This week, I are … preparing a young writer for the Leaving Cert

Last week, I received an unexpected message. It was from a parent, asking me if I was offering creative writing classes for a student doing the Leaving Cert (final secondary school exam in Ireland). I hadn’t ever promoted myself as a resource for exam students. I imagined they would be too busy ingesting vast tracts of information for their exams to indulge in such fripperies as creative writing.

However, this parent was willing to consider one on one classes, so I decided to follow up on the query, in case I might be of use. I wanted to be sure the parent understood that I was not a qualified English teacher, but I am a creative writing tutor, so I could help them sharpen their creative writing skills and give them the confidence to tackle the Leaving Cert English essay.

The parent felt that this would be useful and I agreed to give the girl six one-hour sessions. And the parent network being what it is, I soon got another booking to deliver the same service to a boy. In each session, the students will learn a different language or storytelling skill, and these will act as a toolkit that will help them tackle the essay, which they won’t have seen prior to the exam.

The Elements of Story

My sessions will focus on three core skills. I’ll work on language usage, to encourage them away from clichés and to use either fewer or more words, depending on their writing style. We’ll also work on different storytelling techniques, such as character development, plotting, setting and viewpoint.

This will help them structure their ideas. Finally, I’ll help them generate ideas by showing them how to tap into their sentences. This will help them unlock memories that they can turn into stories. Having looked at the essay titles from the 2018 English exam, I’m confident that my approach will help them build up a bank of ideas that they can draw on when they’re in the exam hall. Rather than learn off an essay and hope it comes up, they’ll have the flexibility to adapt their ideas to the essay titles that come up.

Overall, I’ll show them how to make the essay titles interesting and relevant for them, so that even if English isn’t their passion, they’ll find a way to make the English essay their own. At the very last, it’ll take the fear factor out of being confronted with a series of essay titles and a blank page.

I also offer one to one consultancy for adults who have ideas for writing projects but are not quite sure how to move them forward. You’ll find out more about them here.

Upcoming WriteWords Creative Writing Workshops

In a fit of organisational zeal last week, I organised a tonne of creative writing workshops that will see me through the summer. Good-quality, reasonably priced venues in my area are hard to come by, and I wanted to pounce on my favourite venue, the Coastguard Cultural Centre in Tramore, Co. Waterford, before the slots are all gone. So, I’ve set up three workshops for the coming months in the Coastguard.

The Coastguard Cultural Centre in Tramore, Co. Waterford, an ideal venue for creative writing workshops.

Here’s what you can expect from the WriteWords creative writing workshop stable in the coming months.

Easter Children’s Writing Camp

This camp will be happening over two afternoons in the second week of the Easter holidays, when parents are beginning to tear their hair out wondering what to do with their offspring. My camps are all for children aged 8-12, the perfect age to start writing, before inhibitions kick in. They’ll have great fun travelling to lands of their own making, creating characters with magical powers and making up stories that could go absolutely anywhere. It’s happening at the Coastguard Cultural Centre on Tuesday 23 and Wednesday 24 April, from 1-4pm. The price of the camp is €40.

Memoir Writing Workshop for Adults

Following the success of my last memoir writing workshop for adults in Tramore, I’m doing another one on Sunday 12 May. Like the last workshop, it will be a chance for you to tell the story of your life. A lot of people find that they’re drowning in material from their lives and don’t know where to start. This workshop will give you a structure that will help you shape your ideas. We’ll also take a journey through the senses, to explore how the senses trigger memories and emotions. If this sounds interesting to you, it’s happening on Sunday 12 May from 10.30am to 3.30pm in the Coastguard in Tramore. The cost is €50.

Summer Children’s Writing Camp

In the long and hopefully hot month of August, I will be giving a children’s summer writing camp, and I’ll be going back to my usual format of a three-day camp. As well as learning the techniques of story, they’ll come away with their own completed story, which gives them a real feeling of accomplishment. The camp will happen on three mornings, on August 6, 7 and 8, again in the Coastguard. What can I say? It’s a venue that has everything. The cost of this camp will be €60, and it will run from 9.30am to 1pm each day.

If you’re living in the Waterford area and you’d like to book one of these workshops for yourself or your children, you can email or call 051 386 250. And if you’d like to find out more about the workshops WriteWords offers, check out our Writing Workshops page. B��

A Glorious Mix of Writing and Editing

As you know, I love to mix it up when it comes to writing and editing, meaning I love assignments that allow me to combine the two. For the past few months, I’ve been doing a somewhat unusual assignment which allows me to do just that. In the past, I have been asked to write newsletters and to edit newsletters. For this assignment, I write part of the newsletter and then edit the rest.

A Remote Working Assignment

The assignment is for a start-up company that is developing event management software. They have a remote working model, meaning they hire freelancers to supply services from home, in a way that fits into the freelancer’s timetable. My role is to edit the newsletter for events professionals, people who organise events, and to write an intro that will engage readers and entice them to read further.

As it’s a remote-working model, all communication is done by virtual means. The newsletter is compiled by an in-house employee, who alerts me via the instant-messaging app Slack that the newsletter is ready for editing. I then access the newsletter through MailChimp, a software platform that allows people to design and distribute newsletters. I read through the newsletter first to familiarise myself with the content, edit it and then write the intro.

Approach to Editing

When I edit, I look for typos and for errors in sentence structure, which are actually more common. I change the sentences so that they read more coherently. I also edit for tone. The company is aiming for a chatty, informal tone, so I change any wording that I think is too stilted and informal. When I’m familiar enough with the content, I’m then able to write the intro, and I make sure to write it in a warm, friendly tone that invites people to read further.

Deadlines are often tight, so I don’t always get a chance to go over the newsletter a second time. But if time allows, I go over it one more time to check for stray typos. I nearly always spot ways to make a sentence flow more smoothly, or a glaring typo that escaped my eye the first time. Then I sign it off and the in-house team sends it out to a growing list of subscribers.

It’s satisfying to know that I’m playing a role in making the newsletter more readable for subscribers, and that the polish I give the newsletter may be instrumental in attracting new subscribers. Also, it’s a gift to have a regular assignment that I can rely on every week, one that neatly fits into my schedule.

I do also write full length newsletters. If you’d like to find out more about my email marketing and other content creation services, have a browse through the content creation section of my website.

How to Write a Cracking Reader’s Report

In case any of you were longing for a blog entry from me last week, I was on holidays. On my return, I was delighted to discover a lovely new project waiting for me in my inbox, in which I get paid to read. It’s a reader’s report for an author who has finished a memoir and wants to find out whether it is ready for publication.

A reader’s report is a curious beast, as it crosses the line between writing and editing. It’s a comprehensive critique of a novel, a memoir or a short story collection, with editorial suggestions that authors can apply immediately, either to complete their writing project or to polish it up for publication.

How The Report Is Compiled

I start by reading through the author’s story almost as if I were a casual reader, letting the words sink in. But I take notes along the way, making observations that I can later turn into recommendations. After I’ve finished, it’s time to get down to brass tacks and start giving my verdict on the story. I’ll always start with the strong points in the story, to encourage authors and give them a feeling of confidence. Then I compile a set of recommendations, which I divide into different sections.

The most important sections are the ones that deal with the building blocks of story: character, setting and plot. I help them to flesh out their characters and pay attention to how their characters interact. I encourage them to draw on the senses to create a strong sense of place for readers. Finally, I advise them on ways to pace their plot and ensure the plot holds the reader’s interests. 

Finer Details of Story

I then go into the finer details of story. The point of view a story is told from can shape how the story develops. I advise them on how to achieve a consistent point of view and how to make seamless changes in viewpoint. I’ll advise them on whether their dialogue reads the way people would speak and show them how to lay it out correctly. A reader’s report is more about giving broad editorial suggestions than editing an author’s language or tweaking the layout. However, if I notice recurring language or layout errors, I will flag these to the author.

Reader’s reports steer authors through the maze of their ideas.

These editorial suggestions usually apply to both fiction and memoir, because authors are using many of the same storytelling skills and are taking a creative approach to writing about their lives. However, for memoir writers, libel can be an issue, so I give general advice on material that could be libellous and suggest they contact a good libel solicitor.

Why Reader’s Reports Work

For all reader’s reports, I will then give a conclusion, summarising my recommendations and giving authors suggestions on how to further develop their stories. Some may need to flesh out the story to make it long enough for publishing. Others may need to work on the building blocks of story to make the story more convincing. Some lucky authors are more or less ready to go, with just a few suggestions from me to take them over the finishing line.

For me, creating reader’s reports is very satisfying, as it gives me a chance to help other writers achieve their writing dreams. For the authors, my hope is that the reader’s report will guide them through the maze of writing a book and help them over the finish line. If they’re getting ready to report, my reader’s reports will give them access to an objective view that they can use to help them decide if they will publish. If you’d like to find out more about how a reader’s report can help you achieve your writing goals, check out the WriteWords writing consultancy services.

Unveiling the Brand-New WriteWords Website

It’s here! The brand-spanking new WriteWords Editorial website is now up. It has a shiny, polished look, but most importantly, it has menus that are easy to navigate for people browsing on phones. You’ll find out what services I offer, and I’ve added a few new ones like writing consultancy and transcription. You’ll also find out why availing of the WriteWords service is a good idea.

This website is a WordPress website, created by the loving hands and nimble tech brain of Samantha Clooney from The Virtual Office, who relishes a challenge. As I’m familiar with WordPress from this blog, Samantha has give me almighty power to add content to the website, so you’ll see the latest blog posts on that as well.

If you have a moment, I’d love you to drop in and let me know what you think about the website. Is there anything I could add or take away? I hope it will be useful to you and give you the information you need.

How One Man Turned A Creative Writing Workshop Into Publishing Success

A few days ago, I received an email that made my day. Robert Thompson, who had attended one of my creative writing workshops, wrote to tell me he had self-published a book. It’s always delightful to see someone’s idea come to fruition, but this news was especially sweet to hear because in an unexpected way, I had achieved an ambition of my own.

Writing Workshops

For three years between 2014 and 2017, on and off, I gave various creative writing workshops at the National Council for the Blind in Dublin. They were in fiction, journalism and memoir and they were very successful and well attended, with the memoir workshops striking a particular chord. Being partially sighted myself, these workshops were very dear to my heart.

Robert Thompson came to one of the memoir workshops, where he produced a piece of writing that was so perfectly crafted that I could think of nothing further to add as feedback. It was a funny, warm piece that delighted everyone who heard it. It was writing of this quality that made me want to take the workshops further. I wanted published work to come out of the workshops, Writing that would give participants the chance to show the world that they are more than their disability, writing that would help them give shape their experience and help readers see the world as they saw it.

Barriers to Publishing Success

For a variety of reasons, that didn’t happen. The funding available for such projects tended to be for group collaborations led by an artist, in which the artist would create the work in conjunction with a community group. But I feel that if the participants really wanted to show the world what they were made of, they needed to be given a chance to create their own work, to let their unique voices be heard. I also had to recognise that what I wanted wasn’t necessarily what the participants wanted. The workshops began to lose momentum and fizzled out. That’s the nature of these things.

Robert’s Publishing Quest

Robert Thompson came to the workshops at around the time they started to fizzle out, and he booked a couple of workshops that didn’t happen due to lack of numbers. I felt sorry that he in particular wasn’t going to have the chance to be part of a bigger writing project with the participants. But Robert took matters into his own hands and finished a book called Insights from an Unsighted World, in which he shares his own stories of sight loss and raises awareness of the needs of visually impaired people in gentle ways.

Robert was kind enough to say that my workshop was the spark that led to the book. I’m just happy to know that the workshops did achieve the outcome I hoped for in the end, that published work came out of it. I’m delighted that Robert was able to share his story, and in the process, move beyond the confines of his disability. He has produced an elegant book written in the concise, lyrical, humorous style that I encountered in the workshop, and now the world will have a chance to experience it.

I hope you buy this book. I hope you don’t buy it out of pity. And I hope you buy it even if you have no connection to anyone with sight loss. If you enjoy stories that give you a glimpse into other people’s worlds, or you want to get an insight into how people cope with life’s hurdles, you’ll find it an interesting read. Even if you have no interest in the subject matter, you will get a warm glow from knowing that you are supporting two very worthwhile charities. Robert is selflessly donating the proceeds of the book to Irish Guide Dogs and the National Council for the Blind.

If I’ve managed to entice you to buy Robert’s book, you can order it at Irish Guide Dogs.

Create Powerful Stories From Your Own Life

A couple of years ago, I gave a series of one-day memoir writing workshops, which gave people a chance to write about their lives. The workshops were a success, so I decided to revive them.

I was delighted to discover that interest in memoir writing was still as strong as ever, and the workshop soon filled up. On a Sunday morning, ten women gathered in a beautiful, sunny room to begin unlocking their memories and turning those memories into stories.

This writing workshop aimed to show the participants that their daily lives contained all the material they needed for stories. It would also show them that they only needed to record their lives with one small story at a time, event by event. This would take away that sense of drowning in story that often paralyses people and stops them from writing.

Building Stories

We began with the building blocks of story, which I’ve discussed in previous blog posts. After warm-ups, we did one exercise to cover each of the three building blocks: plot, character and setting. For plot, the participants recorded a small but significant injustice that happened to them when they were young. Everyone has a story like this – a time when they were promised a prize that wasn’t delivered, or when they were left out of a family occasion. Small incidents that sear themselves into your memory. Recording them makes for vivid stories.

Then we moved to character, and the participants did a character sketch, a sort of portrait in words of someone significant in their lives. They wrote CV type details like their name, age and address, described their appearance, and gave more personal details, like their hobbies, jobs, and family circumstances. The most important part of the sketch was the character’s secret past, a detail about them that was unusual or wasn’t known to the general public. This detail often forms the basis for rich stories.

Finally, we discussed setting, the time and the place where a story happens, and the characters wrote about rooms in their houses that meant a lot to them. I asked them to write about their bedrooms, as people often have a strong relationship with their bedroom, but they could write about any room that they were attached to. They wrote about what the room looked like, sounded like and smelled like, and most importantly, how it made them feel.

Journey Through the Senses

After lunch, it was time for a journey through the senses. With memories of good food still in their minds, the participants captured the taste of oranges, which can be a challenging fruit, and recorded a memory of a meal which was either horrible or delicious.

Oranges work all of a writer’s senses.

Then they told the life stories of unusual objects. I gave each of them an object from my collection of weird treasures, and they imagined where it came from, what adventures it had had and how it came to be here. This exercise was the hit of the day, producing vivid stories packed with event and emotion.

Finally, we travelled through soundscapes, recording the sounds we loved and despised, and listening to a piece of music which produced mixed reactions. The participants were asked to pick five words that came to mind when they heard the music. I deliberately pick pieces of music that aren’t easy on the ear, based on the fact that uncomfortable sensations produce writing that is just as eloquent as that produced by beautiful sensations.

If you feel you’d like to record your own memories through story and you’d like to be included in an upcoming memoir workshop, send me an email on and I’ll add you to my newsletter mailing list. 00

How to Write A White Paper That People Can Trust

I’ve just completed an interesting writing challenge, which involved writing a type of document I had never written before – a white paper. Most people associate white papers with government legislation, but white papers are also increasingly being used in the business world, by companies who want to put forward a case for a particular technology or ways of working.

I was approached by a company who wanted to produce a white paper that would showcase the benefits of smart working. This is the umbrella term used for any worker who works away from the company’s main office. The white paper would prove that smart working could work for companies, and in the process, this would build trust among the company’s customers that their products would help them harness the benefits of smart working.

Process of Producing White Paper

Writing the white paper was a lengthy but stimulating process. I had lots of input from the company to help me get started, with several videoconferences  and a face to face meeting, where I gathered valuable information that I could use as the foundation for the white paper. The most important thing to find out was why the company wanted the white paper in the first place. Everything else flows from that. It was good to know what expectations the company had, so that I could meet them.

Then it was time to get down to research. I have to confess, I went a bit mad on the research, because I wanted to make sure I could prove the benefits of smart working. I formulated questions that I entered into Google as a starting point, so I wouldn’t drown in information. I formed questions about general trends that influenced smart working, such as how many people commuted in Ireland. I also wanted to find out what role smart working played in worker wellbeing. The audience for this white paper is interested in the bottom line, and I unearthed some interesting statistics about savings companies could make.

The Finished Product

I divided the white paper into sections, exploring the contexts of smart working, the benefits of it and how to overcome barriers. I also did two case studies to show how smart working operated in practice, with a freelance employee and a CEO. After four weeks, I was finished and I sent it off to the clients.

Initial feedback was very positive, and I was delighted. They also took the time to give me more detailed feedback about ways to condense the white paper. In my quest to achieve an authoritative tone, I had overloaded the while paper with statistics.  

There are so many questions to answer in a white paper. Image sourced by Finola Howard.

I was glad of the opportunity to fine-tune it and to arrange the statistics in a way that would make it easier for people to absorb. While I wasn’t in charge of designing the white paper, the client asked me for input in terms of opportunities for infographics that would illuminate the findings even further. I also had to identify quotes from contributors that would make good pullout quotes. I did this in my final edit, and I also suggested that the designers darken the font to make it easier to read.

The white paper is now on a landing page and is due to go live as we speak. I am very proud to have written it. It is the most substantial piece of research I have done since I left college and I’m delighted that it made the grade. While I was writing it, I found it challenging, as I worked neglected brain muscles. But I rose to the challenge of writing in a factual style, rather than my usual creative style, and I’m now keen to rise to the challenge again, with further white papers.

Here’s a link to the white paper I’ve just done. If you like what you read and you want to produce a white paper that will help build trust in your brand and what you have to offer, drop me an email on and I’ll put in place a plan for  your white paper.

How to Deliver a Supercalifragilistic Creative Writing Workshop for Kids

This week, I gave a creative writing workshop in a primary school. Not that unusual, you might think, but schools can be a hard nut to crack. They have tight budgets and don’t want to burden parents any more than they have to. But this workshop came about in the loveliest and most unexpected way.

I was chatting to my local librarian, a wonderfully dynamic woman called Tracy McEneaney, and she happened to mention that a school had been in touch asking if the library knew of anyone who gave creative writing workshops in schools. Tracy suggested I give her a quote and she would pass it on to the school. Within hours of sending in my quote, I was booked to give two workshops at that school, to two classes of children aged eight and nine.

Challenges of Delivering a Creative Writing Workshop

Immediately, I was faced with two challenges. One was that the workshops were only three days away. The other is that each of the workshops was to last just one hour. But I had a ready supply of activities which were more or less guaranteed to work. And an hour was enough to give the children an introduction to writing skills.

I usually like to have children complete a story within the timeframe of a creative writing workshop, and that wasn’t going to be possible on this occasion. But when you’re delivering a workshop in a school, you’re dealing with children of all abilities, so it’s more important to design your workshop in a way that gives every child a chance to take part.

The Ingredients of Story

I began by introducing the children to the story hat. This is a hat I bring to every workshop and it looks quite eccentric, so it’s a great way of breaking the ice. They all hat a chance to look at the hat and try it on, and then they wrote a story in a sentence about the hat, beginning with, ‘This hat is…’

This got us off to a flying start, and it was now time to introduce the three ingredients of story. The first of these is character, and I availed of the classroom’s interactive whiteboard for the character activity. I put a picture of a strange-looking old man on the computer screen, and got the children to create a portrait of this man in words. They gave him a name, an age, and a place to live. And they gave him a superpower which made him stand out from the crowd.

My magical storytelling hat, picture taken by moi.

The second ingredient was setting. Children love writing activities relating to setting, and this activity was a big hit, particularly with the second group of children I worked with. I got them to imagine what would happen if an alien landed in their classroom. That alien would never have seen Earth before. What would it see? What would it hear? The children drew the alien and the classroom, and wrote words in a speech bubble, imagining what the alien would say when it landed in their classroom.

Time was pretty tight, but we were able to squeeze in the third ingredient, plot. I did an activity called What If, based on the idea that many stories begin when a writer asks what if. The children were asked to write down three things they would do if they were invisible. Needless to say, they envisaged all kinds of mayhem.

The Delights of Writing in Schools

These two groups of children were among the most responsive I have ever worked with. My requests to share their writing were met with a forest of hands. They not only ran with every prompt I gave them; they added their own twists to it. And the ideas they came up with were creative, inventive, and hilariously funny. I left the classroom on a high which lasted for about two days, and I still feel a warm glow when I think about it.

I’ve developed an appetite for giving creative writing workshops in schools now, so if you happen to work in a school in the Waterford/Tipperary area and you like the sound of the workshops I offer, drop me an email on

How to Create A Brand Spanking New Website

Ten years ago this month, I started WriteWords Editorial. And not long after that, my website went up. It was designed by Samantha Clooney of The Virtual Office, who has since become a good friend. I went for a blue and white design to match my logo. It was soft on the eye, and the blue writing against a white background was easy to read.

And this website has remained more or less untouched ever since. There have been some changes here and there, but the fundamental design, layout and content have remained the same. But now, on the tenth anniversary of WriteWords, it’s time for a change. It won’t be a radical change, because if it ain’t broke, why fix it. But in the years since the website was created, people have begun to access the Internet in various ways, and the website needs to be adapted to respond to that.

The website will have the same blue colour scheme and roughly the same information. The message of the website, that WriteWords helps people tell their story, will be fundamentally unchanged. But the information will be arranged differently. It will be arranged so that it will all be in one place, and if people want to access the information on it, all they have to do is scroll down through a homepage which will be a hub for all the website’s content.

Choosing a Template

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had an enjoyable time window shopping for templates which will form the basis for the design of my website. In recent times, templates have taken over as the main design tool for websites. So, on Samantha Clooney’s advice, I trawled through Template Monster and I found a template that I believe will deliver my goal of a clean website that’s easy for people to browse through.

I was pretty dazzled by the choice on offer, so Samantha gave me some pointers to tell me what to look for. In the template I have chosen, people can see two things straight away when they visit the website: my list of services and my contact details. Then as they scroll down, they’ll see a homepage message and an about us, telling them what WriteWords is and what it can do for them.

Exploring the Website

As they scroll further, they’ll discover more about the services I offer and how they can be of help. There’ll be snippets of teaser content on the homepage that will entice them to read on. If they decide to read on, they’ll be brought to a new page, which will give more details about each service, and the services within each service.

My core services will remain unchanged. I’ll still have a page for my writing workshops, a page for my content writing services and a page for editing. But I’ll be adding two new service pages. One is for my transcription services, which I’ve kept under the radar up to now, but I’ve discovered that transcription is an in-demand skill, so I’ve decided to let people know what I can offer.

The other is a writing consultancy. I already offer some of these services, but now I’ll be putting them under one umbrella. Rather than create content for people, I’ll give them strategies for writing their own. I’ll help them get to the heart of what they want to say and give them a structure which will help them to say it. These will be one-to-one sessions, in which I’ll discuss people’s ideas with them and then compile a report outlining recommendations that will help them take their project to the next level.

When you browse through this website, it will be clear to you what WriteWords is about and what it can offer you. You’ll also see the latest entries in this blog. Even though my offering will be the same, I’m hoping it’ll look and feel fresh because of how it’s presented. The website will be launched in the next few weeks, and I’ll be shouting about it from the rooftops when it is. I’ll post a link to the website on this blog, and I hope you’ll take a moment to browse through it. ccent 4; \