You love writing: should you, could you, commit to it?

So the writing's going well. You've realised you're happier writing than doing anything else; you've re-found the confidence you had in your childhood and teenage years; you're a nicer and better person in the rest of your life for having those hours on your own with your words. Perhaps you've had successes in getting short things published or placed in competitions, or a self-publishing venture is doing much better than the average sold-it-to-my-family numbers. Maybe, even, an agent or three have said they can't sell this book, but they'd love to see the next one. Writing is no longer just... Read more →


Being Published Part 2: Editing

This is the second in a series of posts inspired by my new book, This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin, which was published in February. In each post I'll try to shed light not only on the practicalities of what happens when your book is being published, but also the sometimes surprising ways that each stage of the writing life can affect you and your writing. The whole Being Published series is here. BEING EDITED If you've ever had good, experienced feedback on your work, in some ways being edited by a publisher isn't that different. It can... Read more →


Prepositions and Syncopations: even short sentences need wrangling

I've blogged before about the pleasures and opportunities to be found in long sentences, and how to think about the order you put their elements in. I've talked about my own wrangling of a shortish sentence; I've even sat down and worked out just how many versions of a single sentence I can actually find. And still, the other day, I found myself asking this of a group of writer-friends: Minor rhythm question. Which works best? I pulled my cap down and turned my collar up. I pulled my cap down and turned up my collar. I pulled down my... Read more →


Being Published Part 1: The Contract

Many aspiring writers find the book industry baffling, and the prospect of being published very daunting, however much they long for it. It needn't be, but the industry is very odd, in many ways, compared to other industries. And where you don't know what the norms are, it's very easy not to realise when someone you're dealing with is either going out of their way to be extra-helpful or generous, or not doing what they really should for you and your book. Since my memoir This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin [Edited to update] was published on 12th... Read more →


Overcoming the Social Media Fear

I know that many aspiring writers who happily read blogs or belong to writing forums are nonetheless very wary of the more dynamic forms of social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest and all the others. Which wouldn't matter, except that it is genuinely harder and harder to make any kind of way as a writer without doing some of this stuff - not least because publishers will be wary of a writer who is invisible in social media terms. But the good news is that it's perfectly possible to have a useful presence out there. So to that end... Read more →


News: This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin

STOP PRESS: 12th February 2019. This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin has been published! I celebrated it at a Darwin Day event, and since then I've been interviewed by Mariella Frostrup for BBC Radio 4's Open Book programme, as well as blogs and websites. The Literary Review said this: She is unsparingly honest about her battles with self-doubt, her struggle to establish a separate identity as a writer, the difficulties of earning a living and the sheer hard graft of writing. Many biographies have been written about Charles Darwin, and while this thoroughly researched book may shed some... Read more →


Switching From One to More than One Point-of-View in Your Story?

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a writer, Philippa East, who did our online course in Self-Editing Your Novel (We'll have 300 graduates, by the time the current course has finished. Could you be our 301st?) Hi Emma - I'm wondering if you have any blogs or can recommend any articles on revising a novel to change it from single POV to a dual POV structure? I understand the basics of writing in multiple POVs, but I'm looking for any help with actually tackling this kind of serious rewrite. Currently I sort of know what I have... Read more →


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 →


"Cut All the Adjectives & Adverbs". Why it's Nonsense, and When it Isn't

Cut all the adjectives & adverbs" is right up there with "Show, don't Tell", as one of the first "rules" that new writers get told, and for similar reasons. And although it's perhaps responsible for more bland, threadbare writing than almost any other phenomenon except the ghost of Hemingway, it's not entirely nonsense either, any more than Hemingway is. The truth is, writing would be impossible if we couldn't use adjectives, adverbs and adverbial and adjectival phrases. But although you'll never get me to say that you "should" cut them, there is a whiff of good writerly sense somewhere at... Read more →


Basing Your Fiction on Real People? Can "Real" and "Fiction" live in the same book?

At October's Words Away Salon next Monday, the 16th, Kellie and I are delighted to be hosting Jill Dawson. We'll be talking about writing fiction based on real characters - recent or ancient. Jill is a poet and novelist, and a highly-regarded mentor of writers, and her most recent novel is The Crime Writer. That's about Patricia Highsmith, but she's also written The Great Lover, about Rupert Brooke, and Fred and Edie, based on a famous 1920s murder. So we thought she'd be the perfect person to start us off talking about this fascinating but very challenging kind of fiction,... Read more →


Is Your Writing Out on Submission? Welcome to Hell

So you (or your agent) has sent your work out to ... someone. A magazine, a competition, a publisher, a broadcaster, a film company, an agent you hope for, an author whose quote you desperately want for the cover, even a mentor or editor you've hired yourself. You are now officially in the condition known as Waiting To Hear. Welcome to a minor and largely unacknowledged room in Writer's Hell. Or rather, two rooms. You may have a short, relatively easy time in Limbo, when you genuinely know you won't hear: the stretch before the competition deadline or the closure... Read more →


All the Posts I Mentioned at the York Festival of Writing 2017

I'm just back from the 2017 York Festival of Writing. If you don't know what I'm on about, this is a selection of posts from former years, and if you do, you'll know that the weekend was, as ever, packed with workshops, one-to-ones, lunches, dinners, breakfasts (yes, everyone talks writing even over the cornflakes and sausages, and through the hangover), agents, publishers, authors, writers and ducks. And, as ever, I mentioned various blog posts at various times to various people, as a way of expanding on whatever we were talking about. This, to the best of my ability, is a... Read more →


How To Handle Feedback On Your Writing

I've blogged more than once about how to give feedback, but most writers get feedback even more than they give it, since as well as workshop friends, you'll get it from teachers, agents, editors, reviewers, friends and family. Here, I'm going to refer to them all as "the reader", because that's what we hope a feeder-back will be: a representative of the readers we're hoping for. Obviously the setup varies. Some settings are "live": a Skype session with a mentor, round a workshop table, at a one-to-one book doctor session, in virtual workshop on your online course. Some are written... 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 →


What a writer can learn from the HWA Debut Crown Shortlist

I've just had the very great pleasure of chairing the judges for the Historical Writers' Association Debut Crown Prize. Along with former winner Ben Fergusson, book bloggers Ayo Onatade and Susan Heads, and novelist and journalist Sunny Singh, we had the task of reading something like 36 debut historical novels. And as we wrangled our way from a longlist to a shortlist, I was reminded of how historical fiction presents any writer with some of the biggest writerly challenges of all. So it's genuinely remarkable how the best of what we'd read - all debuts, after all - met those... 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 →


Bid for a Bespoke Itch of Writing Blogpost at Authors for Grenfell Tower

As part of an initiative to raise money for the Red Cross London Fire Relief Fund, on behalf of victims of the dreadful fire in North London, Authors for Grenfell Tower have got together to auction signed books, characters, events, critiques and many more writerly treats, in aid of the fund. I am offering you the chance to have your own, bespoke Itch of Writing blogpost, addressing a personal writing problem of your own. I'm happy to include your name and internet links, or for it to be anonymous, as you prefer. If you'd like to bid, the page is... Read more →


Mastering the tyranno-thesaurus

Among teachers of English at school-level, using a thesaurus is a Good Thing, being a means of enlarging children's vocabulary. But a ticked box for the maximum number of different words on the page is a poor substitute for teaching genuinely good writing, so among serious writers, and teachers of writing, using a thesaurus is often spoken of as a Very Bad Thing. And when you consider the thesaursed version of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star", which floats round the internet attributed to John Raymond Carson, you can see why: Scintillate, scintillate, globule vivific, Fain would I fathom thy nature specific.... Read more →


World Building: How much does it take to bring characters and places alive?

The next Words Away Salon is less than a week away, on Monday, 5th June, and I'm delighted that Kellie and I will be joined by Claire Scobie, who's a novelist and mentor, to talk about World Building: Bringing Characters and Places Alive. If you're within reach of the Tea House Theatre, Vauxhall, do come along: we start at 7.30 - though the Tea House is open all day - and over wine, beer, tea and cake, we kick the evening's topic around, between the guest, Kellie and me, and you the audience. It's all very informal and great fun,... Read more →