THE WORKBENCH

Itchy Bitesized 12: Don't Pull Your Writing's Teeth

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. Read more →


Itchy Bitesized 11: "Who Says This?" Make sure the reader knows who's talking.

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. Read more →


Itchy Bitesized 10: Ten Reasons to Read Your Work Aloud

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. Read more →


Itchy Bitesized 8: Six Things About Second Novel Syndrome

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? Read more →


Itchy Bitesized 7: What You Need To Know About Comma Splices

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? Read more →


Itchy Bitesized 6: Which Viewpoint Character Should You Be Using?

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. Read more →


Itchy Bitesized 4: Three Things About Writing Synopses

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. Read more →


Itchy Bitesized 2: Three Things about Semi-colons

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. Read more →


Itchy Bitesized 1: Three Things about First Drafts

Welcome to the first in what I hope is a new series for the Itch. Itchy Bitesized are short posts about all sorts of writing issues, from perspiration inspiration to craft and technique - and I thought a good topic for the first post would be first drafts! Read more →


WRITE YOUR FIRST NOVEL Part Ten: Building at Novel-Scale

Welcome back! In this post we're going to start thinking about the move which to many beginners seems horribly daunting: going from thinking at scene-size, chapter-size, story-scale, to a full-scale novel. But don't be scared: each post in my Write Your First Novel is a series of short prompts and exercises which are designed to lead, step by small step, towards the first draft of a novel. It doesn't assume you already know the technical vocabulary that writers use, and the full series to date is collected together here. One more thing before we start. Everything on This Itch of... Read more →


WRITE YOUR FIRST NOVEL Part Eight: Thinking About Plot & Story

In Part Eight we're starting to think about story-building. Each post in Write Your First Novel is a series of short prompts and exercises which are designed to lead, step by small step, towards the first draft of a novel. It doesn't assume you already know the technical vocabulary that writers use, and the full series to date is collected together here. One more thing before we start. Everything on This Itch of Writing is free; I don't monetise it through advertising or clicks or affiliations or anything else, but simply put it out under a Creative Commons Licence (and... Read more →


WRITE YOUR FIRST NOVEL Part Seven: Point-of-View

In Part Seven we're thinking about point-of-view. Each post in Write Your First Novel is a series of short(ish) prompts and exercises which are designed to lead, step by small step, towards the first draft of a novel. It doesn't assume you already know the technical vocabulary that writers use, and the full series to date is collected together here. One more thing before we start. Everything on This Itch of Writing is free; I don't monetise it through advertising or clicks or affiliations or anything else, but simply put it out under a Creative Commons Licence (and if you'd... Read more →


WRITE YOUR FIRST NOVEL Part Six: Revising 1

In Part Six we're starting to think about revising your writing. Each post in Write Your First Novel is a series of short(ish) prompts and exercises which are designed to lead, step by small step, towards the first draft of a novel. It doesn't assume you already know the technical vocabulary that writers use, and the full series to date is collected together here. One more thing before we start. Everything on This Itch of Writing is free; I don't monetise it through advertising or clicks or affiliations or anything else, but simply put it out under a Creative Commons... Read more →


WRITE YOUR FIRST NOVEL Part Five: Reading Like a Writer

In Part Five we're exploring how to read like a writer. Each post in Write Your First Novel is a series of short(ish) prompts and exercises which are designed to lead, step by small step, towards the first draft of a novel. It doesn't assume you already know the technical vocabulary that writers use, and the full series to date is collected together here. One more thing before we start. Everything on the Itch is free; I don't monetise it through advertising or clicks or affiliations or anything else, but simply put it out under a Creative Commons Licence (and... Read more →


WRITE YOUR FIRST NOVEL Part Four: Drafting a Scene

In Part Four you're going to try your hand at drafting a scene. Each post in Write Your First Novel is a series of short prompts and exercises which are designed to lead, step by small step, towards the first draft of a novel. It doesn't assume you already know the technical vocabulary that writers use, and the full series to date is collected together here. One more thing before we start. Everything on the Itch is free; I don't monetise it through advertising or clicks or affiliations or anything else, but simply put it out under a Creative Commons... Read more →


WRITE YOUR FIRST NOVEL Part Three: Place

This new series on The Itch is aimed at people who've always wanted to write a novel, but have struggled to get going. I'm not sure exactly how it will pan out as it wasn't planned in advance, any more than anything any of us are doing at the moment was planned - though, since nothing in creative writing is wholly predictable in time, length or topic, I'm used to uncertainty, in writing at least. I am aiming to keep the posts short, concentrating on prompts and processes that will lead step by step, towards the first draft of a... Read more →


WRITE YOUR FIRST NOVEL Part Two: People in Pencil

This new series on The Itch is aimed at people who've always wanted to write a novel, but have struggled to find the time, or the way in, or the courage - or all three. I am aiming to keep the posts short, concentrating on prompts and processes. And since this is only one possible recipe, of hundreds or even thousands, I'll try to give options that leave room for you to work in ways that suit you and your material - and I hope, too, that some of these may be useful new ideas or prompts for more experienced... Read more →


The Ten Line-edits I Most Often Suggest

Whether you're getting to grips with a wild NaNoWriMo first draft, or have seized the time between Christmas and New Year to do some hardcore editing, the chances are you've come across certain things that you always do not-quite-right that first time: the things you have to hunt out and interrogate. Note that I don't say "hunt out and eliminate". There's no "mistake" in writing that wouldn't be the perfect thing in the right place and time, for the right book - but some things are more common and more commonly mistaken, than others, and these are the ten line-edit... Read more →


Notes Made While Reading: books for writers

First things first. If you're busy with a shitty first draft, you will probably not want to get stuck into any of these just now - though some of them are just the right size for a stocking. Hurling a story down any old way that comes, "building up, not tearing down" as the NaNoWriMo website puts it, is usually not helped by an attack of standing-outside-it-ness, of self-consciousness, or a cool new costume for your Inner Critic. But for the rest of us (and NaNo-ers in due course) these are all books that I've read recently which have been... Read more →


All the posts I mentioned at York Festival of Writing

I'm home from the York Festival of Writing and the dust is settling. As ever, it was a wonderful weekend put together by Jericho Writers, full of writers of fiction and non-fiction at every stage, from beginners to multi-best-sellers and - always one of the highlights - a reunion of several dozen of Debi Alper's and my lovely graduates from the online Self-Editing Your Novel course, including one of the keynote speakers, million-selling Cathy Bramley, and one of the exciting debuts of last year, Amanda Berriman. Old friend Ruth Ware was another keynote speaker and I devoured her The Death... Read more →