Whipping Your WIPs into Submission, OR ‘Fifty Shades of Completion’

Over on the Facebook Group for the 100k in 100Days Challenge, we don’t only talk about writing 100K words in 100 days. I know: it’s a shocker. We do mainly talk about writing, so if that doesn’t appeal, don’t join. Because it will bore you to tears, and life’s too short, even on a Grey day.

One of our recent natters intellectual debates was about languishing WIPS (works in  progress, lovies. You’re new here, aren’t you? Welcome :D).
Why do we have them? How many do we have? Will we/should we, ever finish some/most/all of them? After I suggested that performing a personal WIP audit could be useful,  suddenly the thread morphed into a secular online Confessional. Dozens of WIPs were admitted. The sin of Never Finishing any work above ‘short story length’ (a Grey area) was confessed (if this was a Vlog, you’d see me raising my hand here. As it isn’t, use your imagination). Some WIPs supposedly started when their authors were living in trees writing with a scratchy stick, but that was probably an exaggeration. Flamin’ writers.

Many of us felt we had at least a few WIPs worth retrieving from the Grey recesses of our archives – worth reviving or even completely rewriting, because the original idea was sound. How to do this logically, though, and how to balance the demands of ancient WIPs with the urge to start new stuff – that’s tricky. Or is it?As I’m all for giving an approving nod to other writers and their ideas, and this confessional mode is hard to get  out of, I’ll tell you now that if you need help with this, How To Finish What You Start – A Five Step Plan For Writersmay be all you need to tackle this Grey area.

BUT if the Five Step Plan seems too harsh, and not to have that holding-your-hand-and-guiding-you-gently-through-the-thicket-of-thorns-to-the-rainbow-rose-garden approach that you prefer, you might need my Fifty Steps Of Completion plan (except there are only fifteen) to Whip those Whips into Submission, instead. And no, I didn’t call it that to get hits from people seeking certain volumes of erotic fiction, it just came to me (no double entendre intended). If that’s what I was after, I would have mentioned E.L.James and slipped in the word Grey everywhere. (Oh… whoops.) Without Further Ado, I give you…


Fifteen Shades of Completion: Whipping Your WIPs into Submission.

Get a notepad ready – you’ll need it in a minute. (Yes, and a pen as well. Smarty Pants).

  1. Dig out every notebook and scrap of paper with writing on that you possess (yes, that includes shopping lists. What do they tell you about the person who wrote it, or what they’re about to do? They make great prompts!). Put them in one place: a boxfile if they fit, a bedroom if they don’t (displace the occupant. It’s for the Greater Good). Label your boxfile/bedroom WIPs.
  2. Search tirelessly through documents, blog posts, Sticky Notes, files from MyNovel/Scrivener/NewNovelist etc for writing. Save in one folder: WIPs.
  3. Time to separate your WIPs from your PIPs. PIPs are Ponderings in Progress. Snatches of dialogue, interesting info, undeveloped ideas; any pieces  less than about 5% of the intended finished length,  count as PIPs.
  4. Gather PIPs together in one computer folder and/or notebook, scrapbook, expanding/lever-arch/box file. If there’s a related cutting, join your PIP to it: staple, paper clip, or stick them on the same scrapbook page. Then, when you need a new idea (maybe you ran out of  WIPS; woo-hoo!) – all those brilliant seeds will be just waiting for you to come along and water them.
  5. FILE your PIPs, Make Way For Your WIPs! Label then store your PIPs.
  6. Only true WIPs left – got your notepad? LIST and number each one. No categorising, no comments, no ordering; just list. If it doesn’t  have a title, assign one that clearly identifies it, e.g. 1. Watch The Wall 2. Ghost sport story.
  7. Go down the list. Star WIPs that excite you/give you a warm fuzzy feeling.
  8. Again! This time star WIPs when you think, ‘I know what I’m doing with that.’
  9. Again! This time star WIPs when you think, ‘I could finish that fairly quickly.’
  10. Again! This time, star WIPs when you think, ‘I already have a competition/ submission/other purpose in mind for that one, that has a deadline attached.’ If the deadline is in the near future, give it two stars.
  11. You may feel that there’s one kind of project that you never complete, whether (like me!) it’s longer projects, non-fiction, flash…so brandish that pen again and star projects that fall into your ‘always left to last’ category.
  12. If your list contains items without any stars, take a good long look at them. Are there any that you feel you will never want to work on again? Now’s the time to heartlessly slash through those items.
  13. Hopefully by now you will have a short list of starred items – with any luck some will have more than one star. Your stars should enable you to write out a prioritised WIP list.
  14. What you need now is a PLAN. A rule that works for you, to ensure your WIP list is tackled whilst writing new stuff. Now you could go cold turkey – as recommended by the 5 step Plan – and ban yourself from writing anything new at all. By all means do this is you can, although remember to at least briefly write down any ideas in your PIPs book! But this won’t work for many people, who need to write new material because they have commitments to do so and/or need to write to earn money; or who find just revitalising old material feels stifling, making them lose heart.
  15. So if you can’t go cold turkey, what are your options? Here are some rules I suggested to Gerald Hornsby on the 100K group (he took up my audit suggestion and ended up logging a bewildering amount of languishing WIPs!).
  • ‘for every two new ideas I write up, I must finish 1 WIP’
  • ‘for every 2000 words I write on something brand new, I must write X amount on a WIP’,
  • ‘I will complete a WIP every two months’.

For any of these to work, it’s best to make a spreadsheet or some kind of record, to keep yourself honest, AND on track. Hope that’s cleared up any GREY areas 😉



Stopping Sexism Before It Starts

I am a relatively calm person. This is a good thing, because I’ve always had jobs where I’m public facing. I’ve stayed calm whilst being vomited over by poorly patients, spat at by children who have lost their ability to express their frustration in a more meaningful way, and whilst talking to parents who are cheerily telling me things that make my hand itch to grab the phone and call social services. And while otherwise lovely, intelligent people say things like ‘well we are being representative by having only white children on the cover. We only have white children here.’

But some things make my blood boil, and those things usually come under injustice, prejudice or wilful ignorance (and often all three). The picture below was retweeted by Letterbox Library, and ticked that ol’ blood boil trigger box straight away.

sexist bks

Why do I detest these horrible books from Scholastic? It goes far beyond the sickly pink cover on the one hand, featuring a skirt-wearing, cerise-tights-clad girl in front of a mirror, who looks like she’s been transported back in time a few decades, and the red cover with the grinning boy on the other, throwing his arms out energetically and surrounded by all-action exploding fireworks…

It’s not just me – is it? Which word leaps off the cover at you on the (can’t call it girl’s book, because Scholastic tell me it isn’t) – sickly pink book? Would it be ‘GORGEOUS’, by any chance, rendered as it is in capital letters in a font size five times that of the book’s equally disturbing subtitle, ‘Smart Ways to Look and Feel FABULOUS’? And could it be that the word that leaps out from the other book is ‘CLEVER‘? (Subtitle: Smart Ways to get SMARTER’. Er… smooth…). The girl is just laying on her front, waiting for life to happen, while the boy is grinning and full of pzazz.

By the way they are presented, and their use of colour, font size and picture, I feel these covers suggest that girls should be aspiring to be GORGEOUS (boys need not apply), while boys should have the ultimate goal of being CLEVER (so they can look after those girlies having a nice lay down). The more I looked at them, the more concerned I got. Particularly because Scholastic sell themselves as a responsible children’s publisher, and have now partnered with the Booktrust, who have a mission statement that seems to contradict all these books stand for (and who seem to have removed my comment about this on their site. They’re happy to keep my comment on mental health and the Books on prescription info I posted, but nothing critical, it seems :/ ) So I posted comments on Scholastic’s Parents FB page, Book Fairs page and Tweeted them too:

“So Scholastic claims it ‘recognises that literacy is the cornerstone of a child’s intellectual, personal and cultural growth’, and then publishes trash like this. Please join me in asking them to withdraw these disgustingly sexist books from their catalogue – unless you too think boys need a guide on being clever whilst girls just need one on being gorgeous.”

This attracted some attention.

“I really can’t believe that there are books like this out there – I do hope they withdraw them, young people don’t need this sexist twaddle!!” Hear Hear!

“The trouble this type of thing is how insidious it is. By having just the boy on the “clever” book it sends a message which people, of all ages don’t realise they are getting but it seeps in regardless.” Exactly!

I received no tweets back but got an identical reply from Scholastic on both their FB pages:

“Thanks for sharing your opinions on these titles. We understand your frustration regarding these titles and will be looking at changes to the book covers for any new editions. To clarify, While How to be Clever features a boy on the cover, this book is meant for all children and is written by a female author. The title How to be Gorgeous has a focus on how to be a strong, empowered, and confident young woman in today’s world. To view some of the content of these books, please visit and “Look Inside”. Again, thank you for posting!”

Ah, I see. A female author. THAT makes all the difference. Obviously a woman would never write or design anything remotely sexist! As for the rest of it… frankly it was patronising and I felt they were making it worse! And told them so.

“Thank you for your reply, but I’m sure you will admit that there aren’t many boys – wrongly or rightly – who will be picking up a pink book with one of the most insipidly unempowered-looking young ladies I’ve ever seen, featured on the front cover – particularly when it sells itself as a guide to looking ‘gorgeous’, and is, as you have admitted in your comment, focussed on how to be a strong, empowered, and confident young WOMAN’. All children need empowering; and if you really supported equality you would drag this concept into the 21st century, make ONE book, and realise that these differentiations are discriminatory in the first place. Tell a girl that because she’s a girl, she ‘needs’ ’empowering’, and she’ll presume she was weak in the first place. Then, through use of font and branding, make her believe the ultimate goal is to be gorgeous, and she will believe no other goals matter. And don’t get me wrong, my disapproval of the not-so-subtle insinuations perpetrated by the ‘boy’s’ book is equal. A word it seems Scholastic are not familiar with.”

In the meantime, the discussion had also attracted these two comments:

“I understand your point but my 6 year old daughter would pick up the clever book regardless of who it was geared to. Much of the sexism can be countered with a little additional guidance from the adults.”

“No offense to the above responders, but it’s up to US, as parents, to reinforce positive things into the minds of our children, unless you’re planning on relying on written word to do this for you. My advice: just don’t read the books. Just because they’re published, doesn’t mean that they’re suited for every child on the planet”

Hmm. Well, I appreciate that these people took the time to post and get involved, and I respect their opinions. The problem I have with the attitude that these comments share is that, firstly, Scholastic are adults. And like child protection, which is the responsibility of every adult in the UK, I believe fighting stereotyping, discrimination and prejudice should be the responsibility of all of us too. So here was my final word:

“They’re not suitable for ANY child on the planet. Inclusion means it’s up to EVERYONE – NOT just us, as parents, or as educators. Yes we can fight the battles; but maybe book publishers who give every appearance of being modern and inclusive in their mission statements, shouldn’t be giving us a reason to fight in the first place. I DON’T expect to rely on the written word to reinforce positive images; I DO expect the written word not to undermine them. Particularly when that written word is from a children’s publisher who very much claims to do otherwise.”

It will be interesting to see if Scholastic DO look “at changes to the book covers for any new editions:. Watch this space. And don’t get me wrong, Scholastic are nor the only culprits. I removed this ‘kindly donated’ book from the shelves at work before half-term, published by Priddy Books:

treasure girls bk

Slightly less offensive, but still stereotype central… the fight goes on! 😀





Sorting Out Your Sub-Plot: Part 1 – What The Butler Did

Scared Smiley

Plot can be a bit of a scary word. Hence all those famous writerly sayings.

You know – ‘Plot me no Plots’, ‘Out, vile plot!’, ‘Is this a plot I see before me?’, ‘Will no one rid me of this turbulent plot?’, ‘It was the best of plots, it was the worst of plots’ and of course the infamous ‘When shall three plots meet again? In thunder, ligh-‘ well, you get the concept. (Ok, I made the last one up. It is of course a parody of Terry Pratchett’s ‘When shall we three meet again?’  ‘Well, I can do next Tuesday…’)  *waits for torrent of abuse from Shakespeare fans who think irony means ‘how clothes look when you’ve put that hot flat thing over them’*

I digress (constantly. It’s a writer thing). The point is, plot is a bit of an obsession if you’re a writer. Is it strong enough? Does it fit the theme? Aren’t they kind of the same thing? But no – you’ve read that plot grows from theme. You’ve read theme grows from plot, too! Eeek – now you’ve read that plot grows from characters! But surely characters come from plot? No good having a Special Forces sniper, then plotting a regency romance! Hold on – what’s this: a plot is a set of events linked by causality. Er – what’s that? What are plot holes and where are yours? Is your plot believable? pen on notebookWould Mrs Tiggins-Mapleleaf really commit suicide in the jacuzzi just because she discovered her layabout husband, Fortescue Tiggins-Mapleleaf, in a state of undress with the butler in the library? (Maybe not – unless, ooh, unless she didn’t give a stuff about Mr T-M, but had yearned for the butler for ages! Where’s my notebook… jacuzzi, butler… library, yearnings… there. I’m back in the room.)

Then, just to scare the socks off you (your pants are gone already, fleeing at the mere mention of ‘causality’), someone asks what your sub-plot is. 

You explain that none of the action is under the sea; have they not read your magnificent synopsis? The novel’s a regency romance set in Derbyshire. They look at you blankly. You squirm and try again. There are no popular high street chain design-your-own-sandwich establishments in it either. You clear your throat nervously, and add that you don’t think there was such a phenomenon in regency Derbyshire. Was there?
They still look blank and you realise it’s time to admit you don’t know what the hell a sub-plot is; now, before you run out of a) ideas that begin with sub b) self-respect.

If that’s you, fear not. Over the next few posts I will attempt to put my Diploma head on, the one that’s meant to understand this stuff; nick quotes from other writers that explain it better than me; and generally Reveal All about sub-plots.

For now, we’ll just establish what a sub-plot is.
Firstly, like a plot, a sub-plot is a series of events ordered by causality. If the term ‘causality’ is unfamiliar to you, think of it as ‘with a cause’; each event like a falling domino in a line. (Remember the domino metaphor, because we’ll come back to that in future posts). Still not clear? Enter Mrs Tiggins-Mapleleaf, stage right:

brandies,brandy snifters,cigars,glasses,libraries,library,males,men,people,persons,stogies,stogy

Mr T-M doesn’t show his wife affection because he is secretly gay causing
Mrs T-M to look elsewhere for affection and develop a crush on the butler, AND Mr T-M to develop a crush on the butlercausing…
Mr T-M to reveal his feelings and get the butler in a passionate clinch in the library, unfortunately witnessed by Mrs T-M, causing...
Mrs T-M to feel betrayed and despair of finding lasting happiness, causing…
Mrs T-M to commit suicide in the jacuzzi, causing…
Mr T-M to leap in to save her, causing…
Mr T-M to fail – but hit his head and drown in the attempt!, causing…
The butler to inherit the huge estate and erect a memorial to them both, also mounting an international campaign for increased jacuzzi safety measures, causing…
him to meet a lovely bloke named Jeff at the Jersey Jacuzzi Conference and live happily ever after.

Obviously if you wish to steal this stonker of a plot, get in touch and we’ll discuss terms. It’s not often I let a gem like that out on public view, but I like to think I’m part of a supportive writing community. *yes, the clothes do look flat, don’t they*

Secondly, a sub-plot is a secondary plot – less important than the main plot. You would expect it to ‘occupy’ less of the text. Some sub-plots interact hugely with the main plot; some barely at all. It depends on the effect the author want to achieve, and the nature or genre of the story. Which brings us on to:
What Can A Sub-Plot Do For Me, And Do I Need One? But we’ll think about that next time.