Creativity

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. In a similar spirit, this post, from the same season a few years back, is about... Read more →


10 Reasons for a Prose Writer to do a Poetry Course

Every now and again someone asks me not, "How can I write this story better?" - to which I have a whole Tool-kit-full answers, obviously - but "How can I become a better writer?" Assuming that my interlocutor is already meeting the absolute pre-condition of being a better writer, which is reading more, and more widely, my next suggestion is probably to take a poetry course. That's not because I think everyone should write lyrically - although that is a very honourable goal - but because I think it can help any writer to develop. As Ray Bradbury puts it... 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 →


Mentoring for Writers: the Authors for Grenfell post

At the Authors for Grenfell auction, I offered to write a bespoke blog post for the bidder of the largest amount. The auction has closed now, having raised over £180,000, but the Red Cross's London Fire Appeal is very much open, and the needs of the victims don't vanish as the headlines do, so do please click through to donate. And for a lovely story of the power of social media in these things, click here. My idea, in offering the blog post, was that the bidder would get from some personalised advice. But the winning bidder turned out to... Read more →


Lady Macbeth and rubber duckies; how much do you need to explain?

A couple of weeks ago I went to see the new film Lady Macbeth. The performances are marvellous, the direction remarkable - especially for a first feature - and costumes and settings are beautiful in a terrifyingly austere way. But I also noticed an aspect of the script which is extremely relevant to writing fiction and creative non-fiction, or anything else story-shaped. In neither script nor image does Lady Macbeth give you almost any backstory or side-story (my term, but you know what I mean), for any character or situation. We learn almost nothing beyond the edges of what we... Read more →


How To Tame Your Novel

A writer recently got in touch because he's overwhelmed by the novel he's writing. He has a story, and about two-thirds of a first draft, but it's feeling more and more impossible. There are loose ends, continuity clashes, scenes whose outcome is unconvincing and others which don't go anywhere; when he tries to write a scene it always grows in a direction which the plot won't allow, while if he tries to write the scenes that the plot needs, they're stiff and dead. What's more, each time he solves a problem - changes the time-scheme of a chapter, or a... Read more →


"No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader": True or false? Plus choirboy syndrome

So, the poet Robert Frost said, "no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader". This, I think, we usually take as being about writers having to be willing to feel what they want their readers to feel. Indeed, although Wordsworth, in his Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, famously describes poetry's origin as "emotion recollected in tranquillity", he goes on to say the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the... Read more →


When a good stopping place is a bad starting place

Today is supposed to be a writing day, and the morning is my prime writing time. The project is going well, I've got Scrivener fired up, and I've run my eye down yesterday's work to remind myself where I've got to. And yet ... I've just spent the last hour not-getting-on-with-it: faffing about with useful-but-not-urgent work and domestic things, consoling a Facebook friend who's struggling with the outcome of a nasty book contract clause, doing a bit of necessary professional tweeting, and making cups of tea that I then forget about. This is nothing to do with serious procrastination: I'm... 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 →


Freewriting: What is it? Why should you use it?

The run-up to NaNoWriMo (more about that here) seems a good moment to think about Freewriting. You might have met its first cousin as Morning Pages, in Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, and in the great, original how-to-write book, Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande suggests something similar. It has many uses, but first let's think about what it actually is. In Writing Without Teachers, Peter Elbow describes it beautifully: The idea is simply to write for ten minutes (later on, perhaps fifteen or twenty). Don't stop for anything. Go quickly without rushing. Never stop to look back, to cross something... Read more →


Life Writing? Travel Writing? Creative Non-Fiction? What are you writing?

At this year's York Festival of Writing I gave a workshop on literary fiction and creative non-fiction, and one of the topics that came up was: "What is creative non-fiction?" Which is a very good question and (like all the best questions) not quick to answer. Creative non-fiction - which also gets called "Narrative non-fiction" and "Literary non-fiction" - lives in a fascinating liminal area, bounded by fiction and poetry on one side, by journalism on another, and by "proper" history, biography, autobiography, travel-, food-, science- and art-writing on the third. So creative non-fiction is narrative: it is an act... Read more →


Guest Post by Jenn Ashworth: Making the Rules: Physics and Fell

One of the questions I suggest asking your novel is "Who is telling this story?" And the next is, "Where are they standing, relative to the events they're telling?". So I was excited to discover that Jenn Ashworth was building her new novel, Fell, on one of the most interesting - and fruitful - answers to that question that I've yet come across. I was lucky enough, a while back, to have a tiny role in her working-out of the considerable writerly challenges it posed, and when I read the book a few weeks ago I just loved it (its... Read more →


Your words & your story live in your head: how to stay there

As with most writers, my income and my heating bill have an uneasy relationship, and a day which can start with me writing in bed is a good day. It's best of all if the current project is at a longhand stage: first-drafting, or revising and editing on hard copy. But although I don't like working on my laptop (flat keyboard, RSI, bad angle for head and neck, etc. etc.), and my dodgy back doesn't like me writing in bed, it's worth it to be away from my desk: overall I usually write 10% more words, and find that many... Read more →


Jerusha Cowless, Agony Aunt: "I have a book deal. Why don't I feel euphoric?"

Q: When I got my very first short story published I was truly ecstatic and I'd always planned, if a book deal happened, to take all my clothes off, run around the garden, and roll in the grass. Now, I've worked long and hard to write a book good enough to sell, and succeeded: it's two-book deal with a well-known smallish independent publisher which punches above its weight in terms of presence in the industry. But I've never felt the euphoria. The thing is, there was no advance involved so I still feel I've achieved nothing. It's my family's voice... Read more →


Download a chapter FREE from Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction

As you may know, my first non-fiction book, Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction, is due to be published next month as part of the Teach Yourself series. I’m delighted that John Murray Learning have produced a free e-book sampler which contains the whole first chapter. It’s a pdf file, and to download it all you should need to do is click this link: Download GS Hist Fic sampler. It's a .pdf file (click here if you don't have a pdf reader); it will either dowload directly, or display in your browser for you to save to your computer. If... Read more →


David Mamet's ideas on acting make sense for writers too

I've blogged before about how useful it can be for prose and fiction writers to think in terms of theatre and drama, and again at The History Girls about why my own Drama degree has been so useful to me. So when I came across this post, on actor James Devereaux's Great Acting Blog, I couldn't help hearing it as a way of thinking about writing. James has collected some of playwright and director's David Mamet's most thought-provoking and important ideas, and I hope he won't mind if I borrow them. Learn to ask: what does the character in the... Read more →


Ten New Year ideas for everyone who writes, or wants to write

First of all, Happy New Year and grateful thanks to everyone - writers and readers - who reads the blog, and a special lift of the Champagne glass (all right, Prosecco glass - we're on a writer's budget, here) to anyone who comments, spreads the word or links to the blog from elsewhere. Without you all, there wouldn't be a blog, because why would I talk, if I didn't have someone to talk to? I don't really do New Year's Resolutions, because they bring out my Inner Stroppy Toddler. But this is, let's (two-)face it, the Janus time of the... Read more →


Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo? A few tips.

So, it's National Novel Writing Month again, or it will be on Sunday: to its friends, November is NaNoWriMo. The idea is that you have a month - and nearly the shortest month of the year - in which to write a complete novel. True, their target is 50,000 words, which is too short for most industry definitions of a novel for adults: the real point is that it you're planning to create a complete story - a beginning, a middle and an end. Not a notebook full of bits of scenes, not an endless tweak of the first 15,000... Read more →


Does worrying about technique and "the rules" restrict a writer's creativity?

I've blogged before about why what are called "rules" about writing are really tools, and why all the things you're told you "shouldn't" do in writing are sometimes exactly what you should do. I've exploded (comparatively speaking) with fury about why the "cut everything with was in it" idea is actively damaging as well as wrong-headed, and I've talked about how much it helps to approach different drafts in a different spirit. But the question at the top of this post is a perfectly fair question - and one which a blog-reader asked me the other day: It is these... Read more →


One-Day Workshop on Writing Historical Fiction 10th Oct

So, would you like a workshop preview - including one-to-one feedback - based on my forthcoming Get Started Writing in Historical Fiction? Then come and join our one-day course in Writing Historical Fiction, on Saturday 10th October, at Leith Hill Place, deep in the ravishing Surrey Hills. Leith Hill Place is a delightfully informal, friendly-feeling house; my (distant) cousin Ralph Vaughan Williams grew up here, and until recently it was still owned and lived in by the Wedgwood family. I was there last weekend for the first time, and it's the most beautiful and historic setting: you can see for... Read more →