Editing Tip #2 – Self-editing on a budget

New writers are frequently advised to get their manuscripts professionally edited before querying/self-publishing.

At face value, this seems like sound advice. The market place is competitive and it is absolutely imperative that you make your work as good as it possibly can be.

The problem is that editing services can cost a lot of money, which is fine if you have disposable income or savings, but not every writer can afford professional editing services.

So if you don’t have the budget for a professional editor, what options are there for whipping you manuscript into shape?

Firstly, there’s books that can help you. I use “On Editing” by Helen Corner Bryant & Kathryn Price, and “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Renni Browne & Dave King. The advice is practical and easy to apply and I highly recommend both.

Two useful guides for writers who want to self edit.

As well as books on editing, you can use free online tools to check grammar and spelling. Most word processing packages have an in-built spelling and grammar check, but these don’t pick up everything.

Instead, the last thing I do before submitting any piece is to run it through Grammarly’s free grammar check (There is a paid-for premium service too, but I don’t use this).

A word of warning.

Don’t accept every change Grammarly (or any grammar checker) suggests.

Read each suggestion carefully and in the context of the larger piece. Only change it if it improves what’s written.

Of course, there are some grammar rules that must be followed (e.g. when writing he or she said after dialogue, there must be a comma inside the closing speech mark (,”) unless you’re using an exclamation mark or question mark).

Outside of these, consider any suggestions against what you’re trying to convey.

Grammarly has its supporters and detractors but I recommend it because using it was the final step to cracking a magazine market I’ve been subbing to for years, and it’s led to my biggest writing success to date (more details in a future post).

My third big tip for self-editing is to enter competitions that offer a critique. You may have to pay a few pounds more, but the advice they give can be invaluable, not just for the piece in question, but also when considered against other pieces you have written.

Writers’ Forum magazine run a monthly short story competition. Basic entry fee for non-subscribers (at the time of writing) is £6, but for a further £5 you can get a critique from the head judge. Esther Chilton, which covers both the spelling & grammar elements of fiction and also plot and characterisation.

Magazines that offer critique services as part of a competition entry fee can be invaluable for your development as a writer.

Editing is a skill that can be developed, much the same as plot, character and description. It requires you to be honest and, dare I say it, ruthless with your work.

And while having the luxury of hiring an editor is possible for some, not everyone can afford to do that.

This year has been my most successful in terms of acceptances and publication. It’s purely and simply down to the improvements I’ve made to my editing skills by using the tips above.

I hope they work for you. Feel free to comment below and share your own editing advice.

Happy Editing!

Editing Tip #1

Get your laptop to read your draft back to you.

I find the hardest part about editing is distancing yourself from the text.

All revved up and ready to edit…

It doesn’t matter how long I leave between finishing the first draft and starting the edits, I can never read the text completely fresh.

Whilst some writers recommend changing the font to get some distance from what’s written, I prefer using the speech to text function on my MacBook and getting the laptop to read the text back to me.

My MacBook has a very dry, almost monotone English voice. With limited inflection in the speech, the words and sentences have to work hard to carry the emotion and tempo you’re trying to convey.

Listening to the text helps me to identify where my sentence structure is weak or confusing, and also helps to highlight areas for development in plot, description or characterisation.

The only downside is that once the read through begins, you can’t stop or pause it to change things on screen or make detailed editing notes (and if you do, you risk missing the rest of what’s being read).

This is where the “Insert Comment” function in Word comes in handy. It allows you to put a quick note in the margins for changes as the computer reads.

How you activate the text to speech function depends on your operating system. A quick online search should provide a solution. The keyboard short cuts are straightforward but you may need to set up the capability in your operating system first.

For me, this is always the first step in editing and since I’ve started doing this, I’ve had more acceptances and successes.

The final part of my editing process is to put the text through Grammarly, and I’ll talk about my experiences with that little slice of controversy in another post.

Happy Editing!

Autumn updates!

The seasons are changing and summer is slipping into autumn. The nights are longer, the mornings cooler and the first leaves are already on the ground.

The new season brings some new releases featuring my work and plenty to keep me busy as the nights draw in.

Firstly, my story “Beast of Bodmin” is published in the “Legends of the Night” Anthology from Black Ink Fiction on 21st September.

“Beast of Bodmin” was inspired by a night-time drive through Cornwall and a picture of a vampire girl I saw back in the late 90’s.

It was also the first outright horror/spooky piece I’d written since “Mirror Mirror” and I’m thrilled that “Beast…” has found a good home!

Looking further forward, I’ve got a drabble featured in “Festival of Fear”, due to be released in October, and my story “Why Grandmother…” appears in the “New Tales of Old Vol 2” in November, both published by Black Ink Fiction.

Links to these will follow once available.

October also sees my first short story published in a national magazine (U.K.). It’s also my first story to win a competition, having been shortlisted three times previously. There’ll be a separate post on this to come.

Alongside that, I’m finished the first draft of two new short stories, and have a number of other projects on submission, so hoping for some news from those soon.

Finally, “Rock Band” from Ghost Orchid Press and “Blood Lust” from Black Ink Fiction are now available to order in e-book and paperback.

Have a great autumn and feel free to let me know what you’re working on in the comments!

The Story of my First Story

A Cautionary Tale of Hope and Naivety

A long time ago (1996 I think?) in a bedroom not so far away (about three and a half miles away from where I live now), a teenage boy decided to put pen to paper for the first time.

Twenty-five years later that same boy is still writing and finally, after a quarter of a century (on and off) of trying, I’m finally seeing my work in print and online.

This year has been my most successful writing year ever, but the road to where I am now starts way back at the end of the last century.

It’s Robin Tunney’s fault, you see. Well, her, Fairuza Balk and Keifer Sutherland.

For those who don’t know, Robin Tunney and Fairuza Balk were rival witches in teen horror flick, “The Craft.”

I went to see the Craft when it came out in the cinema, and after I watched the film something strange happened.

The characters lingered in my mind. I asked myself what happened next in their lives? I started imagining how scenes could’ve happened differently. I started thinking about how I would’ve written the plot if it was up to me.

More importantly, I started wondering what would’ve happened if the witches from the Craft had met four other outsiders with supernatural powers.

I was, of course, talking about The Lost Boys (the vampires I mean. Not Peter Pan’s crew).

Four witches vs four vampires. The idea sparked a fire within me. Within days I was scribbling their story in exercise books when I was supposed to be doing homework. A week or so later, the exercise book was full and the story complete.

The same can’t be said for my homework.

Ignoring such concepts as editing and revision, after completing the first story I jumped straight into book two, then into book’s three and four.

Then A-levels got in the way. The notebooks went into the cupboard. And stayed there for a year.

Eventually, I dug them out, re-read them and realised there was something in them. Mainly a lot of crap. But amidst the crap, there was some good stuff too.

So, picking out the best bits, and working on a PC now, not by hand, I rewrote the story and called it “Blessed Be.”

For the life of me now I can’t remember the plot, but I do remember some of the characters. Rebekah and Marie, my rough copies of Sarah and Nancy from the Craft, would reappear in slightly different guises in some of my later stories. The head vampire Jared however — a cross between David from Lost Boys and Armand for Interview with the Vampire— never made it out of “Blessed Be”.

When all was said and done, Jared was dead, Rebekah was the victorious saviour of her coven and the book totalled around 100000 words.

Shortly afterwards, I saw an ad in the newspaper. A publisher was looking for manuscripts, so (still without any editing beyond spell check) I printed out my “masterpiece”, slipped it into a padded envelope and dragged it to the post office.

A short while later I got a letter in the post. The publishers loved my book, thought it was an amazing piece of gothic horror, and couldn’t wait to publish it.

I was stunned and delighted and dreaming of my future life as the next Stephen King.

The thousands of pounds that the publisher wanted me to pay towards the publication of my book was a mere trifling matter.

After all, literary luminaries such as James Joyce has paid to publish their early works.

I knew this because the publisher had said so in their letter asking for cash.

Now, I was nineteen at the time, but I wasn’t a complete idiot. It all seemed too good to be true. Surely this was a con?

So I did some research. And lo-and-behold, there in my local Waterstones were some real-life books with pages and covers and everything, and they were apparently published by the same publisher who wanted to publish my book.

Thrilled at my good fortune (I was nineteen at the time and hadn’t heard of vanity publishing) I went to my bank, managed to secure a loan to cover the cost of the publication of my soon-to-be-bestseller, then went home, signed the contract, included a cheque for the first instalment, sent both off and…

Heard no more. Time passed. These were the days when email was a luxury and people still wrote actual letters. I wrote a few over the next six months, each one enquiring what was happening with my book, but I never got a reply.

Confused, I looked into the company again. And this time I realised that the books in Waterstones were not published by the same company.

Oh, they shared a similar name, but on closer inspection, I realised that the logo’s were different. As was the publisher’s address on the inside of the book.

Thinking that I may have been hoodwinked, I decided not to send any further letters. Or cheques.

I also did what any impulsive nineteen/twenty year old with a lot of money in the bank and an unhealthy obsession with heavy metal would do.

I bought a B.C. Rich guitar, Peavey amp and turned my attention to becoming a rock star.

I never heard from the “publisher” again but I still see their advert in the papers from time to time. I also never made it as a rock star but that’s another story.

A year or so later, I felt the urge to put pen to paper again. “Blessed Be” was confined to a dusty shelf in my bedroom, and eventually lost altogether. A new story was begun.

And over the next seven years, I wrote more novels and a fair few short stories.

One of those stories was called “Weird Mirror”.

In 2020 I would rewrite “Weird Mirror” as “Mirror Mirror”. In 2021 it was a finalist in the Write Hive Horror Contest and became my first published story when it featured in the Duplicitous anthology published by Write Hive in conjunction with Inkedingray.

Since then, I’ve returned to my writing roots. This year, I’ve written about vampires and about witches, but I’ve never written about vampires vs witches again.

Maybe in the future I will.

Maybe Rebekah’s story will be told again.

Maybe “Blessed Be’s” time is yet to come.

Waiting for “The Clunk”…

Ideas. They’re tricky things. You can think and plan and write notes for days and nothing comes of it, and then, wham! Something clicks and out comes a whole story.

I’ve been in a writing lull for most of June. Spent a lot of time jotting ideas, characters, potential storylines, but nothing has caught fire.

Then, as I was standing at Liverpool Street station on the way into work this morning, I felt it.

The Clunk.

The Clunk is my name for what happens when several disparate thoughts and ideas coalesce into a story with a beginning, a middle and a possible end.

And it always comes out of nowhere. Always.

Today’s Clunk came because of a picture I saw on Twitter. That picture added a catalyst to a vague notion I’d had, and from that catalyst came three characters, their motivations, back stories and how they all coalesce to make a story.

As of this writing, I’m 1200 words into the first draft. And the story feels right. I’m excited to write it. I love the conflicts that are set up, and the little hooks I’m planting for future events.

For me, this is the magic part of writing. You can read all the how to books you like, scribble notes for days on end, build mood boards, thrash out story line after story line, but nothing happens until you feel the Clunk.

So if you’re a writer struggling to find ideas my advice is simple. Relax. Scribble, plot, build mood boards, listen to music that inspires you.

But wait for that Clunk.

Because when it comes, it’s the spark that sets your story alight.

At least, that’s how it works for me. Happy Writing!

Writer’s Resources

Back when I started writing in the late 90’s, the world was a very different (smaller) place and there wasn’t nearly the abundance of resources available to writers that there is today.

While you can get advice and access markets all over the world these days, some times it can all seem overwhelming, particularly if you’re a new-ish writer wondering where and how to get started.

Below follows a list of resources that I find useful. Some are for the mechanics of writing, others are for markets and others are for community and growth. They work for me, but like all things writing related, they may not work for you so pick and choose and find your own path.

Happy Writing!

Disclaimer – I’m not getting paid to promote these! They’re just a few resources and organisations that I’ve found particularly useful and can recommend based on my personal experience!!


These guides have been particularly useful for helping me get to grips with the nuts and bolts of writing. They should be available online or for older titles you might find them on eBay.

  • Teach Yourself – Writing a Novel – Nigel Watts (The one that started it all for me!)
  • On Editing – Helen Corner and Katherine Price
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – Renni Browne and Dave King
  • Worlds of Wonder – How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy – David Gerrold
  • Save the Cat! Writes a Novel – Jessica Brody
  • About Writing – Gareth L. Powell


  • Writing Magazine – UK based monthly writing magazine with monthly themed competitions for short stories and poetry
  • Writer’s Forum – Another UK monthly, the word count for the short stories here is slightly longer and with an open theme. Also has poetry and flash competitions
  • Writer’s Digest – A U.S. based bi-monthly writing magazine with it’s own annual conference and writing competitions across a wide range of genres and types.


  • Spread the Word – A fantastic London based writing charity who gave my first published piece back in 2007. Still going strong today. Find them here.
  • Writers HQ – Another outstanding organisation that offers free & paid for courses, mini-online writing retreats, and monthly market resources. There are also membership options. Check them out here.

Hope you find these useful!

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