Challenge mentor. We’ve also got something from writer Tony Ballantyne, who has previously shared his work with Write On! Extra.

Here’s a little recipe I used myself, during Readfest – Pen to Print’s annual feast of all things reading and writing, I asked people joining the virtual workshops (and some other writers I know) for a rhyming couplet about books, reading, writing and living in east London… I received some brilliant ones! I then mixed my ingredients together and combined them to make a poem. Here’s an extract from it, to give you a little flavour of how it turned out:

The Longest Poem In Barking And Dagenham

We’re writing a poem to celebrate Readfest
Made up of couplets, we hope you’re impressed.
We celebrate the joys of reading and writing
Creative imaginings are really exciting.
And for some reading’s a pastime they like,
Much safer than diving or riding a bike.
Joyous are those, who hold a pen or a book
Or perhaps that is just my idiosyncratic outlook
Need an anti-Covid hobby? The winter will be cold
Let’s take reading on board to make a better world
Reading was my escape from life
My hideaway from reality’s strife.
Books exist for many reasons, they motivate and inform readers
Some insightful titles encourage book lovers to become leaders
But wouldn’t you say to hold a book is the most wonderful feeling
And its sweet smell of new voyages and old paper, awfully healing?

(c) Eithne Cullen, 2020

With thanks to Nina, Evangeline, Esme, Erin, Lisa, Abbie, Claire, Holly, Juneha, Palak, Holly and Claire.

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Here are Juneha’s thoughts on the topic:

Recipe For Writing Success

Two years ago, I almost didn’t enter the Pen to Print book challenge; then, having been shortlisted, I nearly bottled out from completing the book. Me, who wasn’t used to writing more than two paragraphs in a day, was expected  to write 50,000 words in six months? It felt like a punchline, especially when a month in, a crushing moment of self- doubt grabbed me by the jugular and refused to let go. Not only did I go on to complete the book in question,  though, I also went on to win the competition that year. How? By following this simple recipe:

1. Have a plan – organisation is key!

A simple outline of what you hope to achieve, e.g. Week one: Write opening scene. Week Two – Finishing drafting chapter one. Tick it off as you go along.

2. But don’t set it in stone.

It’s only a guide. If it’s not working, change it. You haven’t failed; you’ve made progress!

3. Press play and pause only when you need to.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll procrastinate and find something else to do other than the thing that really needs doing. You want to write that crucial scene today. It’s been keeping you up all night. But when it comes to it, you’d rather take out the bins,  because you’re feeling rubbish and the thought of sitting in front of a computer screen and not being able to churn out the words is scary, so you’d rather avoid it. It’s as though you’ve decided on your journey and you’ve booked your ticket, only to find your road is blocked. Get out of the way! Who is that idiot?!

It’s you. Yes, you!

So – stop blocking your journey, sit down, breathe and start writing!

4. Find your working window and set yourself some mini-deadlines.

Everyone has a time of day when they’re most efficient. For me it’s the three hours right after the kids have gone to school. Find your own window and work within it to reach mini-milestones.

You are not a robot, true, but give yourself forever and believe me, forever it will take!

5. Change your motto (or your movie!) from Mission Impossible to Who Dares Wins.

Stop comparing yourself to those writing heroes who make you wish you could borrow their cape, if only for a couple of hours a day. The ones that write polished chapters and tense gripping paragraphs in the first draft and have you turning the pages and it only takes them ten minutes. They don’t exist, and even if they did, tough! You’re not them, they’re not you.  Get over it, and do your thing.

But what if it really is pants?

6. Make small realistic goals to make it less pants. Write or fix a few paragraphs and then I’ll treat myself to a cream cake is more achievable and desirable than Write three whole chapters and I will just die if they don’t end up sounding top-notch. Start with a sentence, then move on to a paragraph, then move on to a page. Don’t set yourself a mountain to climb when you’re still struggling to get up that hill!

7. Be kind to yourself. You’ve had a really bad day. Your writing capability is zero words. So what? You’re human – we stuff up sometimes, and sometimes life just gets in the way. Other things have to  take priority. Get a grip, it’s OK, move on, and even if today is the worst possible writing day in the history of mankind, in all probability tomorrow WILL be better.

© Juneha Chowdhury, 2020

You can connect with Juneha on Twitter: @junehachowdhury

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Ian Ayris has written about his success story:

How I Became A Published Author – And What I Learnt Along The Way . . .

One day, as I pushed the littl’un in the pushchair back from Tesco, a voice came into my head. A harsh voice. A sweary voice. A voice dripping with bitterness and violence and rage. When I got home, I wrote down the words the voice said, hoping it would then leave me alone.

To my surprise, those words turned into a short story.

Having written nothing since I’d left school at 15, I had no idea what to do with this odd, sweary, violent tale. After wandering around the Internet for a while, I stumbled upon a writing site and posted the story online. Within a couple of hours, a publisher contacted me asking if he could publish my story and if I had any more. I remember being a little bemused, not realising exactly what he meant. I told him I wasn’t a writer, and this was the only story I had. He told me to write some more.

That original story – My Mate Tel – was published three months later in the eponymous, the legendary, Radgepacket, by the equally legendary Byker Books.

I was 41 years old.

Within the year, I had 20 or so other short stories published, and a novel.

The publication of the novel followed the same unlooked-for path as that first short story. I’d write a chapter – having no idea what the next chapter would be – and email it to my mate Nick (Quantrill) – a published, and brilliant, author in his own right – not realising he was sending each chapter to his publisher. Three months later, when I’d finished the novel, I got an email from a publisher Caffeine Nights;  a publisher I’d never heard of or even formally submitted to, offering me a contract to publish the novel: Abide With Me.

After an amazing tour, signing books in a dozen Waterstones bookshops, and selling out of copies from a table on the pavement outside the best bookshop in the world – the Newham Bookshop in east London – I took my book to Lena Smith at Dagenham Library and asked her if she’d consider stocking it in the library. To my surprise, she said yes. She asked me in return if I’d say a few words at the inauguration of the Pen to Print Project in a couple of months’ time. I’d never spoken in public before, but I said yes anyway. Not long after, Lena asked if I’d be interested in setting up and running the Beginners And Advanced Creative Writing Workshops for the project, and also becoming a mentor. I said yes again. Twice.

I have now been in this role for six years, and have loved every second.

What did I learn from these experiences?

Say yes to every opportunity that comes your way. Don’t be afraid of reaching out – either in person or online – there is an incredibly supportive writing community waiting for you. Give back to others. Write reviews. Build relationships.

To be a writer takes only two things: courage and humility. Write with courage, conduct yourself with humility. Both go a long way.

Oh, just a couple more things . . .

In life, it can be difficult when you attach too much significance to the outcome of a situation. You have very little control over most outcomes. In the world of publishing, you have even less. Write, submit, let it fly into the ether, then write something else.

And go easy on yourself. Lighten up. Try not to use writing as another stick to beat yourself with.

After all, it’s only words.

© Ian Ayris, 2020 

Connect with Ian on Twitter: @ianayris Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ian.ayris Publisher’s author page: https://fahrenheit-press.myshopify.com/search?type=product&q=ian+ayris Website: www.ianayris.org

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Here’s Tony’s take on the theme:

I’ve heard people say there’s no recipe for success. That’s like saying there’s no recipe for baked Alaska.

There’s a recipe, there are probably lots of recipes. But even with a recipe, there’s no guarantee you can make one, that takes a lot of skill and practice. (I say that because I just googled hardest recipes.)

So, what’s the recipe for writing success?

Top editor CC Finlay says:
Seduce me with a great story, something that grabs me gently but firmly from the first sentence, that holds me tight the whole way, that flips me around when I least expect it. Something that’s emotionally connected and delivers a deeply satisfying payoff at the end.

Dan Harmon, writer of Rick and Morty applies this pattern when writing stories
– A character is in a zone of comfort
– But they want something
– They enter an unfamiliar situation
– Adapt to it
– Get what they wanted
– Pay a heavy price for it
– Then return to their familiar situation
– Having changed

John Yorke, author of Into the Woods and head of BBC Writers’ Academy, says that all stories follow five acts:
– Call to arms
– Things go well; the initial objective
– Things start to go wrong as forces of antagonism gather strength
– Things go really badly wrong crisis, the worst point
– Final battle

All of these are great recipes for writing a successful story.  But a recipe is not a formula. Recipes are made to be tweaked, to be played with. You’re expected to bring your own creativity to bear. And what about the seasonings?  My Six Tips on… Series might help you there.

Do writers really follow those recipes? Some do, some don’t.  I like to follow my subconscious when writing a story, to follow the characters. But that’s just the first draft. Most of the short stories in my recent Midway Collection were written on the road, on my iPad or phone. Or rather, the first drafts were.

Once I’ve written a story, I like to look at the above recipes and think: will applying them make my story better?

The answer is nearly always yes.

© Tony Ballantyne, 2020

Connect with Tony: https://tonyballantyne.com Tech Blog: https://tech.tonyballantyne.com Blog: https://blog.tonyballantyne.com/

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There’s a lot of advice there for all would-be writers. Talking of which, have you something to submit? Send your pieces to pentoprint@lbbd.gov.uk

We’ll be looking at the subjects of Halloween and what history doesn’t tell us in the next few weeks.

Don’t forget, Issue 5 of Write On! is available to read here, just click for access.

Say yes to every opportunity that comes your way. Don’t be afraid of reaching out – either in person or online – there is an incredibly supportive writing community waiting for you. Give back to others. Write reviews. Build relationships.