Competition FAQ

Our competition has raised a few questions on the Facebook group. Here are as many answers as possible. All in one neat and tidy list.

Who can enter?

Anyone at all. Absolutely anyone. Charity members, group members, people who go to other groups, people that write, people that might like to write one day… Anyone who would like to can join in.

I’m not from Thanet, can I join in?

Yes, please do. Admittedly, when the theme is Thanet related you might need to do some homework but please don’t let that put you off.

How do I enter?

To enter the contest you need somewhere to post your entry. There are a lot of free sites that are ideal for this. By the end of the competition, you will have laid the foundations for a strong presence as a writer.

I already have a blog, can I use that?

Absolutely, yes. You will get the most out of this competition if the blog is wholly or mostly about you as a writer but feel free to use whatever you have.

I don’t have a blog, where do I post my entries?

There is a whole load of free services that you can use. They all count but some are easier to use than others.

Here are some ideas:

  • WordPress (will ping us with your entry)
  • Tumblr (remember to enable replies)
  • Quora (very easy to use)
  • Blogspot (popular but not always the best place to start)
  • Medium (the Facebook of blogging)
  • Weebly (a popular newcomer)

Do I have to write for all 12 themes?

Not if you do not want to. Although you will get the most mileage out of this competition by making an attempt at all 12. Each week is a sperate contest so there is no commitment to take part every week.

Do I have to comment on other people’s entries?

Of course not, however, this contest is all about building a sense of community and by giving a little love to others you will be more likely to receive love back. Love, in this context, being helpful feedback and nice comments.

Can I post a video instead of writing my entry?

Yes, if you want to. A video can be a great part of an authorial presence. I recommend posting a transcript if you can but you don’t have to.

Do I have to link to Thanet Creative Writers?

Linking is not an obligation as such but it does make it more likely that your platform will ping us to let us know about the post. A link also explains to your readers what you are doing and why you are writing for that topic which saves you from having to explain each week.

I’ve just made a WordPress blog for the contest, can I post other things too?

Absolutely, yes. The idea of this contest is that you get to build up a presence. If you have additional ideas then you should run with them.

Can’t I just post to my Facebook page (or my wall)?

You could and I will probably see it, but you will miss out on establishing a wider reach that owning your own content space provides. It is not very hard to set up a free blog or content space and publishers look for writers with an established presence so this should help you down the line.

I chose a platform that doesn’t ping, how do I make sure you see my entry?

Don’t panic. If you are not sure I have seen your entry at judging time, you can always share a link in the Facebook group or use the contact form to give us a heads up.

What do the winners get?

Winners get what everyone else gets – the joy of writing with the added benefit of building something to help you find a publisher down the line. Winners also get bragging rights, a prominent link, and probably everyone (or at least a lot of people) taking a look at their work to see what was so great about it.

What happens at the end?

When all 12 themes have had their winners announced I will explain how we are going to vote for an overall winning post. More on that later.

Do I have to keep my blog going after the competition?

That is up to you. Even if you post something once a month until the next contest you may find that having a creative outlet like that helps you stay focused on writing. Try it and see how it works out for you.

Any more questions?

If you have any more questions, please do feel free to ask. I will do my best to answer them all.

Telling Stories at GEEK 2017

This weekend I went to GEEK (Game Expo East Kent) which took place in Dreamland, Margate. While I was there I encountered three forms of storytelling – two that work well and one that does not.

The Story of GEEK

The first form of storytelling was the story of GEEK and Dreamland. On day two I met the storyteller in residence. His job was to record and tell the story of GEEK.

One of the ways he did that was to ask people to place stickers on boards. One board (shown), gave an impression of where people had come from. People, it turns out, have come from all parts of the country and other countries too, just to visit the game expo in Thanet. There were four stickers from people who had come from Romania to visit Thanet for GEEK.

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While every one of the many thousands of people that came to GEEK has their story to tell, GEEK itself has a story. When it comes to writing that is something worth remembering – no matter who you are telling the story for, the place the story is set has it’s own march larger story. Or, to put it another way, individual characters have a story that is just a part of a richer tapestry of story.

I am glad that GEEK are tapping into the wider story and I am looking forward to reading the story of GEEK.

The story form that does not work

I got to talk to a whole bunch of games developers at GEEK. With some of them, I spoke, at length, about story.

One of the interesting topics to come out of those discussions was how games get pitched. More and more often there are games pitches which start and stop on the story the game will tell. More than one developer has wondered if these people are frustrated film producers.

Games are fundamentally things you play with. They can have story or not. A good story can lift a good game to new heights but a great story can do nothing for a poor game.

Between us, we listed several games where we would pay good money to see a film based on the plot but the game itself was not the least bit fun to play.

At the end of the day, games are a medium with priorities that do not always include storytelling. Yet, with the right foundations of play and mechanics, a good story adds a dimension to a game that can be created no other way.

It was, we agreed, best to start with the game first and follow up with the story.

Then we found an exception that proved us wrong.

The exception

Late in the day on Saturday, I got talking to John William Evelyn, an artist, who had stripped back the mechanics of gameplay to the bare minimum in order to convert the medium of game into a medium for story telling.

I sat and played an utterly compelling demo of The Collage Atlas which is an exceptionally beautiful and novel “game”.

You know me, I love story telling. It should not be a surprise to anyone that I was somewhat captivated by this relaxing game. I anticipate that The Collage Atlas will be a must have game for me when it comes out.

The lesson for us as writers here is this: Whatever form you tell your story in, make sure the story is allowed to shine.

5 Great Sites for Writers

When it comes to writing advice there is a lot of junk out there. There is also a lot of really good content hidden among the junk. If you are willing to search, there is truly amazing advice that will supercharge your writing with its insights. Here are five (ish) links that I think you will definitely want to bookmark.

1. Bane of Your Resistance

Bane of Your Resistance is a blog all about overcoming resistance to writing (such as writers block or being too busy to write). The tag line actually says so you can stop feeling guilty and really enjoy writing again.

Bane of Your Resistance is written by Rosanne Bane, TEDx speaker and general expert on such things. Rosanne Bane is a creativity coach, writing and creativity instructor, speaker and author. In other words, she knows what she is talking about.

If you struggle with not writing, and we all have at some point, then Rosanne Bane is the person that you need to be reading.

2. Funds for Writers

Funds for Writers is a website all about getting paid as a writer. It tells you all about grants you could apply for, competitions that pay well, and much more. While this would be of more use if you like American dollars and live in, say, the USA, it is nevertheless a great place to get inspired to think outside the box about funding your writing.

This will not be a site for everyone. Taking what you learn on Funds for Writers and the American market and applying it to the UK is going to take some personal effort and for some of us, that effort is just not worth it. For those us willing and able to put in the time, Funds for Writers can be a great source of inspiration.

3. Writers Helping Writers

Some of the best advice for writers I have read was found on Writers Helping Writers. If you are looking for advice on creating vivid characters, demonstrating motivation, dealing with difficult issues of pain in a story, or any other topic (those were just the ones on the front page when I looked just now), I assure you that you will come away feeling inspired and educated.

As the title of the website says, this is a site where writers offer advice and help to other writers. All of the articles are geared this way and the quality of advice is very high.

I have seen plenty of “me too” sites where the drive for daily content has resulted in a declining quality of articles and a general desperation that drives the editors to publish any half-baked junk they get sent. Writers Helping Writers is just the opposite. It is a website packed to the nines with high-quality advice. Advice that you could and should read.

4. Better Novel Project

The Better Novel Project is a blog that deconstructs best-selling novels scene by scene to show you why and how the novel works the way it does.

Take, for example, How to Write a Fight Scene (in 11 Steps). This is not just one writer’s personal opinion but a breakdown of how such scenes work in best-selling stories.

Before I wrote this guide I had not seen the fight scene breakdown. I stopped writing this guide and read the fight scene article intently. I can honestly say I have a better idea of how to write a fight than I ever did before.

If you only read one new blog this year, read this one.

5. Stack Overflow, no seriously.

“Can you really mean that?” you might be asking. “But Matt,” you might say, “SO is a geek website all about computers.” (Which it is).

Stay with me for a moment because I am about to let you in a secret. There are subsections of SO that are just perfect for writers. The first is called Writers and the second is Worldbuilding. I get lost reading these sites sometimes and have had some great feedback on many complicated issues. For example, the conditions under which a moon could be terraformed.

For example, in World Building, I got very good scientific insight into the conditions under which a moon could be terraformed and how that process might actually work in a very specific scenario.

Before you go and get stuck in, you need to understand that this is not a forum and chit chat is not well tolerated. SO is a question and answer site. The idea is that the best questions and the best answers rise to the top and the community is very active towards that goal.

Writers and Worldbuilding can be powerful friends to help you plan and write you great novel but it is worth taking the introductory tour first.

A bonus mention

With so many great sites that I could recommend (and a few I could recommend you avoid) there were always going to be ones I had to leave out. Here is a bonus link: Writers in the Storm it is a blog, every bit as good as the others I have already shared. With a title like that, I had to include it anyway.

How to receive advice

There is a lot of advice about how to give advice but not so much on how to receive it. This seems wrong to me. Giving advice is something we all know how to do (or we think we do); receiving advice is a skill that is not so easy to master.

Being given advice is a mixed bag and no mistake. You need to be tough enough not to let the criticism get you down and yet open enough to let the advice of others guide you.

Realise that all people will sometimes be wrong

I am pretty sure it was Stephen King who said something like, if one person says something is wrong with your work then they are mistaken but if several people say there is something wrong with the same part of your work then they are probably right.

From this, I take that you should apply a pinch of salt to any feedback you get. At least half of the advice you get is going to be wrong or at least wrong for you.

People will say you need to do this or you need to change that. Sometimes they are right and sometimes they are wrong.

It is even harder when you really respect the advice giver’s work. If King, Rowling, or Gaiman came to a Thanet Creative Writers event, (after they were done signing autographs), I would probably follow every correction and advice they offered me, without question. The chances are, though, they would be wrong (at least once).

Everyone who gives you advice is to some degree wrong. It is up to you to figure out what they are wrong about. A big clue, as King says, is if lots of people tell you a passage is broken, then it might be worth fixing that passage.

Not all advice should be followed

Another writer I admire, Neil Gaiman said something to the tune of, if someone says there is a problem with a passage you wrote then they are probably right but if they tell you how to fix it then they are certainly wrong.

Other writers will often tell you how they think you should write your work. This is because we writers often offer advice as if we were applying our own techniques to our own work. There is nothing wrong with that as such. However, it does mean that some writers will give you advice that does not fit, for your style.

Just like all advice is wrong about something, all advice does not apply to you. Learn how to silently discard advice that is wrong for you.

Don’t defend you work

Your work is your baby. It might be an ugly baby but it is your baby. I covered a similar point in the article about giving advice.

If your work was published, you would not be able to go to the home of every reader and explain it to them. Even so, the temptation can be to try and defend you work, to explain what you were doing, or to show the other fellow how they are wrong. This is rarely helpful but it eats up time that could be used for getting or giving more advice.

If the other person is wrong or does not “get” your work, thank them, make a note that you might need to help some readers “get it”, and move on to the next thing.

The best place your answer or clarification can go is in the writing itself. That need to explain your writing after the fact only goes to show that you have a bit more work to do. That inner voice is simply your internal writer getting ready to do more work. Don’t waste that muse on just one person, share it with us all via your writing.

Listen actively

Active listening is a skill. I am not sure if I have mastered it yet, if I am honest. When getting advice or feedback, the best thing I can do is shut up. The same probably goes for you too. Planning on not saying anything gives maximum chance for your brain to take on board what you are being told.

That said, if you don’t understand the advice then ask the person to clarify. Remember you are here to listen to other people talking to you so the shorter your question the sooner you can go back to getting feedback.

I would love to say this is easy to do. Frankly, when I am excited about a topic I can talk forever about it. I know full well that shutting my mouth so my ears can listen takes effort. If you know of a way to make this super easy, please tell me.

Learn how to ignore destructive criticism

Sooner or later you will get advice from someone that is four parts spite to three parts rubbish. Worse, is the critique that simply says this sucks. This sort of advice is all about how you suck and not a lot of advice on how you can stop sucking.

My own mother, who is as sarcastic as I am, once gave me feedback on a short story which went something like it has been done before by other people and they did it better.

I laughed because normally mums say it was very good dear, but my mum was being a bit more honest. Sadly, this was also advice with just as little value in it for me. I love my mum but I also know that this was not advice I could do anything with.

Don’t let praise go to your head

Recently I have received feedback on a chapter from a draft novel. More than one person made a positive comparison to Douglas Adams’ work. This did wonders for my ego and for a few days after I felt like I had made it and was about to be very rich.

I had made the mistake of letting praise go to my head.

I have no advice on how to do it but don’t let praise go to your head. Praise is nice. It builds confidence and feels wonderful but it rarely helps you figure out how to make a good work even better.

Over to you

Do you have any tips to add? Have you been given feedback that changed everything? Have you been given criticism that crushed you? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Advice on giving advice

Giving advice to another writer is often part of being in a writer’s group. Generally simply saying what worked for you and what you felt could be better is all that is needed. 

Here is some advice on giving advice.

Remember what you are giving feedback on

Suzannah Windsor Freeman’s first tip in her 5 Keys to Giving Constructive Writing Critiques is, read thoroughly. You are giving feedback on writing, not the person, the paper, or the font choice.

You are giving feedback on someone’s work. Sometimes this is a work that has come from deep within the writer and they are very attached to. For example, positivewriter.com describes some work as an ugly baby – no matter how hideous the baby, it is still someone’s baby, so be gentle.

For example, writingforward.com suggests you Devour the Food, Not the Hostess. In other words, focus on the writing, not the writer.

Don’t forget the positives too.

For example, writingforward.com suggests that When you are giving a critique, always start by emphasising the good and positivewriter.com suggests that you start with the positive.

Don’t insult someone’s ugly baby, especially early on in the writing process. Ask questions to help the author find their story. Sometimes they’re too close to their own words to achieve objectivity. says positivewriter.com

Seek balance in your feedback

Suzannah Windsor Freeman reminds us to Praise, but don’t sugarcoat. It is possible to be “too nice” as well as “too harsh”.

Put criticism between praise

If in doubt, there is always the feedback sandwich a shortcoming slipped between two positive points. This is something that Celes from personalexcellence.co suggests. She says, I refer to the feedback sandwich as PIP, which stands for Positive-Improvement-Positive.

Try using two pens

It might sound crazy but use two pens when giving feedback.This is a suggestion from weareteachers.com. If you have one colour for the positives you have noted and another for the things that need work, you can see instantly if you are being balanced.

Follow-up

Sometimes feedback can be a little crushing. Having handed out a dose of reality to a writer are you ready to follow up on it? This is why writingforward.com suggest that you Nurse the Hangover. In other words, contact the writer a few days later and see how they are getting on.

At Thanet Creative Writers some of our guests at Tea and Chat will bring back the same writing three or four times. While it can be a chore to read similar work over and over it also is a joy to see a story grow into something special. However, not everyone will do that so think about following up with people whose work you have given feedback on. After all, I am sure you would feel better if others did the same or you. I know I do.

Over to you

Do you have any tips to add? Have you given feedback that really helped? Have you had truly great or very bad feedback? Tell us about it in the comments below.