Are you looking for help with your writing? Whether you write fiction, creative non-fiction or short stories in any genre, I currently have a few spaces in my diary. I offer one-off tutoring, advice, appraisals and editorial help, as well as longer-term mentoring, and workshops for all kinds of groups & courses, in-person or online.
If you've been told your novel or creative non-fiction has a saggy middle - or you've a nasty suspicion of your own - you are absolutely not alone. It's a perennial problem, because writing a novel may simply be a matter of "beginning, muddle and end", as you discover every time you download an unabridged audiobook of a full-sized novel, novels are very long, and so the middle muddle is also very long.
Point-of-view is one of the chief tools you have for controlling your reader's experience of the story, and their reaction to it. So I have blogged about it a good deal, mostly in the four posts in the Point-of-View and Narrators series. This Bitesized series post is a quick check-in with a few of the questions which crop up most often. 1) Readers don't only get involved with the viewpoint characters and no one else. Think about it: there's no equivalent of point-of-view in films and plays - everyone is seen from the outside - any more than there is...
One of the most common word confusions I see, even in writers who aren't easily confused, is between "effect" and "affect". It's very understandable - both can be a verb, and both can be a noun - and sorting it out is a bite-sized job, so here goes.
It was Julia Cameron who started the idea of the "Artist Date",* in her book The Artist's Way. The idea is that any creative work draws on a well - or a larder is a more useful image, I think - and if you don't want to run out of creative food and therefore fuel, you have to fill the larder and keep refilling it. But how do you fill it?
Another thing I frequently find myself writing on students' work is "Don't pull its teeth!". Here, "it" is a scene, a sentence, a character's thought, or a character's action, which has all the ingredients to be compelling, but somehow falls flat.
One of the most frequent things I find myself writing on students' manuscripts is "Who says this?" I did a big post on writing dialogue a couple of years ago, so this is a round-up of solutions to this specific problem of making sure the reader knows which character says what.
You know there are no rules for which words get on the page, nor for how you should set about putting them there. But there are tools - and one of the sharpest and most universal is reading your work aloud. What's more, it applies to any kind of writing, from poetry and fiction to your doctoral thesis. I'm not talking here about preparing reading for events or reading at events, but about reading aloud, to yourself, as part of the editing process. Here are some reasons why it's such a good tool, and some things to help you wield it.
Writers very often use phrases which get between the reader and a straightforward representation and evocation of what's happening, without adding anything else to the experience. Getting rid of filtering is one of the simplest ways to make your writing more vivid and engaging, and I've blogged more fully about it, so this is just a quick look at the issues that most often arise when I'm teaching how to wrangle it.
Not only is Being Published distinctly weird, now you've got to write another book. Maybe it's under contract, or maybe it's just that everyone's expecting you to write another. So why is it being so difficult?
Comma splices are probably the punctuation mistake I see most often, and it's frequently in writing by people who otherwise know why punctuation matters, and use it very well. But what is a comma splice, why do they matter, and what do you do about them?
Even when you've got your head round how point-of-view and narrators work, you're left with the question of which of the available characters should be the viewpoint character for this page, this scene, this chapter or this novel. This post explores the possibilities.
When I meet someone who says they'd love to be a writer but they've never studied Creative Writing, or they can't spell, or they always got bad marks in English at school, I say, with truth, that you don't need any of those things. So, first, let's be clear:
The problem with synopses is simple: if you could have written your story in 300-500 words, you would have, but you couldn't, so boiling your 70-130,000 words down feels as impossible (with apologies for mixing my metaphors) as catching a waterfall in a cup. But it can be done – and it can, actually, become a really useful tool in your tool-kit.
From festival appearances to funeral poems, writers get asked to work unpaid all the time. Taking ourselves more seriously as paid professionals means learning to ask for money without apology or embarrassment from events organisers, broadcasters, schools, magazines, alumni organisations and anyone else.
The second bite of the new Itchy Bite-sized series is nibbling at a much-despised, often confused and actually very useful and very simple punctuation mark: the semi-colon.
Welcome to the first in what I hope is a new series for the Itch. Itchy Bitesized are short posts about all sorts of writing issues, from perspiration inspiration to craft and technique - and I thought a good topic for the first post would be first drafts!
Part memoir, part biography, and part book about creative writing and what really makes a novel, This Is Not A Book About Charles Darwin is the story of how my creative disaster came from ten generations of creative thinkers in the Darwin-Wedgwood family tree.
Even if you're of the "It's sheer self-indulgence" school of opinion, there's no denying that writer's block is a hot topic - except when it's a source of silent, dark and excruciating shame. The thing is, for every new writer declaring, "I'm blocked!" when what they mean is they're a bit stuck on what happens in the next scene - or (un)consciously spinning their lack of determination into a Terrible Problem for a Serious Writer - there's a professional author, with a mortgage hanging on their delivering, who can't bear to tell their friends they've had to hand an advance...
Many, many apologies for it being so long since I last posted; the only reason is that I spent the autumn and winter moving house, after twenty-two years and most of my children's lifetimes. It all went as smoothly as anything does when you're wearing a face-covering, but it was a sizeable job. Secondly, I do hope all the Itch's dear readers (who are mostly dear writers too, of course), are well, and not too worried about anyone, and not finding life in Pandemia too unbearable. Fingers crossed (the vaccination-arm-side, obv), things will start getting more recognisable soon - but...
Welcome back! In this post we're going to start thinking about the move which to many beginners seems horribly daunting: going from thinking at scene-size, chapter-size, story-scale, to a full-scale novel. But don't be scared: each post in my Write Your First Novel is a series of short prompts and exercises which are designed to lead, step by small step, towards the first draft of a novel. It doesn't assume you already know the technical vocabulary that writers use, and the full series to date is collected together here. One more thing before we start. Everything on This Itch of...