SMASH IELTS: Things To Do Before You Write I

 

Writing is hard or easy, depending on how you approach it. If you approach it with dread and disdain you will find it hard and you won’t get the best out of yourself. If you approach it with interest and a genuine desire to improve, you will find it easy. You will enjoy writing and enjoy learning how to write better.

 

IELTS writing is different from regular academic or general writing. It is designed to fail you and designed to make sure you are unsure about the requirements. In this class we how to equip you with the skills and knowledge about the requirements of the IELTS writing test (and other parts) and support you to use that to get excellent grades.

 

As earlier said, writing can be hard or easy. Today I want to share down things that can help boost your scores in IELTS writing even before you pick a pencil. (Note, the exam is written in pencil, for best results).

 

1. Read

Every writer knows this but I have to state it again: the quality of your writing can not be better than the quality of your reading.

What should you read?
That depends on how soon your exam is. If your exam is in 4-6 months or more then read widely. Visit foreign news/literary sites like the NewYorker, CNN,BBC and Time and read any articles you find interesting. Read them with the IELTS marking scheme in mind. Read them to learn new words and how to use old ones. Read them to learn idioms and expressions and figures of speech. Read.

If your exam is in less than three months, then read model essays. Before you write an essay, read a model essay. Don’t write more essays than you have read. Read.

 

2. Research

When you see a practice essay, don’t rush into writing it. Do some reasearch on the topic.
You won’t have that luxury in the exam but this will build your vocabulary and creative expression faster than trying to cram dictionaries and reference texts. Highlight new words and ideas and practice making them more coherent. Don’t write from empty as long as you can help it. Fill your head with ideas so you can use them to write brilliant essays. Remember, many essay questions and topics get repeated. The harder you work, the luckier you are likely to be.

3. Reason

When you have an essay to write, don’t rush into it. Of course you will write an introduction, a body and a conclusion; but IELTS writing is more than that. IELTS writing has to satisfy the requirements. And the first step to doing this is to

A. Understand the question.

Ask yourself what kind of essay or letter type is needed here. What are the essentials, what is the frame work? Are there subheadings I need to include to make sure I achieve the task?

 

B. Plan Your Answer

Draft what you want to write before you write it.

How many paragraphs are you going to write?

What will their topic sentences be?

How many idioms can you use, reasonably?

Where are you going to use them?

What deliberate efforts can you make to improve your essay?

C. Plan your revision process.

We will discuss this more later, but all writers know that good essays don’t happen the first time. They often go through 2-100 drafts.

You don’t have the time or resources for multiple drafts in an examination, but you can still apply the principles. Plan to polish your essay till you have a better version than the one you started with. Plan to excel.

 

I hope this short note has been helpful. I will appreciate some feedback. A show of emojis, a comment, anything to show you read this.

Thank you.

To register for classes and for consultation send an email to stnaija@gmail.com

 

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Ten Times To Totally Write For Free (& A Million Not To)

Everyone knows I am a #NoFreeWriting Ambassador. I believe you should get paid for your work, your intellectual property, your blood and tears. It took a while for me to navigate the literary landscape and arrive at my current position. I don’t regret the days I wrote for free or was swindled of work but I like where I am now and I am not going back.

So why in the world am I still considering writing for free? It is wrong. It is exploitative. It is thoroughly discouraging the emergence of talent and the development of the craft. Yes it is, but sometimes writing for free can be a good thing. Here are ten occasions you should write for free and feel absolutely no guilt.

1. Your Private Diary/ Journal/Blog

Everything seems to be documented in the public domain these days with social media being the preferred means of sharing experiences, thoughts and feelings. Some things are however too controversial, painful, raw or private for the whole world to see. Writing in a journal or diary can help you:

gather your thoughts without any performance pressure

experiment with style and form

leave a record for yourself and posterity

dabble and brainstorm.

Whatever your reasons, this is one time where you should not feel guilty about time spent versus money-made. Who knows? Your journal could even be optioned and published someday.

2. Your Public Blog/Website/Project

It can be hard to churn out content data after day without any compensation or remuneration. All the hard work that goes into creating work just ignored like a kitten fart. But don’t despair. Writing for your personal blog might not pay immediately but it can be immensely rewarding. It can grow your readership and fans; help you understand your work better; serve as clips for future jobs; be a 24-hour advert to head hunters, agents, editors and publishers; and if you are lucky, advertisers who like what you do can support you. Then Boom! You are the next Linda Ikeji

3. For The Blogs Of Friends/Family

Good writing is hard. It is valuable: made from blood, sweat and tears. It can be frustrating to create without any tangible value received in return but writing for family and friends is different. Just the way you would share your food, home or money with them you can also gladly and proudly lend your words to boost their site or blog without any guilt. Think of it as having each other’s back. Hopefully, it will be a mutually beneficial experience where you get more readers, they get more traffic and everyone gains. Even if it doesn’t work that way, it will be another deposit in your love bank and writers need all the love they get.

4. For a Cause You Care About

Some of the most needy causes are some of the most overlooked. Editors will often commission features that have been flogged to death while important topics languish from neglect. That is where you come in. You can ride in on your white horse (or pink or green or black) and save the day. With your words you can help create awareness for important neglected topics like: mental health, autism, poverty, child’s rights, the environment, wild life and more. With your pen/pad/laptop you can save the world one piece/poem at a time. No one might pay you but that is what heroes love for. And writers are heroes. Yup, that is what you are.

5.For Church/Mosque/Shrine/Temple

If you have been saved, then the least you can do is to save someone else. If you belong to any place that provides nourishment and salvation, eternal life and peace then you shouldn’t let worldly things like money stop you from being a blessing. Many religious publications struggle to find good content. That content can be difference between who is reached and who is unreached. So the next time you come across a tweet asking for help that you give in this domain please give it a thought.

6. For a Fun Free Project You Believe in

Many people charge writers to submit; sell their work and don’t give them a penny back; rogues and robbers. That isn’t what I am talking about. I am talking about projects that collate writing by people you believe in, charities you support, topics that fascinate you or all three for that matter. Like the anthology call for writers of your demographic by that passionate broke editor that will edit you till you shine or that mad call for stories with sex in the air. Anything, quirky, genuine and fun that matters to you? Write for yourself, no one can afford you anyway.

7. For a Byline

A byline is a place that has published your work in the past. Now, you don’t need to have written for over a day to know that non-paying places outnumber the paying about 1000 to 1, and it gets worse if you write fiction, or poetry, or write from sub-Saharan Africa or are a new, unknown writer.The problem is, when a writing job — that scarce precious resource– does come, the first thing they will look at is your byline. Where have you been published before? Who else has liked your work? And believe it or not, something is (mostly) better than nothing. So when you have an offer to write for a place that will improve your writing credentials, consider it.

Side note: do this with an eye on the clock. Besides, you only need to do it once for it to count.

8. For Growth & Opportunity 

Every 1000 years (just kidding) there comes a chance to work with a talented editor, a gifted translator, a revered mentor, a dream team that will make you more than you could be on your own; but they have no money. They however value your work and want to make it the best it can be. Take it. Think of it as trade by batter or training or ‘getting your work out in the world’. Such opportunities are few in today’s world, recognize that and act accordingly.

9. When You Want To

You are a writer, a creator, a god. And it is the right of every god to do as they please (within limits).  So, if the fancy strikes you, to share your divinity with mortality, then by all means do so. Grace this world with your light and love and language. Bequeath it your goodness. Gift it your unique, inimitable voice. After all, time is running out and you only get one chance on this orb.

10. For eXpOSuRe

I don’t know where this word came from but I know exposure can make you fall ill and catch a cold (Saint face).

Anyway, this means writing for a publication/site/company/blog/individual that solicited your magic for a paying concern but somehow managed to ‘have no budget for writers’. Really? (Yes, dem pleeeeenty) I have said a lot about how I feel about this. In summary: giving your blood and sweat over to a merchant to hawk, profit and not pay you is a no; the promise that you will get eXpOSuRe is a scam. A gamble, that your name on their site will magically pay your rent or school fees or grocery bill. We all know that (almost) never happens. But if the spirit has spoken to you, the burning bush has called your name, you have seen the fleece and you think it is the right thing to do,or you believe the hype will be worth it, your gut says go, your head doesn’t say no; then flourish.

 

So there it is folks. All the reasons to sit over a blank page bleeding without a dime in sight. The one million reasons not to? Ah. You have to like this and share it and follow the blog so you don’t miss it when it is out. That is the currency here, beloved, you can call it SaintCoin.

*****
Thank you for reading this. Do you ever write for free? Did I miss anything? You are welcome to comment.

This blog is kept alive by your generous donations and tireless support.

Please do not hesitate to share this, reblog, part-post, excerpt and pass it along on Telegram/WhatsApp etc.

We value your input and presence. All this is wasted without you.

 

Can You Tell A Story In A Sentence?

Storytelling is hard, or easy, depending on who you ask. Traditionally stories were told by mouth, around a fire, by the moonlight or on the way back from the farm. The average folk tale would be the length of today’s short story, approximately 1500 words or less. With the advent of printers and the pay per word culture, story telling exploded into long epic tales with many chapters and even volumes. The average novel is about 70-80,000 words long. For some stories, a single book is not enough, volumes and sequels are needed– Harry Potter, Song of Fire and Ice (Or Game of Thrones Series).

But while stories have grown longer, they have grown shorter too. The Internet and the use of phones as e-readers have provided an opportunity for people to read things ‘on the go’, in the time it takes to finish a drink, wait for a train or ride to a bus stop, one can read and enjoy a complete tale.

These ‘shorter short’ stories have gone by many names, but the most common one seems to be flash fiction. Flash fiction is said to be any story 1000 words or less. Within this class there are many other shorter/smaller stories still:  there is short flash usually between 300-500 words, micro-fiction below 300, drabbles at 100 words, 50 word stories, and any number of words below.

( I have seen calls for 17 word memoirs, 10 word stories, six word stories and even four word stories)

Some other people classify their flash fiction by characters, so there are 280 character stories, 160 and even 140 characters. These were designed to take advantage of the character limits on SMS and Twitter, while giving a satisfying flash fiction experience. The emphasis being brevity and completeness.

The one sentence story is a twist on the theme. Can a story be told not only with a few words but with a single sentence?

A literary magazine, The Monkey Bicycle, is exploring this space. The magazine is currently taking submissions for their ‘One Sentence’ category which they hope to post every week.

A few stories are already up and the possibilities hinted at are endless. While some stories there are less than 17 words, others extend beyond 50 words. The test is in being able to keep the story going for as long as possible while delivering a pleasant reading experience.

Since I saw the challenge, I have been thinking about one sentence stories a lot. What can be done with the form? What sort of stories would flourish best in it? How can I use the form to create a pleasant experience?

I don’t have all the answers yet, but I will definitely explore the possibilities. For now, enjoy today’s offering

 

Village Rendevous

When Abel promised to show us a good time in the village we believed him, it would be a weekend filled with palmwine, bushmeat, and beautiful women, we thought; we weren’t ready for the gunshots that rang out that night and sent us running into the bush, or the severe malaria, diarrhea and rashes we had, in the days that followed.

 

Hope you liked my one sentence story. Now share yours in the comments or send to me via mail or send it to The Monkey Bicycle for a chance to be published.

Letter To An ‘Aspiring’ Writer

Fellow writer,

Do not aspire, write.

Aspiring work does not exist, only written work does.

When you are starting and dabbling you can call your self ‘amateur’ but don’t expect anyone to ever pay you if you do.

When you have spent enough time on your craft, writing for friends and family and for free, then you must decide if that is enough or if you want more.

Writing contests are a good way to get your work recognized and to finally see a cheque, some cash or a credit alert.

So look for contests that interest you and enter all that are free. You will only gain by so doing: fame, fortune and joy or at least a finished piece.

Set your writing goals be as lofty as you please then set your targets: little things you can control and guarantee.

Value editing and the voice of your beta-readers, remember no one can see his back except through a glass.

Most advice is false but the ones that are meant for you will look you in the eye and you will quiver with recognition. Four of these are however universal: read, read, read, write, read, read, edit, and submit/ publish.

Iron sharpens iron so find the literati and sit with them. Many good things have happened to me this way: contests, calls for submissions, anthology invitations, submission fee grants, free books and so much more. The child by the pot is fed before those outside the hut.

Find those whose work you deeply admire: people and journals. Study them, mimic them and maybe find your calling.

Be consistent, time flies and you can lose much by simply watching the days and deadlines flash by. Know all the time sensitive parts of your goals: the Under 18, 21, 30,35,40 and so on.

Don’t be too full of yourself or your art, make friends, appreciate your readers and fans.
Remember the tripod of writing success: read with purpose, write with passion and build your community.

Support the work of others but don’t be afraid to disagree.

Don’t let anyone put you on a hole, write anything you want to write, use pseudonyms if you must.

Don’t quit your job (if you have one).

Don’t publish first drafts. Don’t be distracted by sub-plot. Don’t pretend to be what/ who you are not.

Commit to being your best self. Send your work to people who can tell you the truth about it (hard and painful and cruel) before you send it to the world.

Lastly, stop aspiring my friend, this is writing not a presidential election.

Yours in the fellowship of the pen,
N.M.

 

•••

To help writers who want to achieve more with their work but aren’t sure how to do this, we are starting a writing group called Eagle’s Crest.

To Join, send an email to Stnaija at gmail

dot com.

Thank you for reading the NaijaWriter.

The Heat Is On

“Loves the fire but can’t stand the heat.” Famous last words spoken to me by an ex-girlfriend. Years later, the words linger; dancing around my sub-concious, jumping to the fore, like they did today.

What brought them up? A little experiment. Instead of moaning about bad blogs and sloppy writing, I decided to do something about it.

What did I do?
I started the #BlogPolice.

What is that?

It is a platform to call out bad writing on blogs, things like clichés, gratuitous adverbs, typos, redundancy, chunky writing and tense confusion.

Does that mean you are perfect?

No, it doesn’t. We found an omission on our blog and mentioned it too. There’s no perfect writer and no perfect blogpost. The aim is to encourage people to make an effort and to give people a sense of accountability.

Why do you want to do that? Does it work?

We want to do that because we care about writing and we care about writers. We left names out so no one would feel victimised or picked on. We added a #BlogAngels bit later on and talked about the good things we noticed as well.

The idea was culled from the Twitter typo-spotting tyrants, handles like: Grammar Police, Gbagaun Detector, Sharp Spotter etc. These handles were dedicated to spotting typographical errors on Twitter. Sometimes they were funny, sometimes, they were a pain in the neck. In any case, they made people read over their tweets and double check before they sent them. They made tweeters accountable.

The Blog Police was meant to do the same thing. It was meant to remind bloggers that people heed their ‘Please read and comment’ requests. It was to show that the effort they spent proof-reading, redrafting or rewriting a post was not wasted.

Alas, it failed.

Despite listing the offending sentences and phrases in anonymity, some people still decided to raid my direct messages with tirades. They went on to state that I should never mention their blogs again. Some unfollowed after that. Some had me blocked.

Normal events, except that these were the same people clamouring for names of offenders be affixed to their ‘blog crimes’. Some of them asked that offenders should be informed so they ‘learn from their mistakes’.

All the while, lying through their fingertips.

The #BlogPolice is defunct. It was a rewarding experiment. It made me read many things I don’t usually read. It taught me open-mindedness and patience.

It also made me notice the great work some people are doing on their blogs.

Most of all, it made me realise that people are often as two-faced as a cheap coin. They can smile with you in the sunshine and stick a dagger into your groin at night.

No wonder the Book says “Woe is he that trusts in a man.”

It raises questions though.

In the world today, every product or service gets reviewed. Some get nods and others get knocks. Sometimes the same product gets both nods and knocks. It doesn’t mean the producer is a bad person, it just means there is room for improvement.

It is great to hear rave reviews. People telling you how amazing you are is soothing. To get better, though, we have to listen to less than savoury stuff. We have to pay attention to issues raised and treat them if they are real or toss them if they are malicious.

If a blogger can’t cope with having a single sentence queried, how will they cope? When they get Kakutanied?