10 Reasons for a Prose Writer to do a Poetry Course
Switching From One to More than One Point-of-View in Your Story?

Happy New Writing Year!

I don't believe in giving things up for the New Year. True, the days are getting longer, and just this morning on the Essex-Suffolk border the sun is sparkling, but here in the northern hemisphere there's an awful lot of dark-and-cold about. So it's asking to fail, it seems to me, to choose to think in terms of denial and deprivation in matters where you don't have to. Instead, here are some Trees of Life, from the Museo de Arte Popular, in Mexico City. 

  Trees of Life

In a similar spirit, this post, from the same season a few years back, is about forgiving oneself for failure, but this year, by way of wishing my dear blog-readers all writerly health and happiness in 2018, I've been looking ahead. What might you (I) choose to do and think about, to make your (my) writing life richer, happier, easier, more productive and, as a happy by-product, perhaps more successful in worldly terms? 

Walk up a hill every day. You may not care about your bodily health, but the brain's blood vessels fur up as easily as the body's do. What's more, if you pop a plot problem instead of a phone in your pocket, you're likely to come home with the problem solved.

Practice staying inside your head, because that's where the writing is. In this clamorous world, it takes more forethought, but it can be done. Not least, on that walk.

Allow yourself to take your writing seriously. Writing is the thing that we love doing more than anything else, but the ratio of effort to material reward is so very unpromising, it's easy to feel in this post-Protestant, capitalist world that it's self-indulgent. You may have got over the idea that you "ought" to give up altogether, but your Inner Calvinist may still be very good at self-sabotage, in his/her own guise or dressed up as some other helpful but misguided soul.

Allow yourself to take the tools of your trade seriously, as part of taking your writing seriously, from the notebooks that suit you best to the software (such as Scrivener) which doesn't get in the way of your writing and the chair that doesn't wreck your  back. This is one of the wisest ideas in Carol Lloyd's very wise book Creating a Life Worth Living. Of course your budgets of space, time and money are limited, but painters hunt out and pay for the quality of paint they need even if it does mean forgoing some drinks, and dancers know they must have space to practice - but maybe that church has a room upstairs with a decent floor, in return for some help with the crèche. Similarly, the second-hand office furniture shop might let you try a chair for a few days with the promise of a full refund if it doesn't help, and when it comes to notebooks, it may be too late (or too early) for your Christmas list, but when's your birthday

Don't forget to be kind to your writerly self. Writing may be hard in terms of work, and in terms of working with difficult stuff, but that's a reason to be less, not more hair-shirt-ish in other matters.

Write a very short story or a poem every day. Ring-fence the time as you would the time for having a shower or cooking the tea because both are necessary for your health. Just do it. The result doesn't have to be good, or long, or experimental, or developmental or have any other obvious virtue: it just has to be there. The strange thing is that if you keep on writing these little things on which nothing is riding, they will begin to acquire those virtues - or even some virtue that you didn't even know you sought to acquire. As Ray Bradbury says in Zen and the Art of writing: "Quantity gives experience. From experience alone can quality come." 

Take a poetry course if you're a prose writer. Here's why. If you're a poet, take a prose course: not necessarily fiction, but certainly one involving storytelling and human voices.

But don't forget that, since The Itch is always about ideas and possibilities - tools to try, not rules to follow - I'm assuming that you've been reading these (and perhaps this New Year's list of things to try) and applying your Accept, Adapt, Ignore scanner. And if you have anything you're planning to take up, not give up, in the New Year, and are able to add it to the comments, you might be doing some other Itch-reader a tremendous favour, so feel free to do chip in.

And with that, I shall wish all of you






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Sophie Beal

Happy New Year back and thank you, as ever, for your blog.

I love any excuse for a reset.

In the last couple of months, I seem to have given myself twenty minutes a day to wrestle with my novel's first paragraph. Part of me wonders what I'll do for pleasure when it finally falls into line.


Happy Writing New Year Emma! Thank you for taking the time to write your blog. Someone asked me recently why I didn't do the shopping once a week and "just get them to deliver it". No, I still need to go to the Post Office and the library each week so I can do some shopping then AND, most important of all, I can use the time spent pedalling up and back to think about my writing...it's also why I detest mobile phones!


Thank you!!! I’ve been a victim to the cwf’s, which almost ruined the writing I was doing and filled me with self-doubt, your blog is now such sweet relief!


What are the cwfs, please?

Sally Zigmond

Happy New Year to you, Emma. A happy and gentle boot up the backside kindly received.


Thinking about tools, two that I've begun to find invaluable are a digital audio recorder and a video camera. And these days a phone can be both.

I'm interested in people's faces and in the way people move, and I often want to describe an expression or a movement without naming it. Sometimes I don't even know a name for it, just recognise it when I see it. If you film yourself (or a volunteer!) doing that thing, you can study it many times and work out how to describe what they're doing. It helps me to see clearly things that I only thought I knew and then describe them in a clear but novel way. Similarly, when I wanted to capture the way people talk in a boardroom I just recorded a dozen board meetings and phone conferences. I know, I know, whilst that might not actually be illegal, or even unethical, it must at least be unamerican, but I got around that by not thinking about it and not telling anyone. I heard Roddy Doyle used to walk into the pub with a voice recorder to capture the style of dialogue he needed for the Commitments, and he's a nice guy so it must be alright!

Overall though, going for a walk every day has had more impact than anything else on my creativity. Minutes into a walk ideas foam up, collide and multiply in a way they don't at any other time. Somehow it seems to filter out all other concerns and distractions; I think you're right too that the added effort of going uphill makes a difference. Maybe every writer should walk every day, ideally in somebody else's shoes.


Thank you Emma for your generosity in creating this blog and sharing your thoughts and ideas. Your tips are very practical and your words inspiring. Whenever I'm feeling down about my writing and on the verge of giving up I read your postings and feel encouraged to keep going. Happy New Year to you and everyone.


Happy New Year Emma! Thanks for the positive advice.

Sometimes, however, I am not exactly clear where being in my own head is. Though the news - clearly external - isn't my headspace, the issues it raises do reflect what I think about on a day-to-day basis: ethics, responsibility, and logic. In contrast, social networks, and blogs look like an external manifestation of internal thought processes but aren't - more than anything they clutter my thoughts, with their cookie cutter simplicity which reduces complexity to the tasteful or acceptable for likes.

Emma Darwin

Sophie, thank you, and you're very welcome! That's one well-worked paragraph! Hope it's yielding to the treatment!

Emma Darwin

Thank you, Cat - yes, walking and similar thinking time is so important, isn't it. I do get the shopping delivered - but I still do the walking!

Emma Darwin

Salana, you're welcome, and I'm delighted that the blog is a relieve. I'm baffled by the cwf,s though - have I missed something?

Emma Darwin

And to you, Sally. Consider yourself booted! :)

Emma Darwin

I do agree that eavesdropping and related things are incredibly useful. I've never done it with faces, but how we read people is fascinating stuff. And over this side of the pond unamerican is rarely an insult!

Walking is amazing, isn't it. The best medicine!

Emma Darwin

Moira, you're very welcome, and I'm so glad the blog helps you to keep going. It's a uppy-downy life, isn't it. Here's to more ups than downs in 2018!

Emma Darwin

I think one of the insidiousnesses about social networks is exactly that: that they feel individual and personal, and set our wiring going, but they're not. They're like food capsules on a space ship, which can replicate exactly the nutrition we need in theory, but actually are no substitute for a real meal. A writer friend of mine calls it junk-food for the unconscious, which is about right, I think.

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