Tag Archives: writing tips

Anachronisms and pesky unknown unknowns to puzzle us

key on keyboard labelled Oops! for mistakeWriters of historicals are always on the lookout for anachronisms. They still trip us up, time and again. But the real elephant traps are the unknown unknowns [© D Rumsfeld?], the things we don’t know we don’t know—and, as a result, we don’t know we’re getting wrong.

I was prompted to write this blog by some of the reactions to my post about habit words, a couple of weeks ago. woman with clock, pointing finger at headSo this week’s post is about anachronisms of various kinds.

Anachronisms? The standard definition is something out of its time—an object, an expression, an attitude—something that does not belong in the period of the story.

We wouldn’t put electric light in a Regency setting, for example. That one is easy to spot. But how am I, as a historical writer, supposed to spot the ones that lurk in the undergrowth of my ignorance? Continue reading

Habit Words : Use, Abuse, Remedies

snoopy at pink typewriterDo you use habit words in your writing?

I bet you do. Perhaps all authors do? A few weeks ago, in her excellent presentation on snappy dialogue at the RNA Virtual Conference 2020, Virginia Heath confessed to overusing the phrase “he huffed out” as a speech tag for her heroes. Virginia, being a professional, knows how to catch and reduce her use of habit words. Do you?

To start at the beginning: what are Habit Words?

yellow bollards, repetition concept

Repetition can be boring. And people do notice…

Habit words and phrases are part of an author’s voice, the words and phrases that come naturally and automatically, that trip off the tongue, that make the writing sound like you. Continue reading

Scribbler’s Progress: Learning from Fellow Writers

writer's tools for scribbler's progressTrying to write during lockdown has set me pondering my Scribbler’s Progress.

I have learned a lot about writing over the years. Some came from experience; also, an occasional discovery of my own. But a lot was quite simply from reading great books or discussing with and listening to other writers.

Remembering has been a pleasure – and salutary for my next project. So I thought I would share, in case some of this might help someone else.

Scribbler’s Progress Milestone 1

@sophiewestonbks in IrelandI wrote stories very happily as long as I could remember. It was a nasty shock, therefore, when I found myself living half way up a cliff in Country Kerry re-writing the same scene for SIX WEEKS until I ran out of time and money.

So I cobbled something together and sent the thing off to publishers. They all  turned it down. I heaved a sigh of relief and haven’t looked at it again.

But the experience shook me. Maybe I wasn’t a writer after all? Until I vaguely remembered something I’d read… Continue reading

Filing to keep your WIP safe : writing craft

woman against background of question marksA few weeks ago, I read Elizabeth Hawksley’s blog about the difficulties she had when first trying to turn one of her backlist into an ebook. She’d been filing her old manuscripts in chapters that she thought she could use. But the files turned out to include competing versions. She had real problems stitching together a continuous MS.

Elizabeth, you had all my sympathy.
Been there, done that.
Don’t have the t-shirt but probably should. Continue reading

Criteria for Plural Phenomenon : Pedantique-Ryter rants

The other week, when I was reading the news online — I do occasionally use the internet, in case you were wondering — I came across an advert from a major UK bank. It may be one of the largest in the world, but it certainly is not the most educated. crime scene tapeThe HSBC advert (for it was they!) said, roughly:

The criteria for our offer is X…

Not an exact quote, but the subject of the sentence was the word “criteria” and the verb was definitely “is”.  And I decided, on the spot, that I could never, ever bank with HSBC.

oops! key on keyboardEven the authors in the Libertà hive know better.
I mentioned it to dear Sophie on the telephone and I could hear her teeth grinding.
Quite right, too.

Sophie knew better. Why didn’t #hsbc ?

Criteria? Singular or Plural?

Continue reading

Writer’s Clues

This week I have been considering – no, make that marvelling at – writer’s clues we novelists leave sprinkled about our stories. The clue is always a key to unlock some crucial element of plot or character when it becomes important. In other words, later. A breath from the future.

Some are for the readers, especially if we’re writing some sort of whodunnit, whether the crime is murder or stealing a pig.

But some are for ourselves. And some come as a complete surprise to us when we get to the crucial moment. Continue reading

A Writer’s Dilemma : Creating or Editing

romantic novelist busy creating or editing

The writing life is hard. And some parts of it are harder than others. [Yes, I know. Cue violins?]

light bulb image for ideasWhen i do talks for readers, they regularly ask me, “Where do you get your ideas from?” I answer. Of course I do. But for me — and, I suspect, for a lot of other writers — the challenge isn’t finding new ideas to write about. My challenge is turning the zillions of ideas fizzing around my brain into words on the page.
Thousands and thousands of words.

man reading book in open air

If you’ve read any great books recently, the chances are that you raced through thousands of words in a few hours. Perhaps you missed out on several hours’ sleep because you just had to keep turning the pages? That’s really pleasing for the writer. But it’s also daunting. Because you, dear reader, may well want another book by the same author.
Now. Immediately.

It takes a few hours to read a great book. It takes months, or years, to write one.

Getting the words down : creating or editing?

Continue reading

Incoherent English : a Pedantique-Ryter Rant

Incoherent English? Yes, another bee in the Pedantique-Ryter bonnet.

Radio 4 Today programme in the dock for incoherent speech

industrious bee on flowerIn a short interval between my summer educational tours, I happened to be listening to what the pundits maintain is the UK’s “must-listen” political programme — BBC Radio 4’s Today. I heard an interviewer ask a question that was incoherent.

To save that interviewer’s blushes, I shall not repeat the actual words used. The question was roughly along these lines:

“As a supporter of the Rational Incoherence Party, I’m sure our listeners will want to know whether you would support policy X.”

Question: who is the supporter of the RIP?
[Note: As far as I know, no political party admits to that name. Perhaps one of them should?] Continue reading

Writing Energy Renewed

Writing energyRecently, I learned some things about my writing energy which seemed to have reached an all time low.

They surprised me. So I thought that some other writers might find my experience helpful. Or at least interesting,

writing energy magic, book, bluebell wood

As many readers know, I sometimes go off into the countryside as a Birdwatcher’s Companion. He’s a great chap to walk the hills with, knowledgeable and generous when I ask about plants and wildlife

But he’s also happy for me to go off into my own little fantasy world, if that’s where the mood takes me.

I really love going into sometimes quite Writing Energy early morning walkremote and even lonely places. For there is always the Back-Up Person with the Binoculars, on hand in case I fall down a rabbit hole.

No matter how tired I am when we start, it seems that I always come back with my writing energy renewed and a spring in my step. 

Writing Energy Lost

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Writing Retreats : Pleasures and Pitfalls

woman reading book in hammock against dark sky

Writing retreats do NOT include this. Sadly.

I’ve been on quite a few writing retreats. And as you read this blog, I’m probably off on another one. If you’re reading this blog after 20th March, though, you’re too late. I’m back 😉

This post is about writing retreats in general, and what I’m hoping to get out of this particular one. I’m also looking at some of the benefits of writing retreats and — sorry, but I won’t lie to you here — the pitfalls.

Writing retreats : what are they? what do writers do there?

Continue reading