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Daily Prompts

Could you use some daily prompts for your morning pages? Following on from our recent morning pages workshops, let me introduce you to Dr. Julie: her site, Dr. Julie Journaling (for wellbeing and success) features daily prompts that you might use as inspiration for your own writing. You can subscribe to receive them in your inbox – or visit her whenever you need a new idea.

You can also work with her at Margate Bookie’s Write Up: Why not give her a try?

Characters Sparking Joy: Writing Experiment No. 71 — Andrew Wille

Following on from the Character Questionnaire exercise that came out of last week’s masterclass, here is another writing experiment to help think about characterisation. Your character is decluttering with Marie Kondo. Which of their possessions still spark joy, and are kept? Which do they thank for their service and donate to Oxfam? What do they junk…

via Characters Sparking Joy: Writing Experiment No. 71 — Andrew Wille

Faversham Lit Fest

Faversham’s new festival is back for it’s second year!

Running a bit behind on updating my workshop schedule here – but this is a head’s up for an upcoming editing workshop: The End – Hurrah! – Now What? It’s on Saturday 16 February, 3 – 4:30. Along with Sue Bassett, Director of the Kent Festival of Writing, we’ll look at approaching the editing process from macro to micro – and get you editing in the room. Want to know more? Here’s the full line-up. Book your spot here:


This is only one of a whole range of workshops, from writing with the senses to the art of memoir with the marvellous Marnie Summerfield Smith. The Faversham Literary Festival is in its second year – and it’s a corker. The festival proper runs the following weekend – here’s a link to the weekend’s schedule:

Pressing the pause button

UnknownAccording to my last post, I haven’t been here since April.  What happens when you’re too busy living to blog?  You leave a lot of gaps – a lot of white space and unwritten words, here.  Meanwhile, there is writing and editing, elsewhere.  There are workshops and modules being written and taught, there are dissertations being supervised and marked. There are lightbulbs going off in heads, both yours and your students.  There are dog walks and people walks and time in the woods.  There is sun – an awful lot of sun, here in Britain.  There is travel, camping trips and swims in the sea, morning pages and cups of tea.  Having been editing much of the summer, I have pressed the “send” button; now I wait for feedback, in this pause, taking time out to read and dream, sort and order, plan my next steps.  Soon, there will be new writing.  Soon, I’ll be staring down the start of a new academic year.  Soon, I’ll be teaching a lot, and that takes time and attention, both of which I’m very glad to give – but right now I’m pausing.  Right now, I’m in the gap between letters, the space between words.  I’m pulling weeds and rearranging the furniture and trying to look at things from new angles.  Soon, I’ll see you back here with new workshops & new ideas – and maybe some news.

Kent Festival of Writing

Join me at the upcoming Kent Festival of Writing, Saturday 14 April, 2018.  It’s a full day of writing exercises and great conversations by the sea.  I’m doing a one hour workshop on a writer’s “voice”:  what is it – and how can you find yours?  I’m also thrilled to be in conversation with debut fiction author Kate Mayfield and her editor, Jenny Parrott, to discuss the release of The Parentations.  Want to know more?  Just follow the link to Kent Festival of Writing:      kfow-banner_1_orig

Everyday Magic

img_1467I run workshops, as you’ll know from my blog, and it’s really good practice to take them, whether you run them or not!  Last week I treated myself to a whole day workshop with the fab Andrew Wille for Words Away, who run workshops and salons in South London.
Here’s a picture of the “writer’s shrine” he built for the day.  It made me want to come home and dust mine!
Here’s a link to his run-down of the day.  Do visit – and sign up for his emails, which are chock-full of good advice for writers.  It was a wonderful workshop, as you’ll see from his blog.  I must say, even a week later, I’m still fizzing with ideas.  Here’s to great writing workshops for all!

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Beginnings

It’s a new month and a new season.  At last, it feels like spring.  There are chairs in the sun and grape hyacinths, as well as a new chewy pup called Louie here.  Maybe I’m not ready for beginning anything in my work – I am editing – but mornings like these make me dream of possibilities, of what could lie ahead.  If you are of a similar mind, here’s a pretty nifty list for beginning any creative endeavour from the ever-essential Brain Pickings:

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Here’s to a little chaos and careful perversion.

Kent Festival of Writing

Booking is open for the next Kent Festival of Writing.  Stella Duffy is the keynote speaker, with workshops from writers including Emma Darwin, Julie Cohen, Andy Miller – and me!  Why not join us for a great day of writing?
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Writing the synopsis, dammit

3df957109c143c58abc80ea52b24c873“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”  This line, often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, is actually from sportswriter Red Smith, but whoever said it must have been talking about the writing of synopses, surely.  They are a necessary evil and there’s no avoiding them.  Here’s why they’re necessary – and how to tackle them – or at least to make them a little less evil.
First, the basics.  A synopsis is one page of A4 ( or 8 1/2 X 11″).  No longer, though you can write single space and pull the font size down to 10, to squeeze more words on that single page.  They’re written in third person present tense, whether your novel is or isn’t, and it should still follow the “show don’t tell” rule of writing.  A synopsis will typically run 5 – 7 paragraphs, with the opening paragraph introducing the main character and theme – what the story is about – and why it matters.  The opening paragraph feels most like a “pitch” or a “blurb”, with the following paragraphs explaining the nuts-and-bolts of the story, the who-what-where-why-when.  Who interacts with the main character?  What is at stake?  Where does the action occur?  Why is the story being told right now – how urgent is the “when” of it?  These chapters should be written in proportion to their importance in the story – you don’t want to waste precious lines explaining backstory; you want to use them to show how the character makes choices and changes because of them – cause and effect.  The last chapter is the resolution – how does the book end, what is the biggest conflict/crisis, and how has the main character been changed by it?  There are no cliff-hangers in a synopsis.  It sounds easy enough, when you boil it down like that, doesn’t it?  But then, it comes time to actually write one, the evil rises again.
Why is it so hard?  Often, it can be because the synopsis exposes work that isn’t done or isn’t ready.  The Literary Consultancy says, “If it is because the story is insufficiently clear, persuasive or gripping, then more work needs to be done to get the manuscript into the kind of shape that would persuade an agent or editor to consider it further.” If we can’t boil the story down to one page, we don’t know the story well enough to tell it to ourselves.  In this vein, agent Jonny Geller said, via Twitter:  “A novel synopsis is deadening, – think of it as a letter to a friend about a great story you just heard.”  (His recent Ted Talk on What Makes a Bestseller is pretty great, too.)
Synopses exist for several people – and the most important of them is you, the writer.  When submitting your work, prospective agents ask for synopses as a means to see that you have finished the book and that you have an ending.  They don’t want to waste time on something that isn’t ready or that doesn’t make sense.  Once you have an agent, she will ask for a synopsis every time you send your work to her, mostly as a tool to understand what you are trying to do, particularly in early drafts.  Does your synopsis match your chapters?  Does it answer the questions of who-what-where-why-when?  Once your book is sold, that synopsis might still follow it around for a while, with editors using it to get a sense of flow, of what you’re attempting and if you’re achieveing it; it might become a marketing tool or an aid to the publicity team.  So, once you’ve finished your book it is essential that the synopsis is “right”.  But what is right?  And how do you know?  And how do you develop a synopsis over time and over drafts so that the synopsis is working for you at every stage?
6a00e54eced2e1883301b8d101de2c970c-150wiLet’s hear from the experts:  Emma Darwin, author and creator of the wonderful blog This Itch of Writing, not only admits to “really enjoy(ing) writing them,” she also defends them as an “extremely useful tool for developing your own work”.  Do read her excellent post on “the developmental synopsis” and how they help writers, at any stage, to assess narrative arc and the chainlinks of cause and effect.  For Darwin, the synopsis is not a “shrinking down” of the narrative onto one page, but a new story itself – a very short story about the story, as it were, with the interesting challenge to make this short-short somehow “feel” like the novel.  nm-wags-cover-mid-e1392744195840-131x210 Nicola Morgan has a very useful e-book, Write a Great Synopsis, which you can purchase and download from her site.  Here’s her pitch: Write a Great Synopsis covers the function of a synopsis, differences between outlines and synopses, requirements for different agents and publishers, finding the heart of your book, non-linear plots, sub-plots and long novels. It answers all the questions and confusions that writers have. I introduce you to my patent Crappy Memory Tool, explain the art of crafting a 25-word pitch, and demonstrate with examples.  For an overview of her synopsis process – plus shoes – she’s put a great powerpoint on her site from her 2014 talk at the Festival of Writing.  Lastly, read Chuck Wendig’s take on how to prepare for the query stage and how to entice an agent, with plenty of good advice on how to write a synopsis with all the spicy words you would expect of his excellent Terrible Minds blog.  His “EMBRACE THE HOLY TRINITY: HOOK, BODY, CLIMAX” is terrific advice.  Now, that’s probably enough avoidance from me. It really is time to rewrite that synopsis.

Feeding the Writing

15This month, I’m over on The Prime Writers’ website, curating blog posts with friend and fellow writer, Vanessa Lafaye.  Together, we’ve been looking at all the ways writers feed their writing, what they do that isn’t like writing – that helps the writing happen.  For some it’s music, playing and singing.  I was particularly taken with Jason Hewitt’s sense of how writing is symphonic, how he “scores” his scenes and chapters for that lift and loft.  For other Prime Writers it’s cooking and baking complicated concoctions.  For “culinary gothic” writer Martine Bailey, cooking opened the door to a new way of writing.  Today, our third in the series explores the connection between writing and running – as well as open water swimming – with Andrea Bennett, YA author Kerry Drewery, Jon Teckman – and me. The series will continue through the rest of June.  In the meantime, how do you feed your writing?

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