- Read the stories already published in the ‘Your Story page of this website,’ and observe the subject matter, themes, styles and titles.
- Choose your subject. It might be something from your past – a childhood memory that stands out, an experience of school, something that happened in adolescence, a turning point or choice you made that influenced the future direction of your life. Some people find it helpful to start the process with the following, ‘I remember…’ At my courses writers are also set an exercise where they write a portrait of someone who has played a significant role in their life. It might be someone whom they admired, or loved, or then again it might be a character they rather disliked. Other writing themes include a recent event; something very funny or quirky that made you laugh, or an adventure that delighted and stretched you, a family holiday, there might have been a crisis that drew on all your emotional strength, you may be dealing with a debilitating illness or condition and finding ways to live with it, there may have been a death or a birth in the family that you wish to explore through writing. Another option is an observational piece about the view from your window… The possibilities, when you think about it, are endless. Whatever the subject, choose something that matters, a topic that makes your heart beat and involves emotions - sadness, tenderness, disappointment, delight, apprehension, fright, feeling energised, absurdly happy… Choose a topic that compels you to write.
- Now take a piece of paper and a pen and free write without pausing to judge the material. Write quickly for fifteen minutes on every alternate line. Have fun with this for it is the most delicious part of the process. Really let your mind fly, scooping up the thoughts as they emerge and setting them down quickly on the page.
- When the fifteen minutes are up, stop and read the story checking for coherency and clarity of meaning. Now is the moment to use the spare, alternate line to write in any changes, to find a better word or phrase, to further elucidate your meaning. You might find it useful to read the story aloud and ask yourself the following questions; Does it make sense? Does it flow? Will the reader understand the meaning? Have I left out any background information or context? Is there anything more I need to add to enhance the meaning?
- You are already halfway. Now it’s time to transfer the handwriting to a word file on your computer. Often writers make further changes at this point. This is good. You are editing your work with the intention of achieving a better story.
- Now check your word count. Fifteen minutes of writing should produce about 300 words. If you are over the word limit you will need to pare back, culling superfluous words and phrases as you further refine the story. But even if the word count is correct, I suggest you spend some more time perfecting the text. It is possible the story demands additional information or further research into an historical date or detail, or to substantiate a claim. If the word count increases remove words from another passage. Initially editing can seem like a chore. You feel you’ve written a perfect story. There is not a note wrong. It wrote itself. So why do writing teachers and publishers insist on further editing? Trust me. The more you practice editing, the more satisfying the activity will become and the better the final result. Because after all you want the story to be the best it can possibly be.
I have my own story to share. When HarperCollins offered me a book contract for my PhD thesis on the history of women they stipulated a word count of 100,000 words. My heart sank. The thesis was over 160,000 words. This was going to be a vast assignment and I wasn’t sure I wanted to wade back in and tousle with the material. I had been living with the material for seven years already. Mind you I would have turned the story upside down and written it backwards if they had insisted, such was my desire to be published.
Sensing there would be a struggle, the editor sat over me forcing me to cut a quarter of every page of chapter one. I worked on a printout slashing red lines through sentences and paragraphs, losing some of the biographical details, re-writing and joining up the cuts and wounds. It hurt the culling Rudall Hayward’s unusual letter proposing a honeymoon to the first woman in film Hilda Moren, ‘Do you think I would have to pull your wrist very hard, I mean would I have to hurt you arm to get you to come provided of course you had a plain gold ring on one of your fingers…’ The process was laborious, my hand ached, I hated the editor. Thankfully after the first chapter, she sent me off to work on it alone. And so I spent my summer holidays in a little cottage in my mother-in-law’s garden in Christchurch, wrestling with the work while my small children played and went on outings with their father and grandparents.
It turned out to be one of the most enlightening experiences of my writing life. It taught me so much about the magic of the editing enterprise and its necessity. It forced me to think hard about every line, to examine each word and phrase, holding them up to the light and considering their value and in the process it showed me the beauty of a taut, elegant, streamlined text, where nothing is wasted, everything counts. Have I convinced you?
- Before sending your story to the website it is advisable to perform a computer spelling and grammar check and to proof read the text. I suggest you make a hard copy. It’s surprising how small mistakes can slip past on the computer screen. Proofing in two media, the computer screen and hard copy, will hopefully result in an error free text.
- I have one last suggestion. Before you post the story you might want some encouragement or feedback from a kind, intelligent reader, someone you trust to give an honest opinion. It’s important though that you ask for constructive feedback only.
- All you need now is a title with your name attached and a brief biographical note. Refer to the biographical notes above each story on the ‘Your Story’ page for ideas.
- You are ready to send the story to the Contact page of this website: deborahshepardbooks.com. Once you have filled in your name and email address you are ready to paste your story into the box below. To prepare, open your word document file and copy your story. Go to the Contact page of the website and paste into the box. Be aware that you can send the story in any format and font. The website will reconfigure your story to the standard format.
Congratulations and thank you for sharing your story on this site.