All Apologies: A Writer’s A–Z

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A – Audiobooks

“What, little me have an audiobook published? You gotta be kiddin’!” Or words to that effect. But why not? If you’ve managed to publish something on Amazon (see Y) register your title with ACX and wait [patiently] for the auditions to roll in. With a split-royalty deal, you won’t even have to pay a penny upfront either!

B – Belief in Yourself

This is important, up to a point. But can you actually, really, honestly, I mean, when push comes to shove – write? Have you had good feedback from other writers, competition judges etc. or is your knowledge of spelling, grammar, punctuation, manuscript layout and all the rest of it, like a pile of poo? If so, there’s no need to throw yourself under the nearest trolley bus. You still have a story to tell. Everyone does. Record it on audio and find a ghost-writing buddy (or employ someone if you are a Billy No Mates type) to turn it into the latest smash-hit feel-good autobiography/screenplay/TV series.

C – Computer Problems

How many times have you heard this one? Computers are so cheap now, secondhand (‘used’) under a hundred quid, it’s sometimes easier to stop throwing money down the drain on repairs to your top-of-the-range MacBook Pro and buy yourself a cheapo Windows laptop instead. Microsoft Professional Plus 2016 (including Word) can be had for under £15 on Amazon! At least you’ll be able to write again.

If it’s a case of software problems, I’ve found it’s usually ‘operator error.’ Get someone who knows what they are doing to look at the problem(s) with you. And you could always look at the manual (if there is one), you know!

D – Dogs

‘I have to take the dog for a walk’ is a common excuse. OK, fair enough, your little pooch needs to stretch its littler legs from time to time. As well as poo on the grass, pee on fences and sniff other dogs’ bums. But while your mutt is doing those mundane doggy matters, you could be listening to an audiobook on writing. Sol Stein’s one takes some beating. So, you could be brushing up on ‘show versus tell’ and ‘points of view’ whilst dear little Fido is running around fetching sticks or peeing on (more) fences.

E – Editing

Just like a carpenter can knock out a table in five minutes (maybe a bit longer) they will then spend HOURS sanding, planing, polishing and whatever else carpenters do. It’s the same with us wordsmiths, one can knock out a short story in half an hour or so (assuming you can type properly. You can, right?) but then it might take one to two hours in total (or more) to spruce it up. Ditto a short chapter or a scene.

Look, the eagle-eyed reader will immediately spot typos, repeated words, redundant phrases, mistakes, and words you’ve used before in close proximity – you get the idea. So it pays to learn to enjoy editing and get good at it!

Second draft = first draft – 10%, so says Stephen King (although maybe a case of ‘Do as I say …?’) but it’ll tighten up the writing as well as weed out the evils above. Whether third draft = second draft – 10% etc. he didn’t say.

Marcy Kennedy’s books are a help too.

Also, many report that it’s easier to edit than it is to write from scratch when you are tired.

F – First Draft

“I’m afraid my first draft won’t be any good.”

“First drafts aren’t supposed to be any good, just write and let the creative juices flow (you idiot)!”

You can sort out all the typos and clunkiness later. As someone once said, ‘You can’t edit a blank page.’ Kudos to that man!

G – Grandkids

(One for the ‘silver surfer’ generation) See K – Kids below.

H – Hiatus

“I’m stuck on my book.”

A common excuse. But it doesn’t stop you from writing something else in the interim – could be short stories, poetry, memoirs, etc.

K M Weiland’s books are pretty useful for unsticking yourself too.

N.B. the plural of hiatus is hiatuses or hiatus – for those sitting there, smirking to themselves, thinking the author had got it wrong.

I – Ill Health

“I have back pain/arm pain/wrist pain/no hands (etc.) and can’t physically write.”

Why are you reading a list of apologies for not writing then?!

J – Judge’s Criticism

You’ve just had your lovely competition manuscript returned with a scathing critique that your dialogue isn’t natural, there’s no characterization, the plot is non-existent/terrible and the ending is awful. What can you do? The most useful tactic is to put your head under a pillow and cry for two hours. After you’ve recovered – this may take several days/weeks, but therapy is normally not required – read the judge’s notes again with a clear, calm head, reminding yourself that they were just trying to give well-meaning advice.

Then, 1. Scream long and loud. 2. Decide to give up writing forever. 3. Change your mind and decide to improve in one area targeted by the kind-hearted judge for your next Earth-shattering entry. Repeat for five to ten years until you finally get on the shortlist.

K – Kids

Noisy, demanding, irritating little buggers and that’s just their friends. Seriously, this is a biggie. You have to find some ‘me time,’ either when they are at school or by insisting that you are not disturbed. Well, you can live in hope. Or get up two hours earlier than them – that’s what’s recommended by some writers (ones who don’t have kids).

L – Love

“I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.” Forsooth. You’re madly in love and you can’t possibly write anything other than love letters, love poems etc. etc. Don’t worry, dear, forget about writing anything else for now, until it all fizzles out (it will).

M – Madness

Possibly conducive to becoming a writer in the first place but unlikely to contribute to useful relationships with industry bods – or sales, for that matter. Seek treatment. (See also L – Love above).

N – Nowhere to Write

Get in the car, drive to a park, the countryside, or Tesco car park (as a last resort), open the windows for fresh air (except in Tesco car park) and do twenty minutes on your laptop. If you haven’t got a laptop you can scribble on paper. Like what Shakespeare did.

If you haven’t got a car, see K – Kids above.

O – Old Habits

Die hard. Like putting two spaces after a full stop (‘period’ for our transatlantic friends). Look, the typewriter died out fifty years ago (give or take) and little things like that drive (some) editors and readers nuts. So get with it, dear!

P – Punctuation

“I don’t know how to do commas and stuff!”

“Well, there’s this thing called the internet ….”

And/or go to Amazon or your local [charity] bookshop and buy a book on punctuation and read it!

(See also O – Old Habits above)

Q – Quitting

Sometimes when you’re writing and things ain’t going so well, it’s time to just pull the plug and quit. Fixing those clunky phrases and bits of dialogue that no one would ever say won’t seem so foreboding in the clear light of the morrow.

N.B. Quitting should come at the end of a writing session, not the beginning.

R – Reading

Recommended by most writers (Stephen King is big on it). Otherwise, how do you know what ‘good writing’ is? But reading can become an excuse to not actually write anything. Ditto talking about writing, dreaming about writing, wishing you were writing ….

But, y’know, it pays to spend some time reading books about writing. Sol Stein says that writing is unusual in that some are reluctant to learn – or oblivious to – the craft of writing. Check out Solutions for Writers by SS for the lowdown.

S – Social Media

Yes, we all want to see what our friends are up to and gape at videos of pussycats climbing up poles and jumping down onto targets etc. Facebook is great but it won’t progress your short story or novel, will it? Ditto Twitter and the rest of ‘em.

T – Time

“If I only had time, only time …” (Feel free to warble along, fans of John Rowles). Together with Writers’ Block, this is the biggie. ‘I don’t have time,’ cry countless wannabee writers. You never hear them crying, ‘I can’t be bothered,’ or ‘I don’t have the talent,’ or ‘I don’t have the patience.’

As an instrumental music teacher for over twenty years, the author has heard a boatful of excuses for not practising, very, very few of which have been valid.

And how much time do you actually need? Well, you can write something worthwhile in fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes a day is one hour 45 minutes a week, 7.58333… hours a month …. You get the idea. And guess what? There’ll be days when you can do more than fifteen minutes!

“How do I find fifteen minutes then?” you [may] ask.


U – Underscoring

Those nice red marks put in by well-meaning (but mean) judges and editors to curb your verbosity and highlight howling errors. Bite the bullet and take their advice. They’ve been at it longer than you, and you know what? They know what’s what.

V – Vocabulary

“My vocabulary’s too limited!”

Well, is there anyone who doesn’t like Ray Bradbury? Oh, there is. Oh, well the author is not one of them (although he never could get past page two of Dandelion Wine).  But you know what? Good ‘ol Ray (hope he wouldn’t have minded the familiar address) didn’t go in for long, complicated and obscure words (a la Edgar Allen Poe). He used a relatively limited vocabulary, but, ahhh, did he know how to use those words!

Indeed, Shakespeare was pretty much like that, even though ‘Half the words are in crummy old English,’ to quote a nincompoop on the internet! [Actually Elizabethan English.]

But if you do want to expand your vocabulary, sign up for’s ‘word of the day’ (and etymology thereof).

Finding synonyms for words you already know is a help too. Use a thesaurus online (or a good old-fashioned book, if you insist) to find a substitute word per day that you are unfamiliar with.

List and keep using those new words. In three years, you’ll have a thousand new words (at least) ready to spring to your adroit mind and lissom digits.

W – Writers’ Block

Well, the granddaddy of all reasons to hold fire on putting pen (or pencil) to paper, or fingers to keyboard. Seems to refer to a general inability to think of what to put down on paper/screen.

Well, as Della Galton says in her Short Story Writers’ Toolshed, she’s never come across anyone with secretary’s block, gardener’s block or washer-upper’s block. So why is writing special?

Answer, it isn’t. You just have to use a bit of initiative. It’s no good sitting staring at a blank screen or piece of A4. [Puts knotted handkerchief on head, adopts ape-like stance and shouts in best Gumby voice] Blimey! I mean, blimey! … blimey! [ad nauseum] Blimey … I … mean … you’ve … got … to … have … an …idea … of … what … to … write! Blimey … it … stands … to … reason. [Thank you, Professor J.M. Gumby. *]

How hard is that? There are thousands of ideas on the internet, plus countless books and magazines on writing. Or try the universal prompt recommended in practically every writing book going – What if?

Here goes … er … What if a man goes to sleep and wakes up to find he’s been transformed into a giant insect? Whaddya mean, that one’s already been had?! OK, OK, let’s have another go. Er … What if a man goes to a school reunion and everyone is curiously offhand with him …. There, that took under ten seconds. What happens and how does it end? Haven’t a clue! Get writing with that idea and you’ll soon find out! About two to three thousand words should do it. Perfect for the monthly Writers’ Forum Story Contest. I mean … Blimey!

*appears, courtesy of Monty Python’s Flying Circus

X – X-rays etc.

OK, OK, yes, very predictable I know. But Xylophone Practice didn’t seem so appropriate and, anyway, Patrick Moore managed to do pretty well, writing an impressive 112 tomes whilst doing so. Not to mention endless tours telling us for the million+nth time that the Sun goes around the Earth, or is it the other way around? I can never remember.

Anyway, yes, X-ray appointments plus general out-patient and in-patient appointments do interfere with daily writing practice, it has to be admitted. But, hey, waiting rooms are a damn good source of characters and story ideas if you keep your eyes and ears open. Well, perhaps not ears so much; some ‘people’ don’t seem capable of talking in anything less than a shout. (See also W – Writer’s Block above).

Y – Yttrium

Only joking! Y is really for Why are you not a published author? Seriously, it’s simple now to self-publish on Kindle. All you need is a measly 2500 words or so. And it’s not that much harder to publish a paperback (although you’ll likely need a few more words). Check out

Bear in mind, however, that self-publishing and actually selling your cherished efforts are like calcium carbonate and fromage.

Z – Zzzz

That moment when you can’t see the text for the red squiggles that Word so helpfully puts in, and your head starts to droop. Time to call it quits. Tomorrow’s another day.

Featured in the book, Letters from Reuben and Other Stories: 40 Little Tales of Mirth

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4 thoughts on “All Apologies: A Writer’s A–Z

  1. Tempted to say that ‘audio-books’ are in their rightful place, at the top of the list, but realised it’s just an accident of nature, or Greek etymology, if that isn’t a redundant tautology.
    Great ideas Simon – thanks.

      1. I enjoyed the challenges you set up and wish I hadnt been so busy this summer, although its easy isnt it to put things aside and do something like watch netflix.. as you noted in the A to Z

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