7 ways to engage with your readers : Writing Challenges


Whether you want to get more followers on Twitter, encourage people to buy your books or just get your name out there, you need to engage with them. Tweeting (or blogging) lots of buy links will get you noticed but in the wrong way.

A better way to do this is to get involved in the writing events and challenges being run by other helpful Tweeps.

In the past, I have taken part in several writing challenges. In this post, I will share some of the ones I know about.

Do you know of any others?

paragraph planetAccepts stories which are exactly 75 words long. A different one is published each day. This is fine but yours may not be published. However, you can tweet it first.

81 wordsWrite a story in exactly 81 words. Other people rate them. Has a link to your website and includes your Twitter name.

100 Word Challenge for grown upsA weekly prompt is offered and people respond in 100 words or fewer.

finishEvery Tuesday, a prompt is given. Finish the story in up to 500 words. A winner is chosen each week.


Every Thursday a photo-promt is offered and two words given. The story must incorporate the photo in some way then begin with the first word and end with the second. The story should be between 90 and 110 words long.

2015TTBadgeEvery Thursday, a prompt is given based on a line from the previous week’s winning entry. You have until 7:00am the following morning to submit a piece of flash fiction (in the comments on the post). Winners are announced and your Twitter link given.

Flash Friday

Every Friday (the clue is in the title) A picture prompt is offered. You have to write a 200 word story and post the result into the comments of the blog. A winner is chosen and your Twitter link given as well as a 60 second interview published on Wednesday.


To be or not to be


There are many different views about grammar, ranging from ‘it doesn’t matter’ to Grammar Nazi.

Its easy to cheque you’re reaction too bad grammar.

Whilst I get annoyed by those people who trawl the internet searching for missed apostrophes or checking for rules-they-care-about being broken, grammar does matter.

If readers are distracted or confused by incorrect spellings or your use of the wrong word, they will soon abandon you and your writing. After all, there are plenty of authors who can either write grammatically or use a good editor.

One of the things that cause a great deal of difficulty is the conjugation of the verb, “to be” and its contraction.

Conjugation Contraction Confused with
I am I’m
He is He’s  His
She is She’s
We are We’re Were
They are They’re There or Their
You are You’re Your
 It is  It’s  Its

It is difficult to understand why these cause so much confusion but the most reasonable explanation is that they sound the same. The easiest way to see which version to use is to try to fit the un-contracted version into the sentence and listen whether it works.

For example, in the sentence, “It’s a good thing” you can replace “It’s” with “it is” and the sentence still makes sense. However, “He threw it’s stick” can clearly be seen to be incorrect as, “He threw it is stick” does not make sense.

This works with all these contractions and if there is an apostrophe (in this case) there has been a contraction. After a while, you get used to checking all versions of ‘Its’ and ‘It’s’, ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ and ‘were’ and ‘we’re’. Just don’t turn into a Grammar Nazi, I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself.

Why not create a mood board for your novel?

street scene

My current WIP is set in an alternative (Steampunk) Victorian England. Although the setting is fictional, I want to create the right Victorian feel and only deviate where the steampunk elements require it.

To help me, I started an Pinterest board to gather images for different characters and settings. I already had an idea of what I wanted so I searched Google for these specific images. Whilst this took some time, I also collected other images I found ‘by accident’. Each time I come across a new picture I think will work with the book, I add it to the Pinterest account.

When I need to consider a setting in some detail, I can view the images and gain inspiration. I know some authors do the same by storing pictures in Scrivener or similar.

Would your current project benefit from a collection of images to inspire you? Or have you done something similar in the past?

I am considering whether I should release the book with links to the Pinterest account so readers can share in the visuals.

I would be interested to hear what other authors do and whether readers would welcome the chance to see the images too.

If you want to see the current collection of images, it is here: https://uk.pinterest.com/anthonygerrard7/ruination-novel/

100 Word Challenge


100 Word Challenge for grown ups

100 Word Challenge for grown ups

I do enjoy finding new challenges to keep my writing brain thinking. I came across the 100 word challenge on a blog called Julia’s Place.

I liked the idea of writing a story in 100 words or fewer prompted by an image.

This week’s image was three wise monkeys.

Three Wise MonkeysThis is my response. I hope you enjoy it. The other responses can be found here.

I stood next to him and pointed. ‘My father used to bring me and my sisters here. He would re-tell the story of the three wise monkeys every Saturday. It became a ritual, a shared experience between us. I learned it was better to keep quiet, not to speak out, to look away from evil and block my ears to what was happening.’

He stared. ‘Sometimes you have to watch, listen and scream the truth.’

‘I just needed you to understand what it was like.’

He lowered his head. ‘Shall we return to the station and begin?’

I nodded.

Backup or troubles (in your old kit bag)

Not me ... but it could be!

Not me … but it could be!

When I was a teenager at school, I used to enjoy teaching myself BASIC on their Sharp MZ80K computers. One day, the school bought an Apple ][. It had very good graphics (for the time) and new commands to learn. One of the new commands was PLOT. It allowed the programmer to draw a dot on the screen at a given coordinate.

I realised I could draw quite complex shapes by giving the computer a list of coordinates to draw. Being a geeky sort of child (but you worked that out), I bought an A1 size piece of graph paper and traced an image of the UK on to it. For the next three weeks, in my spare time, I transcribed all the coastline’s coordinates into the Apple ][. When I’d finished, the program I’d written drew an accurate image of the UK on the screen. I was very pleased and, more importantly, my friends were impressed. One told a teacher who came along to see my work.

I loaded the program I had previously saved on my floppy disc but, to my horror, I got an error (Bad checksum, if I remember). It meant that the work was lost … except I had backed up my work. I put in my backup floppy disc and reloaded the program. It also didn’t load. I was devastated. In an instant, I had lost three weeks of work. The teacher walked off laughing … but that’s another story.

One backup is not enough

It taught me a good lesson: One backup is not enough.

When I hear people brag (and it often is a brag) that they don’t backup their work I feel obliged to point out the error of their ways.

To make sure I don’t lose any of my writing (or anything else) I always do the following:

  1. Save my WIP each week as a new dated version on my laptop.
  2. Copy this file onto a flash memory stick.
  3. Email a copy to myself.
  4. Print out a hard copy, which I carry around with me.

If my laptop crashes, I have other versions elsewhere. If I delete a section I later decide I want, I can go back to older files to recover it. When the formatting messed up in my WIP, I was able to copy the style from a previous version and fix it (it’s also useful if you ever get into any legal challenges over plagiarism).

If you choose not to backup your work properly, you are choosing to lose it. You have been warned!

How I write

pen and paperI am still exploring the way I write. I say this because, unlike so many people I read about, I’ve only recently started to put pen to paper. I have to write reports in my job but writing stories is new to me. I decided that the best way would be to read a few books about writing but they appeared to be contradictory. It was then that I realised that what works for one writer does not always work for another.

The best pieces of advice were:

  • Just write – Your first attempt will not be perfect, but it doesn’t matter, just get it down on paper.
  • Write the first chapter and then the last one. You know where you start and where you end up, now join the dots.

I use both of these but things change. The first chapter I wrote became the second chapter of the book. The final chapter ended up as one in the middle. I don’t mind that. Things happen and I’m not afraid to change them to make the book better.

I have an idea of where the story will go and what will happen but new situations arise and I might end up in a totally different direction. The story started out as science fiction based around an alternative currency. Now it’s a crime thriller. It might change again.

I have settled into a routine. At the weekends and some evenings, I write new chapters. Then, I print out my manuscript and read it, editing as I go.

There might be some writers who look at this and say ,’Oh no, don’t do it like that.’

I say, ‘I’m enjoying myself so does it really matter?’

Writers Tips – Using Styles in Word



Some authors spend a long time (or a lot of money) ensuring their works are in the correct format for Kindle, Smashwords or a manuscript. By setting up styles before writing, Word will do most of the hard work for you.

What do they do?

A style is a pre-defined format for text. Any of the modifications you are able to make to a paragraph can be set up in advance using a style. When you allocate a style to a paragraph all the settings are applied to this paragraph.

How do you use them?

In my novel, I have three styles defined.

Chapter Title

12 Point, Italic, Centered, Page break before, Outline Level 1, Style for following paragraph: First paragraph

First paragraph

12 Point, Fully Justified, First line indented 0cm, Style for following paragraph: Main Body

Main Body

12 Point, Fully Justified, First line indented 1.25 cm

It looks like this:

word viewTo create a new chapter, I go to a blank line and select the Chapter Title style. Word starts a new page and allows me to type the chapter title. When I press enter, the caret moves to a new line and the style changes to First paragraph. When I’ve written the first paragraph and press enter I get a new line and the style changes to  Main body.

Effectively, I can just type my document and Word automatically formats it for the Kindle.

It it possible to set up styles for Manuscripts too. The main change is to add the following to Chapter Title.

Spacing before 255pt, Spacing after 60pt

You also need to change the two paragraph styles to left justified and double spaced.

The power of styles

If you have set a style for every part of your document and you modify the style, it will change every instance in the whole document. This has two implications:

  1. If you only want to change one instance, you have to be careful!
  2. If you want to reformat the whole document you only need to change a few styles. For example, if you want to change the font on every chapter title, just change the Chapter Title style and they will all change.

You can add styles to a document you have already created but you need to go through and set each paragraph to a style to get the benefit of using them.

Automatic Table of Contents

As I set Chapter Title as Outline Level 1, I can add an automatic Table of Contents. Word will create this and put in all the correct page numbers. You can update it with one click of the mouse.

The automatic Table of Contents feature looks for all instances of text labeled as Outline level 1 and adds them to the table. As all my Chapter Titles have this attribute they are all automatically added to the table.


I hope you enjoy using styles and, more importantly, I hope you save yourself hours of reformatting time.

Further information

Microsoft Style Basics

Microsoft Word – Writers shortcuts

ImageMicrosoft Word offers a number of features that make the writing / editing process easier.

Function Keys

The function keys at the top of your keyboard (labelled F1 to F12) perform different actions in Word. Remembering them all is a chore but some are really useful.

Shift F3

Toggles captialisation. so word becomes Word becomes WORD becomes word again.

This is very useful when editing.

Shift F5

Moves the cursor to the last edited point. This will also work when you first open the document and helps you to get off to a flying start.

Shift F7

Brings up the Thesaurus for the current word.

Automatically jump to last edit when opening a document

Whilst you can press Shift F5 as soon as you open a document, you can automate this.

Go to View – Macros – View Macros

Type in ‘AutoOpen’ as the Macro name and then click Create

Enter the following text:

On Error Resume Next

Then save the document. From now on, when you open a document it will automatically jump to the last place you were editing.

New idea – Review Day

I have read many author blogs, Tweets and Facebook posts explaining the importance of readers leaving reviews.

Reviews are important as they provide greater exposure to good books and help readers identify books they would enjoy reading.

Review Day is one idea to help increase the number of reviews and should be supported by everyone who loves books.

The Rules:

  1. Review Day will the the 3rd day of each month. The ‘rd’ is there to remind you!
  2. On Review Day, write (at least) one review of (at least) one book on (at least) one website.
  3. Reviews must be honest, fair and balanced.
  4. Add #rd or #ReviewDay to the review to show it was written as part of Review Day.
  5. Use social media, if you can, to promote Review Day. Use hashtags #rd or #ReviewDay

That’s it. Make it a habit. Make it a ‘thing’.


The curse of THAT!

thatI recently did a search of my WIP to look for the word ‘that’ as I had a feeling I overused it. It was everywhere!

There were three uses of the word I was able to replace.

Use ‘it’ instead

“Where is that?” became “Where is it?”

Use ‘the’ instead

“Where is that newspaper?” became “Where is the newspaper?”

Delete ‘that’ completely

“She realised that she used it too often.” became “She realised she used it too often.”

By using these replacements, I was able to remove almost half of my ‘that’s and the WIP reads much better for it.

I didn’t realise that I used that word so often. Now I know that, I can eliminate that and that’s a good thing.