November 2023

Three books to kickstart your writing

by Suw on November 29, 2023

Develop your craft faster with some good advice about structure, story and character.

Years ago – nay, indeed, lifetimes ago – I worked in an admin role at a popular music school that taught guitar, bass guitar, drums, keyboards and vocals to predominantly young men (though there were more women taking the vocals courses). I remember being challenged on this whole idea of teaching popular music, as opposed to orchestral, on the basis that anyone can buy a guitar and just learn to play along with their favourite tunes until they’ve absorbed all the basics. Lessons are, I was told, completely unnecessary and possibly even damaging to young musical talent.

That is, of course, utter hogwash. I started learning bass guitar by noodling around on my own and listening to songs, but I rapidly realised that lessons would help. This wasn’t because I’d developed some great philosophical position on the concept of having a teacher, but because life is too fucking short to piss about trying to reinvent the Mixolydian mode when someone else has not only done it, but can teach it to you in a matter of minutes. Why spend months, years or decades figuring it all from first principles when you can learn it off someone else in a fraction of the time? It’s not like there’s some sort of extra authenticity to working out basic music theory for yourself.

I recently saw a Note asking how best to get started with writing, and I saw the same sort of attitudes creeping into the replies. And, indeed, this post began as a response to that Note, because “Just write” is bad advice, and it’s advice that can do actual harm, as I wrote back in January.

But the impact of ‘Just write!’ on the nascent author’s confidence can be devastating. There’s nothing worse than feeling that you ought to be doing something, something that you want to do, and then someone tells you that your failure is all your fault and only your fault. It’s a double helping of shame and humiliation – emotions that you probably already feel in spades without additional help.

Yes, you can dive in at the deep end and learn plot and character as you go along, but that is very much the hard way of doing things when there are so many amazing books on writing that can help writers at all levels develop their instincts. Early career writers especially need the help – whilst you do have your own instincts, the more work you do to hone and refine them, the better they will serve you going forward. There is no need to work everything out from scratch and it won’t actually make you a better writer, it will just slow you down.

When I’m reading a book about writing, what I’m looking for are ideas that help my subconscious chew over whatever writing issues I’m having at the time (and writing is 100%  having issues!). I don’t follow any advice slavishly, instead I take what I need and leave the rest. And that is the best way to approach any book about writing – read it, internalise the useful bits, let the rest go.

These three books are ones that I have either gone back to time and again, or that I have found really change the way that I think. You might find them useful too.

Actions and Goals by Marshall Dotson

I have no idea who Marshall Dotson is as he doesn’t seem to exist outside of his website, but The Story Structure Secret: Actions and Goals is one of the single most useful writing books I have ever read. Dotson looks at story structure through the eyes of characters – they all have goals and they take actions to meet those goals in the face of opposing forces. Those goals change from act to act, so does the nature of the opposing force.

Dotson discusses his six act structure in relation mostly to movies, but his theories work for novels too. And short stories, if you consider a short story to have very, very short acts, or just one act. But what I like the most about Dotson’s theory is that it’s so easily applicable, whether you’re plotting a new story, stuck in the mid-story marathon, or trying to fix a story that went wrong somewhere along the line. At every point in the writing process, you can ask yourself questions such as “What is my character’s goal?”,  “What actions is she taking to reach her goal?”, “What are the opposing forces preventing her from reaching her goals?” and you can start to see how your story should fit together.

The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr

The Science of Storytelling blew my mind. Seriously. There’s so many insights into how storytelling works at a psychological level and why we humans need stories in our lives, it made me think about story in a whole different way. I personally don’t get on with Storr’s five act structure (like I said, take what works for you, leave the rest), but there’s so much else in there that it’s well worth the price of admission. For example, Storr’s idea that every character has a “Theory of control”, a flawed model of how the world works that they try to apply to everything that that then results in them getting stuff wrong has been really useful for character development work. And if you can do one of his webinars, then you’re in for a treat because they are fascinating.

Create a Character by Holly Lisle

The Create a Character Clinic is actually a book with worksheets that will help you to work out who your characters really are. There are a million and one ways to create characters and maybe for some people their characters just spring fully formed from their imaginations, but the rest of us have to work at it. And when you’re at the beginning of your writing journey, you need all the help you can get. I like Lisle’s process for developing character because it’s compact and succinct and helps me to uncover the core fundamentals of my character’s personalities. It’s an easily repeatable process that I can dip into as and when I need.

So the next time someone tells you that all you need to do is sit and write, remind yourself that plenty of musicians have taken lessons, from Taylor Swift to Simon Le Bon, from Paul McCartney to Miles Davis. Plenty of authors have too, they just perhaps talk about it less often.

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Plus resilience, Dan Sinykin’s Big Fiction, Warner Bros. Discovery’s Zaslav dicking about, and birthday boy Copurrnicus on a treadmill.

Hi there,

As I’m sitting here on a lovely, sunny day, gazing out of my office at the robin perched in our apple tree, I’m feeling really rather chirpy. Perhaps it’s down to having had a lovely weekend, or to how much I’m enjoying novelising Tag, or maybe it’s anticipation of the fact that I’m really only spending two days in my office this week due to a conference and two days off for Thanksgiving (as a transatlantic couple, we always celebrate).

Whatever it is, I shall savour it, and I hope that you have something fun to savour this week too!

Grist: Expanding our emotional vocabulary

Don’t forget, the first Grist session will be held on Monday 27 November at 19:00 GMT, and will focus on expanding our emotional vocabulary. We’ll take a look at the ‘emotional wheel’ and discuss the physicality of emotions via Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi’s The Emotion Thesaurus.

If you’re a paid subscriber, or on a seven day trial, you can find details of how to register for the Zoom call in your email or on the Substack website.

Stop, look, listen: Draft Zero, E102 & E103 – Game of the Scene

One of the things I love about the Draft Zero podcast is that they often make me think about what I’m writing through a totally different lens. These two episodes deal with the idea that characters can be playing games with each other. Not Trivial Pursuit or Doom, but psychological games of power and status.

In these two episodes, hosts Stuart Willis and Chas Fisher “look at how considering the game that characters are playing — its rules, arenas, players, referees, and win conditions — can help you write more dynamic scenes.”

Both episodes are utterly fascinating and more than worth your time.

Read this: Michael Marshall Smith on writing (for TV)

This list of observations on writing for TV that Michael Marshall Smith shared last week contains wisdom for writers in pretty much any medium. I particularly like this bit:

If you don’t make them care about the characters, then you could be selling the meaning of life and they still won’t buy it.

And this bit:

It’s a partnership — together, you may get shit done. Find the smart people you trust. Work with them. That’s how things happen.

WAIW?: What does it really mean to be resilient?

Over on my other newsletter, I wrote about how some slightly difficult feedback combined with some fairly awful perimenopausal hormonal crap sent me into a six-day rage. I have spoken before about resilience, but this post is about the experience of exerting it rather than thinking about it as a shiny abstract thing that I never have to actually tap into.

Resilience is not just about working through negative emotions, it’s also about setting all that negativity aside and reaffirming your belief in yourself by getting on with the job at hand. 

Book: Big Fiction by Dan Sinykin

This review by Scott Stern of Dan Sinykin’s Big Fiction: How Conglomeration Changed the Publishing Industry and American Literature is a fascinating read in and of itself. Sinykin’s thesis is that the “the increasing consolidation and corporatization of the publishing industry” has had a significant impact on the type of fiction that authors now write as they adjust to the realities of a more profit-driven publishing industry.

The review reminds me a lot of Cory Doctorow’s writing on enshittification – the process by which tech products, amongst other things, gets worse and worse as tech companies shift their focus from serving the users to serving business customers and then to pandering to investors.

At least Stern/Sinykin leave us with some level of hope, pointing out the benefits of WW Norton’s collective ownership model, the HarperCollins worker strike for fair wages, and “the rise of artists’ and freelancers’ unions, the flowering of writers’ collectives during the pandemic”.

Definitely a book I’m going to have to get!

Read this, two: ????

David Zaslav, who is not only the CEO Warner Bros. Discovery but also the main baddie on the studio side during the writer’s strike, has now said that the writers were right and that he has “never regretted overpaying for great talent or a great asset”. Well, why make the writers suffer through a 148-day strike then, you cockwomble? Also, he’s a fine one to talk about overpayment, given his compensation for 2021 was $246 million.

Zaslav has also done a full reverse ferret on Coyote vs. Acme and cancelled its cancellation. The film was not just completely finished, it had also tested incredibly well, yet WBD decided to can it in order to benefit from a tax write-off. I mean, firstly, how fucked up is it that? And secondly, this is a really great way to encourage the talent that Zaslav thinks he’s “overpaying” to avoid the studio completely in future. Who wants to put years of their life into a project that comes out really, really well and then gets binned in order to pump the quarter’s earnings?

Can someone please yeet Zaslav and his pals into the Sun?

Obligatory cat picture video

Back in late October 2021, I bought a cheap treadmill. In February of that year, my husband had wiped out on some black ice whilst out running and turned his little finger into a corkscrew-shaped mess. The treadmill was literally half the price of what we spent on healthcare and physio for him (two and half years later, it’s still not quite right) and it would mean we could both exercise more during the deep, icy Ohio winter.

So obviously, as soon as it was set up, I tried to encourage the cats to walk on it. This video is Copurrnicus’ first interaction with the treadmill and, as you can see, it did not go brilliantly! I did eventually get him to run on the treadmill, but it required huge amounts of inducements in the form of toys to pounce on and treats to reward the attempt. My hope that he’d find it fun and run on it willingly to burn off some energy were never fully realised, although that did also make me glad that I never invested in a cat wheel as he would never have used it and I wouldn’t fit in it.

Now we have an enclosed garden Copurrnicus can go outside whenever he wants although, right now, that doesn’t seem to be very often. We’ll all have to just put up with him tearing up and down the stairs instead.

Yesterday was, by the way, Copurrnicus’s 5th birthday which he celebrated by sleeping.

That’s it for now! If you’re a paid subscriber, I hope I’ll see you next Monday, and if you’re not, why not try a 7 day trial and join us for what will be a fun and fascinating conversation?

All the best,


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What does it really mean to be resilient?

by Suw on November 15, 2023

The very first Grist session will be held on Monday 27 November at 19:00 GMT, and we’ll spend the hour talking about the ‘emotional wheel’ and Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi’s The Emotion Thesaurus. If you’d like to come along, upgrade to paid on Substack and you’ll get an email with the details of how to register when I send the first notification out this week.

Talking about the importance of resilience and actually being resilient are two different things.

Rejection is one of the things that writers and creatives of all stripes have to get used to. Submitting your novel to agents or sending in your script to an open call or competition is going to result in rejection more often than not. It’s a fundamental part of working on any commercial creative endeavour, but it also happens relatively regularly once you start submitting, so you do get to practice dealing with the emotions elicited by rejection.

I recently had my script – the new improved version, at that – rejected again and it just sort of bounced off. I always knew that an urban fantasy script featuring a middle-aged perimenopausal woman was going to be a hard sell, so rejection is baked in. I expect to get rejected and therefore there’s very little emotional response when I actually do. A shrug of the shoulder, perhaps. A momentary fall of the stomach. A sigh. Perhaps an eye roll.

Resilience in the face of an expected disappointment is rather easy. One just carries on doing whatever it was one was doing. Nothing about my world has been rocked, nothing is a surprise, so nothing needs to change. No one is asking me to rethink my work or my style or the kind of stories I tell, they are just saying that this is not for them at this point in time.

Getting a lot of these rejections can be quite wearing. I’ve had so many for Tag now that I’ve basically run out of script open calls and UK-based competitions to submit it to, as they generally don’t allow resubmissions. And I’m not going to start submitting it to American competitions because it’s so British in nature that I don’t think Americans would get it. It’s dispiriting I suppose, but I always intended to novelise it, so I still have plenty of opportunities to explore.

But I struggled recently when I received some feedback on the rewritten pilot script that felt overly harsh and that, in many places, seemed to miss the point. I’m used to taking feedback on my writing. I’ve been writing professionally and personally for decades and I am so used to being edited and critiqued that it’s water off a duck’s back.

Yet, for some reason, this particular feedback sent me into a tailspin. It’s hard to say how much of my days-long rage-filled funk was directly caused by this feedback and how much of it was just normal perimenopausal fury. But it made me think about the process of being resilient and of the series of actions that I took to try to deal with the situation.

My initial reaction as I hit the pointiest part of the feedback was to close the document and swear a little, and then post in a supportive writing group I’m in and ask for people’s opinions. Honestly, I wasn’t really interested in any of the comments that suggested I try to learn what I could from the feedback, blah blah; I was looking for confirmation that I should just bin it and move on.

I then grumped for a couple of days, getting unfathomably cross at entirely unrelated things.

I talked to my husband a bit, though was really still too cross to cope with even that.

Eventually, I went back through the feedback and annotated it with my reactions, including ‘Maybe’, ‘Explained later’ and ‘Fuck off’. Actually, scrawling ‘Fuck off’ all over the notes in red pen was quite cathartic. I should have started with that.

It was almost like going through the stages of grief: Shock. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. More anger. Bit more anger. Lot more anger. Acceptance.

Then I watched Welcome to Wrexham S2E12, ‘Hand of Foz’, and started to think that resilience isn’t really a noun, it’s a series of verbs. Resilience is action: it’s allowing yourself to go through those emotional stages, then picking yourself up by whatever means necessary and carrying on. And that can be over the long term, such as carrying on writing even after you’ve had dozens of rejections, or it can be a short term thing where you have to dig deep to continue after what felt, at the time, like a crushing blow.

In ‘Hand of Foz’, Wrexham AFC are playing what should be a pretty easy match against Halifax, but instead of the simple win they are expecting, it’s a 1-3 loss. That loss shocks everyone and, with the end of the season fast approaching and promotion hanging in the balance, it puts additional pressure on the team’s next match against the formidable Notts County.

Promotion isn’t just a matter of pride. The new owners, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, have ploughed millions of pounds into the club and promotion from the National League to the EFL League 2 would be a major change in its financial fortunes. They need this promotion for the club to remain financially viable, which will have a knock-on effect on the players, their supporters and the whole town.

The team has to find a way to bounce back from their disappointing performance against Halifax. They need to dig deep and find out exactly what they are made of. Can they forget the loss and move on, focusing on the task in front of them right now rather than their previous failure? Can they be goldfish*?

It took me six days to bounce back from this particular set-back. I suspect that part of my problem was just straight-up hormonal (menopause is like puberty, but backwards and in high heels), and maybe part of it was exhaustion after the intense lead-up to Ada Lovelace Day.

Resilience is not just about working through negative emotions, it’s also about setting all that negativity aside and reaffirming your belief in yourself by getting on with the job at hand. And that means sitting down with your WiP and continuing to write. It doesn’t matter if you don’t write much after a knock-back, if it’s just a few words or a paragraph each day. It matters that you sit down and do it.

We all suffer let-downs and disappointments. It’s inevitable. As creators, we probably suffer them more often than most people. But that just means that we get to practice our resilience and, when it matters, we have the strength and fortitude to be a goldfish.

* NB: Goldfish actually have pretty good memories.

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Fieldwork: Adding improv to the mix

by Suw on November 14, 2023

What do you do to get yourself back in the game after an enforced break from a creative project?

It’s been a while since I last wrote about Fieldwork, the short film script I’m writing for the i-COMET project, largely because over the summer I was either interviewing ecologists or checking their transcriptions, which isn’t very newsworthy. Then, once mid-August arrived, I was almost wholly focused this year’s Ada Lovelace Day Live event at the Royal Institution.

But now it’s time to dive back in.

Back in May, I came up with a four part plan for how this project was going to shake out, and I’ve largely been focused on Part 1, background research. Talking to ecologists turned out to be a delightful experience, always the highlight of my week. I’m going back over the transcripts now and highlighting the sciency bits that catch my eye, or sections that feel funny to me or that seem to illustrate some aspect of character.

I have to admit, I’ve been feeling a bit apprehensive about starting the actual writing, because this whole project doesn’t fit in with my normal creative process. Usually, I start with an idea for a person who’s dealing with a particular scenario and then I explore what might happen through plot logic: if this happens, then that results; and through character: this person would do this sort of thing.

But with Fieldwork, what came first was the context: ecologists working in the field; and the genre: comedy. My brain has been noodling over this for the last several months, despite the fact that I was focused on other things, and building up quite a head of anxiety over whether I can actually write in this way. I haven’t written comedy for, er, quite a long time, so the question of whether I can still be funny has also been weighing on me.

To get over this, I’ve decided that my brain needs a bit of creative shakubuku – “a swift, spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever”.

So, to that end, I’ve started improv classes. There is a weekly class held not far from me and last Wednesday I went to my first one. It was huge amounts of fun, but I can also see how it has the potential to rewire my neurones a little, get me back into a mode of more spontaneous thinking, and help me re-find my funny.

Improv (though they seem to have shortened it further to ‘impro’!) is predicated on saying the first thing that comes into your head and not worrying about whether it is good or bad. Even in my first session, once I started to feel the flow, it stopped feeling stressful and started to be a lot of fun. It’s like opening a direct conduit between your subconscious and your mouth, giving your brain a huge playground to just throw stuff up and see what happens. It’s about being open to possibility and responding instinctually to what the people around you are saying and doing. And, most importantly, it’s about refusing to be self-judgemental.

That’s the perfect mindset for playing about with character ideas, plot snippets and humour, and it’s the antithesis of how writers often think.

I remember once being told to throw away the first solution that comes into your head when you hit a problem with your plot or character. Throw away the second one too. The logic is that these are the obvious solutions, and you want to dig deeper to find the surprising solution. But if you take that too much to heart, it becomes crippling as your brain refuses to come up with a first solution at all, for fear of it being crap.

Where writing is rewriting, improv is blurting out all your first thoughts without any opportunity to rethink. And that is, in my opinion, also the first step on the road to comedy.

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Plus Arts Council, BFI and Uncertain Kingdom funding, Big Comedy Conference, Realms of Imagination, and guest cats Archie & Sid.

Hi there,

It’s an absolutely glorious day here in the Home Counties as I write this. I’m continuing my 18-month long campaign to attract more birds to the garden, and have been delighted to see a robin eying up my fat balls. Sadly, only the magpies are regular visitors to the feeder, with the robins, blue tits, great tits and wrens staying in the apple tree and looking wistfully on from the safety of the foliage.

Introducing Grist, a new training program for your imagination

You might have seen my email last week introducing Grist, a different kind of author support and training program for my paying subscribers. Every month, we’ll get together for an hour to talk about topics that will improve your basic authorly skills: observation, feeling both physical sensations and emotions, listening, and intentional reading/watching.

The first session will be held on Monday 27 November at 19:00 GMT, and we’ll spend the hour talking about the ‘emotional wheel’ and Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi’s The Emotion Thesaurus. If you’d like to come along, upgrade to paid and you’ll get an email with the details of how to register when I send the first one out in a few days.

Suw’s news: Would you like to be a beta reader for Tag?

I’m working on the novelisation of the first episode of Tag and am looking for a handful of beta readers who would be available in a few weeks to give it a once over. I’m looking for people who:

  • Know that they’ll have time to read and provide feedback on 10k – 15k words in late November or early December.
  • Like urban fantasy – if you watched Buffy and Highlander when they first came out, this may well be for you.

Although not necessary, you do get bonus points if you’re perimenopausal or menopausal, and extra bonus points if you’re Welsh.

If this sounds like you, reply to this email and let me know! I’m hoping to have finished the first draft towards the end of this month, and will need to get feedback in fairly quickly so that I can make changes and polish it up before the Discoveries deadline on 8 January.

Fiction: Argleton will be in your inboxes on Thursday!

I’m excited to be re-releasing Argleton, the first novella I ever self-published and the first fiction project featured in the first Kickstarter newsletter!

Matt is fascinated by the story of Argleton, the unreal town that appeared on GeoMaps but which doesn’t actually exist. No one, not even GeoMaps, knows how the mistake made its way into the most widely used map in the world.

Matt can’t resist a puzzle so persuades his friend and flatmate Charlie to drive them to the non-existent town. When they are standing on the very spot, at the exact longitude and latitude that defines Argleton, Matt sets in motion a chain of events that will take him places he didn’t know existed… and which perhaps don’t.

There’s a fascinating back story to Argleton. It was originally a copyright trap – a fake town added to a commercial map to catch copyright thieves – used by Google Maps and Google Earth. Although it was removed by 2010, its ghost still exists in Google Maps: if you search for it, you’ll find Argleton Village Hall, Argleton Football Field and even Argleton Heritage Commercial Building.

Inspired to write this story when Argleton was in the news, I launched a Kickstarter project to fund printing and the development of a geogame in May 2010, and produced a number of hand-embroidered silk-covered hardbacks, as well as paperbacks, for my supporters.

Although it’s been on my website for the last 13 years, it’s been a while since I last read it and I am happy to report that it has stood the test of time! If anything, improvements in tech make it more plausible now than it was then.

As with The Gates of Balawat and The Lacemaker, you’ll be able to either read each chapter as it’s released weekly or download the full ebook. The first chapter of this techno-magic realist romp through the English countryside will land in your inboxes at 10:30 GMT on Thursday (if you’re signed up for the Fiction emails – check your settings to see!).

Funding: Arts Council, BFI and Uncertain Kingdom funding schemes

Arts Council

The Arts Council’s Developing Your Creative Practice funding scheme will be opening its doors to applications from 16 November to 14 December, and will be awarding grants of between £2,000 and £12,000. They support a variety of art forms, including literature, although sadly they won’t fund you to just sit and write. Rather, you have to have a plan to develop your audience, skills and activities beyond your writing. They fund approximately 20 per cent of applications in the literature category, and you can only submit twice in four years, so think carefully before you apply.


The British Film Institute’s Early Development Fund is now open to previously producers writers with short film credits who are now in the early stages of development for a debut long-form project. The fund is for “writers who do not yet have the first draft of a script (or equivalent format for immersive work), to produce an initial treatment”.

You can apply, with or without a producer, for a grant of between £3,000 and £5,000, but you must be based in England and not have had a feature film produced and distributed in the UK before. You should also have already written “at least one short film that has been produced” or “if you’re working in other creative media, you’ll need to have made work in television, documentary, theatre, immersive or other art forms”. Read the full eligibility criteria on the BFI website. This scheme is open year round, except for August, when I assume everyone goes on holiday.

Uncertain Kingdom

The Uncertain Kingdom has a scheme for teams making short films on the theme of ‘belief’. Five teams will be given up to £20,000 each to make their short, which will be released “as an anthology by Verve Pictures towards the end of 2024.” Applications open on 1 December and close on 21 December.

Ahead of the application window, Unsolicited Scripts is running a matchmaking program to introduce writers, producers and directors so that they can create teams eligible for funding.

Event: Big Comedy Conference

Early Bird tickets are available now for the British Comedy Guide’s Big Comedy Conference, to be held on Saturday 16 March 2024 in Holborn, London (speakers TBC). I went to this event last year and it was really enjoyable, so will definitely be going again.

Event: British Library Realms of Imagination exhibition

I found out about the British Library’s current Realms of Imagination exhibition too late to get tickets for either of Neil Gaiman’s talks, but did get to see Susan Cooper talking about her fabulous The Dark Is Rising pentalogy, which was a real treat. The exhibition continues until 25 February 2024, and displays notebooks from Gaiman and Ursula le Guin, amongst many other things.

Please do note, however, that the British Library’s website is currently unavailable due to a cyberattack, which means that you can’t currently book online.

Obligatory cat photo

Today’s guest cats are Archie (left) and Sid (right), who were recently looked after by my very good friend, Caroline Ferguson. Archie and Sid captured Caroline’s heart so comprehensively that she wrote an entire post about their different personalities and how their behaviour illustrates their different approaches to the world. It’s a lovely read – do take a look! 

That’s it for now. See you in a couple of weeks!

All the best,



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Hone your observational skills and fire up your imagination.

Earlier this month, I wrote about the nature of practice for writers and what we can learn from footballers and musicians. That post has stuck in my head ever since, like a soundless earworm. I keep thinking about what that practice should look like. What activities would I do to improve my writing?

In the post, I outlined six things I think writers should practice regularly:

  1. Observation
  2. Feeling both physical sensations and emotions
  3. Listening
  4. Intentional reading and watching
  5. Self-education
  6. Note taking

Of these, the first four will form the foundation of Grist, a new monthly Zoom call for paying subscribers where we talk about a topic that fits into one of those categories with the aim of adding a little extra grist to our creative mills.

The format of the call will vary depending on the topic. For example, I have an existing introduction to deep listening that I can walk through, or we can each share our individual interpretations of the first chunk of a TV show or script. Sometimes you might get homework to read or watch, sometimes it might be spontaneous. Some topics will be one-offs, others we might come back to repeatedly so that we can dig deeper.

What will Grist cover?

To give you a sense of the kinds of things I’m thinking of, here are some options so you can let me know (whether you are a premium subscriber or not!) what you like the sound of. Just vote in the poll on Substack.

  • Expanding our emotional vocabulary: Looking at the ‘emotional wheel’ and Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi’s The Emotion Thesaurus.
  • First Five Minutes: Welcome to Wrexham vs The Matildas – how effectively does each series set up their premise?
  • Reading: We’ll do a little background reading about Alhambra, a palace fortress in Spain, and discuss its similarities to stately homes and the usefulness of hidden spaces as plot devices.
  • Chocolate tasting: How does bog standard milk chocolate compare to a mid-market dark chocolate, and how do they both compare to chocolate from the heritage Nacional cocoa tree, a variety that’s 5,300 years old?
  • Deep listening: What is it, how do you do it and how will it help you when you’re doing research interviews?

What will I get out of Grist?

Neil Gaiman talks about the need for writers to have a compost heap:

You know, for all writers, you kind of have a compost heap. And if any of you are not gardeners, kitchen people, the compost heap is where you throw all of the garden and the kitchen rubbish, the food scraps – you throw it all on the compost heap. And then it rots down. And a year or so later, you look around. And you just have this lovely brown stuff that you can put on the garden, out of which flowers and vegetables will grow.

And I think it’s really important for a writer to have a compost heap. Everything you read, things that you write, the things that you listen to, people you encounter– they can all go on the compost heap. And they will rot down. And out of them grow beautiful stories.

Grist is a way to regularly feed your compost heap with fascinating bits and bobs that will, over time, turn into valuable fertiliser for your stories. Indeed, all of the sessions will be designed to enrich an aspect of your writing, helping you to create:

  • More compelling characters
  • Lusher world building
  • Stronger language (with less cliché!)
  • Plots that are more deeply rooted in your fictional world
  • More powerful dialogue
  • Deeper insights into your characters’ interior worlds
  • A more resonant sense of time and place
  • A clearer understanding of structure, set-up and story progression

Every session will aim to give you something interesting to chew on, some nugget of information or understanding that can feed into your own work. And it will be a fun ride, with plenty of opportunities to get to know other writers.

When will the Grist sessions be held?

Sessions will be in the UK evening, probably 19:00 BST, as I know I have some subscribers in America and that’s a decent time for those on the West Coast.

Exactly when is TBC. Let me know in the second poll on Substack whether you’d prefer a weekday or Sunday evening. My personal preference is for a weekday, but I know that might make it a bit challenging for our American friends, so I’m happy to do something on Sunday evenings, or we can switch it around each month.

These events won’t be recorded or available for catch-up – the value is being a part of the conversation. And that value is increased when people know that they aren’t being recorded and can thus share their ideas freely without worrying about what others might think later down the road. We all know how hard it can be to share our half-formed creative thoughts, and I don’t want to put barriers in anyone’s way.

If you’re not already a paid subscriber, would this tempt you into becoming one? It’s only £5 a month or £50 a year for either Why Aren’t I Writing? or Word Count.

But, Suw, where’s our fortnightly insight into writer’s block?

Today’s advice on writer’s block actually comes from Mason Currey, who wrote a rather lovely post about the role of sympathy in helping others get over or through their blocks.

Is the solution to a creative block . . . sympathy? I mean other people’s sympathy—their genuine interest in your predicament, their curiosity about it, and their compassion for what you’re going through?

I think Mason’s bang on the money. Sympathy is an important way to help your writerly friends through their sloughs of despond, and important for you to receive when you’re struggling too.

I have a friend who is my best cheerleader – she reads my stuff, tells me I’m awesome, makes me promise to keep going and to share what I write with her. And I do the same for her. I love everything she does, not least because she’s one of the most talented and original unpublished authors I’ve ever read.

If you don’t have a cheerleader in your life, start the search for one now. Don’t be scared to ask for help and support from your friends, whether they are writers or not. And be clear about what you’re looking for when you share your writing with people – if what you need is emotional support, for your friends to wave their pom-poms, ask for it, and request that they hold their critique for later.

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