Cheaper by the Dozen

fairy lights sOK, so it is now Twelfth Night, the official end of the Christmas period.

Surely that should be something to write about? Anecdotes about how you’re going to untangle all those fairy lights could be turned into an amusing article to add to your memoir or book of essays.

You could write something about the festivities (such as they were in these dark times) while the experiences are still fresh in your mind. Then, file the results until later in the year when magazines are looking to fill their winter pages again. You probably won’t be surprised that many of them plan six months ahead, so make a note in your diary to take a summer review of Christmas.

But today’s creative writing prompt is also about taking stock – and record keeping.

If you are serious about getting your writing published in magazines and journals, or being placed in competitions, you need to keep records. Even if you’re only sending out a few things, you need to keep track. I use a simple table in a Word document, with columns for dates, method of entry, title, cost, word count etc. There is no point in sending the same story or poem to a journal that has rejected it – unless you’ve given it a major overhaul, that is.

And I find it very useful to keep a record of who is judging the competitions I’m entering. The same few writers pop up as judges in writing contests in Ireland and the UK, so the chances are, if they didn’t like your story or poem for one competition, they’re unlikely to like it for another.

Some competitions can be expensive to enter, so you’d be wasting your money if you didn’t take the judge into consideration. Of course, some of the bigger competitions may have teams of filter judges, so your work will only be read by the big-name judge if it gets shortlisted, which is another consideration.

I’m inspired to suggest today’s writing-related task after my start to the year included opening a new submissions file for 2021, and picking up a project with my daughter, one that has been shelved for a while. We’ve had the bones of a thriller (excuse the pun) written for some time, but need to do lots more work on it.

If nothing else, putting this novel together has proved to us that she’s a planner and I’m … not. Which might not be the best combo for a writing partnership. But it’s a cracking story, so I’m happy to be working on it. I’m even having a go at the planning…

Meanwhile, yes, we’re done with the 12 days of Christmas. But is there another set of 12s to inspire? There are 12 months in the year, 12 inches in an Imperial foot, 12 pennies in a shilling of old money, 12 signs of the Zodiac (or a Baker’s Dozen, according to new research, which no longer has me down as a Leo, but that’s another story). There’s the Dirty Dozen, Twelve Angry Men, Cheaper by the Dozen, and more.

Any ideas forming? They should be coming fast, a dime a dozen.

No? Then, here’s what to do. Go to your bookshelves and count 12 books from the top shelf, from the left. Open the book to Page 12, count down to line 12.

That can be your starting line.

In my case, Book 12 turned out to be an old copy of Michael Bond’s ‘Paddington at Large’ and Page 12, Line 12 left me with just one word: ‘me’.

That wasn’t very inspiring, so I tried again, from the next shelf down.

That time, I got ‘Burial Rites’ by Hannah Kent and again, just one word: ‘Who?’

At that point, I figured the Universe was trying to tell me something. Back to the thriller, methinks?

I hope you have better luck if you try this idea generator!

Happy writing (and record keeping)!

New to all this? Then read on:

writing group sBack in March 2020, I had the ridiculous idea I’d only need to post 42 daily creative writing prompts to keep my writing group friends entertained, and then we’d all go back to normal. How wrong was I about what 2020 turned into?

I run two small (but perfectly formed) creative writing groups in County Mayo, Ireland, in which I share publishing news and information, set writing challenges and prompts, and where we all encourage each other to keep writing.

Anyway, I calmed down after the excitement of 42 daily prompts (which was my nod to Douglas Adams and ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’) and decided to post weekly as I viewed with dismay how the year was unfolding – no more physical meetings, and inadequate virtual ones not everyone is able to access.

I have nothing to sell, I’m not trying to promote a cause or doctrine, my political and religious beliefs are my own, and my tastes in all things are eclectic and personal, and I don’t reveal them readily.    Here, I’m just trying to share my love of the process of writing, and my delight in being able to encourage new written work.

I know a bit about being published (I have edited more than 20 publications, I used to be a journalist, and now I am a poet and short story writer with a few modest successes under my belt). But I also know about how difficult it can be to keep going, how disconcerting rejections can be, and how hard it can be to come up with new ideas. I’m also a great proponent of writing being an accessible, enjoyable pastime for anyone capable of holding a pen (or striking a keyboard), and that it doesn’t always have to be about getting published. Sometimes, the process is enough – which is why I encourage journaling and writing for your eyes only.

There are now 78 of these posts, in a series which has random content encouraging the writing of poetry, creative non-fiction, memoir, short stories, journals, drama and flash fiction. There’s a new one every Wednesday at 5pm (Dublin time).

Nowadays, I don’t tend to write the sort of vague blogs I began with nearly five years ago, but they are all still available to read if you’re interested. I do it for the craic. This is number 196 so far.

And since we’re talking numbers here, Happy 2021 🙂