Monday, 5 July 2010

Writing, Day One

Posted by Tania Kindersley

This is the week I give my annual writing workshop at my local arts festival. Last year, in a bit of a blog experiment, I put up edited versions of each day's lesson so that my readers could follow along. I think that the posts were rather too discursive, and also not madly well written, because I was typing them up when I came back in, and by that stage my mind had gone all to pot.

This year, I am just going to put up a few of the most pertinent things that I talked about, in case they might be of interest. That way, I shall not make hideous demands on your precious time.

This is a skeleton version of what I said today:

Good writing is hard. If you do not find it difficult, you are not doing it right.

Write the book you most want to read.

The single most fatal thing that will stop you writing is fear. The Fear takes many forms. It may be fear of failure, fear of ridicule, the fear that you do not have the right stuff. You may be terrified that people will laugh and point. But what is the worst that can happen? You may not succeed; people may indeed laugh and point. Sod them if they can't take a joke. It is not death or destitution. If you do not risk falling flat on your face, or chance the criticism of strangers, you will never know what you might have achieved. Sit down at your desk, tell the carping voices in your head to bugger off, and write, in joyful defiance of all the forces, real and imagined, arrayed against you.

There is no secret handshake. You do not need to have been born into a literary household, or have gone to a grand university, or to live like F Scott Fitzgerald. A writer is someone who writes. All you have to do is put one word in front of another. (Admittedly, this is not always as simple as it sounds.)

Try and write every day. I know that there are twenty-seven other demands on your time. I know that it is often not easy to carve out a space to write. Even if you can only manage five minutes, you can say: I wrote today. Miracles can happen in five minutes. If you make writing a habit, it ceases to be an exotic, distant ambition, allowed only to the chosen few, and instead runs alongside you like a faithful hound.

Give yourself permission to do a really rotten first draft. Even the greatest writers will do baggy, incoherent, plain bad first drafts.  The secret of good writers is that they then go back and do second and third and fourth and fifth drafts, so no evidence is left of the initial shocker. Show it to no one, not even the person you love the most. Especially not the person you love the most.

Carry a notebook with you wherever you go. Those brilliant, coruscating, immortal thoughts that fly into your head will disappear into the ether if you do not write them down.

Trust your own voice.

On a bad day, a little Mozart at full blast can really help.

Resist the temptation to talk your story away. You may long to tell someone of your fascinating idea, or your quirky characters, or your ripping plot. Keep it a secret. This is not because someone might steal your perfect notion, but because once the thing is spoken, it is out there, and the impetus to write it may be lost. Hold it close to your heart until it is done.

The work involved in writing does not just consist of putting words on a page, or typing them into a computer. The gazing out of the window is also part of the graft, even though it may not look like it, to the untrained eye. My friend The Man of Letters likes to remind me that he is working even when he is in the bath, or shopping in the supermarket. Think, think, think of your work in progress every moment you can. When I am in the thick of a book, it is the first thing I think of when I wake in the morning, and the last thing I contemplate before I go to sleep at night.

Try, if you can, to get a routine going. Be ruthless. Shut the door and turn off the telephone. People can wait.

Even though it is hard, and it should be, remember that it is also the thing you love. It can be fun. Allow yourself to be playful. Sometimes you can just throw words up in the air and see where they fall.

Know your strengths, and play to them. Be aware of your weaknesses, and do not fear them.


Hmm. Turns out that was not quite as skeletal as I had hoped. Even when I attempt to be pithy, I cannot resist the temptation to bang on. I do apologise. Still, I hope that this may prove of some utility.

If you would like to read last year's full version, click here.

Today's pictures are of foxgloves and ferns:




  1. I was so pleased to read what your wrote about writing being hard. I had an editor (newspaper) in ancient times who told us, "If you love to write, you're doing it wrong." I'm sure what he meant is precisely what you said: Writing well isn't easy. It isn't supposed to be. Thank you a million times over for that.

  2. Excellent advice. I like the 'good writing is hard' advice too - and I think not being born into a literary household/going to a grand university/having an F Scott Fitzgerald lifestyle put me off for years. So, very well said!

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you! If only you could take all the creative writing courses! Fabulous advice that I am sure to refer back to xxx

  4. Wonderful post and great inspiration for a novice writer such as myself! I'm going to add myself as a follower so I'm sure to not miss your wonderful posts in the future.
    It all made so much sense! Thanks HHL

  5. Excellent post. I love the advice and just switched on Mozart! even nice whilst blogging though my daughter doesnt seem to think so!!

    PS beautiful photographs.

  6. I also find it very interesting and encouraging that writing should be hard- but flowing I think.

    The notebook is most certainly true- and I always feel better having a notebook, even if nothing goes into it.

    Please do give us more updates during the week.

  7. I love your words! I think that your advice is not only true for writing. It is about more, about everything we would love to do, but there is always an alibi for not to do it.

  8. I'd love to do your course! Instead I shall be catching up here xx


Your comments give me great delight, so please do leave one.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin