Words on writing: the deep stuff16th October 2018
Creating a memorable story requires more than a toolbox of...
Words on writing: skills & craft7th October 2018
Writing secrets. Number 1: the skills & craft. ...
A crash course in creative writing
Storytelling is a craft with skills you can polish and be accomplished at with practice. When you start out you are never as good as you want to be but the good news is that, with time and effort, you can learn to write stories that give you satisfaction and beguile your readers. Culled from my decade as a creative writing lecturer, here is a potted creative writing course with some pointers to set you on your path to becoming a master storyteller.
A writer's life
Working in any of the creative arts makes for an odd sort of existence and writers spend most of their time in their heads talking to imaginary friends. Our aim is to spin lies sufficiently well to entice the reader into sharing this make-believe world. Except once we have achieved that, we then brood on how we can make the entire fabrication feel exactly like real life even though everyone knows it is a story. The solution to this conundrum is deceptively simple: build all flights of fancy on the truths of the human condition. That we will all experience love and hope and despair and betrayal and joy and bleakness, grief and deep gratitude. And hundreds of other emotions besides. My novels explore those. So here is a peek into the bubbling cauldron they come from. Me.
I, like every other writer who has to work for their living, am available for hire. Over the years I have taken on a number of writing projects and have always found them to be a welcome change of pace and focus from crafting novels. Here is a selection those in the industry can regard as a partial CV; the rest of you might be interested in what writers do to sing for their supper.
Every one of us was born creative. Most of us have had some of that knocked (or mocked) out of us along the way, but the lucky cultivate a creative passion that gives joy, challenges, satisfaction and pride in equal measure. Mine has been writing for over 20 years but in my youth I dabbled with choral singing, garden design, playing the flute, interior decorating, and many shorter creative obsessions that didn’t stand the test of time (or memory). The perverse thing is that discovering what lights your fire is only the beginning because self-generated barriers often deny us permission to indulge. I trained as a creativity coach with the wonderful Dr Eric Maisel to develop the mindset and techniques to overcome mine. You may find they also work for you.
Every book I write makes me a better writer. Although this is mainly because I challenge myself to strengthen my skills in a specific aspect of the craft each time, it is also due in no small part to a growth in confidence. Many of the turning points, lessons learned, and light bulb moments have become associated in my mind with specific novels. Here are the ones I can attribute to my journey through writing the first half of the Rhythms in Crime Dance Quartet. And do pop back because then you’ll be a witness to my current cycle of pain / growth as I test myself against the remaining books.
To be a writer you first have to live a little, love whatever is there to be loved, and open up so the world can leave its traces on your heart. This is what you’ll find engraved on mine.
May Keaps series
Every book I write makes me a better writer. Although this is mainly because I challenge myself to strengthen my skills in a specific aspect of the craft each time, it is also due in no small part to a growth in confidence. Many of the turning points, lessons learned, and light bulb moments have become associated in my mind with specific novels. Here are the ones I can attribute to writing my way into the May Keaps series. And some with a more nebulous provenance.
Planning writing projects
Some writers are adamant they never plan. I place them in the same category as students who boast they didn’t revise for an upcoming exam. Planning is simply thinking about what comes next after you’ve put one foot in front of the other, and if we didn’t do that we’d fall over. So whether you plan a lot or a little, you plan. Trust me. Everyone just does it in different ways and there are plenty of tricks to doing it better.
Skills & craft
The skills and craft of creative writing can be learned, practised, and honed. Whatever it is you want to communicate via the written word, you will enjoy the process more if you work at it. The better you become at choosing the right language, selecting the appropriate tone, utilising a fluid narrative style and painting vivid images, the more your reader will feel as though you have been speaking directly to them. Whatever you do, don’t be lazy and settle for second best. Your writing deserves more: you deserve more.
Teaching & editorial
Some of the creative writing courses and workshops I run are general, others focus on specific areas such as writing memoirs, poetry or short stories, but all lay a heavy emphasis on learning the skills & craft. You will find many of my approaches and materials on this website, but as communication is always best conducted in person I’ll be giving notice of my upcoming teaching here. I also undertake coaching on specific writing projects for a select group of clients so if you are interested in that, you have come to the right place.
Walls of Silence
The patient has a story that isn’t told and which no one knows of. It is the secret, the rock against which he is shattered.
I worked on this psychosocial novel about the nature of madness for 12 years. It took that long to craft a story that penetrated to the heart of something important I wanted to explore. But it started out as something much simpler, and lighter in tone. Which was inevitable given that I was a less mature writer back then, lacking the confidence to tackle a big subject or the skills to do such an ambitious story justice. I hope I have accomplished that now.
Writing wisdom & quotes
Take inspiration from my collection of constructive advice, pearls of wisdom, and heartening words. I don’t go along with all the opinions expressed here but everything these writers have to say deserves consideration, if for no other reason than they have earned their spurs – many openly displaying the scars to prove it.