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Writing Advice

In this section, you will find a collection of blogs dedicated to writing advice. So, if your manuscript is starting to drive you crazy, or you’re not sure how to get started, read on for the push you need to create your masterpiece.

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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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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Let Writing Be Your Rescue

Lia Louis

Regular Writers & Artists blogger Lia Louis on the sheer joy of writing for no one else but yourself.

I can't remember the exact time that I started to write. I know I was young, I know it was before we had a computer in the house, and I know that as often as I wrote stories about magic trees and wizardy caretakers, I wrote long, thoughtful rambles about life, space, and sometimes, the cute boy in the house opposite who I thought may have smiled – or perhaps, Dear Diary, it was wind – at me. I wrote when I had everything and nothing to say, and needed to make sense of things. I wrote because it helped me think and stopped me thinking all at the same time. I wrote because I couldn’t find the right words to say out loud, and I wrote because I had thoughts, fears and secrets but no person I trusted enough to keep them. I wrote because it grounded me, and also sent me up, up and far, far away. I wrote because it was an antidote to an awful day, and also, sometimes, the …

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10 Writing Touchstones: Clarity

Rachel Knightley

No matter how many novels, plays, instruction manuals or poems you have on your writing CV, there are lessons about writing – some technical, others psychological – that benefit from regular rediscovery.

I teach creative writing from pre-school to post-retirement. No matter the age, background or experience of the writer, certain shared attitudes to our writing and ourselves regularly come to the surface. Most common is the wish to ‘get it right’ even though rationally we know that with any creative work, there is unlikely to be a single, definitive ‘right answer’. 

My catchphrase with writing and acting students is ‘there’s no such thing as a wrong answer’. However, there certainly are such things as good habits: concepts and qualities to which we can hold and test our writing, to challenge and reassure ourselves when needed.

This series offers ten ‘Touchstones’ for writing. Some are more technical than others (clarity, structure, rhythm); some more …

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