Thursday, 29 December 2011


I've come to realise that the more of a passive/over indulgent slump I am enjoying, the more unrealistically optimistic I am about my future levels of productivity/general slimness.

Mode of the moment is Extreme Focus re. my PhD thesis, the current equivalent of creative writing in my life, and Extreme Statis re anything to do with the body beautiful thing. Nearly went swimming today, and had to have a large cappuccino and a lie down to get over it.

So this means that while I am circumspect about my writing goals, I am madly looking forward to a skeletal 2012. Apart from being fabulously thin, I will also be posting each week with advice and ideas relating to How to be a Writer

As for my advice for fellow scribes: read something brilliant. My recommendation of the moment is a fantastic non fiction book which I am reading for my thesis but will appeal to anyone interested in imagination and identity: A face to the world by Laura Cumming. It's about self portraits and what they do and don't tell us about the artist. Great illustrations, too, if you are in mood for skimming.

And so, farewell 2011 - and a Happy New Year to all imperfect writers...

Thursday, 22 December 2011


Last post before Christmas.  Watched 'It's A Wonderful Life' to get into the festive spirit, and it reminded me that the best Christmas stories are about fear and anxiety, from 'The Little Match Girl' to the bit in 'Love Actually' where Alan Rickman is furtively buying a necklace for his mistress and Rowan Atkinson is overdoing the gift-wrap. Arguably, the original Christmas story in St Luke's gospel does the same job - re. anxiety, not gift wrap.

It's always more challenging to write about happiness than unhappiness. Misery loves company, and stories love misery. Or anxiety. And from this you can segue interestingly to eventual change/redemption/relief/euphoria. Phew.

Happy Christmas!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Keep Buggering On

There is nothing wrong with New Year Resolutions apart from the fact that they are a complete waste of time. Perhaps the only reason they have any currency at all is that they make us feel vaguely positive while we mire ourselves in chocolate, booze and carbs over the Xmas season, lolling on our own flesh in front of some mindless TV re-heat starting Celebs We Are Sick Of. Somewhere, up the road ahead, there is a better person: thin, teetotal and goal-driven.

Which is why I am writing this on December 21st, not January 1st. Make a fetish of the New You, and it's harder to carry on, the Old You having had so much more experience.  Don't try and be perfect; save your energy for writing. Rubbish people do write good books. (Arguably, all good books are written by rubbish people.)

Getting started is essential, as I mentioned in the last post, as is the ability to moderate your expectations (your first words will be shit, as Hemingway promised). But one of the unsung skills of any writer in the war against atrophy is the ability to Keep Buggering On, in the words of Winston Churchill.

I'll be returning to this theme next year, as part of the Edited Highlights of my book 'How to be a Writer'. But just a few thoughts on this now. Keeping Buggering On is not dramatic, does not make for  an exciting biopic and does not involve a. throwing your typewriter out of the window or b. shooting anyone. It does involve working a lot, being patient, listening to feedback that you don't like the sound of and being slightly nice to yourself.

Keep Buggering On when you are writing and you will write the best possible book. Keep Buggering On when the best possible book needs a publisher and you stand the best possible chance of finding one. On any day of the year. Of which, more later.

Monday, 19 December 2011


This blog is about all aspects of the 'how to' of being a writer', and there is lots of advice out there about the 'how to' of doing the writing itself. But that doesn't mean I can't talk about doing the writing itself - this is what Being a Writer means.

The everdayness of writing is important. If you buy a notebook tomorrow and decide to write in it every day, by the time you fill it up it will have quite a lot of 'you' in it, and quite a lot of things that you didn't know you thought. Writing isn't a mechanical process during which you commit pre-existing thoughts to paper, or rather, this is only one aspect of writing. More often, it's a mental and mechanical process, during which ideas appear in front of you which you didn't know you had. They are formed both physically and imaginatively. Human beings are weirdly over-conscious mammals, and writing is an expression of this.

Virginia Woolf said: 'What one wants for writing is habit'.

Ernest Hemingway said 'The first draft of anything is shit'.

Samuel Beckett said: 'Ever tried. Every failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.'

Put these three quotes together and you get a pretty good route map. The first draft is just that. If  it feels like hard work, take notice of  Ms Woolf.  If it feels like rubbish, you are in the same club as Hemingway. And if you're failing, follow Beckett's lead and fail better.

As for 'habit', the best advice I ever heard was to write every day, for five minutes a day. Starting is everything. If you start, the chances are you will carry on for more than five minutes. But everydayness is vital, till you get down that first shit draft, and have something to work with.

Friday, 2 December 2011


Aha, I have detected a flaw in this blog. It doesn't tell you how to be a writer. Two reasons for this - or maybe three. Number one: it's complicated. Number two: where to start, blog-wise, having written a whole book on the subject? And number three - I am blog-phobic. It's the style of writing I am least comfortable with. Blogs are not diaries (weird, introspective, libellous, insane), but neither do I think they should be press releases, a constant dribble of PR about "I, an Author". (Boring, tiresome, witless, inane.) So I grind to a halt, wondering who reads this stuff anyway, worrying about Wrong Notes and sounding too negative or too smug, or as if I am being overly self-conscious about either of these things, and so...

Anyway, I have put all this behind me now. Strictly professional. I have the book to hand, and I'm about to give you some excellent advice, in bite-size chunks, and really do please feel free not to buy the book, or, if you do, not to put an excellent review on Amazon.

Hilary Mantel wrote "Wolf  Hall", I heard her say recently, because it was the book that didn't exist that she wanted to read. On a slightly less high-flown level, I wrote this book because it was the book that didn't exist that I needed to read.

In 2004, I was Published for the first time, which seemed like it ought to mean something, this being the pinnacle of my ambition. But I was isolated and confused. I was waiting for someone to sprinkle fairy dust on my life (as if I was a Pippa Middleton table setting) but there was no fairy dust in sight. I wanted to be a Writer, not just someone who was published by accident. I needed help.

And so a few years later, I set out to write a book that would offer the friendly guidance I hadn't had when I started, and which had taken me years to find. Which is why the book is about "being a writer" not "doing the writing".

Not because I don't care about writing myself - I care more about this than any other part of the Writing Life - but because I know from experience that finding your neutral space is easier if you aren't in a state of sheer, blind panic or the Pits of Despair, the habitat of all too many writers.