This is a blog intended to aid, generally motivate, and hopefully sometimes even inspire people who, like me, find themselves compelled to write. Perhaps, for example, you love to read and feel that you have a book in you, but don’t really know where to start; or perhaps you have started a project, whether a short story or a novel, but can’t seem to finish. Maybe you write for fun or profit (or both), but would like to expand your range, improve your style, or simply raise your game a little.
My intention is to offer no nonsense, unpretentious and practical advice on prose fiction, life writing, and, to a lesser extent, non-fiction and academic writing. This is, in part, an extension of my on-going teaching work, but it’s mostly just intended as an informal piece of knowledge sharing. Like most writers and academics, I love the sound of my own voice, after all, and like I said I’m compelled: a pure bred, card carrying, lock me up and bury the key graphomaniac.
On a more serious note, I frequently see the same common barriers to successful writing cropping up in the work I assess as an editor and teacher. I thus feel the sudden and urgent need to add my voice to the Babel of opinions concerning ‘creative writing’ that clog the internet, fill the bookshops, and are manifest in very exclusive and expensive university courses that have annexed, if not all but annihilated, traditional literary study. Creative writing tuition is now a major industry, and have you noticed that, having denied for years that academic credentials made any difference, literary agents are now asking prospective clients upfront if they’ve taken any creative writing courses. These things now feel like a necessary apprenticeship for the 21st century author, but there are currently so many touting for our business that it becomes harder every month to see the wood for the trees. I don’t claim to know all the courses and textbooks currently on the market, but I know a lot more than is probably healthy. And while there are some amazing guides out there – for example Andrew Cowan’s The Art of Writing Fiction, the old UEA Creative Writing Coursebook edited by Paul Magrs and Julia Bell, Syd Field’s Foundation of Screenwriting, the classic Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande, and anything by Derek Neale and Linda Anderson – there is also a lot of material that overwhelms, underwhelms, overcharges, and invariably overcomplicates. As Scotty teaches us in Star Trek, ‘The more complicated they make the plumbing, the easier it is to block a drain.’
My position, as a teacher and a published author (fiction and non-fiction), is that writing is more of a craft than an art (and that includes the ‘literary’), and that it can be learned and improved by practice combined with critical study. This has been my approach in guiding students and authors for twenty-odd years now, and I have been very successful at my job. I’ve also written a couple of very big books – a biography and a novel – and a positive shed load of articles and short stories over the years; so I’ve learned an awful lot about the creative process by actually doing it, rather than just talking about it.
I already blog academically about gothic film and fiction, but ‘Blot the Skrip’ is intended to be much more light-hearted and free-form. I’ll be sharing my experiences as a writer, editor and teacher, offering hints and tips on creative writing, a little bit of theory, some practical writing exercises, some of my fiction, and the odd technical review. I’m pretty busy, so I guess I’ll post when I can and when I feel like it, but I will aim for a couple of entries a month if at all possible. So join me, then, at the wheel of fortune, and whether you write to please others or to simply please yourself, I hope that some of what follows will prove useful when applied to your own projects. And remember, in the immortal words of Henry Havelock Ellis, ‘The great writer finds style as the mystic finds God, in his own soul,’ and, failing that, in the equally immortal words of the poet William Stafford, ‘Lower your standards and keep writing!’
NB: If you do get anything out of this blog, please do us a favour and ‘Like’ and ‘Share.’ Check out Shark Alley as well, it is a free serial, and our online creative writing courses at the Unthank School…