Category Archives: Writing Tips

Writing tips for authors and students.

The Giant Drop

Many times, I’ve been told the writing game is an emotional roller coaster ride. Ups, downs, hill climbs, racing downhill, loop-the-loops… From my experiences, I’m more inclined to match it to The Giant Drop; one of Dreamworld’s ‘Big 9 Thrill Rides’, particularly the vulnerability of submitting manuscripts to publishers.

Note: If The Giant Drop is unfamiliar to you, please click here. 🙂

Stage One: Emotional preparation AKA plucking up courage
Six months in the making and my story is complete. I’ve had it professionally edited and it shapes up really well. I’ve researched a list of publishers accepting manuscripts and cross-checked that my story meets their submission criteria. I’m pumped, confident, ready-to-go. I even get my friends and family involved in the pre-ride excitement. This book is going to be the next best-seller. Hurry! Let’s get on the ride!

I submit.

Stage two: The waiting line
All pepped and ready, I approach the line-up. Ugh… The long, tiring, mood-busting wait. Honestly, do these hundreds and hundreds of people all want to be published authors, too? Hopefully, my hidden gem will pop out of the pile and the editors will call me to the front of the line. Quick! I’d better refresh my email account. Inbox = 0.


The wait continues.

Stage three: The lift
After three (sometimes more) agonising months of waiting, I finally arrive at the front of the line. The publisher’s email has arrived (this example is a fortunate occasion where I’ve actually received a response).
I stare at the unopened message that blinds me with its bold font and confronting subject line; ‘Re: Your manuscript submission’. My finger hovers over the mouse. Do I really want to open this?
The bars come down over my shoulders and across my lap. I’m bolted in and the rise begins. There’s no turning back now. I feel sick, my breathing is rapid. If I close my eyes, will that make it easier to deal with? As I look down at how far I’ve travelled, slight confidence hits. I really am excited by this. I can do it. It’s going to be okay.

The ride locks in place and I anticipate its release.


Stage four: The drop
My stomach slams into my throat and it’s difficult to catch my breath. I want to scream, but can only manage a gasping shriek. ‘Thank you for your manuscript. Each year, we receive hundreds of submissions, but are only able to publish a select few. Unfortunately…’

When am I going to stop falling? Who can I blame for encouraging me to endure this horrid feeling? I’m doomed. Going on this ride was a BAD decision. How foolish must I be to think this would end well?

Never again!

Stage five:
The recovery

The ride pulls up and comes to a ‘gentle’ stop. Despite my doubts, I survived, and although I’m left with a slight feeling of nausea, I feel accomplished. I challenged myself and I was brave. Now, I’m left with no regrets. Although the drop was scary, it’s shown me I can do it, and next time, I’ll have a more experienced approach.

The bars are lifted and I feel free and a little more confident. I did it! I am okay. After a few deep breaths (and maybe a nice, warm bubble bath and some ‘me’ time), I’m ready to go again.

And, so, it begins once more…

Q: If you were to compare your writing journey to an amusement ride, which would you choose?
Q: Which ‘stage’ of the ride are you on right now?


Filed under Renee Price, Writing Tips

You have the right to see your words in print! Step Six

6. Write

You may be described as a ‘pantser’ – someone who can make decisions, flying by the seat of their pants, embracing creativity as it strikes. You may be a ‘planner’ – someone who needs to methodically map out their story, using page numbers and a prescribed plot line. Neither is right or wrong, nor mutually exclusive. Really, the advice is to do what it is you need to do and however you need to do it!

Of course, it does involve striking a keyboard or pen to paper – words, more words, and even more words again. Approach the process with abandon. No-one ever needs to see the first (or thirtieth!) draft… It is yours and yours alone, so write. Words beget words and even if you get stuck, one word will naturally want to follow the one you already have on the page.

Each time you revisit the page, you will scrub and polish those words. For a children’s picture book, EVERY single word needs to have earned its place. Not one word is there by whimsy!

Personally, I write when I walk. It is such a pain! Ideas stew and develop and ferment, and occasionally, the glorious ‘one line’ which ties the entire story together ‘pops’ into my head – as I duck-waddle at a pace on my predetermined path! I can’t even start with pen to paper until I can ‘see’ page 32 (or, ‘the end’) It is as though the movie is completely distorted and I am turning the aperture to gain clarity. The haze starts lifting and when I write, it may only take an hour or so. It may have been months (or years!) in the haze!

Walking, computers, new notebooks, café’s… It fascinates me to hear people beg of authors to share their working routine in a bid to gain some insight into the ‘how’ of success – when really, it is already there right with you. Your way of working is the right way!

The only ‘mechanical’ approach that is of value is the idea of blocking out time to be creative. Like booking a long wished for adventure, allow yourself to go off grid, to leave your world as it is, and create. Culturally, we are so comfortable with the idiom ‘I am going to work’ or ‘I am at work’ and we know not to interfere or to persist with annoying that person with phone calls or personal issues… So apply that to your writing.

You are ‘at work’. So, now work!


Have fun!

Writing for YHTR Emma Mactaggart

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You have the right to see your words in print! Step Five

YHTR - Ideas - Emma Mactaggart

5. You need an idea!

Whaaaat! I hear you say! So late in the process!

You have already decided to create something from nothing haven’t you? Well, the actual idea of the topic or the subject matter doesn’t need to be determined until right now. Insane to shift the paradigm like this, but I am still struck with the bravado of Rachel Birmingham (4 Ingredients) when she said her goal was to be the Number One female author in Australia – she just hadn’t lifted a pen yet. She looked at the categories in the market selling, who was buying and what their number one ‘issue’ was. Cookbooks, busy women with no time… She needed a partner, enter cook Kim McCosker, and the rest, they say, is history!

I am going to be very lazy and simply link you now to Chapter One in my textbook ‘Child Writes: Creating a Children’s Picture Book is Child’s Play’. Don’t be distracted by the title! Having worked with hundreds and hundreds of children, the step by step methodology for creating a picture book is IDENTICAL to that used by adults!. I have simply used more appropriate examples for the different age groups.


Have fun!

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Filed under Emma Mactaggart, Writing Tips

Practice Makes Perfect

In my last post interview with Shelly Unwin, she said: If I’d had the same idea three years earlier though, my execution wouldn’t have been anywhere near where it was when this idea formed. I had taken time to learn the craft and really understand how to structure a picture book and really speak to the child. So I was in a prime position to take the idea and write it well.                            

The idea that the more you write, the better you get is an idea that has been intriguing me over the last little while, so much so that I wrote a post on it over on my website. I especially love the quote from a book called Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland, “You make good work by (among other things) making lots of work that isn’t very good.” Not that I’m saying what Shelly wrote before wasn’t very good! In fact I know that some of it was very, very good! But we all sit on top of a bundle of not-so-good works that prop us up to do better and better.


words mountain


Sandy Fussell extended my thinking on this with a recent blog post where she says that writing in other areas, not just her major work in progress is “ Like sharpening pencils, it sharpens my creative awareness. If my tools are in excellent condition, it lifts my writing.”  (

Last week I came across a website that graphically illustrates the concept, and draws on another ‘pet’ issue of mine – writing is play (also blogged about on my website) Because if we don’t love what we do, what sustains us through all the practice and ‘failures’ of the writing life?

The way Stephen McCranie over at doodle alley  demonstrates both these elements in an engaging comic about a pig has inspired me over the last week. Although about visual art, the truths can be generalised to most creative endeavours. If you pop on over to his website and sign up for his newsletters, you will be rewarded with “The secret of being a great artist”– so much wisdom packaged in an engaging way – well worth it! And while you are there, check out his ‘Brick by Brick’ comic blog for fantastic insights on the creative process.

Disclaimer: I am in no way related to, or have anything to gain by promoting doodle alley – I stumbled across it from a facebook post and thought it worth sharing!

Debra’s website is at

Shelly Unwin is at

Sandy Fussell is at


Filed under Author Interviews, Debra Tidball, Writing Tips

Useful Links to Help Flush Blockages! 

Guest Post by J.R.Poulter

My tried and true way to overcome a bit of a blank spot in writing is to leave it.  Down pen or off computer and do something else totally unrelated for a while. If the story then doesn’t flow the way I want, I put it away till I feel inspired to dig it out again.

However, we don’t always have the luxury of putting something aside. Competitions have deadlines. Publishers have deadlines. We live in a world that is constantly ticking down to the buzzer!

The links below might give you some ideas for those critical situations.

Having difficulty describing the feelings you want to attribute to your character? Use the Patrick Allan Vocabulary Wheel.


Peter Taylor dug out this one to help develop characters – Found at Character Secrets.

Stuck for the perfect name for your character? Try this site for a choice of one or two first names, surname, sex and ethnicity.

Need a name for a fantasy character? This generator is specially designed to give you names for fantastical creatures and magical beings.

If you are a bit techy and like to generate really sophisticated fantasy names, give this one a go.

One just for fun, to see how weird it could possibly get! This site gives everything from plot twists [really twisted ones] to location names.


Have fun and clear away those cobwebs at the same time!


Written by J.R. Poulter.

Web addresses:


Filed under Guest Posts, Writing Tips

You have the right to see your words in print! Step Four

4. SWOT Yourself!

Using this simple tool, do a little self-analysis to determine the path you will take as a published author.

A SWOT analysis is four part matrix, focusing on your Strengths, Weaknesses, and at the Opportunities and Threats in the marketplace. By committing to paper a list of things you are good at; the things you hate doing,; stuff that will make this project nay near impossible and the things that will ensure its success – all with give you an insight into your quiver of tools and what to give an eyes-tooth to avoid! If you are a gregarious teacher with thirty years experience and an extraordinary network of friends, yet you can’t bear any time in front of the computer… Then you know the book launch will be fun and putting yourself forward for public speaking will be a breeze, but you will need to fully outsource the production of the book and any subsequent social media marketing that follows. If you are a recluse who wishes only to write and simply press ‘send’ on an emailed version of a manuscript, then you may need to use the traditional publication method and send your story out.

By knowing what you love to do and what you loathe, what is happening out there in the market and what you can truly embrace, will make the decision making process of when to outsource or when to persevere with being self taught exactly that – a decision, rather than a reflex.

It is a very accessible process – simply place a lovely clean white piece of paper in front of you, draw a line down the centre of the page and one across the centre of the page. In the top left corner, write STRENGTHS, top right WEAKNESSES, bottom left corner OPPORTUNITIES and in the left, THREATS.  When you are using the matrix, you can show the level of importance of a point, by simply writing it closer to the cross hairs. If a point is not important, write it a distance away from the cross-hairs. Like many business tools, it is the process that yields the most significant information and the end result is merely recording the process!


Have fun!

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Filed under Emma Mactaggart, Writing Tips

You have the right to see your words in print! Step Three

ISBN Child Writes

3. Purchase your ISBN

An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is the identification your book needs to distinguish it from material that is merely printed. It is an indication you have an insight into Copyright Law and you will lodge your book with the National Library of Australia and your state library. Already over-whelmed? Don’t be! is really the only website you truly need! You will find a link for ‘publishers’ and with ease and simplicity, you will be guided to purchase your ISBN.

Please please please do this! Don’t fall for the idea it may be complicated and that you need to do this through a third party providing author services. If you do this, the ISBN may be allocated from THEIR block of ISBN’s and your book will be permanently registered as being published by someone else, albeit written by you. You want ownership. You want control. You need your own ISBN! Simple!

Whilst you are in shopping mode – consider organising your cataloguing-in-publication data (giving librarians a heads-up as to where you believe the book should be stored) and even a barcode for your back cover facilitating the point of sale transaction in a bookstore.

Schedule this job in your production schedule, clear your desk and have no distractions. It is like anything you do for the first time – it may be confusing at first, but trust me, the next (and the next and the next) books you do, you will be able to do this in your sleep.

Once you are sent your ISBN – print it and stick it on the fridge. It will provide lovely motivation for you.


Have fun!

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Filed under Emma Mactaggart, Writing Tips

You have the right to see your words in print! STEP TWO

2. Make a booking for a venue for the books launch.

You think I am going mad – but you have now given yourself a deadline for this project!

And I need a deadline! The latest book I have created languished in a bottom drawer for years and I would put off the project at every opportunity. I knew the workload required to convert it into a printed book.

Being intensely practical for a moment, having a date also now gives you an ability to determine the production schedule. It may only take a week to print a book, but that is only if you have already been slotted into the printers production line!Let’s work backwards… (with some assumptions, like having your book printed overseas) It takes three weeks to ship books from Hong Kong. It takes a week to print a book. One month down.

It can take a graphic designer, working with you, a week if not a fortnight to build your book, approve and action any changes and send to the printer. It can take three months for an illustrator to finish a full set of illustrations and a week to have the illustration either scanned or photographed. Four months down.

You definitely want to have the manuscript edited professionally, and like the printer, if you are not booked into the queue, allow another month. Five months down.

You may have had a flash of an idea, but it can take an eternity to set yourself up to be truly creative and dedicate yourself to this book. You are not a full-time writer yet and no doubt are juggling other jobs and commitments, family and friends. Sure you can block out time and punch this manuscript out, or you can let it ferment – this part of the time line is up to you! In saying that, you may need that deadline more than ever, so give yourself a couple of months.

Book launch is now 9 months away!

Adding a layer of complication, or rather – more time… Let’s say you wanted the book in stores for the Christmas market? Bookstores order in July / August for Christmas and this means the distributor needs your book in April / May to make it in time for inclusion in the catalogue. This, in turn, means you will need to have the book written and in production in the year before the launch! This schedule means having the lead-time now from 18 months to two years.

Goodness! You can see why I now suggest having a couple of large pieces of cardboard taped together, so you can create a huge diagrammatic representation of this (I have one currently taped on the garage wall!) Of course, there are nifty planning tools available via the internet, but sometimes I just want some screen free thinking time and love using pen and paper.

Best of all, adding to STEP ONE Tell Everybody – you can now see when you have blocked out time in your schedule to finish the manuscript, you will have everyone’s blessing and support!


Have fun!

YHTR Emma Mactaggart Book Launch

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You have the right to see your words in print! STEP ONE


And I mean, EVERYBODY you plan to create a picture book. As soon as you offer your thoughts to the universe, your family and the lady next door, even the milkman, well, all of a sudden you are held accountable. Years ago, I mentioned I was passionate about the idea of creating a children’s book. One of the fathers at the Kindergarten, a professor at the local university, was dropping off his son. He heard, was interested, and even today – 15 years later, if I bump into him – he asks, ‘How is the book going?’ I know I will bump into him, and I know I have to have an answer…

The transparency will afford you a couple of extra bonuses. You are acting like a writer. You are talking like a writer. Now everyone will think you ARE a writer. This reinforcement is invaluable to your self esteem. You now approach this with the mindset that any professional would – like it is a business.

It is often said writers can’t make a living out of creating children’s picture books. I have to admit, I have a while to go before I am liberated from the incredible support of my husband. Still, I believe if you approach this as a business, say as a consultant, you will make this happen. If you work out the number of hours you are willing and able to work on your writing in a week, check out the rates for freelance writers on Seek (or equivalent jobs market information) and you determine how much it costs you to be a writer (overheads, insurance, workers compensation etc) then you have all the information you need to determine your hourly rate.

Too much? Okay, so you might only be approaching your writing from the perspective of a person with an interest in which you are passionate about? Well, shout about that as well! It is incredibly infectious to be in the same space as someone who has a passion!

Regardless, of your ambition, sharing is inviting caring! You will be amazed at the energy you garner from receiving all of this extra support and encouragement.

x Have fun!


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Filed under Emma Mactaggart, Writing Tips

Celebrate the small steps.

Celebrate the small steps.

champagneThere are many quotes about celebrating the small steps.

There is no one giant step that does it, it’s a lot of little steps. (Peter A Cohen)

While working to attain your goal, don’t forget to pause and celebrate the little victories along the way. (Unknown)

Don’t wait until you’ve reached your goal to be proud of yourself. Be proud of every step you take toward reaching your goal. (Unknown)


My first celebration was the first time I saw my name in print. I popped the champagne cork, rang my Aunty in Queensland and ordered three copies (one of which my mum still displays on her fridge).

That’s Life Mum’s Club

that's life 2

Yep, I was published. Okay it was in a community magazine and yes it was only one sentence with one photo.

I wasn’t expecting my first step to be a published author visiting schools and libraries around Australia, after all I would have looked silly if I had a That’s Life magazine to show for my effort.

But this first step gave me a sense of belief in myself. Even though it was only an image and quote in a That’s Life magazine, there was someone out there who had read what I had written and liked it enough to be published.

My words, my picture, my name.

that's life 3


Seeing my words, my picture and my name, gave me the confidence to begin sharing my writing with others. Who knows where my writing would be if I hadn’t celebrated the first step and shared my success with others. It could still be locked away in notebooks, tucked under my bed.

Whatever your first success is, celebrate it, enjoy the fact that you are moving forward.

Your first success towards becoming a writer could be:

  • Adding the hashtag #onwriting to your tweets
  • Joining an online writers group
  • Putting pen to paper
  • Setting up a writing space
  • Buying a notebook
  • Waking up in the morning and telling yourself you are going to write
  • Allowing yourself to think about your writing dreams
  • Being published in a local paper or community magazine
  • Setting up a Facebook Page

“Success comes in a variety of sizes. Celebrate them all, no matter how small.” Jenny Graham

Feel free to share below your first success no matter how big or small and we will celebrate with you.


Filed under Jenny Graham, Writing Tips