Many people dream of writing a book – but freak out and never do it, precisely because it is a book.
The investment of time seems vast, the readership is unfamiliar, and the writing itself requires mastery of new skills.
I know how overwhelming it can be.
For a start, there’s the problem of self-belief. “Who do you think you are?”, kind of thing.
Well, every writer starts with imposter syndrome. Here’s Shakespeare, feeling like a fraud writing from the point of view of a woman:
I made that up, obviously, but you get the idea. The point is that if you want to write, you should write.
The key thing is to get started, and get lots of ideas down before you start finding fault with them.
What other people might think about your writing is a matter for another day. But not now.
How to start
As with any kind of communication, the first thing to consider is not What To Write but what you want to achieve by it.
You needn’t tell anyone else exactly what your motive is, but try to be clear about it yourself. And keep thinking about it, because it will probably change.
When I look back at my own motive for writing books, I can see several changes. At first, I was just desperate to publish a book.
I wanted to be a writer!
I looked for a subject that might give me the best chance of that – something about which, despite my youth, I had expertise. Something nobody else could have written in exactly the same way.
Looking back, I remember that I came up with motives that sounded a bit nobler, to share with people who might ask. I had less noble motives too (“I’ll show them! This will set the record straight!”) but didn’t share those.
What about you?
What makes you so keen to write a book? Why should YOU write it? How will readers be changed (even slightly) by reading it?
Writing is easier when you don’t do it alone
In the last few years I’ve mentored several talented writers. Most (not all) had publishing deals already.
The work has been very hands-on.
Sometimes it’s like ghostwriting, with me actually coming up with text. More often, I’m like an editor, making comments and suggestions – at sentence level and for the book as a whole.
You might be surprised to learn that even authors with publishing contracts can be poorly supported by time-poor editors. They pay me to fill the gap.
Mostly, the people I work with are writing non-fiction. But every story is shaped like fiction, and you’ll write better if you remember that.
I learned it working as a journalist, working full-time at Financial Times, The Guardian, The Sunday Times. I specialised in long magazine stories that used techniques from fiction – scene-setting, dialogue, cliffhangers – to keep readers reading.
Since leaving full-time journalism, I’ve published seven books of my own (in 16 languages): non-fiction, fiction, poetry, illustration, memoir and how-to.
Some were commissioned, others written on spec. So I know what it’s like to write with support, and without.
It’s easier WITH
If you’ve read this far (and I see that you have!) you might like to know how I work with authors.
Well, there are several different ways – because authors have different budgets.
I’ve already mentioned the hands-on, one-to-one work.
For writers who work this way with me, I offer 2 × 60min Zoom sessions each month, to discuss work in progress. I’ll read as much as 5,000 words beforehand, make suggestions on paper, and send it back.
We record the Zoom sessions and I give writers full access to the transcript and an AI tool I use myself to “interrogate” the transcript for additional ideas. Some have told me they listen again and again to the recordings, at faster than normal speeds, while driving or cooking or whatever.
As well as one-to-one work, I frequently teach residential courses. I’ve been doing that for several years with Arvon, the foundation set up by Ted Hughes.
I run my own courses too.
In 2024 I’m running a year-long programme of courses, with monthly Ask-Me-Anything drop-ins on Zoom for members.
Introducing. . .
As well as the drop-ins, there’s a Private Group on Telegram, where you can find allies, learn from each other, and hold yourself accountable.
Each month there are two live sessions of Interview Club, for you to practice talking about your writing on camera.
And these are some of the courses that will run across the year:
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LIVE How to Silence your Inner Critic.
Write your Book Proposal - Fast.
Impro for Storytellers.
How To Think Like a Journalist.
Create Scenes and Drive Narrative.
A Writer's Guide to Rhetoric.
Core Elements of Your Story.
The Spectrum of Publishing.
Shaping the Writing as you go.
Getting Your Book out there.
If you are on a very tight budget, start by joining one of the online courses, when it comes up. If you like it, you can upgrade to join the Writer’s Year ✏️ membership, with the monthly drop-ins, access to the recordings, and the private Telegram group.
After that, if you’re still making progress, and if I have any availability, you may want to upgrade to one-to-one mentoring.
Either way, to help you make up your mind, I’m offering FREE, no-commitment conversations on Zoom.
Seriously, I would love to talk to you, because it helps me to establish what kind of help for writers I should focus on.
Apply for a slot
You may be surprised how much clarity you get in even 15 minutes – whether or not we go on to work with each other.
To qualify for a conversation, please complete this short survey below.
Several programmes, different budgets
Answers to this survey help me to create a wide range of writing support, for different budgets.
Thank you for taking the time to fill it in.
A Writer’s Year ✏️