What is this writer showing you? (Ian Rankin)

This is from "Standing in Another Man's Grave" by Ian Rankin. Rebus is late for a meeting with his boss, Cowan. As you read this, think about the tiny details. What are they telling you? What is the dialogue telling you? He shook himself free of his overcoat and let it drip across the floor of the office to the hook on the far wall. "Thanks for taking the trouble," Cowan said. "Apologies, Danny." "Daniel," Cowan corrected him. "Sorry, Dan." Cowan was seated on one of the desks, … [Read more...]

Use deadlines to help you

Over the past few months, I’ve returned to study (although when it comes to writing, I feel like that never stops – I’m always learning something new, or sometimes I have to relearn an element of craft that I have “forgotten” about). Along with study come deadlines, for getting to class, completing homework and, most importantly, submitting work for grading. One of the things that I found so useful while doing my MFAC at Hamline was the monthly deadlines for packets of work – usually an essay … [Read more...]

Picture Book Insight: Writer Meredith Costain

Every now and then I will post an in-depth Q&A with a writer. The aim of this is to investigate the writing process and hopefully provide insights that are both inspiring and helpful. Meredith Costain is first, and gives us some great responses. 1. Where do your best picture book ideas come from? How do you develop them into texts (and how do you know when it's not working)? Ideas present themselves all the time. A snatch of conversation. A funny thing a child or pet does. Words and … [Read more...]

Creating a writing routine

Every year, thousands of writers vow that from the 1st of January, they will be more disciplined and they will write every day. Or write 5000 words a week. Or finish that novel draft by 30 June. New Year's resolutions for writers are no different than resolutions to get fit or lose weight or stop eating chocolate. You feel extremely motivated for a few days or a couple of weeks, and then something happens and you don't write for a few days and immediately you label yourself … [Read more...]

Pick apart published pages #1

Now and then I come across books where the standard of writing is so poor that no matter how intriguing the story is, I cannot get past the writing errors. I decided it was time to stop complaining and pick apart some sample pages to work out where the key problems were, and provide some thoughts for myself that might also be useful for you (especially if you are writing fiction). I'm going to do the close commenting first and then tell you the title and author at the end! Today's novel is … [Read more...]

The first draft (rules from Copyblogger)

    A handy poster about how to tackle your first draft. You can download it as a PDF from http://www.copyblogger.com/the-first-draft/ … [Read more...]

Poetry workshop: Revising a poem

Revising a poem is a patient process. You can rework the poem over a period of days or weeks or even months, and still not feel like you’ve “nailed” it. But here is a list of elements and questions to use as a guide. Is this the best title? Now you have written the poem and know what it’s about, look hard at your title again. Does it suggest another layer? Is it too long? Will it catch the reader’s attention? Look at my post on titles and apply what’s there (in fact, use all of the workshop … [Read more...]

Poetry workshop: figurative language

One of my favourite quotes about poetry is by Paul Engle: Poetry is ordinary language raised to the nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words. There are two ways of looking at the words in a poem. One is that every word must earn its place. This is why many poets revise by cutting and trimming – their focus is to hone the language until it says exactly what they want it to say. The second is to think of … [Read more...]

Poetry workshop: The stanza break

A lot of new poets do one of two things – they either write all of their poems in blocks with no stanza breaks, or they use lots of stanzas (or verses) without understanding why they’re doing it. I was in the first group for a long time. It was as if a stanza break with all that white space was too scary, too much of a decision! There is always a case for a poem with no stanza breaks. You might want something that feels totally cohesive and complete, or a stanza break or two may create pauses … [Read more...]

Poetry workshop: the line break

Where to break a line can be one of the most perplexing decisions for new poets. Is there a formula? A set of rules? No, not really - the decision-making process simply develops over time and with practice. But there are quite a few guides to help you. One is about line length. A longer line creates a sense of flow and slowness, it tends to be more rhythmic and "calming", even musical. Whereas short lines create a sense of pace, they are often less rhythmic and sometimes even jerky. … [Read more...]