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.
Blog-reader and blogger Mark Harbinger emailed me to say one comment he gets from alpha-readers "is them dinging me for 'breaking the fourth wall'," when he goes for "meta-narration in first person": i.e. a internal narrator, telling a story which includes themselves, who sometimes talked directly to the reader.
Today is 1st November, and all round the globe writers of every kind and every degree of experience and talent are embarking on National Novel Writing Month. The general idea - as explained on the NaNoWriMo website - is to spend November writing a novel of 50,000 words. I have writing friends who use NaNo, rather as others use #100daysofwriting, as an extra push-cum-support for any kind of writing project, but this post is about the classic NaNo goal of first-drafting a new novel.
One of the most common difficulties that writers bring to our mentoring meetings is that they find it hard to see a project through to completion, so here are some quick diagnostic pointers which should help you to keep going - or give you confidence that you really shouldn't.
This new blog in the Itchy Bitesized series is about how to make best use of chapter-breaks. I know writers who work in chapters right from the start; writers who just intuit when it's time for a break; writers write several drafts before they decide where the breaks go. A chapter-break affects the reader's experience.
Every author I know has their story of a turning-point moment, but when writers have finished a terrific course, or reeled home from the overload of a big festival stuffed with agents and editors, they can be full of the buzz and the new energy to get going, and still feel overwhelmed. This Itchy Bitesized post is about what to do next.
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.