Writing

Itchy Bitesized 15: Three Things About Point-of-View

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... Read more →


Itchy Bitesized 13: Artist's Dates Don't Have to be About Art

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? Read more →


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 9: Three Things About Filtering (a.k.a. HD for your writing)

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. 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 →


Twelve Ideas To Help With Writer's Block

Even if you're of the "It's sheer self-indulgence" school of opinion, there's no denying that writer's block is a hot topic - except when it's a source of silent, dark and excruciating shame. The thing is, for every new writer declaring, "I'm blocked!" when what they mean is they're a bit stuck on what happens in the next scene - or (un)consciously spinning their lack of determination into a Terrible Problem for a Serious Writer - there's a professional author, with a mortgage hanging on their delivering, who can't bear to tell their friends they've had to hand an advance... Read more →


What Your Inner Critic Doesn't Want You To Know

I know so many aspiring writers who would say that their problem is not getting going: good ideas come along often, and for a while they find it easy and exciting to devote lots of their available time to the project. But "for a while" is the problem: their past is littered with brave beginnings that petered out, half-filled notebooks, unfinished drafts, and finished first drafts that they never revised "for their reader". So I thought I'd pause the Write Your First Novel course, for a moment - I promise I'll get back to it - and have a quick... Read more →


This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin is 99p on Kindle

"The best conversation I've ever had about writing with someone I've never actually met." - Joanne Limburg "Here is the humility, naked courage and fiercely intelligent understanding of what writing a novel takes, and costs." - Jenn Ashworth FRSL "This author of historical novels would seem to have a rich ancestral seam to mine. But, as she reveals in this refreshingly frank, witty, eloquent memoir-cum-biography-cum-rumination, it isn’t that easy." - Saga Magazine Just a quick post to say that if you have a bit of time on your hands and like the sound of all that, This is Not a... Read more →


Nearly finished a draft? Can't quite write "The End"? You're not alone.

A friend has just asked for advice about how to get over the finishing line of a first draft. They're less than 10,000 words from the end of the first draft "for yourself", and until recently they were powering along, longing to reach the end and get stuck into the second draft "for your reader" - and from thence into the third draft "for your agent". And yet day after day they're procrastinating, dodging, fiddling, doing anything rather than actually getting to the end of the story. I've blogged a lot about procrastination, but this is a very particular case,... Read more →


This is Not a Book about Charles Darwin is available for pre-order

So my forthcoming book, This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin, is available for pre-order. This thing has just got real, in other words, and I'm in a familiar state, at once wanting to tiptoe away with my fingers in my ears before anyone notices, and wanting my words (which means my self) to go out there and be heard come what may. What's more, various festivals and other writerly places have asked me to join them and talk about the book, though most I can't specify yet (sounds much more cloak-and-dagger than it is). One that I can... Read more →


Being Published Part 5: Publicity

This is the fifth in a series of posts which I'm planning in the run-up to next February, when This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin will be published. In each 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 this stage of the writing life can affect you and your writing. The whole Being Published series is here. Before we start, let's get something sorted out. Marketing and publicity are often talked about as the same thing, and they do have... Read more →


"How dare they?" Can you write fiction ethically, without clipping your own creative wings?

As you may know, I also have a column, Doctor Darwin's Writing Tips, over at Historia, the magazine of the Historical Writers Association. A version of this post first appeared there, but in an era when we've all become more sensitive to questions of cultural appropriation in the arts, it's relevant much more widely. Certainly if you want to build your story on people of another ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, class or perhaps just wildly different life-experience, there's work to be done compared to what you'd need if you stayed inside your own. So the ideas and strategies I've... 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 →


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 →


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 →


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 →


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 →