Writing a story that grabs and holds your reader’s attention is not an easy task, but with some tips, it can become easier to keep your reader/audience engaged. Here are some tips that I’ve used in my work and used by other Award winning writers like myself. Hope you find them useful.
OPENING HOOK: This is an opening that grabs your reader’s attention and gets them asking questions like how did we get here? And they stay on to find out how the protagonist got here. It’s an opening that puts your audience/reader at a place of dramatic irony, where they know more than the characters in the story. An opening hook helps you start with a bang before slowing down for a little as you set up your story. The advantage of a strong opening hook, is that it opens up a lot of questions for your audience and they’ll stay tuned in to find out more.
A FAST SET UP: There’s been recent debate about whether a set-up is needed in a story at all. I’m of the school of thought that a great setup is important to get us to understand a little about your character and their world before Ish hits the fan. So I suggest you do the set up of your story as fast as possible then give us the inciting incident (more on the inciting incident in a recent blog, check it out on my website www.damarisirunguo.com)
MAKE US CARE: Get us to care about your characters so badly that we have no other choice but to go this journey with them and root for them. If we don’t care enough about your protagonist then we can easily switch off, but if we care, we have no choice but to stay on and cheer them as they go after what they desire.
RAISE STAKES: You have to continually raise the stakes so that you hold our attention and curiosity. Make it harder for your Protagonist to get what they want; this ensures we don’t get bored.
TELL US SOMETHING NEW: So point number 4 leads us to this point, as you raise stakes, make sure you’re not repeating the same emotional beats. Make sure we are experiencing different emotions through the obstacles you put in your protagonist’s way to stop them from getting what they want. Don’t tell us things we already know or have experienced emotionally in your story, keep the obstacles fresh to keep our attention.
PAYING OFF AND SETTING UP IS THE NAME OF THE GAME: Before you pay off a part of the story that’s holding our attention as the audience/reader make sure you set up something else that opens another can of worms and holds our attention. There shouldn’t be any moment in time in your story where we don’t have our curiosity and interest level up.
WITHHOLD AND DRIP FEED INFORMATION: You need to know the correct dosage of what you tell us and what you withhold, so work at giving us enough information to help the audience follow the story, but at the same time not telling the audience/reader everything which makes them lose the curiosity for what will happen next.
YOUR CHARACTERS DESIRE: You character has to want what they want badly, they have to want it more than we want it for them, this way, it’s easier for us the readers/audience to stay on and root for them as they press on towards their goal.
ADD A SUBPLOT: Linear/single stories are hard to pull off, unless you have years of great writing experience under your belt, if not, consider adding subplots that are tied to your main story to hold the readers’ attention.
Hope these tips help you with your writing goals. For more of such, check out my blogs at www.damarisirunguo.com
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We’re are two weeks into the new year. And if you’re like me, you’re dreaming of all the writing you’ll get done in the new year. I’m armed with a plan to achieve my writing goals, so help me God!
For some of you, you’re just starting out on your writing journey, and are unsure on how exactly to make sense of your writing passion, so that you can start earning a living with your writing. I’ve taken a moment to reflect on things I wish I knew as I was starting out my writing career. I hope these observations will help you fast track your own writing journey in the year 2021!
No one owes you anything: Just because you’re talented doesn’t mean everyone should stop their lives and pay attention to you. There are so many talented people out here. Understanding that there are so many more talented writers out here will humble you to work harder at your craft, have the right attitude towards others, support other writers and people in your industry and in turn, it will get you the necessary support you need to move your career to the next level. Before asking others for favours, find out what you can do for them first. Build and grow relationships, which in turn will grow your career.
No one is to blame for your failing writing career: It’s easier to blame other things, like our life circumstances, our parents’ inabilities, our spouses, our bills, the government, the education system for pulling us down and making it harder for us to achieve our writing dreams. If you take a long hard look in the mirror you will find it’s on you. Success is 80% attitude, what’s your attitude towards your writing? What sacrifices have you made to make sure you propel your writing career? No one will sacrifice for your career better than you, so give yourself the best, to get ahead in your writing career.
Perfectionism will cripple you: Don’t fixate on one project and spend a whole year on it. You need to have a body of work, even if no one is producing it. Work on a project, finish it, move to the next. Repeat. That’s the formula to get you a great body of work.
Everyone is doing it Afraid: Scared of failing? Scared of being laughed at? Or being criticized? Well, everyone who is putting their work out here is also scared, but the difference is, they don’t let their fear stop them, they simply do it afraid. So give your writing a chance by doing it afraid and putting your work out here. Join the rest of us doing it afraid.
Writing is a marathon not a sprint: You can’t learn everything at once, there’s no pill that you can take to turn yourself into a great writer overnight, it takes constant flexing of the writing muscle, constant putting your work out there and getting negative and positive responses, constant reading and analyzing of work by others and your own, constant researching, constant curiosity and of course your life experiences will help out with your Point of View in story, so live life and enjoy the process, you’re here for the long haul. What looks like overnight success out here is years and years of hard work by the ‘overnight’ success writer.
Run your own race: Don’t get distracted by other people’s successes and failures, follow what you’re truly passionate about. Don’t spend precious time trying to follow every trend, it’s like chasing the wind. Ask yourself ‘What is it that truly touches you as a writer? What themes pull you in? Work on that.
Always balance between paid work and passion projects: This rat race is never ending, bills are going nowhere, deadlines for work will always be there (most times) So always make sure you’re making time for your passion projects because time will not wait for you. If you don’t work on your passion projects, then you’ll end up disillusioned years to come. Your passion projects are crucial to your writing soul, don’t ignore that fact.
Being ahead of times and trends is not a bad thing: There are things I put off pursuing because no one could see my vision, and because they didn’t, I doubted myself and didn’t pursue those things. Go for your crazy dreams and goals. You’re better off attempting and failing than living with the ‘What if’ regret.
Never stop learning: As a writer you have to continually learn, there’s no shortcut, you can’t operate from a place of ignorance. You could write from your gut feeling, which most of us have done, but once you learn about how story works then it opens up a world of possibilities. Take every opportunity you can to grow yourself as a writer, your efforts will be rewarded and your art and craft will thank you. And if you need help with your writing, grab a copy of my book on writing, ‘Get writing, A beginner’s guide from Idea to First Draft’, or you can grab a companion workbook on the same to hold your hand as you figure out your story.
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We’re about to get into a new year and some of us have achieved their goals and some of us haven’t. Some of us will blame it on covid. But for some of us, it’s really amateur behaviour that has made us miss the mark on our goals. Let’s look at some of those habits and how we can nip it the bud for a successful 2021.
You Don’t write every day: Writing is a muscle that needs to be flexed every day, you don’t flex it, you lose it or you stay an amateur, it’s that simple. If you want to make it as a successful writer, you have to flex that muscle every day. Observe the successful athletes, I’ve watched documentaries on Eliud Kipchoge and how hard he works, Usain Bolt, Mo Farah, Catherine Ndereba when she was active. They trained every day! Writing is a muscle. You have to flex it.
You Don’t take charge of your career: Dear writer, you need to take control of your career and run with it. I saw Athlete David Rudisha interviewed once and he was cleaning his own shoes, he said ‘I want to be in control, no one else washes my shoes, I have to know where it’s worn out and so forth.’ If a gold medalist gets his hands into dirty water to clean his shoes to make sure he has all his ground covered, who are you to put your feet up and think you have arrived? Let’s get down to work in 2021.
You Don’t read: My heart skips a bit every time I bump into a writer who says they don’t read. Your words are your tools of trade, how then are you comfortable not reading every day! You have to take a keen interest in how words play on the page, how story flows, your characters develop, this will only happen if you read scripts, read novels. Find free scripts to read @ www.simplyscripts.com BBC writers room also has free scripts to read every so often so check that out as well. Read non-fiction stuff as well, read new reports, all this helps you stay abreast with current happenings but also expands your knowledge. Writers should be some of the most knowledgeable people, you should be hungry for knowledge. So refill that creative well every day.
You Dream but Don’t Do: Dreams are great. Lupita Nyong’o reminded us all that our dreams are valid. But it takes a doer to move dreams from just dreams into a reality. We’ve had covid to blame this year for all the goals we didn’t hit this year, that excuse will run out in 2021 because now society has found its way to live with this and make the most out of life. So again, what actions have you put in place to move your dreams to reality? Write them down and put dates on them. Start the year right.
You let your feelings control your life: Feelings are great, otherwise we wouldn’t be human. But when your feelings run your life you risk the chance of not getting to your goals. You don’t feel like writing today? No problem, you can write tomorrow, so you shut your laptop, go to the couch and binge watch your favourite show. Tomorrow comes and you don’t feel like you’re creative enough, so you spend the day on social media admiring other people’s lives and wishing you had a successful writing career. I can assure you that, the success writer you’re admiring doesn’t let their feelings control them, instead they show up for their dreams every day, work hard, flex the muscle and shut their feelings up until the job is done.
So friend, we’re about to turn a new year. Leave amateur habits behind for a successful 2021 writing year!
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Every writer and producer needs to know how to craft a perfect logline. This helps get your story out to executives faster, in a clear concise manner that grabs them and gets them to pay attention to your story idea.
The way to do this is by nailing how to write a great logline, which you can pitch to them orally or written.
Understanding what a logline is and what it does, are important to help you create the best logline you can possibly craft.
A Logline is a brief summary of your story idea, in one or two well-formed sentences that hooks the reader and describes the central conflict of your story.
It is preferable 25- 28 words long that quickly describes what your entire story is about. It uses strong active verbs and adjectives and is written in beginning –middle-end format.
What a logline does:
1.It’s a tool to sell your idea.
2. The Logline captures the essence of the title of your film.
3. It captures the theme of your story e.g is it corruption, betrayal and so forth.
4. The logline gives a sense of intrigue, leading whoever you’re pitching to, to read the synopsis.
5. A Logline gives us a setting, place, time and universe.
There’s two formulas I know of and use, that help you nail the process of writing your logline
The first formula is;
PROTAGONIST+ GOAL+ OBSTACLE
Let’s break it down
Protagonist: Name, Age, Occupation, Character Trait/Fatal flaw. This is the person who wants something badly in your story and is driving your story. (There are those who are of the school of thought that you shouldn’t include your character’s name in the Logline, then there are those who say you should. So I’ll leave you to decide for yourself on this)
Goal: What does the character want/need. Make sure the goal of your Protagonist is tangible and concrete, it need to be clear.
Obstacle: Antagonist or Antagonistic forces. Who or what is stopping your Protagonist from getting what they want badly?
The second formula is;
An INCITING INCIDENT happens (SPECIFIC PROTAGONIST) must (ACTION/ OBJECTIVE/STAKES against (ANTAGONIST)
Let’s break it down:
An inciting Incident: This is something that radically upsets the balance in a protagonists’ life.
Specific Protagonist: The character who is most affected by the inciting incident. The one who drives your story.
Action/Objective/Stakes: The Protagonist must take an action and pursue their goal because the stakes are high for them and they have to restore normalcy in their lives.
Antagonist: The one who’s opposing your Protagonist and placing obstacles in their way, trying to stop them from getting what they want. It can be someone or an antagonist force e.g Nature.
Some Examples of Loglines to help you see the pattern
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
A young F.B.I. cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims.
The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.
Forrest Gump, while not intelligent, has accidentally been present at many historic moments, but his true love, Jenny Curran, eludes him.
The lives of two mob hit men, a boxer, a gangster’s wife, and a pair of diner bandits intertwine in four tales of violence and redemption.
A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers.
Hope this article helps you nail writing your Loglines.
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While listening to a talk the other day, I heard the speaker talk about business and said ‘It’s not just about inspiration, it’s about execution’ and this got me thinking about how many of us writers are very inspired, but we never action our ideas?
Everyone has ideas, but the writers who succeed, and get their work out there are those who push through inspiration to execution.
It’s easy to dream of seeing your work on the screen, seeing your book in a bookshop or on some online platform, winning accolades, earning money from your work, but if you don’t move those dreams to reality, then they’ll remain just dreams.
It takes a mindset shift to move past dream to reality and today I want to share some tips on this.
Stop it with the self- sabotage: How badly do you want something? And when you want something badly enough, what are the actions you take to ensure you get to your goal? Example, you can’t say you badly want to lose weight, then continually over indulge in chips and chocolate fudge cake (talking to self haha) What you want in life and the actions that follow the want, must speak in the same voice. So take a long look at your writing life and eliminate all the self-sabotaging activities you have.
Stop it with Perfectionism: I can bet you, anyone who’s tried to put their perfect work out there has succeeded in doing one thing; Keeping their work locked in the closet and is yet to see the light of day. You can’t wait for your work to be perfect to put it out there, ‘Am I good enough? Will people like my work? I’m I an imposter? Blaah blaah blaah. Put your work out there! Even when you’re second-guessing yourself. We’re all doing it afraid, so join us!
Stop blaming others for your failures: It Is much easier to blame others for your failing dreams than to take a long hard look in the mirror and point the finger at yourself. Are you still blaming your folks for not being able to pay for that Course in Creative Writing that you wanted to do? Are you blaming the script editor who said your writing was bad? Or the teacher who killed your dream when you were 8 years old? Or the spouse who won’t let you prosper? Stop it and take charge of your life. Accepting responsibility that your failed dreams are majorly to do with your own mindset is the beginning of moving past, just a dream to executing it.
Stop pushing the deadline further: Set that deadline and stick to it! Get people that you can be accountable to onboard your dreams if you must. If you want to start a blog, set a date and push towards it, if you want your e-book up, set a date and plough on towards it. Keep that deadline sacred, this is the only way to make sure your work gets out into the world. I’m telling myself this because even I have a big issue when it comes to my personal deadlines. Out here I am known as the writer who never fails to beat a deadline on other people’s projects, but I’m failing myself when it comes to my own deadlines, good news though, I know it, I’m aware of it and I’m changing that NOW!
Stop it with the learning: I don’t mean stop learning entirely, but if you’re using learning as a crutch to not getting your writing done, when you’re happy being on a writing break because you’re learning something new about the craft, then you’re using learning the wrong way. Learning about the business and craft of writing is meant to be practiced, not theorized.
Stop it with Comparisonites: This is the disease of comparing yourself and measuring your achievements to those of the ones around you that are winning it. What happens is that you end up feeling bad and stop focusing on what you’re doing and decide to try do what they did to get their success. Dear one, run your own race! Stop comparing yourself to others and focus on what makes you, uniquely you.
Hope these tips have helped jumpstart you to move from dream to reality.
As a jury member at this year’s Alliance Francaise Smartphone Film competition, I picked up a couple of things from watching close to a hundred submissions.
First, it takes courage to submit work out in the world because it will always be judged, if not by a jury, then it will be judged by the fans, whether they were the Target audience or not. So kudos to everyone who submitted their work and kudos to everyone else who keeps submitting their work to the various competitions or grants, plus most importantly, those who put their work out there in paid projects.
I’ve learnt that one of the most important ways to grow and develop thick skin as a creative is to constantly put your work out into the world, overtime you’re able to handle criticism better, able to take notes better, leading to growth in your art and craft. Below I share a few of my observations from judging this short film competition. I hope you’ll take them as lessons learned and do a check list for your work as you consider submitting to the world.
Emotional Delivery: Just because a film is a 4-minute short film doesn’t mean you don’t move us emotionally. Emotions are crucial to any form of storytelling, make us laugh, make us cry, make us contemplate, make us analyze…make us care! If you don’t make us feel something, then the only response you’ll get from us is indifference.
If there’s a theme to the competition, stick to it: If your film doesn’t suit the theme of the competition, then the first item in judging is to eliminate it. You might have a great short film, but if not in line with the theme then it’s out. Why is this? It would be truly unfair to allow a film that was out of the theme to win. So always make sure your film is in line with the theme.
You don’t have to exhaust the time allocated: If they say maximum 4 minutes, imagine you can do a film in 2 minutes and that is totally okay, you don’t have to drag your story to try and reach the 4 minutes. 4 minutes is the maximum, meaning minimum can be anything. We watched a really interesting short film that was under a minute long. So don’t feel the need to max out on the allocated time of the short film.
What’s the genre of your film: Understanding the genre you’re working on helps you know which notes to hit. If it’s comedy we need to laugh, if thriller we need to feel some chills, and so forth. So as you’re thinking through your story concept, consider genre, as it will guide you on how best to deliver the much needed emotions and stakes in your short film.
Even a short story needs some form of conflict: Whether comedy or Drama, story is made interesting through conflict. It doesn’t have to be over the top ‘Alexandro I am your father’ kind of conflict, but you need to present some conflict to us. Whether through the topic you pick, that gets us, the audience, conflicted about the topic itself, whether through the characters in your story world. Conflict holds our interest. You will be surprised how long 4 minutes is, I discovered that while watching the short films, and for some films I waited for the four minutes to be over and it felt like it was taking eternity.
Write for an audience: Remember that when you’re working on something like film, you’re working on it for an audience to partake. Keeping this at the back of your mind will help you as you create and execute your short film.
Story is King: If you forget anything else I’ve said. Remember this. Story is King. You might have great camera work, great art etc. But if Story isn’t KING, it will most likely fail. You might have ish ish Cinematography etc but with great STORY the judges will remember and it will show in the grading. So please work on your craft.
I’m truly passionate about the craft of writing, I love story and I love helping other writers unleash their fullest potential in writing.
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I get asked a lot on how to get a project from start to finish, and today I want to share some tips on how to get a book and script from start to finish.
The most important thing to becoming a prolific writer is to create a process that works for you and master it. e.g How many books/scripts do you want to write in a year? How much research do you need to do for your creative work? What are the things that stand in the way of you meeting your goals? (be honest with yourself)
Let’s go through the process step by step.
Whatever your target, now open your calendar and look at the 12 months in a year you have. Be brutally honest with yourself, are you able to write the same number of hours every month? Are there months that you are less productive? E.g for me, as a work from home mum, April, August and Dec are months that I’m less productive because kids are on school holiday and no matter what I set for those months, I will never be as efficient as the rest of the year. (You can imagine my life now with COVID and kids at homeJ but somehow I’m finding a way around it) So anyway be honest with yourself about your life circumstances e.g a job or consultancy, that might keep you from being prolific every month of the year.
TIP: Don’t start a project and leave it resting for more than a week, you will forget about it and will have to do a refresher on characters and the whole story when you resume, I’ve learnt this the hard way. You are better off scheduling 15 minutes of writing every day even in those crazy months than not writing at all as it will cost you weeks to get your mind back to your story.
So once you know how your months look like and how many books/scripts you want to write that year, then…….
How many words/pages can I write in a day? Before you answer this, ask yourself, are you a plotter or a pantser? I.e Do you outline your story or do you discover your story as you go along? If you don’t know, then you might want to experiment with both and see which one gives you better results. There is no right or wrong way of doing things.
I am an outliner i.e plotter, I like knowing where I’m going before I come to sit down to write. So if you are an outliner, you need to schedule in time to outline your work. You could set aside an entire week to simply think through the story and outline it, then get writing it down. If you are a discovery writer i.e pantser, no need for this, simply jump into it, but of course having an idea of what your story is? Who wants what and is having difficulty getting it, an idea of some of the obstacles in their way, and of course being sure of the genre you’re writing helps you stay on track with your writing.
So anyway once you’ve nailed down the idea bit, you also need to know how much research you need for the particular story and how much time that will take you. You don’t necessarily have to nail all the research you need, you just need enough information to get you writing, the rest you can spend time in the evenings calling experts, googling and so forth.
Again, it’s time to be honest with yourself, this is not for show but for you. How many words are you comfortable to write in an hour?
If writing a book, If a script, how many pages are you able to write in an hour? Multiply this by the number of hours you’re able to write in a day*how many days of the week are you able to write? This is not the time for being a mackmende(hero) this is the time for brutal honesty. You might want to test out your writing process for two weeks, experiment, time yourself and see, then use what’s happened in your two weeks as the average. There are writers who write superfast! There are those who write super slow!
It is not a competition, know what works for you and make the best of it. So do the simple math. If you are writing a 90 page script. If you write 5 pages a day then you will be at 90 pages in 18 days! If you’re writing a 50k word novel and are writing 2,000 words a day=25 days.
TIP: Your writing improves the more you write and you’ll find yourself writing faster and better with more and more practice. Just like with sports, I can’t come out of my house and just decide to run 20kms! I’ll get injuries, but if I start small and keep practicing, staying consistent then 20kms might be a joke soon enough. That’s true of your writing.
3. The Editing Process: By the time you get here, you should have done some research on the type of editor your story needs. For books there are different types of editors.
There’s a copy editor or proof reader who deals with the grammar of your work, from the typos to grammatical sentences, to comas and so forth.
There’s a structural editor who deals with your story structure; is it flowing from beginning- middle- end, are stakes raised, do we have suspense and so forth.
There’s also a story editor or developmental editor who delves deeper into your story and characters to help your story and characters become the best they can be.
There’s a line editor and so forth.
As a book writer you need to figure out what kind of editor your story needs, so that you can do the best for your work and grow as a writer.
For scripts most times it’s the same editor doing it all and it works.
So the question to ask yourself is can you afford an editor? If you can then I highly recommend you do so as it not only makes your work great, but it grows you as a writer.
If you absolutely cannot afford an editor, then you want to find likeminded individuals who write in your genre, basically a group of friends and you can do each other favours by reading and critiquing each other’s work. No w/man is an island, if you don’t want to help others, no one will help you, it’s a give and take. So find someone or two to read your work and give you feedback.
Don’t rush to make changes, don’t rush to defend your work, be still, internalize the notes, don’t be stubborn if something tags at you based on some comment then it might mean it’s not working. At the same time, this is your story, you want the best for your story, so think through notes, implement them or not. You also need to give your readers/editor timelines so that you’re not waiting for feedback forever. Also give them the date you intend to send the work to them and check about their availability, don’t just drop it into their inbox.
TIP: If you’re writing a thriller, make sure your editor/readers know their stuff in as far as thrillers are concerned. Don’t get a romance editor to edit your thriller.
Don’t send a first draft to anyone. Make sure you reread your work, rework it before sending it to an editor/reader. Also don’t get into perfectionism as this is what kills most projects and stops them from seeing the light of day.
If you need some help on self-editing as well before taking your work to an editor. Check out a blog article I did on self-editing.
While your editor/reader is looking through your work, don’t sit nervously waiting. Get on with the next project. You can be outlining or researching and so forth. I’m currently writing a book series and when the first book will be with the editor, I shall get on with the next book. For scripts, get onto the next idea as well.
4. Copyright your work: In Kenya you can copyright with the copyright board, check them out online and the requirements. This is for both scripts and books. Please copyright your work before submitting it to any other person. It costs 1,000 In Kenya. Check out for your various countries. I cannot over emphasize why you need to copyright your work, protect yourself from thieves.
5. What next after editing: You give the book/script another pass, fixing notes etc. Then release the work to a would be reader (beta reader) for books, for scripts, give to a fan of the genre, a trusted person, plus a grammar teacher or someone good with their grammar to make sure they catch some things that might have missed your eye.
6. Book Cover and formatting: You could do this earlier or simultaneously as you write the book, get someone to design a cover for you. Unfortunately, with books, we judge a book by its cover so make sure you give it your best shot. You can also try designing your own if you have a hand in that check out www.canva.com among other sites that could help you design. Book cover designers are generally not expensive in Kenya. You can get designers from 2000bob. You can also format your book yourself or get someone to do it for you. www.booktemplatedesigns.com I once got a template from here but I didn’t have the brain bandwidth to do it, the formatting templates are as cheap as Ksh 2,000. I’m currently experimenting with a software called vellum. www.vellum.com because it’s been highly recommended by international indie-published authors. It’s a bit pricey, but it’s a one off purchase and I can format as many books as I want, both e-book and print. As I’ve been saying before, people spend money on their hobbies, clothes, phones etc. Writing books is moving from a hobby to a business for me and I’m willing to invest in it. I have and continue to make a living writing for film and TV since 2007, I intend to add books to my list of money makers, so I’m investing in it, I’m here for the long game. For script writers, before you make it big and can buy a formatting software such as www.finaldraft.com, you can use www.celtxt.com which is totally free and professional.
7. Pitch package: For script writers, this is the time to prepare a pitch package for your project. From the Log Line, Synopsis, Character Bios, Treatment. You want to have these ready because you just never know. You can try pitching the script to various competitions like Berlinale, and many others. If you just google, you’ll find.(and I update my email subscribers weekly on current competitions and opportunities) You could also put your pitch package up on www.inktip.com. I think for book people as well, you might try shopping it around if you want to get published. You might also read my article on why you should self-publish. www.damarisirunguo.com It opens your eyes to many possibilities. Don’t wait to be picked. Pick yourself, the publisher will find you as you move along. No publisher is eager to market a little unknown writer at the moment.
8. Indie-Publishing: With the click of a button, your books can be in some of these e-book stores such as Amazon, Kobo, Apple, Google etc. You can also get your books into bookstores in Kenya such as Jumia, Nuria, Rafu books and many others who are selling indie-published books. They take 30 percent, you are left with 70 percent, the same is true for the e-book stores, all dependent on the price of your book. You can also sell directly from your website. I will write more on that in the future as I’m at this stage (Sept 2020) with my first Indie-published book.
Printing companies are many all over, make sure you ask them for a sample of work they’ve done for others before you use them. When it comes to a printer, I am working with one who a friend has recommended after getting satisfactory results from them, so do your research before rushing into it and getting poor results.
9. You’re a business: I think we sometimes forget that art is a business and we need to make money. The only way to make money is to repeat the process, avoid the next shiny thing syndrome, where you have lots of half-baked stuff and don’t get anything finished. Focus on one, finish, move to the next. The more units you have, the more money you’ll make in the long run. Books are assets. I know many script writers who don’t want to even think that they’d have to write books, I urge you to consider it, why? If Netflix approaches me today and want to buy my script, then I will sell them the script and I can’t write a book on the same topic after they’ve purchased the script or it might become a challenge. If I had a book, they would only buy the script, but the book rights remain mine, and if they want both, they would pay a very high amount for both. The trend is that, once a book becomes a TV hit, the book sales go up. It’s a different muscle to flex, and I won’t say that its easy, it isn’t and despite years of excellent TV and Film writing coming out of me, my few couple of books won’t be as great and that’s okay. I’m just doing it because I know the value of having a book in hand which I can adapt into a screenplay or a TV series.
So friends, consistency is King. Find a process that works for you and keep at it! Repeat! Repeat! Repeat!
I hope this helps you nail your process for your writing!
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This is a question that keeps popping up a lot. What should I be writing? It’s a question that leaves most writers unsure of what they should be following. When a certain genre becomes a hit, some writers will get their fingers on their key boards fast to try and produce the next hit in that genre, the problem with that kind of strategy is that, by the time you are done researching and writing that story, the mood of the industry will have shifted to another genre, so trying to write this way is like chasing after the wind. Good luck with that!
The strategy that has withstood the test of time for most writers is writing what makes you feel. Let’s dive deeper, with what we should be writing.
Themes that tug at you: You should be writing things that move you emotionally, what are the issues that get you mad about society? About humanity? Does Injustice make your blood boil? Is it racism and tribalism? Whatever gets you feeling strongly, then write about that. The beauty of being led by something you feel strongly about, is that even when the going gets tough with the writing, the theme will continue to tug at you and carry you through the process. If you simply write because this is what is ‘currently hot’ then chances are you might not see your project to the end.
In genres that you know: I think whoever said ‘write what you know’ was referring to genre, I don’t watch of read horrors, so I wouldn’t just wake up one day and attempt to write a horror because I have no idea what to avoid, what works, I have a whole lot of ideas on what doesn’t work in horrors lol after attempting to watch several. But I haven’t studied the genre enough to attempt to write in it, it also doesn’t fascinate me. How do we get ‘to know’ a genre? By first loving the genre, watching and reading a lot of it and studying and analyzing it. The reason we’re advised as writers to write in a genre that we know is simply to be able to give the audience/reader a satisfying story. Imagine going to watch a movie that has labelled itself a comedy, and you sit down ready to laugh and instead of laughing you end up reflecting on life and feeling miserable about stuff, that is not a satisfying story as per your expectation as the audience. So please deliver on your promises to your readers. Even when you combine genres, there’s a particular genre that will be leading the way, so make sure we get more of that! It’s all about audience/reader expectations.
Why are you writing in the first place? Every time I start on a project, I make sure to ask myself this question. It helps me stay focused. I ask myself why am I writing this story? Is it for critical acclaim, is it because I have a burning message to pass across? Answering this question helps me look myself in the mirror and helps me know how to proceed. Why are you working on the particular piece you’re working on? Let that determine what you should be writing.
Writing is a marathon, not a sprint, and when you’re doing your marathon, you might stop along the way to tie a shoe lace, to drink some water, you might slow down your pace to stay sane, you might not enjoy it all the time, but when you’re done with that particular project, you will pat yourself on the back, look back and beam proudly because whether or not the entire world celebrates with you, you told the story that you needed to tell, so good job! Move on to the next!
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I’ve been doing a lot of research on Indie-publishing and the whole publishing space and I’ve come out with a lot more clarity on how I want to go about my books.
I’m getting into my first time indie-publishing my own work. I prefer referring to it as indie- publishing as opposed to self-publishing because as an Indie- Author I’m not doing everything myself, I have someone doing the book cover, book editing etc.
I’ve been writing professionally TV film scripts and TV shows for 14 years now, (I still am), I also wrote a children’s storybook that was published by a big Kenyan Publisher. I’m now getting into the space of indie-publishing and a lot of people are asking me why I would want to self-publish as opposed to finding a publisher. Having done so much research on this topic, I have clarity on why I would want to go the indie-publishing way. This doesn’t mean that I would turn down a great publishing deal if it comes my way, but since I am now equipped with lots more knowledge on the process, I am able to make an informed choice. Also there are so many ways to publish, you could indie-publish, you could get published, you could go hybrid i.e indie-publish some books, get published for some others.
Information is power and with the world becoming a global village, thanks to the internet, it is now more than ever increasingly easy to indie-publish, we are just scratching the surface in Africa in indie publishing and I believe we can do it. After carefully researching. I give below some pros and cons of indie-publishing.
PROS OF INDIE PUBLISHING
You have all the rights to your books: When you indie publish, the book belongs to you! You can decide to produce various formats of your book to maximize on how much money you make e.g have an e-book, a print edition, an audio book, you can also have the same book in other languages. So same content in various formats and languages making you money in different ways. When you are published by a publisher, most times they will want to retain the right to exploit the various formats. Whether they exploit or not, you shall have no say as you will have signed off the rights.
You have total Freedom to write what you want, when you want and publish when you want: You can write in any genre, in multiple genres, you don’t have to wait for years to get picked by a publishing company, you can go ahead and publish anytime. I’m not a writer who reads one genre of books, I read in various genres, hence as a writer I could decide to write in various genres, I don’t need to ask permission from anyone, I simply write. Being published sometimes means you’re boxed in one type of genre.
You have higher royalties: I mentioned earlier that I’ve been published before, from this book I get 11% royalty. When you Indie-publish you get higher royalties. That’s a fact. Information is power.
The world is now a global village: Through online platforms such as Amazon or even selling e-books directly from your website, you can reach a large African and international market. The internet has made it easier, more on more people are having cheaper access to internet, I know many writers are scared and think it’s harder to get your work out there, but really, it’s not, with clever cheap advertising and writing a great book/books, you can reach your 1000 true fans. You don’t need to sell to the whole world, but if you reach 1000 true fans, who buy every other book you write and publish, then you’re in good business. So Imagine having indie-published 10 or more books, your account will be looking good, right?
You’ll build a platform with books: Even if you want to get published, don’t you think it’s a great idea if you get on with it and let the publisher find you on the way. Most publishers these days want an already established author, someone already with a following. They don’t want to spend a lot of time marketing you, the beauty is when the publisher finds you already indie publishing, with a following and making decent money, then you will have bargaining power. Don’t wait for permission to indie-publish. Give yourself permission.
You can make the process cheaper: You don’t need to have printed copies, you can sell online as e-books and split the income with the platforms. You could decide to do a couple of printed copies which you can get into partnerships with various places such as Rafu Books, Nuria, Jumia, etc (in Kenya) who distribute indie-published books and for that, most of these take 30percent, so you still have 70 percent left to you. Even the online platforms don’t take over 30 percent. Indie-publishing has never been easier. If you sell directly from your website the percentages are much more.
Industry has shifted in our favour: Things have really changed and especially in this covid season. Publishers have been worst hit as most of them depend on print copy sales, and with lock down and the uncertainty around us, most people are not going into bookshops to buy physical books. I sense they will wait it out before they sign on any new authors. The more reason why you just need to get on with it.
CONS OF INDIE PUBLISHING
Indie-publishing requires you to work hard: You have to spend time learning the business of marketing, you’ll have to find printers, talk to distributers, book editors, book cover designers and so much more. This is what I’ve been spending the last year doing, learning learning learning. The beauty is once you learn this knowledge and establish partnerships with great freelancers then the second, third and so on book process becomes easier. The first one is really where all the stress is, and for me now, coming very close to the last stages of the book process, I must say, it has been hard work, but very rewarding work. So ask yourself, if you are willing to learn all it takes, I am not a technical person but I have managed to run my website and email list since March. If I can do it, so can you!
You’ll have to spend your own money: Publishers use their money and pay you an advance in most economies to publish your work. In some economies they pay you nothing! They simply publish and then start paying you the percentage agreed upon once the book starts selling. If you are indie-publishing, it means you’ll have to spend your own money. My question to you is how badly do you want to get started as an author? People spend their salaries on their hobbies, on clothes, shoes etc, people invest in land etc, you could decide to channel your money to this passion that could start making you money. Book designers in Kenya are not very pricey, hosting a website is not very pricey etc. Invest in your future if you’re serious about it. Look at where most of your money goes and decide to channel some of it to this passion that could become a great source of income for you, consider it an investment.
No accolades: If you want to win a literary prize then this might not be the way for you, as most indie- published writers are not considered for those. For me, I really want to make a living with my writing, with my books as assets and TV Film and shows royalties. I want to write books that entertain and people pay to read them. Maybe it’s because I’m also a screenwriter so my ego satisfaction might come through an Oscar award hahaha. But hey as I mentioned, there’s the hybrid model ofpublishing, so for that literary book you write, you might want to approach a publishing house, that’s if accolades are important for you.
Most book shops are hesitant to stock indie-published books: Yes, they are, but if your book is really good, and people ask for the book in their stores and they don’t have it, they will have no choice but to give you a call. I know several authors who indie-publish and have their books in most of our major Kenyan bookshops, so fear not.
Hope these tips inspire you to get on with your Indie-publishing journey? Information is power so equip yourself with the knowledge to make the necessary decisions.
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There is a saying that goes ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person.’ I agree with this statement. The times I have gotten my personal writing done is when I have been busy with other bill paying work. When I find myself with so much free time, I procrastinate and waste time and get very little done, but when I don’t have much free time, then I find ways to squeeze in my personal writing and it works.
It is hard to find work life balance, and even with the COVID season, with kids at home and needing homeschooling it’s meant less time for my writing. But I am determined to not just develop my bill paying projects but also my passion projects.
I am fortunate that my Bill paying projects are all writing related, so my hustle is pretty much on the same lane…writing. Some of you have different types of job and you write at the weekend or perhaps once in a while when the bug hits. If you badly want to make a living with your writing, then you need to find ways to write more, put in the words, create fresh stuff and most importantly see your projects to the end by completing them.
If you’re frustrated because you feel you’re not achieving much in your personal writing, I’ve got a few tips that I use to help me get my personal writing done.
Be a master of your time and energy: We have all been given 24 hours a day. How do you spend yours? When do you have the most mental energy? Are you a morning person? Are you a night person? If you are a morning person, then you might want to wake up an hour and a half earlier than normal and make the most of the morning before life takes over. If you are an evening person and can still write after a hard day at work, then I suggest you switch off that TV in the evenings and get some writing done for an hour or two before you go to bed.
Also check for the time stealers throughout your day. E.g if you are working fulltime, how about eating your lunch while writing? On the commute to work, if you’re not driving, why not get some writing done? I guess it all goes to how badly do you want to get your writing out here.
2. Plan ahead: A lot of the procrastinating we do is because we haven’t prepared for what we plan to write that day. How about making sure that by the time you stop the writing for the day, you have planned ahead a scene or two and have set them up, this works to psychologically get you excited to come and work, if you come to the table blank, then even your brain protests and not much writing gets done.
Also be careful about staying away too from your project, if for example you work on your project this month, then stay another two months before touching it, I guarantee you by the time you get back to it you will have to refresh yourself to the characters and where you were on the story. This will take several days and becomes time wasted. Strive to touch on your project every other day to avoid this time wasting exercise.
3. Batch your work: Depending on the nature of your current main hustle, it might be easier to just write mornings and evenings and weekends, but for some of us there is a possibility of working for paid work for 3-4 days a week, then dedicating the rest of the days of the week to your personal project. So look at your current work and see how best it suits your writing. The most important thing is that you put those words on the page.
4. Set aside time for research: Don’t do your research during the time you’ve set aside for writing. From experience I’ve found that the minute I key in a google search for something during the writing, I go down a rabbit hole and before I know it, an entire hour is done and the last thing I was reading up on, was some celebrities’ current diet haha! Set aside a specific time for the research, this could be at lunch time or at night. But absolutely not during the time allocated for writing.
5. Re-fill your well: You might not be motivated to write because you’re running on empty. Reading and Writing go hand in hand and if you want your writing to grow you have to constantly read. Also find time to watch some stuff. If you are not reading, you risk ending up running on empty and when you’re on empty you stall. If you want to sharpen your writing skills then read up in various genres, formats. Read read read. Looking for free scripts to read online? Check out www.simplyscripts.com
6. Set deadlines and honour them: There are times that even our self –motivation doesn’t work to get our personal writing done. This is why competitions are always great. I look for online competition for writers, check the deadlines and then work on my project to beat the competition deadline. This has worked for me and I’ve been able to finish projects that I had stalled on. There’s the Berlinale deadline coming up in September. That can be motivation to get your work ready, no? I sometimes also bet with friends, there’s a friend who I once bet with for some glowing powder worth five K, If I didn’t beat my deadline I would buy her the five K glowing powder. My friends, that was enough motivation to beat my deadline, there was no way I was buying powder for KES 5,000 no way lol! It really worked and I never bought that powder. Phew!
7. Be gentle on yourself: I’ve found that sometimes when I’ve put too much pressure on myself I end up dropping some balls, so I remember to occasionally be gentle on myself, but being gentle on myself doesn’t mean I continually allow myself to have excuses for why I’m not developing my own work. It just means that there are seasons of life that are harder than others and when I find myself really struggling through a season, I cut myself some slack.
I hope these few pointers help you get back on track with your writing. Most important to remember is that; when you want something bad enough you will make some sacrifices here and there to make sure you achieve your goals!
Feel free to leave a comment and share some of the tips that have allowed you to find time to write.