What Kind of Writer Do You Want to Be?

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Hi, all. This is another chapter for my writing book for children. Any feedback is much appreciated.

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Saying you want to be a writer is a bit like saying you want to be an athlete. There are lots of different kinds of sports. And there are lots of different kinds of writing. Most kids start out by writing fiction (such as stories about aliens or adventures or animals) and non-fiction (such as essays about what you did over the summer). But by the time you’re all grown up, you’ll realise that there are a lot more – sometimes very specific – options for the kind of writer you might want to be.

Here are a few that you will have heard of and maybe a few that you’ve never even thought about. Continue reading

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Does Your Book Pass the Bechdel Test? Does It Need To?

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The Bechdel test was developed in 1985 in – perhaps unusually – the comic strip of Alison Bechdel, an American cartoonist and 2014 recipient of a MacArthur “Genius Grant”. In it, two women discuss going to the movies and one of them outlines her requirements for seeing any of the films being shown. They have to meet three criteria:

*The movie has at least two female characters.
*The two female characters talk to each other.
*The conversation is about anything other than a man.

Bechdel credits the idea to her friend Liz Wallace, who was in turn apparently inspired by some of Virginia Woolf’s writing. Twenty-five years later, the Bechdel test gained mainstream recognition (maybe a sign of the times). Continue reading

Spelling

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Hi, all. I’m hoping you can help me with something. A couple of months ago, I posted about wanting to write a book about writing for child writers. This is the first chapter I’ve written and I’d love some feedback on whether it’s appropriate for the target audience. (I like to think there’s something in it for us grown-ups too.) Thanks.

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Why Is Spelling Important for Writers?
Wen a werd iz speld rite, it’s eze-er 2 reed. Wen a sintins iz speld rite, the meenin iz eze-er 2 unerstan. wen a howl artycall, storie or bok iz speld rite, ur reedr well no wat u wer tring 2 til thum.

What? Let me make it clear by fixing up the spelling.

When a word is spelled right, it’s easier to read. When a sentence is spelled right, the meaning is easier to understand. When a whole article, story or book is spelled right, your reader will know what you were trying to tell them. Continue reading

How to Write Your Author Biography

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Harry: “Why don’t you tell me the story of your life.”
Sally: “The story of my life?”
Harry: “We’ve got eighteen hours to kill before we hit New York.”
Sally: “The story of my life isn’t even going to get us out of Chicago. I mean nothing’s happened to me yet. That’s why I’m going to New York.”
Harry: “So something can happen to you?”
Sally: “Yes.”
Harry: “Like what?”
Sally: “Like I’m going to journalism school to become a reporter.”
Harry: “So you can write about things that happen to other people.”
Sally: “That’s one way to look at it.”
When Harry Met Sally

It’s strange but the one thing writers seem to struggle with the most is the subject they know better than anyone else: themselves. Perhaps that’s because writing an author biography is about finding the balance between arrogance and unworthiness (something everybody struggles with, of course, but only writers have to put the results down on paper). Toot your own horn without at least a smidge of self-deprecation and potential readers may write you off as a narcissist. Fail to toot your own horn enough and potential readers may write you off as a nobody who doesn’t have the right to ask them for an hours’ long commitment.

Perhaps it’s also because an author biography tends to be something we dash off at the last minute instead of giving it the thought and attention it really deserves. You’ve spent months, possibly years, polishing a piece of writing and now that it’s being published, you need a few paragraphs that will be appended to the end of it to enlighten readers about the person it came from. But if you feel like “nothing’s happened” to you, then it can be tough no matter how long you spend on it.

There is no foolproof template for writing an author biography but here are a few things that might help get your creative juices flowing about your least favourite topic. Continue reading

Getting Around the Censors: Making Up Your Own Swear Words

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Let’s face it, unless you’re a saint, the occasional swear word (also known as curse words in certain parts of the world) will slip out every now and then. Whether you’re stuck behind the world’s worst driver or you’ve dropped something on your foot, sometimes it just happens.

But having characters in fiction drop the “s”, “f” and “c” words – amongst an array of offensive others – can have some readers, publishers and moral guardians shaking their heads in disapproval. To get around this, certain writers have simply made up their own swear words. Continue reading

The Thirty Books That Spark My Joy

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Anyone who doesn’t live under a rock will have heard of Marie Kondo, the tidying expert. She helps people to declutter their homes and their lives and when it comes to books, she lives by the following motto: “I now keep my collection of books to about thirty volumes at any one time.”

As happens frequently on the internet, this statement went through a huge round of Chinese (or perhaps that should be Japanese, in light of her nationality) whispers and suddenly everyone was saying that Marie Kondo was telling people to throw away most, if not all, of their books.

She wasn’t saying that. Her general advice is that the items you do keep should spark your joy. And if books spark your joy, then feel free to have as many of them as you want.

Books spark my joy. I have thousands. I have an entire room just for my books. I could have bought a cheaper house if books didn’t spark my joy so much. Still, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to find the thirty books that really spark my joy. Continue reading

The Question Every Writer Is Asked: What’s Your Real Job?

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At Christmas last year, I was talking to my eleven-year-old niece about what she wanted to be when she grew up.

“An author,” she said. I threw my arms around her, mostly in solidarity but a little in sympathy since I knew what she was in for. A bit of success but more often than not a lot of struggle.

In January, just over a month later, at my sister’s birthday party, my niece and I were having the same conversation with my twelve-year-old nephew. “You can get paid to play Fortnite, you know,” he told me. There was a tournament being held at the Australian Open that weekend with half a million dollars in prizemoney available.

“But what will your other job be?” I asked. He looked at me blankly. “Getting paid to play Fortnite is a pretty sweet gig so there will be lots of people who want that job. But not everyone can get paid to play Fortnite so you’ll probably need another job,” I explained. He couldn’t come up with anything else and that’s okay because he’s twelve. Continue reading