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Working on the Warlock—Writers Collaborating

writing collaboration

Writing collaborations—duet or disaster?

Sean McMullen|21 December 2014

Working on a writing project with another author can be tricky. It’s easy to see why some authors avoid joint ventures like poison. On the other hand, collaborations can be a great way to increase output and reduce writing time.

I recently began collaborating with the author Paul Collins on a six-part Young Adult fantasy series called The Warlock’s Child.

Two and a half months after preliminary discussions I had the first of the six The Warlock’s Child novellas in my hands. If there isn’t already a proverb saying ‘Two minds make light work’ there should be. When a collaboration runs smoothly, writing time can be dramatically reduced and output increased. That’s the good news.

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Overcoming writer’s block

Dealing with writer's block

Creative block can be a writer’s most distressing afflication.

Pandora Hope|13 December 2015

The very phrase ‘writer’s block’ is enough to send a chill down my spine. A fortunate few never experience it, so legend says, but for me ‘the blank page’ is an ever present threat. Is today the day I sit down at the laptop and write…absolutely nothing?

The wonderful Anne Dillard is the woman I turn to on days like this, and her advice never fails to  lubricate the rusty cogs of a stubbornly silent mind. Her ‘The Writing Life’ should be compulsory reading for all aspiring writers, and the following inspirational extract is just one reason why:

“When you are stuck in a book; when you are well into writing it, and know what comes next, and yet cannot go on; when every morning for a week or a month you enter its room and turn your back on it; then the trouble is either of two things. Either the structure has forked, so the narrative, or the logic, has developed a hairline fracture that will shortly split it up the middle — or you are approaching a fatal mistake. What you had planned will not do. If you pursue your present course, the book will explode or collapse, and you do not know about it yet, quite.

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On the art of writing—Sir Arthur Quiller-Coach
“Literature is not an abstract Science, to which exact definitions can be applied. It is an Art rather, the success of which depends on personal persuasiveness, on the author’s skill to give as on ours to receive.
I shall waste no words on the need of this: since the first aim of speech is to be understood. The more clearly you write the more easily and surely you will be understood… Further … the more clearly you write the more clearly you will understand yourself.”

Judged by the fifth line

Five Line Test

Some readers (and editors) will judge your book by the first five lines

Sean McMullen|5 January 2015

Like to know how it looks from the other side of the submissions desk? When I visited the late Peter MacNamara, publisher of Aphelion Press, he challenged me to score a pile of manuscripts out of ten by reading the first page. I gave very similar scores to his by reading the first four or five lines. None scored well. None of those first few lines had any sort of hook or intriguing elements, and there was little incentive to reader further. Was a masterpiece rejected for want of a well-written five lines? Sadly, we’ll never know…

Here are twenty lines from four novels. All of them contain hooks, though the hooks used by these authors are very different.

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Getting your readers hooked

A hook like this intrigues readers

A hook like this intrigues readers

Pandora Hope & Sean McMullen|11 December 2014

A hook is a device or technique that intrigues readers and persuades them to read on. Generally it works by appealing to the very thing that got the cat killed. Yes-curiosity! John Wyndham’s ‘The Day of the Triffids’ begins “When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.” Want to know what’s going on? Sure you do. My story ‘A Ring of Green Fire’ begins “As I was walking through Westbury Forest, I met a man with a ring of green fire around his penis.” Okay—a penis with a green halo. Have I got your attention?

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Telling Tales


Pandora Hope|4 December 2014

“A truth hidden in plain sight is this—the primary purpose of writing is to be read. Your words, however persuasive, bedazzling, enlightening or life-changing,  serve no purpose until they are read. The job of the writer is to use all the arts at her disposal to seduce the reader into her work. There is little disagreement about this. Vigorous debate, however, continues about the methods of seduction.”

When I first read this quote I thought what you’re probably thinking. Well, that’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? But the ‘truth hidden in plain sight’ got me thinking. However brilliant your writing is, if no one is going to read it…well, it’s pretty pointless, isn’t it? And guess what, I had to admit I was usually too busy trying to create awesome/clever/sizzling words to focus on the ‘hidden in plain sight’ question: “How do I get people to read this?”

It was a moment of bitter enlightenment. I’d gotten my chickens and eggs mixed up. Because whether I wrote an email, a letter, a story, an advertisement or a job application, I certainly wanted it to be read. It didn’t matter how ‘awesome’ I thought the piece was if no one read it except me, congratulating myself on my lonely awesomeness. Mulling about lonely awesomeness got me seriously focused on the seduction bit of the quote. It takes two to tango, right? Writer+Reader. Or hopefully, many, many readers. So if there is a class going in ‘word  seduction’, I am definitely signing up. Until there is, though, I’m going to try out a few ideas.

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