Academic Writing

"No Word Count Boot Camp or Productivity Push": #100daysofwriting

I've got a novel to revise. At least the York Festival of Writing and the Historical Novel Society Conference have been and gone. But the next Self-Editing Your Novel course is about to start, I'm off to Yorkshire for the Bronte Parsonage Museum's Festival of Contemporary Women's Writing and life is decidedly busy on other fronts. Then there are the writers I'm helping as a tutor and mentor, and occasionally boring old real life has to be dealt with. And did I mention (no, surely not!) that I have a new book coming out in February? So there are press-releases,... Read more →


Events Round-up: Salons, (Not) Darwin & More

The fact that I'm online in a hotel bar perched above a staggeringly beautiful gorge in North Mexico is not something I'm typing just to make you jealous. I've squeezed in a few days away (photography, poetry, walking, trains ... my usual stuff) while I'm really here for work. But it's made me realise that it's been a while since I posted about what I'm up to in the next few months, so here goes. I don't know how many readers of This Itch of Writing live in or around Mexico City - although it never ceases to astonish me... Read more →


Should I do a Creative Writing MA?

I've blogged about whether, and when, a course in Creative Writing might be a good idea, and about how to choose the right one for you. And if you're wondering whether, and how, Creative Writing can be taught, this unpicks that hardy perennial of a question. But a quick search on the UCAS website shows 459 Masters-level courses in Creative Writing. True, part-time and full-time versions of the same course are being listed separately, but the darned things cost a fortune these days (though student loans are these days available for both part- and full-time study). So, assuming you're thinking... Read more →


Surviving a PhD (or MPhil) Viva: how to finish your degree in style

The Creative Writing PhD is now firmly rooted in the Arts and Humanities forest, even if it is a relative sapling, and if you're nontheless wondering what on earth someone doing a doctorate in writing is, well, doing, this post of mine should make that clear. If you don't feel that the full length of a PhD is necessarily for you, then there's the very wonderful MPhil at the University of South Wales, which is very different from most MAs. And whatever you're studying, you might find that my post about Academic Writing is useful. But whether you're an MPhil... Read more →


You will never annoy anyone if you present a manuscript like this

Well, I can't absolutely promise that, but pretty darned close. Of course this is subject to whatever the magazine, publisher, agency or editor says on their website that they want. And we are talking prose, here, not scripts or poetry, which run by different rules. But don't think that, just because we're in the digital age, what's used on computers has superseded what's used on manuscripts. The book is near-perfectly evolved technology for reading large amounts of prose, and the book and magazine trade still handles prose in those paper-based forms, even on screen. Digital design has evolved to suit... Read more →


Zombie nouns and aggressive passives: kill that "office-speak"

One of the most common things I find myself writing in the margins of students' creative writing is "this is very Office-Speak-y". I am, of course, maligning the many millions (OK, half a dozen) companies whose internal communications are full - as Bertie Wooster would say - of pep and zest. But, even if your office is a cowshed or a diving-bell, internal office speak has a way of leaking out onto the pages of everyday life. And that tends to mean it leaks into your storytelling. (If you also want to tackle similar things in your academic or business... Read more →


Why the Creative Writing A Level shouldn't be axed

Only a few years after it was introduced, the Creative Writing A Level looks likely to be abolished, and I think that's a big mistake, as well as a great shame. I should say that I've no particular axe to grind, as I don't teach A Level and don't plan to start. But I do have an MPhil, and a PhD in Creative Writing myself, I've taught it at the Undergraduate level for the Open University, and my first book about Creative Writing - Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction - will be published by John Murray Educational in March... Read more →


Guest Post: In Praise of Sentences, by Barbara Baig

You probably know how cross I get when I hear of writers being told that they should stick to short sentences. I suspect it's sheer cowardice on the part of writers and teachers who haven't bothered to learn to control a long sentence, but it's also terribly stupid, because it deprives your writing of the energy and variety that you need if you're going to tell your story as effectively as possible: any writer worth their salt needs to be able to handle any kind of sentence. And it's doubly-terribly-stupid if you're ever trying to evoke other voices in narrative... Read more →


My best tip of all, whatever you write

A couple of days ago, on Twitter, @joseordonezUT asked if I had any tips for a new writer. As you may have noticed, I don't really do tips on here, partly because as soon as I think of a tip, I think of a reason why it's not always true, and before I know where I am two more paragraphs and a set of bullet points have unrolled themselves out of my fingers. But of course, as soon as I thought "I don't do tips", I remembered a good one. Write your first draft for yourself, your second draft for... Read more →


Writing Historical Fiction, Creative Darwins, The Genre Swap and other stories

There seems to have been a lot going on, lately, and if the blog's been a bit quiet, that's why. I'm up to my neck in the last work on Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction. It's due out mid-Autumn and, as ever, even when I've been living with a project for years, I can't quite believe that it is about to become a Real Book, but all the signs are there! And historical fiction's a bit of a theme elsewhere. Also in the autumn, I'll be heading down to Leith Hill Place, the lovely house where Ralph Vaughan Williams... Read more →


Looking for help with your writing? Welcome to the Itch of Writing Studio

Emma Darwin is a rare thing - a gifted writer and a talented, intuitive teacher who is able to dig into technical subtleties and the horrifying mess of the first draft with wit, confidence and respect. - Jenn Ashworth If you've been visiting This Itch of Writing: The Blog for a while, you'll know that as well as writing fiction and non-fiction, blogging, teaching and generally living and breathing writing, I also work individually with other writers. Do click through to find out more: This Itch of Writing: the Studio I love adapting to the needs and aspirations of individual... Read more →


Historical Fiction Autumn: Hodgson, Harrogate and How Not to Start your Historical Novel

It seems to be Historical Fiction Autumn. The Historical Novel Society's Awards have had a good deal to do with that; I was one of the judges for their 2014 Short Story Award, and our comments on Anne Aylor's wonderful winning story, "The House of Wild Beasts", and on the two runners-up, are now up on the site. The HNS's website is also stuffed with great blogs and articles about everything to do with historical fiction. Antonia Hodgson, whose debut novel The Devil in the Marshalsea is very high indeed on my TBR pile since I heard her speak and... Read more →


What is passive voice, and why are you told to avoid it?

There seems to be confusion between the actual grammar of active and passive voice, and prose that's accused of being "passive". So, let's start with the bare facts. When the action - the verb - of a sentence is being performed by the subject of the sentence, the sentence is in active voice. This kind of subject + verb + object construction is the basic building block of English. Anne chases the cat. The dog bit Ben. Here, the action is being done by the subject of the sentence: "Anne chases" and "The dog bit". When the action is being... Read more →


Not just fluff: don't reject positive feedback

I've blogged before about how critiquing works best if there's a good fit between critiquer and critiquee, but it still amazes me how many aspiring writers think that positive comments - even those on their own work - are useless. The praise on the outside of a praise sandwich is far more than mere sugar to make the filling more palatable - though side-stepping natural, human defensive deafness or resistance is one of its functions. Yes, a vague "this is wonderful" is no more useful a critique than a vague "this is shit", though it hurts less. And yes, if... Read more →


Variety isn't just the spice of your story, it's the life-blood and bones

You know the manuscript (or, indeed, the published life-writing or novel) which doesn't grab you, though it all seems very competent? You know the kind of rejection which is the editor or agent saying that it's all very good but no thanks? The thing is, it may be good, but it's all the same kind of good. It's like travelling through a beautiful landscape by driving along a motorway at a steady 50mph in a comfortable car: you see it all, you may even have the windows open to smell the breeze, but you don't experience it bodily: which of... Read more →


Procrastinating Again? And Again? And Again?

[ETA 1st May 2020:] When I was asked to record a short film for the Royal Literary Fund, about a writing talisman, there was really only one thing I could honestly talk about: the Instant Gratification Monkey. His role and character has changed hugely since I wrote this post six years ago, so do click through to the RLF Showcase to watch it. *** When things are quiet on here, I know a post about procrastination will liven it up, but things are pretty lively at the moment. However, I've come across a post about it on the splendid Wait... Read more →


Creative writing commentaries: don't know where to start?

The first commentary on any creative writing that I had to write - or read - was the 30,000 word commentary I wrote for my PhD in Creative Writing. I didn't find it easy. The next I tangled with were the 300 word commentaries that my Open University students have to write for their course. They don't - most of them - find it easy either. Of course, most writers take some kind of notice of what happened along the road of writing a piece, if only to try to abate the agony a bit next time; some even keep... Read more →


Front-loading, dangling, and dangerous modifiers

Running down the road, the briefcase slipped from Anna's hand and burst open on the pavement. After falling in the practice and suffering concussion, British Team officials say she may not compete. Having been firmly closed and locked, Alice's visit to the pub was fruitless. Elaborately frilled and tucked, John tossed the quilt onto the bed. Blue, orange and pink, the dog ate the latest designs. As a former Mayor of London, I thought it would be great to interview Ken Livingstone. Over 4000 years old, the Queen enjoyed her walk around the ruins. No matter what horrors they have... Read more →


Picking, stealing and dancing skeletons

Aspiring writers are sometimes paralysed by the fear that they'll be using other people's ideas, words, stories, characters. It might be the simple desire to behave ethically, and a fear of outright plagiarism or even of being sued for breach of copyright. Or it might be a more internal sense that your writing will be inauthentic, second-hand, second-rate, if it has whispers of someone else's work in among your lines. It's an understandable worry, not least because our Western tradition of art lays such stress on originality. And yes, outright plagiarism does matter ethically, as breach of copyright matters legally... Read more →


Sentence, Eloquence and Exercise: books for sentence wranglers

Painters have paint, choreographers have bodies, sculptors have bronze, musicians have chords and tunes. Writers have sentences. Not words, sentences, because a word which isn't in relation to another word can only be something, not do anything. In a letter Flaubert once described himself as "Itching with sentences", that is, with chains of words connected up to make a meaning. Flaubert's itch wouldn't be cured until he got the sentences - the meanings - out, and heading towards readers. I do love reading good sentences, and try to write them, and I know from the response to my sixty versions... Read more →