Hello there!

Here are some thoughts on varied topics, i hope some of them will be of interest and will prompt a response.

I’m going to be putting stuff out via Kindle Direct, which you can find by searching /  for – ‘Max Bantleman’.

Thanks for reading.

Featured post


Just read a post on a blog that made me mad.

For me it highlights a common problem in ‘how to write betterer’ pieces. It is a classic piece of nonsense dressed up as ‘insight’.

The line that did it was, ‘the difference between an amateur writer and a pro is that pros crave failure’.

We’ve all become used to the idea that failure is a learning experience. If you undertake a task with goals and you fail, you have a chance to look at how you went about it, to see where the failure came from. You can repeat the task (if needed) with the knowledge of what you should do differently to increase the chance of success.

It’s not rocket science. Unless you’re a rocket scientist.

The problem with the ‘pro’s crave failure’ BS is that it implies the failure had a hard set of goals, that the definition for success was understood by all and that the person failing got adequate feedback to be able to analyse their failure.

Writing doesn’t work like that.

Most of the time the response is silence. Which is judged as failure.

An agent doesn’t get back to you, or a publisher, or anyone who you have targeted for accepting your work. The ‘norm’ these days is, ‘if you don’t hear from us in ‘x’ time assume you have not been successful’. No feedback. No chance for analysis. Craving that would be just stupid.

But the myth in writing lingers. ‘It’s great to fail! Learn from it and you’ll be a better person!’

Well duh! Yeah, we all know that. But we need information to analyse to understand, to get better.

We need to set our own goals, to decide what constitutes success and failure for us. We need to be clear about our chances of succeeding in a world where there are so many people trying to compete, to succeed and what we are. We need to understand that there are numerous factors outside our control that determine our success and failure. Understanding all that can make it easier to accept failure and then move on.

But this bullshit about craving failure? Can we stop with that please?

What we crave (and I think that is a stupid word, sounds like a fish) is feedback.

We want to understand where we can increase our chance of success. That’s the information we want. And a lot of that comes back to determining success: how we decide when we have succeeded.

Getting a piece of work to a stage where I’m happy to send it out to people is a win for me.

The next win is getting it accepted by the people I’m targeting. If it’s not quite there yet and it needs work, needs to be changed, I can’t know that unless I’m given some direction as to the changes that are needed.

Fish though… funny.

Writing To An Outline

I have to write to an outline.

I have to define what the story is, who’s in it and what happens at the end before I start writing.

A lot of people don’t work like that.

Many’s the time I hear, ‘oh no, I just start writing and see where it takes me’.

If that work’s for you then keep doing it! What works works.

It definitely doesn’t work for me.

I get distracted by ideas. While I’m ‘just writing’ other ideas completely unrelated to the main one crash in and demand attention. There is also the ‘the next idea is better’ thing. Doubt creeps in and the next idea that comes along to rescue me from the rubbish I’m ‘free-writing’ always seems better. But then the focus shifts, the idea gets tested and found wanting and the same problem arises.

That might not make any sense, but I know what I mean. Which is another problem.

So if I don’t write to an outline I get lost in a maze of stupidity.

The outline doesn’t have to be very long, or very in-depth, but I need one. I have to start with the end in sight and the outline gives me that.

I need to know how many characters there are, what they want in the story, what they are like as people, how they interact with the other characters, what they sound like. All that comes from the outline. It may be touched upon ever so briefly, like ‘Bryn, the quiet assassin that is sent to kill Amy. Bryn is overconfident.’ That’s all I need for Bryn until I get the outline completed.

Bullet points. Headlines. Brief descriptors of people, places, scenes, direction, plot, snatches of dialogue.

Broken sentences that drive other people crazy are outline gold for me.

Then I can review the outline, see if it has what I need to tell the story. It takes a few tries to get the outline ‘done’, sometimes as many as ten passes, adding or stripping stuff until it feels right.

When the writing starts the outline is the guide, the rough idea, the pieces to the puzzle sorted in to corners, straight bits, sky, etc. Nothing more.

Once the writing starts new bits are always needed and some of the old ones get tossed out.

This process works for me with everything I write, from short-story, writing assignment, to screenplay (with some obvious structure differences) and full-blown novel idea.

Do you use an outline? If so, what depth does it have what goes in and what stays out?

Is the idea of an outline completely alien to you? How much do you have when you start writing, where is the focus for development?

Who Do You Talk To?

Writers keep getting slammed down, but they keep getting up.

They have to.

You have to.

I have to.

We have to.

We are our own support group and we can help each other when we fall.

Not that we just fall, sometimes (often!) we are pushed by those ‘other’ people who just don’t understand what we are going through, what we are trying to do (the meanies!).

They just don’t get it so they dismiss it. Or ridicule it.

Or, and this can be even worse, they try to ‘help’ by telling us how bad it is and how we can fix it… in their opinion.

I’m not talking about editing. I’m talking about the disregard people can have for the creative process, the story, what is trying to be communicated. How brutal they can be in dismissing it as not worth telling. Not worth the effort of writing never mind reading.

We get knocked down a lot.

That’s how it feels sometimes. And yeah, it can feel like a whine. But who doesn’t need a moan now and again?

The best people to talk to about it, as with any experience, are those who can empathise. That would mostly be other writers.

I have a few friends who write in one capacity or another, and we can be a good ear for each other when one of us needs to talk.

I’m in a writing group that meets every two weeks, and I can talk to people there about the challenges of writing, both at the group and over email.

Occasionally I reach out on FB or on Twitter.

If you feel the need to talk, where do you go? Who to? Have you thought about developing a network?

Walking that tightrope between the arrogant (people will want to read what I have to tell) and the crippling lack of self-confidence (but everything I write is such a load of old shite!) is a tough balancing act. It’s cool to have people around to help us keep on keeping on.

Declaring ourselves to be ‘a writer’ paints a target on our backs. From time to time, we all need someone to help us find cover.

Collection of Short Stories

A collection of short stories from Jacci Gooding, a writer that attends Banbury Writers’ Café.

Go take a look and if it is the sort of thing you like… buy it!

I’m looking forward to seeing more of Jacci’s stories out later this year.



Dialogue should do a lot of things.

Not all at the same time, though more than one at once is a real win.

Dialogue is a really good tool: it’s not just chat between characters.

Be wary of banter dragging on!

What sort of things should dialogue do?

It should reveal something about the character speaking.

It should tell us something about the character within story, the plot-line, how it will advance, what the expectations for that character are.

It can explain things through exposition.

It should advance the story.

It has to be true to the character speaking it.

Dialogue is best when it feels natural, like the spoken word, with some imperfections, half-thoughts and interruptions thrown in.

That’s a lot of stuff!

How do we make dialogue achieve all or some of that?

For me, this is where the great advice of ‘just write bad stuff’ really comes in to its own.

I find that dialogue never comes out fully formed with the first words on the page. I write sketchily, getting ideas out, playing around and let it just sit there taking up the space it needs to until I can come back and make it better.

Most often we’ll know what we want to get across in a piece of dialogue, prompted by the action of the story. We’ll know what the character is feeling, how they are thinking, what they want to achieve by saying what we’re going to get them to say. Start with that. Get out the guts of it, the intent, the bare content.

Get the dialogue working as an exchange. Get the other character/s in the scene contributing, reacting and stating their case, getting across what they want. Start the conversation on the page.

Revealing something about character is done through how they would react in context of the scene, driven by their background and goals. Their personality, education, physical and emotional state will all affect the way they speak and what they want to say. What are they trying to achieve with their dialogue?

Does the dialogue need to tell us where we are going with the story? Is it a character explaining something to the reader as well as stating something in context of the story?

We can get a feel for how people speak by listening to them. That sounds bloody obvious I know. But a lot of the time we’re busy trying to pick up on the message within the spoken word and don’t really listen to the way it’s spoken. As writers we can learn a lot about writing by listening.

We can learn from people in the world around us or from people on the page, screen, stage and radio. Learn from other writers. Why wouldn’t we?

And remember: write bad stuff! Never expect it to be perfect as soon as it hits the page.

Just get the ideas out, write down what you want to convey from that character at that place in the story. Just get the ideas down on the page.

Going back and sharpening dialogue is one of the best parts of rewriting.

In editing it can be less fun, as you rewrite, hone, tinker, refine and then decide that whole chunks need to go.

But that’s in the future. For now, just start the conversation on the page.

Banbury Writers’ Café

The ‘Banbury Writers’ Café’ wordpress site is up and running.

If you’re anywhere near Banbury and fancy joining a writers’ group, we’d love to meet you!




If you’re writing you are a writer.

You need to have written to be a writer, not just have planned to write.

But as soon as you start and words appear to express an idea, then you’re it: a writer.

That’s really cool.

Writing is hard and you need all the help you can get.

What can help are the tools you use to write.

A certain mega-famous author says nobody writes with pen and paper anymore despite what some say, that the notion is quaint, but that nobody actually does it like that. Is she right?

Do you use a phone, tablet or laptop?

I use a Surface Pro 4, Windows 10 (word). The smaller laptop means I can now leave my monster PC at home and write wherever I go with ease. Something I’m not really taking full advantage of yet. I write mainly at home, is that the norm?

Do you write straight to page or dictate stuff and then go back, listen to it and pick out the good bits? Do you dictate and then transfer direct to page via software?

There is some great voice to page software out there, which allows those with less nimble fingers to write more easily.

I’d guess we all use a mixture of whatever we have where we are.

The tools for writing have changed a lot over the past few decades. Starting with the old word-processors and then moving on through the myriad developments in computer tech.

Using a keyboard comes naturally to most of us, using a pen is pretty alien for things other than signatures and forms. My handwriting has got so bad I can only read back about 50% of it!

Once in electronic format our writing becomes easier to mess with, both for correction in things like grammar / shpeeling, as well as for rewrites for structure and flow.

We are getting used to writing with rewriting being easier than when it is pen on paper. Is this a good thing? I think it is. Writing in stages is the way I’m used to working: first draft for ideas and loose structure, with some bad writing expected, then on to rewrites.

We see people writing in many different locations and some people pretending to write in some of those locations!

Our available tools have allowed us to move about more freely and still access our work. Not that you can’t do that with pen and paper, just seems easier, especially for rereading and rewriting.

In most writing formats some form of grammar / spell-check is included in the software, so that helps us too. Another really useful tool.

Once we have written, we also have the work in a format very close to that wanted by people we are going to submit it too. Bonus!

We have some awesome tools that help us write more efficiently.

Are there any tools I’ve missed out? Anything you can recommend?

Are you reading this and thinking, ‘I use pen and paper and they’re amazing: I wouldn’t move to keyboard and electronic entry if you paid me!’

Let’s share some stories and tips for writing tools.

Looking For An Agent

I’m looking for a literary agent.


Because I’d like to get my book (‘SoulDice’) published by a publisher rather than put it out there myself.


Because I believe the book (‘SoulDice’) has the potential to click with a lot of people and I don’t think I could get to the full potential audience using the tools I’d have if I were to self-publish.

I know what you’re thinking… ‘I really hope he doesn’t keep doing that ‘name of the book in brackets thing’’ (‘SoulDice’)… I won’t.

Off I went and read a lot of stuff on how to find an agent.

Most of what I found made a lot of sense and there is a shed-load of great advice out there.

Find an agent that deals in the genre you are writing in. This saves a lot of wasted time. It also makes you realise you haven’t thought enough about the genre.

Make sure they are seeking submissions. There’s no point annoying people by sending them stuff they don’t want that they haven’t asked for. I think we can all relate to that.

Keep the introduction letter short and cover the basics. Make sure you address is properly and include the information needed for the agent to move on to the synopsis or the first few chapters you’ve enclosed.

Write a synopsis. Big one this. Took me a long while to get a synopsis that is short and to the point, that covers the plot and characters without getting bogged down in too much detail. I hate writing the synopsis. I know that the more I do it the better I’ll get, so there’s that… but yeah, really difficult for me.

Include the first chapters / page count asked for by the specific agent. This is another of those ‘don’t waste time’ things: if they have submission guidelines then follow them!

Knowing that agents make a living by selling what they take on means you have to be clear about the transaction that is taking place. The synopsis / pages you are sending are meant to give the agent enough of a feel so they can tell whether they think your book is worth them investing in.

Individual agents will have different views, different contacts and publishers they favour, there will always be a degree of subjectivity from each agent.

The agent is making a living from books. They are only going to be interested in books they think they can sell. Really important that bit.

When the rejections start coming, I’ll bear that in mind more than anything else.

Feedback will be brilliant, but with the volume of submissions agents receive, I’m not expecting any.

I just have to keep plugging away. Looking for suitable agents and going through the process.

I know it’s a long haul. So the sooner I start, the sooner it’ll get done.

So I’ve started!


I’m using ‘Agent Hunter’ to help me look for appropriate agents:

Why Write?

Why are you writing?

What’s your goal?

What are you hoping to accomplish with your writing?

There are lots of ‘motivational’ quotes out there from lots of famous, erudite, witty people that say things like, “if you’re not writing because you’d just die if you didn’t then don’t bother.”

You get the gist. Of course you have to have a passion for it, feel a need to get it done, but it doesn’t have to be life or death right?

But… why are you writing?

What is the measure of your own success?

If you have a story to share, or information to share on a topic you are well-versed in, then getting it out there means bringing it to the attention of people that may be interested.

Will you sell it or give it away? Are you using sales as a measure of success?

Writing for its own sake is rewarding. Learning the craft, using language, telling stories, uncovering stories, all can be enjoyed by just you.

Are you the sole audience for your writing?

If you want to share what you write then it comes back to bringing it to the attention of people that may be interested in it.

How do you plan to do that?

The answer ‘social media’ is fine, a bit vague, but fine.

You’ll need to construct a social-media presence that can reach the people you want. That takes time and energy, but is ultimately worth it, even if you decide to try and publish with an agent rather than self-publish.

But aren’t we getting ahead of ourselves, we haven’t even written the thing yet!?

Then you realise that your writing, the ‘thing’, will take on a different shape depending upon why you are writing it, what you are going to do with it.

How are you going to judge whether you have succeeded with your writing? Or is that not important? Is it just about getting the piece written?

If you’re anything like me, you have bouts of insanely manic self-confidence (of course it’s worthwhile, have you not understood what I’ve been saying!?) as well as crushing self-doubt (there are so many other good books out there, why is anyone going to give a shit about mine?), but you’ll probably spend most of the time in the middle – the ‘well, I like the story, so someone else might, and I can write a bit’ territory.

The first measure of success I use is getting the thing written. Getting it to a state that it can be rewritten and then self-edited. The second measure of success for me, is getting it read by people who understand what the piece is about, getting feedback and tidying up. Then more rewriting. Then, as far as I’m concerned, it’s down to the angsty stage… getting it professionally edited.

Then I can really address what I want to do with it and how best to achieve that.

More goal-setting and planning.

But that can only happen once I’ve written it.

Why do I write? I have stories to tell and I believe other people will want to read them.

What’s my goal? To get my stories and ideas in to the hands of people that will be interested in them and not lose money in the process.

What do I hope to accomplish? To get stuff out there to an audience, to broaden what I write and who it appeals to, to explore new topics, to get better at writing as a craft.

Cats or dogs? Cats.

Werewolves or Vampires? Werewolves.

Any more questions? No, I think I’m done…

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