Writers, Engage The Monster!

If you’re a writer, and you get stuck – well, I know how horrible that can be. I put my first novel aside for about 10 (!) years. So you might find some use in this writing tip I wrote for the Arvon Foundation.

It arose quite naturally, when I was teaching a group of people writing memoirs. One of them in particular seemed to be putting off writing something very important.

When the request came through, from Arvon HQ in London, I happened to be eating a late breakfast at the Yorkshire outpost, Lumb Bank. Toast and jam, as I recall. My fellow tutor, Alice Jolly, was teaching the group in the adjacent barn.

I could have postponed replying, because that’s always tempting and it’s what I often do. But the writing tip I wanted to share was about Getting On With It, so I did just that.

I popped into the garden and recorded a video:

The people at HQ seemed pleased, and asked if I could also provide a writing tip in text format.

Here it is:


Meet the monster

Sometimes when we are writing something we fall in love with a great idea, and we know it’s going to be just amazing – because it will be so thrilling / upsetting / funny / whatever.

And we do all in our power to postpone actually writing it. We might stop writing altogether. Or come up with all sorts of guff to put in front of the reader “to build up the excitement” (and build up the word count).

But there’s a good chance the reader is not excited. Because, unlike you, the reader doesn’t know about the amazing thing you are building up to.

If this happens to you, it’s because you’ve allowed your amazing thing to turn into a monster in your head. It has started to frighten you, with its loud roar and smoky breath.

So engage the monster! Be like the hero in an adventure story: get your sword out and charge straight at it. Write the thing that you’re most scared of writing – immediately.

You might come out bloodied, and bruised. The monster may still be roaring and stamping its monster feet. But I can promise that you will come out alive. And you’ll find everything else so much easier afterwards.


I hope that helps.

By the way, that person in the group who had been putting off writing something big – she did it. She engaged the monster. I was the first person to hear what she wrote, the same afternoon I recorded this video, and I was impressed.

At the end of the week she read it aloud to the whole group, and several people were in tears.