Useful Writing Tips and Techniques





The haiku is a traditional form of Japanese poetry with its origins in the Japanese aristocratic classes in the 8th century.

In Japanese the poem is written vertically.

It comprises 3 ‘verses’, each roughly equivalent to an English phrase, separated by a ‘cutting word’. In English there is no linguistic equivalent to the Japanese cutting word and so haiku written in English use punctuation in its place.

In Japanese a traditional haiku uses 17 ‘on’ which are roughly equivalent to an English syllable…although not quite! Linguistically, in spoken form 17 on are spoken in the same period of time as 12 English syllables.

Traditional haiku written in English (as opposed to those initially written in Japanese, and translated)  have 17 syllables in total, written in 3 lines or phrases, with a punctuation mark of some kind at the end of the first phrase. This can be a full stop, comma, colon, semi-colon, exclamation mark, question mark ellipsis or dash.

Traditionally there should be 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second, and 5 in the third, written in shorthand as 5, 7, 5. The lines or phrases rarely rhyme:

Five syllables here…

Then seven syllables there

This is how they work!


They are usually in the present tense, tend to be about the natural world and have impressionistic brevity with no superfluous words. They should be able to be read in one breath and most have a contemplative, wistful tone.


In feudal Japan this form of verse, then confusingly known as hokku, were the opening 17 on of much longer poems (renga)and the hokku set the scene for the rest of the poem, usually giving details about the season in which the poem was set. Many of the images used e.g. falling rain, or particular creatures or natural phenomena gave a hint to the reader as to the slant of the poem depending on what these creatures or phenomena represent in Japanese culture or mythology.

These hokku often used Chinese pictograms rather than Japanese script with a view to making the ‘picture’ or layout of the hokku as harmonious as the idea it was suggesting.

As time went on the hokku began to be appreciated for its own worth, and from the 1470s had its name changed to haiku and started to attract its own experts.

Probably the most famous haiku poet is Basho, which was the nickname for the son of a minor samurai born near Kyoto in 1644. He spent his adult life wandering around Japan as a Zen Buddhist monk, and attracted many disciples. He wrote thousands of haiku, as did his followers.

Basho wrote that ‘when feelings are too fully expressed, no room for suggestion is possible’ meaning that haiku are all about implication and ideas that are suggested, and that they demand the readers sensitive participation, and may give you ‘glimpses of unrecognised depths in the self’.

Basho’s final haiku was written for his disciples shortly before his death:


Sick on a journey-

over parched fields

dreams wander on


The earliest known Westerner to write haiku was a Dutchman who lived and worked in Nagasaki in the early 19th century. His were written in Japanese.

English language haiku began to be written in from approx 1904 but became more popular around 1949.

Modern day haiku are increasingly unlikely to follow the traditional 17 syllables, or to take nature as their subject. These are called free-form haiku.

Translations from the Japanese can also be problematic for the traditional form – are they translated word for word meaning they are usually no longer 5, 7, 5, translated less exactly, which may or may not  fit the 5, 7, 5, pattern, or translated idea for idea colloquially into 5, 7, 5, in English?


The Old Pond by Matsuo Basho


                                                      5 Fu-ru (old) i-ke (pond) ya (cutting word)

                                                      7 ka-wa-zu (frog) to-bi-ko-mu (jumping into)

                                                      5 mi-zu (water) no-o-to (sound)


3 The old pond                                         2  Old pond                                            2 Old pond

3 frog jumps in                                         3  frog leaping                                       4 a frog jumps in

3 sound of water                                     1 splash                                                  2 water’s sound

5 An old silent pond                                5 There is the old pond                       5 The silent old pond

7 A frog jumps into the pond                7 Lo, into it jumps a frog:                    7 A mirror of ancient calm

5 Splash! Silence again                           5 hark, water’s music                           5 A frog leaps in – splash


And finally, the last word in haiku goes to a Mafia hit man – the following note was found pinned to the lapel of a drowned victim’s double breasted suit!

5 Dere was-a dis frog

7 Gone jump off-a da log-a

5 Now he in a bog



Additional notes / historical context for Nikki Barker (Bring Me Sunshine Award) Competition, Announced in May 2018 by Lesley Young 

In Britain and Ireland during the nineteenth century, writers started creating their own fairy stories, sometimes for children and sometimes also for adults, transforming a form based in the shared telling of tales into self-conscious, authored literary texts. They were also imitating a tradition of collecting and writing down such oral tales, or making up new ones, that had begun centuries before in Italy, had moved to France in the late seventeenth century, and then around the turn of the nineteenth century flourished in the German states. In doing so, those British and Irish writers responded to their own notions of what those original, anonymously invented texts meant, and therefore also to ideas of ‘the folk’, the fairy, and the child. They experimented with the form to explore political and social concerns, as well as questions of identity, love, and the moral life. Together they built up a body of work that contains some of the most vivid, most astonishing, and most entertaining writing of the century.

Some have decried the literary fairy tale as sentimental, escapist, and kitsch. Though much substandard work was published, in the finest examples there is a lot of tough-mindedness, wit and genuine humour, as well as cognizance of suffering, and traces too of the numinous. The literary fairy story involves the fantastic, a supernatural that is neither eerie nor horrific, but rather is whimsical, playful, or invitingly strange. Condemnations of escapism should further be tempered by the fact that for loathers of industrialism such as John Ruskin or George MacDonald, for women like Dinah Mulock Craik and Mary De Morgan, for gay men like Oscar Wilde or Laurence Housman, there was much in contemporary Victorian life from which one might want to escape. Moreover, far from pure flight from life, such stories are rather a way to expose social tensions and psychological conflicts and to devise their potential solutions.

Source: Newton, M.  (Ed), 2015, Victorian Fairy Tales, Oxford University Press



Some Criteria for Short Story Writing (ideas discussed at Circle session on 14th February 2017, facilitated by Kate Evans)


  • Does the story match the theme set?
  • Correct word count
  • The story itself – (beginning, middle and end – although not necessarily in that order)
  • The story must be self-contained i.e. not an extract from a novel
  • Writing has to flow
  • Engaging characters – love or hate them
  • Not too many characters
  • Clarity of the writing and structure is important
  • Should provoke emotion/have an emotional hook/captivate
  • Has progression
  • A title that adds to the story/gives a clue about the story
  • A first sentence that hooks you in
  • Involves the reader in some way
  • A story that sticks in your mind or that resonates
  • Must conform to the rules of the competition, including word count, age of entrant etc.
  • Characterisation/emotion
  • Structure – a beginning middle and end (see above)
  • First impact – the hook
  • Keep the reader’s interest
  • Show don’t tell
  • Allow the reader to make their own picture
  • No repetition (unless a deliberate strategy for the story)
  • Does the story show a new understanding of attitude/viewpoint in relation to the character or reader


This list is not intended to be exhaustive.



Tips for Writers

Val Kitson (Life member), August 2015

Lots of useful information for writers, so take a look and see how you can save a lot of money when your books are published!

If writing for a hobby and not earning, OK.

If earning anything you are liable to be taxed!! Records must be kept.


Paper, pencils (lead), pencil sharpener, pens Ink/cartridges/replacement nib) paperclips, stapler, staples, hole-punch, rubber bands, ruler.

Typewriter, paper, carbon paper, ribbons (electricity).

Laptop, Initial (or replacement) cost, insurance, programs, upgrades, maintenance/repairs.

Printer, Initial (or replacement) cost, insurance, maintenance, paper, ink.

Research: Laptop, Library, newspaper archives. Reference books. Meeting, lunch, subscription, museum, entry fees, parking, other areas, mileage/train/bus fare/accommodation – airfares, laptop bag.

Manuscript or article. Envelopes, postage, mileage/bus fare.

Storage: Box files, bookcase, filing cabinet, desk/workstation, chair, window blind, desk lamp, fan, vacuum flask/coffee machine, mileage/bus fare.

Office Allowance: number of room (not including kitchen & bathroom)

Eg: 3 bed semi, lounge, dining room = 5 rooms. 1 room as office = one fifth against costs of running a home office. Heating, light, telephone (landline) & Water.

Record Council Tax, Home insurances any maintenance or property repairs.

Book signings, events, meetings, lunches, work clothing, new spectacles, hair etc……

Everything incurs a cost, even the cup of coffee en route!!

Car running expenses/repairs. Accountant’s fees. Agent’s/Consultancy Fees, Bank Charges.

Photography equipment.

Copies of own books for publicity.

Everything should have a receipt.

Mileage Log: record distance of all journeys connected with work.


Any payment received. Advances, Royalties, etc. Appearance Fees.

Keep all advice notes, print off any electronic statements, bank statements.

Payments for books sold at events.

Any entry on a bank statement should be explainable.

Take professional advice. Many accountants offer a free consultation.

HMRC has produced a booklet called ‘Thinking of Working For Yourself’ which includes details on where to find most of the information you will need.

Although this is for all types of business there is much in it relevant to authors and freelance journalists and can be obtained from HMRC’s offices or downloaded via the internet at

  • Remember that if your gross earnings (including expenses) reach £79,000 (from 1 April 2013) in any consecutive 12 months you must register for VAT.

General Tax Information.

Accounts preparation work for tax purposes

All self-employed individuals must complete the self-employment pages in the return. Under self-assessment it is not necessary to send in copies of your accounts to HMRC. Instead, you have to disclose your income and expenses under pre-printed categories on the return (e.g. premises costs would include rent, business rates, water rates, lighting, heating, power and insurance for premises that were totally designated for 100% business use). There is also a column for entering disallowable expenses included in the grand total for an expense item (e.g. for premises costs, any non-business use of the premises would be disallowable).

Simple tax accounts

HMRC has simplified the accounting requirements for businesses, either full or part-time, where total business turnover before expenses is less than £79,000 per year. All you need to return in these circumstances is:

■ Your gross business turnover

■ Your total allowable deductions (business purchases and expenses and capital allowances)

■ Your net profit or loss

Obviously it is essential to keep a detailed list of expenses and purchases for business purposes in case of a query from the Tax Inspector. Beware! HMRC seems to be targeting small businesses.

Professional expenses potentially allowable for tax purposes

The ‘Taxes Act’ states that as a self-employed individual you are entitled to claim for expenses incurred “…wholly and exclusively… for the purpose of trade….”. The taxman will only allow expenses which come within this definition. Luckily this does cover most of the expenses you are likely to come across. You have to show the taxman that each of your expenses was “…wholly and exclusively for the purpose of trade” as an author or freelance journalist and he will be quite happy.

It is best to maintain a record of all expenses and seek advice if in doubt about what HMRC will accept.

 Routes to Publication

  1. Mainstream  publisher.

It’s getting harder to achieve, but it can be done. Bill Kitson did it with his crime thrillers recently, joining a long list of published members over the years.

This is probably a true recognition of worth of a book that has potential to sell. These days a publisher of ‘real’ books has a harder job than ever before to make a profit on a publication, with the diminishing market and the competition from electronic publishing.

If you think you have the genre, the title and the ability to write compelling, page-turning work, fact or fiction, then you may still make it. The route is hard and long, frustrating and sometimes disappointing.  You may reach this point through a form of self-publishing first, which, if good enough, may serve as promotion, and attract the attention of the big company.


  1. Vanity publishing.

This is the thing to avoid. Self-publishing can be arranged sensibly, and reasonably economically, but some companies trade on aspiring writers’ desire to see a book with their name on it, and  they will print almost anything. They sometimes advertise ‘Authors Wanted- Publisher seeks manuscripts on all subjects…’ You submit your book, and, hey presto, it’s accepted! ‘Congratulations’ they say, ‘your book has been accepted for publication.’ You then pay an enormous  amount for a few copies, and the chance you will sell any is minimal.  This route is very expensive, and there are no controls over quality. You may convince yourself it’s good, but get an impartial assessment of the standard, and not from your family.


  1. Be your own publisher.

If you have written your book, revised, edited, checked and checked again, and you believe it is good enough to publish, and that you can generate enough sales to cover costs of a print run of a few hundred books at least, then you can publish it yourself. You deliver your manuscript ( which may be hard copy or on disc) to a printer  who agrees a price. You register for an ISBN and off you go. Several of our members have done well with this, and many authors have used self-publishing as a platform to go on into the mainstream. To sell your books, you should be prepared to work hard on publicity and promotion. You won’t make a fortune , but you might break even, have a lot of fun, and achieve great satisfaction.


  1. A half-way house publisher.

Some small publishers work with the ‘print-on-demand’ services that are now available, and will prepare your manuscript with you and get you to first professional standard copy for a reasonable fee. You can then order as few or as many as you wish to sell yourself, or for use with friends and family. These cost more per  copy than a run of five hundred or a thousand would, but then you don’t risk losing two or three thousand pounds if you can’t sell them. One local firm who does this has published books by more than one of our members, and in addition offers to sell them through its own website, and through Amazon and Lulu. The margins are such that individually the author could make a profit of three or four pounds per book sold, himself, and less for one sold through the publisher, who may, as in one example, take fifty pence per book in addition, and there would be a credit card fee for online sales,  and less still for the author for sales through Amazon. But even so there is potential.


  1. Magazines and newspapers.

This is perhaps the best way to start. If you have special knowledge, a hobby  or experience that is shared by others, there will be a magazine for it.  Send a letter or email to find if they would be interested in your suggested article, and it may not take long before you have a positive response.  Fifteen hundred words and a couple of photographs later, and there you are- published! If you get that far, follow it up with the next suggestion straight away, and if your first article was good, they’ll take another, and you have established yourself as a credible article writer.  Some magazines pay reasonably well. One member’s piece for ‘Family Tree Magazine’ was paid £190, for example.

  1.  Do it yourself.

If you simply want booklets or books, perhaps for your family,  it’s quite possible to make a really professional looking finished product using home computers, printers, and publishing programs. It’s easy enough to make title pages, add photos and put it together with one of the various kinds of binder available through office equipment suppliers. There are simple comb binders, or even better the  thermal binding systems. Different thicknesses of cover are available taking from a few pages to over a hundred.  I’ve used a program for years which came free with a printer I bought- ‘Printmaster’ which I use for title pages and small booklets with lots of pictures, such as one-off stories for  grandchildren. For longer books you can use one of the many word processors of course.

So there you are- a brief introduction to seeing your writing in print.  I would just add one note of caution, which is that accuracy and quality is important, and that before the final committing to print, every possible check should be completed, by the author and others if possible, so that the fewest number of mistakes remain in the end.

And then, you shouldn’t forget the 600-pound gorilla sitting over there in the corner, idly chewing on a banana, who goes by the cuddly name of Kindle!

If you’ve written a book, you can put it on Kindle, all by yourself – no need for an agent, no need for a publisher (who would only want to see your work if it is submitted via an agent, anyway). What’s more, it’s free, which is a very popular price for anyone born in Yorkshire.

However, there are several things you must do before pressing the ‘publish’ button.

First of all, your book should be properly edited. Read it through very carefully, checking the story and the dialogue, if any. Then, do a thorough copy edit, making sure of your punctuation, spelling and grammar. After you’ve done this, put the manuscript aside for a few days. Having recharged your literary batteries, go back and copy edit your work again! You WILL find errors you have missed.

Also, when writing your masterwork, don’t just hit the space bar several times to create a break. If you’re using Word, move the cursor to the top of the page, hit ‘insert’, then go down the menu and hit ‘page break’. This will create a new page for your deathless prose.

Use the ‘preview’ button, which will show you how the book will look in Kindle format, and if you have any ‘widows and orphans’, like the last page of a chapter having just one word, rewrite the sentence or shorten it to fit.

Once you’ve done all this, press ‘PUBLISH’, and your book is out there for the world to read and enjoy.