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Grizzles and Grumps

Grizzles and Grumps

Feel like  a grizzle? You’ve come to the right place. Perhaps you can't come up with a great idea. Or your writing isn't flowing. Or you've just had a rejection. I work as a writing tutor and have done for over six years. I reckon I've probably marked, let's see ... twenty writing assignments a week so that's over a thousand a year - maybe six thousand altogether. Is that right? I was never good at Maths. Anyway, whether it's sixty or six thousand and sixty, I've read a lot of writing and responded to a lot of grizzles and grumps.

Here are some of them.

1. I can't come up with a great idea.

You know, this used to be my biggest problem too. These days, I have so many ideas I have to file them away and hope I'll get to them some day. Once you start thinking like a writer, your brain seems to understand the challenge and ideas begin to turn up uninvited. But that's not helping you today. Here are three get-started exercises that have worked for me.

· Start with characters.

Open a magazine and choose three pictures of people you don't know, including a child. Get them talking to another. It doesn't matter what they're saying, just write. Cartoonist Chris Browne (who draws Hagar the Horrible) once said: "Don't tell your characters what to say. Let them tell you."

Now add something really dramatic. An announcement. A revelation. An abduction. A robbery. A flood. The arrival of a pop star, a spaceship, a long-lost relative, the school principal.

Keep writing. You might just have a story.

· Use Google.

Google is great. It contains every idea in the history of the universe. Do you need a dramatic event? Key in ‘dramatic event' and see what pops up.  Do you need something quirky or oddball? Simple. Type in ‘oddball'. I just tried this and came up with a shoe company, a kids' game and some wicked pictures of oddball contraptions including powered roller-blades.. There are more ideas here than you can poke a stick at (to quote my dear grandmother).

· Use a story starter. Here's one ...

A sickening smell creeps down the stairs, a stench of guts and garbage.  The dog whimpers.
(Insert character name) grips the handrail and sucks in his/her breath.

Copy this and KEEP GOING ...

2. I get stuck halfway through a story.

Don't sweat it. Make some herbal tea, walk around the block, play with the dog. You'd be amazed at how well diversion works. Your subconscious will continue mulling over the problem if you give it a little breathing space.

If all else fails, begin a different part of your story.

3. I can't come up with a great ending.

Sometimes you have reached the ending without realising it. It may be a few paragraphs or pages back. Check back and see if there's a finishing spot at an unexpected place.

Beginnings often hold clues to endings. Say your main character is eating a sherbet stick in the opening scene. You take her through a series of life-changing events until finally, at the end of the story, she's offered a sherbet stick. Does she take it? No. She's different now. She prefers an after dinner mint. (NB: The  ‘sherbet stick' could be anything, even a love interest.)

4. Ouch! I've just had a rejection.

Ouch, indeed. It hurts, doesn't it?

Here's a story that might cheer you up. A friend of mine often has poems published in children's magazines. The other day at a writers' meeting, she was ecstatic. "Another acceptance," she cried, waving a thin envelope. "They took one out of seven."

"Oh well done," said someone else. "That's a good average."

You see how it is? The odds of getting rejected are high so it helps if you expect rejection.

Hah, I hear you cry, shouldn't I be thinking positively? Yes! Be positive that someone will accept your work but you just haven't found them yet. Keep sending your story out. Only when it comes back over and over, should you consider revision. (Of course you are submitting a piece of work that has already been redrafted many times and is well-crafted.)

Here are some famous rejection stories:

A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L'Engle) received over thirty rejections and took ten years to get published. Her book went on to win a Newbery Medal.

Stephen King had over thirty rejections for Carrie.

James Patterson's novel The Thomas Berryman Number was turned down by more than two dozen publishers. After being published by Little, Brown in 1976, it won the Edgar Award for best first mystery novel.

And just before you send out that manuscript again, you might enjoy this rejection
"We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity."

© Jill McDougall 2007
Jill has written over ninety books for children. You can find more writing tips at http://www.jillmcdougall.com.au

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