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.
Congratulations! Now you have the first draft of your manuscript. What next?
Every writer needs to self-edit their work before submitting to an editor. Whatever the format of writing. It is the writer’s duty to make sure their story is working. Most times when the word editing is mentioned, a lot of writers assume typos and grammatical errors, but even before you get to that, you need to make sure the story is working.
There are also 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 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.
So enough about the external editors, today I’d like to equip you with some self-editing tips from knowledge gathered over the years as both a script editor and a writer, read below to help your story become the best it can be.
Check the pacing of your story. Does the second act lag? Have you given your audience a satisfactory beginning, middle and end with a great balanced pace? Is your story moving at just the right pace? Not too fast to lose the reader to confusion, not too slow to lose the reader to boredom? Pacing is key.
Does your inciting incident come early enough? Ensure you’ve not over stretched the set-up of your story that it starts to drag and your reader gets bored waiting for the story to start. (Read more on the inciting incident in one of my blog posts on my website www.damarisirunguo.com
Is the why of your character clear? Why is your character doing what s/he is doing? Have you motivated them enough? Is your Protagonist also actively moving towards their goal or are they passive about every challenge thrown their way?
Your antagonist or Antagonistic force. How layered are they? Are they a cliché antagonist or you’ve pushed the boundaries with the antagonist in this story?
Have you fulfilled the promise you made to your audience at the start of the script/story? Did you make them a promise in the first place? If not go back, make them a promise in your first act, the promise gets fulfilled in act 3.
Check for consistency in the story, from your character ages, characters background and anything about the character that might have changed as you wrote. Make sure the time span in your story also makes sense. Re-read your work looking out for the time span the story takes place and tighten any weakness. Make sure the beginning to end is consistent.
Make sure the formatting is correct. Check the grammar and check for any spelling mistakes. Also make sure your English is uniform across the script, if you choose to use American English and spell color without the U, then you can’t spell flavour with the U because that’s British. Improve your chances of not annoying those who’ll be reading your work by being consistent in your language. (I know, it’s a burden but we have to do what we have to do)
I hope these tips inspire you to get on with your editing, make your manuscript the best it can be!
Writers and creatives are often referred to as ‘sensitive beings’ and if this weren’t true we wouldn’t be able to write those great stories that move our audiences and readers emotionally. So please wear your ‘I am Sensitive Badge’ With Pride. This sensitive side brings with it a downside, as most often we’re not able to deal with rejection very well, and if it’s not dealt with, rejection can stop you from ever putting your work out there.
So whether dealing with rejection from an application pitch, or dealing with rejection from fans who reject your work and call you names, I’ve got a few tips below on how I’ve been handling rejection for the past 14 years in my career as a professional writer. Hope some of these tips help you grow thick skin, lick your wounds fast and move on to be the best you can be.
Keep busy: Don’t pause your life waiting for the results of whatever it is you applied for. Move on to the next project. Being busy with another idea I’m developing has helped me deal better when the rejection comes in. I’m able to move on faster because I was already busy and hadn’t pressed the pause button. So please, I beg o, apply for whatever you’re applying for, then move on.
It is not you that got Rejected but the project: Most times we take it personal when ‘we’re’ rejected, forgetting that it was not really you but the story idea or script you pitched. I’m learning to separate these two and it’s working for me. Of course there are some projects that will be more interested in you the writer and not the concept, but most times it’s really about what’s on the page regarding your creation, and it might not be a fit for them. It’s hard to separate the two but once you learn how to, you’re able to bounce back faster from rejection.
Don’t put your eggs in one basket: Don’t apply for only one thing a year and then let that dampen the mood for the rest of the year. Apply for many things, apply wide, keep throwing the spaghetti on the wall and I guarantee you something will stick. This year alone I applied to Berlinale Script station (which FYI is open for applications with a September deadline) I didn’t get in, I applied to Follow the Nile, I didn’t get in. Did that stop me from applying for the just ended Netflix Pitch, No, will that stop me from applying for Berlinale again? No. I also applied to Cinephilia Bound Cannes 2020 and I was a TOP 20 FINALIST from thousands of applications, I didn’t make the top 5 after the cut off, but guess what, it gave me an energy boost, I wear my rejections as badges of honour because from each rejection I learn something new, I relook my story, look for gaps in my characters and keep growing as a writer.
Stop comparing yourself to others: I know it’s hard to look the other way when your friends seem to be ‘winning’ and you seem to be ‘losing’. I remind myself that I am not on my friends’ journey, but on my own personal journey, this is why God created us differently, so anytime you start comparing yourself to others, stop and count your blessings one by one. You will be surprised.
Work Harder: Since change is the only constant in life. It calls for us to adapt fast and move on. When you get that rejection, lick those wounds, mop for a day and then pick yourself up and get back on the grind. There’s no other way to it. The faster you pick yourself up, the faster you get back to creating your stuff and making it the best it can be. Keep creating because opportunity meets preparedness, you don’t want to be caught without a well thought out story idea when the next pitch call comes.
Believe in yourself: Invest in your craft, work hard, push boundaries with your work. This belief in yourself might get shaken when you receive rejections, but do not allow rejection to make you doubt your capabilities as a creator, if this is truly your calling then you are made for this, consider rejection just part of your creative journey and keep shining your light.
Your work might be a trendsetter: Another thing I consider when I get rejected for a project I really believe in, is that I might be a trendsetter. No one wants to risk on the unknown, so if you really believe in your project, don’t throw it away, perfect it and put it in a folder because a time will come when the world will be ready for that particular work.
I hope these pointers help you shift your mindset on how to deal with rejection. The arts are not for the faint hearted, Rejection is part of the journey, so let’s chin up and be the best we can be!
Hit reply and leave us some tips on how you’ve coped with rejection over the years.
A writers’ greatest task is to create a great reading experience, preferably a better reading experience than what the actual film or TV visual will provide. This is because, before anyone can put money on the visual, they have to read the script and have a thrilling experience. Whereas the actual film and TV have the luxury of great directing, great cinematography, sound mix, music score, great acting and so forth, which work in harmony for the sake of the script, when writing, you are all alone, with only one weapon; your words. It is therefore our responsibility to thrill the readers and make them feel the same emotions, if not a better experience. And it is possible.
I watched twelve years a slave and was deeply moved emotionally by the film. Then a year or so later I decided to read the script of the same film ‘Twelve years a slave’ I will be honest and tell you that the script moved me to more tears, it had me literally crying like a baby (no I was not PMS’ing!)Years later, I’ve still not gathered enough courage to finish reading the script because of how emotionally drained I got, and also because I live in a small apartment with my husband and two kids and there would be nowhere to hide and cry my heart out, so I decided to spare my children the agony of watching their mother ‘cry like a baby’. That experience of being completely moved by a script emotionally was a strong reminder of how powerful words, if used in a great combination. It is indeed possible to move your audience to tears and laughter with just your words as your tool of trade.
This is my desire for you as is the desire for myself, that my written words would move some serious emotions in my readers.
Some ‘To Do’s for writing great descriptions
You’ve got to eat from the table with the masters in this craft, you have to read their scripts and books to see how the pros do it, no short cut here.
Study poetry- I hear some groans from those of us who are not big fans of poetry, but before you put this book aside because I’m suggesting you read poetry, hear me out. Poetry in whatever language has a way with words, where complex matters like love and emotions are explained in as few words as possible. This has made poetry writers become sort of geniuses in rhythm and balance. What reading poetry does for you, is help you get your rhythm; and your word choices start sounding melodious and if it does that to you, it will to the reader. So study poetry.
Practice writing. Being a writer means exactly that. You have to wake up each morning and write. You have to channel and schedule time for that purpose exactly or else days will come and go, you will read up lots, you will study lots but if you don’t put everything you’re learning into practice then it shall all be in vain. No more wishing you were a writer. Simply get on with it. Put in those practice hours and your writing will reward you in future.
Read read read! I cannot over- state the importance of reading. We read for many reasons. So read for content, read for context, read to expound on your grammar and read to see how words interact on a page. You will make your life easier as a writer if you make reading one of your life’s priorities.
TIPS FOR GREAT DESCRIPTION.
Describe your characters in interesting ways. ‘Tall, dark and handsome won’t cut it anymore, Mills and Boons overdid that a long time ago when I was still in preschool. One way to describe your characters is by giving us a hint of the character instead of a whole explanation. Example while describing a nerd, the usual cliché description would be ‘ Baraka, 20’s wears thick rimmed eye glasses. You could simply say ‘meet Baraka, a young man who’d rather hang out with computers than a hot African goddess.
Give your location descriptions life e.g ‘A huge palace stands majestic owning the space’ When you put it this way, we immediately visualize this huge palace that has a personality, it believes in itself.
When describing location, use a good majority of the five senses; sight, smell, touch, taste and sound; But while doing so, remember which medium you are writing for, if a script, you have to be brief and to the point, if a novel, it allows you some room for lots of flowery descriptions. For example, a sense like sight, what do we see in relation to evoking emotions? How will what we are seeing make us feel? Think about the same for the other senses.
Let your genre dictate your description style. If you’re writing a thriller then the words, mood and tone you set should be in exactly that genre, if writing a comedy, then humour us through your description as well; meaning, comedy descriptions will be lighter and fast paced than that of thriller. If you’re writing an action adventure you better use active words that keep things moving along.
Read your description out loud and get rid of bulky words, words that slow down your description. Ensure that your description has some rhythm to it as that gives it pace and movement.
More white on the page is more attractive than more ink on the page. Chop those extra words. If you however find you have too much description and it all needs to be in there, then break it into paragraphs so that it doesn’t intimidate the reader.
Polish up on your verbs and adverbs so that instead of using more words on the page such as she runs fast, you can say she bolts, it also gives your description some power.
Most importantly do not direct actors and don’t direct the director. Let everyone earn their money. I once fell out with a producer who wanted me to describe every little detail about the actor’s movements, camera direction, he thought I was being lazy and getting paid too much, so he wanted all the details in. I tried to explain how it’s done professionally but he didn’t want to understand. Anyway over ten years later I’m still writing, he’s not producing. All I’m saying with the above rant is that, don’t micromanage the actors, DOP, Director. You are not the boss, a film/TV production is a collaboration so let the director interpret things for themselves. The only time you are allowed to direct the director is in situations where you feel there is so much subtext that they might miss out on your message, then by all means tell them what you mean but don’t do that with all your descriptions.
On the same note, do not put in camera angles for the DOP and director. They know their jobs, that’s why they’ve been called to direct your script. Sometimes it all goes wrong during filming when directors haven’t done their homework and internalized your vision. But trust the system especially if you have no intention of becoming a director.
Unlike novels where we can go on with internal monologues of how a character is feeling. In scripts we can’t, so you can’t tell us what the character is feeling or thinking, you have to show us.
Hope these tips help you as you work on your descriptions!
This is an excerpt from my upcoming book on writing: Get Writing! A beginner’s guide from Idea to First Draft.
It’s been said there’s nothing new under the sun. Ideas are all the same! So how then do you make sure that Idea you have that seems very familiar to something you’ve watched or read doesn’t end up like a copy paste? I have a few tips below.
Mali, a Kenyan show I worked on had a similar concept to Lies that bind. A father dies leaving a gap as people fight over his property. The two shows were made completely different because of the characters involved and the twists and turns, the stakes were the same, the two families wanted the money, but the obstacles and complications were completely different. See below a few tips on how to make that story idea fresh.
Swap the gender of the main character: I gave this example a few weeks ago, if you’re working on a story on domestic violence, switch genders and instead of the wife being the victim as is always portrayed, make it the husband…or even better a teenage child who is affected psychologically by the fights between his parents, seeing this story from another characters Point Of View will help bring in the freshness required to your story idea.
Swap the setting: If your idea feels close to a setting you know, how about changing the setting and seeing what that does to your story? E.g if you wanted to do an upmarket story but feel like you’ve seen that setting before, take the story to a ghetto, to a village or even better ‘Mathare’ (facility for the mentally unstable)
Swap the genre: Are you disturbed that the concept you have feels like something in a genre you’ve watched? How about trying to change the genre? If it was a drama how about pushing it to a thriller? Or a comedy? You will be amazed just how everything changes when you change the genre of what you’re working on. The rules of writing comedy are different from writing horror or thrillers and you’ll get different results.
Make sure your obstacles and complications are different: Don’t give your protagonist the same obstacles and complications you’ve seen or read about, make the obstacles and complications fresh and new, something we’ve never seen before and even if we have seen before, make sure the way they react to what you throw their way is different. This will help your story idea stay fresh.
Different Story, familiar Human emotions: If you forget everything else I’ve said above, don’t forget this. The reason we watch and read stories is because of what they make us feel, never forget that, so in as much as you want your story idea to be fresh, the emotions we feel as the story progresses have to be familiar so that we can go on this journey with your characters.
There you go, a few tips to help you freshen up that story idea. Feel free to leave comments below on more tips or anything else related to story.
In my years as a writer I have had to battle the inner critic to be able to put my work out here. I know writers who haven’t done much because the inner critic paralyzed them and they just froze. To succeed in this game of writing you have to shut the inner critic up, and the most powerful way is by changing your mindset. Here are some tips and affirmations you can start practicing immediately to help you shift your mindset so that you can move on to producing your best work yet.
I am Creative: A lot of creatives self-sabotage by procrastinating because they don’t believe they are good enough. Well I’m here to tell you that if the writing bug has bitten you, you are good enough to be the one to write whatever it is that is giving you sleepless nights. Ditch the mindset that you are an imposter and own your God given talent of writing. Believe in yourself, believe in your ideas, and stop self-sabotaging by letting doubt of ‘are you good enough’ cripple you. Go for your dreams, today! (more on self-doubt on a past blog post, check it out here www.damarisirunguo.com
I’ll invest in my career: Investing isn’t just about money, but about time, how much time do you invest in your beloved career? Do you spend more time watching other people’s careers on the TV screen or on your social media screen, following people, wishing it was you and so forth? You have to invest time and energy into what you want for your writing life. Read scripts,(find scripts to read on www.simplyscripts.com) write write write, research, read books, cook up stories, the best way to learn is to practice it ,so learn and practice. And as you practice and start putting your work out there, this builds confidence and a lot of it over time. I have worked on many TV shows and Films and I am a witness of the confidence it builds over time. Go for it!
I’ll deliver Value: How would you feel if you went to the shop and the shopkeeper sold you expired bread?(I’m writing this when hungry so the example had to be of foodJ but Indulge me. Then you notice the bread is expired and confront the shopkeeper about it, the shopkeeper says sorry, he didn’t know the bread was expired. You would be angry because it is the shopkeepers’ job to make sure he checks and sells you good products, the same way you as the writer is expected to deliver great writing that gives your audience a satisfying experience. There is no excuse, as a writer you have to deliver great value to your target audience/reader. This can only be achieved if you work hard on your craft, if you invest in learning about it and practice practice practice. There is no excuse. You have to deliver value, once you understand this, then your mindset shifts and you ask yourself questions that will help you work hard at making sure your reader/audience stay happy.
I am unique: It had never hit me just how unique everyone is until I stumbled upon the wise saying about finger prints. God gave you a fingerprint that no one else has, so you can leave an imprint that no one else can. Are you wasting your uniqueness by spending time comparing yourself to others and trying to be them, trying to follow in their path? Friend, you are uniquely created for your own path, when you take the time to digest this then your mindset starts to shift and instead of thinking that you’re in competition with others, you start working on your God given strengths and abilities and that is when the magic happens, that is when you discover your writing voice and make a mark with your writing.
I’ll ditch the poverty support group: Wacheke Nduati of Centonomy says this and I’d love to borrow this line from her.’ Ditch the Poverty support group! As artists we have been trained to think poverty, this is why sometimes we shortchange ourselves, we quote very low, we work so many times for exposure, exposure won’t pay the bills, if you are starting out, by all means work for exposure, you have to and need it, but once you become a seasoned writer you need to be taking yourself as a business and one of the things is to ditch those around you who believe artists should be poor, broke and living on breadcrumbs. I don’t believe in this, I make a comfortable living from my writing and it’s because I ditched the mentality that because I love what I do I shouldn’t get paid decent money for it. If the friends around you are comfortable being broke, ditch them! They will take you down that road with them because the only thing you guys will be talking about is how tough the industry is, how things are not working out. The tongue is a powerful tool, whatever you speaketh, becometh, so speak blessings and prosperity into your life and talent. Aspire for more. Do the best! Be the Best! Money will follow. (read on multiple streams of income for writers, a blog post I wrote www.damarisirunguo.com
I hope these five pointers help you shift your mindset to be the best you can be! Found this interesting? Please share with another writer who needs to hear this today. TIA
Feel free to leave a comment on this or anything else on writing below.