Word Count 44: Substack Notes, Will Storr’s Science of Storytelling webinar, and Chikodili Emelumadu on her debut novel

by Suw on April 18, 2023

Plus major Tag rewrite, introducing paid essays, and how to build a writing habit.

Hi there,

Happy Tuesday! There is, I must warn you, an awful lot of me in this week’s newsletter, but exciting changes are afoot at Substack, so read on to find out more!

Substack news: Introducing Notes

Last week, Substack introduced Notes, a Twitter-like way to chat and meet other writers and readers on Substack itself. I have seen it described as a “Twitter killer” and whilst I wouldn’t go that far, it certainly does remind me of the very early days of Twitter when it was fun and chill and interesting. So far, I’ve found Notes to be a lovely way to discover newsletters and just generally chat with other Substack users.

You don’t have to write a newsletter to use it, but you do need to be logged in. If you use the app you might need to update it, or just visit the website and you’ll find the icon in between Inbox and Chat. There are tabs at the top of the page that let you read everyone’s notes, or just those people whose newsletters you subscribe to.

Try it out and say hi by typing in @suw (and letting the autocomplete do the rest).

Newsletter news: Introducing paid essays

I have so many ideas for essays itching away in my skull that I feel I should take this period of underemployment and do something constructive with them. So, today I am launching a paid tier which will feature two essays per month digging into the craft of writing, the publishing industry, screenwriting and more. The first essay is about the importance of subtext!

Please subscribe – it’s only £5 a month or £50 a year (that’s £10 off!) and every new paid subscriber will help me move towards a sustainable writing career.

If you are a student, unemployed, or for any other reason can’t afford a subscription, drop me a line and I’ll give you a comp – no need to explain your situation, just let me know what email you subscribed with.

Don’t forget, you can also control which emails you get via your Substack subscription management page.

Suw’s News: Major Tag rewrite

I am on the verge of scrapping the current pilot episode of Tag and starting again from scratch. I spent over two hours on a call with my script editor, the fabulous Dan McGrath, going through everything that’s wrong with it and how it can be fixed. And, well, it’s a lot. A lot lot.

Some of it I already knew was destined for the chop, like my wonderful cold open of which I am so very fond. But the very best TV sets up the characters, their wants/needs, the barriers they face, and the stakes within the first five or six minutes. Happy Valley S1E1 establishes Sergeant Carwood’s character literally within the first 30 seconds with just a couple of lines of dialogue, and then sets up the series, Carwood’s backstory and one of the main conflicts within the first 2 minutes 30 seconds, before the credits. It’s fast, effective and compelling.

I, on the other hand, was spending three minutes in an atmospheric but ultimately pointless World War I scene. I think I’ve known for months that it would have to go, but have been resisting because, well, it’s a great cold open. For a completely different TV series.

Chatting with Dan has given me not only the nerve to ditch it, but also a much clearer understanding of what each key character’s goals are, how they play off against one another, and how it all ties in to the series theme. If you are looking for a really smart and perceptive script editor to work with, Dan is definitely your man.

But this isn’t going to be a light edit. I need to strip everything back to its structural bones and start again. Wish me luck!

Event: Will Storr’s Science of Storytelling seminar

I attended Will Storr’s Science of Storytelling seminar in March and got so much out of it, despite having read the book twice already, that I absolutely must recommend it to you. His next seminar is scheduled for 18:00 BST on 14 June and is only £50 for three hours of insights into how and why we tell stories.

The most important things I took away from the seminar were:

  1. The need for cause and effect in a plot. It has be “This caused that”, not “And then happened”.
  2. The usefulness of understanding a character’s Theory of Control (ie how they believe the world works), how that is at odds with the world they inhabit, and how they have to change.

If you’re interested in becoming a better storyteller, whatever your medium, this webinar is an essential.

Stop, look, listen: Confessions of a Debut Novelist, S2E12 – Ch?k?d?l? Emel?mad?, Dazzling

Dazzling book coverI loved listening Chloe Timms talk to Ch?k?d?l? Emel?mad? about her debut novel Dazzling, what it was like to win the Curtis Brown First Novel Prize in 2019, and the battle she had to do with her characters to finish her novel.

“I’m used to telling them what to do,” Emel?mad? says, “and these girls were just not letting me. And it was a lot of grappling. In total, I have about half a million words of different drafts because I counted it up and I put them all inside a folder, because I just had to look at it and think, ‘Wow, thank you so much for wasting my time all these years.’ But I thought, ‘No, you wasted your own time, Ch?k?d?l?, because they were telling you what they wanted, and you wouldn’t listen.’”

I was particularly struck by the point she makes about how we treat Greek and Norse mythology with such reverence, but not Nigerian mythology. Most Westerners know very little of other storytelling traditions, and we’re the poorer for it.

I also think that Emel?mad? makes a really important point that you have to put your all into your novel, not hold things back for a sequel. Using all your best ideas now ensures that you end up with a novel that’s “richer” and “more rounded”, and it doesn’t take away from future works. (They are, after all, only ideas and you’ll have more.)

WAIW? You don’t need willpower to write

Last week’s post on Why Aren’t I Writing? was about how to use habits to help you create a robust writing schedule and really get cracking on your work in progress. It is by far the most popular post I’ve written so far. Take a look!

Obligatory cat picture

Grabbity (left) and Copurrnicus aren’t always this cosy, but every now and again they forget their differences and cuddle up together.

Two cats cuddle on a bed

That’s it for this week. Please do check out the Essays section of Word Count and upgrade to paid if you like!

All the best,


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