Posted by: stelladuffy | May 19, 2009

where to write

The Mrs (a writer too) has been talking to a mate of ours about whether she (the mate) should do a writing course. Leaving aside that it’s taught by people neither of us have ever heard of, and that I’d personally rather be taught by someone who’d published some at least, rather than very little if anything, it has lead me to start thinking about the whole courses thing.
I teach very occasionally, when other people ask me, when they are doing the bothersome work of setting it all up – and when I’m getting paid. But what I’m thinking about now is how I never quite get why people feel the need to go away to write. Or to ask other people to tell them how to write.
Just about the best thing about writing is that you really can do it by yourself. You don’t need permission, you don’t need a ticket or a degree or whatever it is you think you need, you just need some time and some space (not all the time or all the space) and then you (we all) need to get on with it.
I’m sure courses can be good. I’ve taught some lovely ones, had a great time doing it, and hope (believe) I’ve been useful in doing so. And some of them have been in great locations. But I’m sure some courses can be rubbish too. I know it’s nice to go away. But I really really don’t think it’s a prerequisite. And very few of the (published) writers I know go away to write. They write at home or in a rented office and they get on with it. It’s their job. Not their holiday.
Shelley thinks we should teach a course (!) called : HOW TO WRITE OUTSIDE YOUR WORLD WITHOUT LEAVING YOUR HOME. And she’s right, we could. Or you (we) could just get on and do it anyway.
So here’s my ten pointer for doing just that :
1. It’s not about writing in cafés or bars or bookshops, it’s about writing.
2. Practice writing at home. Being by the sea will not make you a better writer, nor will being in the country. It may, in fact, encourage you to go for walks instead of writing.
3. If you ask ten people what they think of your book, you’ll get ten different responses. Ask yourself (be honest!), and ask one or two very trustworthy/respected others.
4. Stop talking about doing it and writing about doing it and going to classes to learn how to do it and just do it. (And keep doing it until/as you get better at it.)
5. A new notebook will not make you write better. It is just a new notebook. (cf, new mac, new laptop, new pencil.)
6. Going somewhere you’ve always wanted to go is not the same as writing. Travel is fine and research is fine and libraries are fine and even google is fine too, but if it’s fiction, then making it up is a pretty good start. And making it up involves doing the writing.
7. You probably do not need to do another course, you probably just need to finish your book/story/play/film. And then edit it, re-write it, make it better.
8. Stop working on new ideas when you haven’t finished this one.
9. It isn’t supposed to be fun all the time, that’s why it’s called work.
10. Write. Stop reading other people’s opinions on how to write and write. Now.


  1. I’m going to need therapy for my stationery addiction.

    You forgot No.11 – Writing is lonely: team up and network, or deal with it.

    Speaking of getting on…

  2. bang-on, Stell. xx

  3. Yes all you say I agree XXX

  4. Brilliant – might have to print this out, change the title to ‘a kick up the arse’ and stick it in every room of my house and studio…

  5. I completely agree with all you have said except that I will say that occassionally a class or writing group can help one focus. This is going to sound incredibly trite and cliche and awful but I’ve been writing since I was a teenager…I’ve got endless notebooks full. I write. I read. I do all the things I’m supposed to do. There’s poetry, essays, flash fiction, ramblings, “exercises” and a few bombed out beginnings of something more. My problem? I don’t know what the *#!* to write about or what to do with what I have written. Sometimes I think a class could help me find a direction. College writing classes helped a lot…but it was a million years ago. I think it’s like any skill in the world…if you’ve got it and are using it you can’t possibly understand someone who can’t fathom doing what you do.

  6. What an excellent post. Thank you.

  7. Yep. Think I may have worn myself to the bone and run out of excuses. Start writing now, Smith. Long past time I did. Seriously, as opposed to dillettanteism (and I do have degreees in it…) xx

  8. [Hides £10,000+ interest degree in Creative Writing and makes a run forrit]

  9. @ Hayley : what to do with what you’ve written? get it out of the notebook and on to the screen (thence to the printed page)? I KNOW notebooks are nice, I too keep the old ones, but we do live in this printed/screen-fed world, and I think you do see it better once it’s gone from notebook to screen (or printed page). Then maybe you’ll be able to see more clearly what to do with it next …?
    That’s why I always need to print it up to edit. So it starts to look like a book/play/script …

    (Hmm, which leads me to question the let’s-get-rid-of-paper&print drive even further … can’t see actors easily giving up on paper scripts. How can you scribble all over an e-script?!)

    @ Giovanna – turns out I thought I was writing this about your conversation with Shelley and hers subsequently with me, but has also turned out to be pertinent to 2 other e-conversations I’ve been having today … maybe it’s in the air?

    @ Ali – I love the idea that some people will read that and think “Ali Smith? but doesn’t Ali Smith ALREADY write?”

  10. Couldn’t agree more. Was inspired by what Manda said about writing 500 words a day, and have been doing quite well, though the day job gets in theway rather. Yes, I was under the impression Ali Smith already wrote!

  11. I do worry about kids, and many grown-ups, shelling out £20k – £20k!!! – to do creative writing degrees. Even if combined with a bit of journalism; actually, especially so. There are so many charlatans out there offering to teach you this, teach you that, with bits of paper at the end of it. But if you’re a writer, the only bit of paper that matters is the one that carries your byline…

  12. I’m going on a writer’s retreat next month and for me it is more than an indulgence. I agree with everything you say, in principle, however ‘finding the time’ can be harder said than done, as is ‘conserving the energy / motivation to write’ when it’s fallen so far down your list of things to do.
    What the retreat is going to do for me is allow me to regain my focus, which I intend to use to power through as much of my next book as possible and, therefore, give myself back the bug of writing so I will MAKE the time to continue the book when I get back.
    I find it’s much like exercising. If you do it regularly it becomes part of your routine. It makes you feel better, physically and mentally, but if you stop you fill the time with something else and getting going again is always a bit of a struggle!

  13. Fantastic advice. Am going to print it out and stick to my wall after I get back from the cafe with my new macbook🙂

  14. heh! x

  15. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: