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Writers' & Artists' Blog

Writing Touchstone 5: Space

Dropping Pebbles

When doing text work with writers or actors, an image I come back to again and again is dropping pebbles into water. Whatever the size of the pebble and whether that water is a puddle or a river, if you drop a pebble in it you will get ripples. The rings move outward from the point of impact and dissipate until the water settles. If an actor talks too fast – or the writer responsible stuffs in too many ideas or just doesn't spread them out enough – the text will be too dense to sink into the audience’s mind. You need to give enough space for the ripples to dissipate before the next idea/pebble is dropped. Writing works the same way.

At the pre-agent stage, a writer doesn't have an external voice directing them towards an uncluttered, sleek pace. It can be difficult to find the right space and weight for characters and concepts, difficult to avoid overwhelming meaning with quantity. But, on page or on stage, if the meaning isn't coming across there’s no point …

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10 Writing Touchstones: Time

Rachel Knightley

If you, like all right-thinking people, are a Star Trek nerd, you will be familiar with the wormhole aliens living next to Deep Space Nine. When Commander Sisko dropped in (sorry) to their wormhole, they learned about humans and our “linear existence”, this fascinating way we have of moving from past, through present, to future. It was very difficult for Commander Sisko to tell the wormhole aliens what it was like to live a linear existence. A bit like when someone asks me what it’s like to be dyspraxic, or vegetarian, or left-handed: I have no basis for comparison, because I have no memory of anything else. The human experience of time is very difficult to discuss. We have no basis for comparison. We know what it’s like to be us, though, and our writing reflects it best with an awareness of the passing time and where we are in it.

Writing Touchstone 4: Time

Time, our unappreciated 1950s wife who knocks on the office door, provides lunch or dinner, then shuffles out again …

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Finding an Agent: Why You Shouldn’t Give Up

Writing advice

Looking back on my quest to secure an agent and asking myself what my experience has taught me, I find I have very little to pass on to fellow writers. What I discovered is that there are no tricks or short cuts or secret recipes. It’s simply a case of doing what everyone says you must do: write the best book you can, put together a strong submission, keep smiling in the face of rejection and keep sending it out there until someone says yes. It’s as simple as that.

There is one common cause of failure I have noted, which is that people tend to give up too soon. It can take many submissions before you find the right agent for your book, which means steering a course through a number of rejections. One author I heard about set herself a positive target of receiving at least one hundred rejections. This was, I thought, a rather clever way to inure herself against conceding defeat.

So, here are three common reasons I can think of why people give up prematurely.

1. Submission fatigue.

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10 Writing Touchstones: Structure

Rachel Knightley

‘Oxymoron’ has been one of my favourite words since I was about eight. Obviously at first that was because it has the word ‘moron’ in it; only later did I come to love oxymorons because they are a beautiful examples of the ultimate micro-fiction: character, voice and plot all implied in one pert, edgy little contradiction. If I could enjoy the stories conveyed by titles like Manfred Mann’s album The Roaring Silence – or my mum’s jokes like ‘Good Morning’ and ‘Tory Party’ – then why on earth would I worry later about how to structure an entire short story or novel? How hard could it be to get your meaning across with all the space and time you could ever want?

Writing Touchstone 3: Structure

The answer, of course, is ‘pretty damn hard, actually’. For many writers, infinite time and space are no less alarming than imminent deadlines. The pressure of merging your creative ideas with the technicalities of a clear delivery can be frustrating. Giving your …

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10 Writing Touchstones: Inspiration (and butterfly nets)

Rachel Knightley

I was writing in a cafe this morning (anyone who knows me will have just have gone ‘Ha’ quite loudly: it would be news if I weren’t writing in a café this morning. Particularly if the writing’s finished). They were playing a cover of Let’s Dance, my beloved Bowie’s most lucrative hit. Say what you will about disco-era Bowie, this wasn’t a song you forgot: tune and lyrics that stick; crisp, eloquent refrains as individual as any published sentence should aim to be. Not my favourite, but the usual best-practice example: a distinctive, intelligent specimen of his chosen genre at the time. This cover kept all the words and the musical structure of the hit, yet still managed to be boring. If I hadn’t known the song well enough to identify the vulture-pecked remains of the original, I wouldn’t have noticed what the music was at all.

‘Brilliant!’ thought the theatre director in me. ‘If a successful song can be made immediately forgettable, interpretation really is …

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