Some writing advice inspired by a chart intended one hopes for 14-year-olds (Not the chart I made for this post)

  • Not Writing: Read, that’s all. The more you read the better your writing will be. Read a (very) few books generally acknowledged to be bad writing. Work out why people say this about them. Read the books your parents and grandparents had to read at school and books by their writers’ contemporaries. (You may be offended, that’s fine. Learn to read with detachment, it’s a good skill to have). Make notes about what you read, or what has inspired you.
  • Pre-Writing: Plan, using the latest whizz-bang Dan Brown-approved Best Selling Novel SpreadsheetTM app , if it helps you. Don’t, if it doesn’t. Do keep a notebook, or put notes in your favourite portable digital device. Some people keep a notebook by their bed, too. This overlaps with Not-Writing. When you’re out and about your notebook or FPDD is your friend. Nobody’s memory is that good. If it is they’ll be working for an Intelligence Agency or a circus. (Which may be the same thing). Have an idea before you sit down, it doesn’t have to be yours, but your treatment of the idea must be. Suggested sources for stealing ideas:

a) Myth and Legend, Classical, Norse, Asiatic, Meso- American, Native American etc*

b) The Bible (or religious book of your choice)

c) Shakespeare

d) 19th Century writers

e) 20th/21st Century BAME writers (and any you can find before then).*

NB. Everything ever written has been written before — according to Booker there are only 7 basic plots — bear this in mind when you think you have thought of something outstandingly new. (Try to) write it in a new way.

*Be aware of possible accusations of cultural appropriation and ignore them, very few (but some) will be justified.

  • Rough Draft. Everything until you have a copy of your proof-read, structurally-edited, copy-edited, type-set, printed and bound trade-edition copy of your novel/short-story collection/epic poem in your hands is a rough draft. That said, the first time you get your writing down is the coal, hopefully the final result will be a diamond. Write this first version until the end. If you get to the end, that’s the time to go back. Or not: you may get absolutely stuck. This is probably the time for a rethink of your idea.
  • Revise. Grammar and spelling are important, in spite of what anyone tells you at school. They ensure that what you mean is understood by the reader. Grammar will help your sentences be understood. Ask the person you deride as a grammar nazi to check over a second or third revision of your piece. They will be flattered and disposed to be helpful rather than scornful, honest. When you’ve got it just so, check for plotting errors. It’s so easy to change someone’s name mid-piece. Your friendly grammar nazi will not spot this, they will be agonising over not recommending the use of a semi-colon in paragraph two because modern style guides frown upon them.
  • Read it out loud. Unless you are in some kind of exam. (Exams are a rubbish idea for CW courses. Feel free to disagree). If you are normally a confident person and feel embarrassed when you get to a certain phrase or line, this might tell you it doesn’t work. On the other hand most writers are hopelessly introverted (I am, but I’ve been fighting it all my life), so this might not help. Still it’s good to hear your words out loud, poetry or prose. With longer works, try reading out anything which you think is tricky or clumsy, just to check.
  • Show it to someone. Ask for criticism. Critical appreciation or “crit” if you will. This is not opinion. “You write bad” is opinion. “Crit” is “This piece doesn’t quite work because your portrayal of a cross-dressing assassin is not convincing. For example, neither their Chanel suit nor their Gucci clutch bag would accommodate a Heckler Koch machine pistol”. This is what ABCTales is for, for us introverts. Some are lucky enough to be studying at a good CW school, or be members of a real-live writers group, this is also good for showing your work to people. If you are this lucky, TAKE NOTES! RECIPROCATE! The more you give the more you get.
  • Re-write. Repeat as necessary any or all previous steps.
  • Don’t give up.


this is great. I remember someone asking if you need to read to write? Do you need to drink alcohol to get drunk? 


Superb advice, Ewan. A process makes such a difference and can definitely take a writer's work forward.