Quick thoughts on editing

From Warren Ellis’ excellent newsletter 1:

The trick is never to let yourself believe it is pouring fully formed from your fingers into a submittable file.  It’s all roughs.  It’s layering. It’s starting with the six lines you had, that you foolishly believe constitute “an idea,” and editing them and adding to them and sculpting them and building on them and then realising it’s shit and saving that version, renaming the file and starting again, going back to where you went wrong and rewriting, until you feel like you have the shape of something that might actually be useful.

I’ve been going over old writing and poems I did at the start of March and I remember none of it. Which is helpful, because then I can tear it apart and rebuild it.

More than ever, I consider this building and shaping as Warren Ellis calls it to be the actual craft of writing. A lot of joy comes from changing things as you go. Very few things start immediately perfect, but they usually have a germ of an idea within them. There’s a lot of fun in shifting and changing and altering to make that idea clearer or to get it to where you want to be. In the first draft, I find new images, but in subsequent ones I find a structure.

Assorted news and links

  • Theres a new poem of mine up on Fevers of the Mind. Its called Failed Hypothesis, go here to read it.
  • I love these cold clear winter days. Here’s a photo I took yesterday by the harbour:

  • If you’re writing anything in any capacity you should take some time to read this amazing essay by Kali Wallace. It’s something I’ve touched on before, the pressure to keep working, but articulated so beautifully and painfully:

Write something else. Write it faster. And network more, because those failures are your fault. You don’t follow enough writers on Twitter. You don’t read enough agent newsletters. You don’t go to enough conventions. You don’t know the right people.


  • Philip Levine reads Let Me Begin Again. Just a stunning poem.
  • On poetry, here’s readings from the recent T. S. Eliot prize. UK poetry is in a great space at the moment.

Starting again

Towards the end of last year, I finished two major projects I had been working on for ages, a short story collection and a poetry collection. I finished them to a stage where only minor changes were needed. 1 These sprawling ideas I had been carrying around in my head, my notebook and several disparate files suddenly existed as completed manuscripts.

So I come again to a blank page, with little idea of how to fill it. Ihave nothing major on the horizon and no particularly significant ideas. But I’ve been before. I know my way around this territory. I’m putting my trust in a process and expecting results.

I’ve started writing again in short stretches, ten or fifteen-minute bursts. I start with a word or phrase and see if I can get anything of interest in that time. Writing prompts are especially helpful for this as the germ of an idea is already in the asking.2. The spark file 3 I keep in my documents and old notebooks provide slithers of speech and ideas, the merest specs. In these writing times, I try to expand on the idea and try to push it beyond the obvious. Once I’ve dedicated a tiny amount of time to it, I might want to continue it. I might not. A story might suggest itself to me in the words, a promise of something new. Those are the ones worth pursuing. If the idea starts to recur when I’m doing other things, then it’s probably worth expanding out further. Maybe into a full story.

Writing like this feels like casting hundreds of lines into an ocean and only getting a couple of bites. Or else it feels like scrabbling around in the dirt for hours to find a tiny speck of gold. But it’s the only way I know how to generate new projects that I’m excited about. You write around an idea, building and adding and expanding until suddenly it’s a book.

This is where ideas come from- other ideas. In my experience, there’s no short-cuts to this, you just have to write and experiment until you find something that feels right. I haven’t got there yet, but I’m enjoying the process. Without a set plan, I am entrusting my next writing moves to my subconscious.

Whenever I start again, I feel like a newbie. There are times when I feel like I’ve never wielded a pen before. That’s why this stage is so exciting, as there are infinite possibilities and directions to take writing. It’s good to be a newbie, because then you can explore and find out more.

So here’s to the next thing, whatever it may be.


I’ll finally tidy up this place and keep it neat. It’s too dark! Too many cobwebs and not enough flaming torches. I’ll stop leaving tomes half opened on the lectern. Need to keep my ingredients in order. I can never find salamander’s tails when I need them. Similarly, I will stop leaving half-finished potions around the place. The number of times I’ve been interrupted then come back to find the laboratory filled with a putrid purple smoke, I tell you… It’s not good. I’m four hundred and seventy-two, I need to start clearing up after myself.

Once I tidy up, I will also finally investigate the strange portal in the corner of my laboratory and not just keep covering it up with a shawl. I’m sure it doesn’t lead to a good place. It’s been there for years, just buzzing like a disturbed hive of bees and glowing red occasionally.

On that note, this will be the year I finally empty the snake pit. It’s been too long and the bones are really piling up. I think the snakes may have joined together and formed a super snake.
Note- look up a spell of unbinding before I do this.

I resolve to be better. To start exercising and stop wasting time on irrelevant incantations. Focus! Maybe get back to transmuting? I know it didn’t work the first few hundred (thousand?) times but I’m sure I can turn lead into gold this time.

I’ll finally conjure some better guards. These zombies are fine, but they don’t move very fast and I’ve had them for ages. Bits of them are falling off. It’s unseemly. Also, when I’m out in nearby villages I’m not sure they do a lot. They should be protecting my spells and precious items from marauding adventurers.

I should explore more. See more of this world. I should appreciate each village I travel to. Maybe spend a couple of days soaking up the atmosphere, drinking in the local taverns, really getting to know people before revealing my true power and burning it all down.

Maybe I can learn guitar? Not everything has to be done for nefarious purposes. Some things can just be fun!

Inspired by a prompt from Tim Clare’s newsletter.

The Power of Paper

There’s a magical tool that allows you to focus right in on any problem. Or you can broaden it out and use it to explore the inner workings of your mind. It has endless possibilities and applications. I’m talking about paper of course.

Recently, I have found myself using paper and pen more to work out first drafts and even second and third. In my opinion, there is no finer tool for getting your thoughts down and exploring them. In this increasingly digital world, paper has not died off as many have predicted but has stuck around and even got stronger. A modern office will still have notepads and biros as well as computers, despite the apparent redundancy. A paperless office is rare and probably not desirable. Continue reading

Making it up as you go: Twin Peaks and Welcome to Nightvale

Spoilers ahead

I spent a highly enjoyable few months last year watching Twin Peaks, both the original seasons and the revival. Even now, twenty-seven years after the original series debuted, it remains a strange mix of police procedural and occult mysticism. The revival plunges even further into the mysticism and dream elements of the show. It’s not always entirely clear what the story is, but as an experience it is incomparable. Many parts of the show work on a dream logic, with images and moments that only seem to make sense in a subconscious way. The last episode, in particular, is terrifying, even though I could not fully articulate why. Continue reading

Advice to Myself: Writing and Resolutions

At the start of the year, we tend to set goals and resolutions. This year is going to be the year I start eating healthy, the year I finally learn guitar or the year I start running. Then, inevitably, around this time every year, most of the resolutions are discarded or broken. Maybe they never even started.

I’m by no means immune to this. I tell myself I’m going to Do Things Better. I might even do the thing for a week or two. But by the third week in, its often forgotten about until I decide to Do Things Better months later. That’s the downside of habits, it can be easy to fall out of them as it can to fall into them. That’s why I’m writing this blog post, mostly to remind myself of the power of habits. Continue reading

There is No Exit: Flash Fiction

A quick flash fiction written from a prompt from Chuck Wendig once again. This time, the prompt was ‘There is no exit.

Ivor trudged home. It had been a long, hard day. He had got into the office at 7 in the morning and it was past 10 at night now. The office was struggling to complete the audit and he had to pitch in. Still, it was better than previous years, back in The Agency. His thoughts started to drift back to- No. He was stronger than that. Continue reading

Oak Tree Manor: Flash Fiction

Another story from a prompt at Terrible Minds. This week was a mash-up of genres. I got ‘Haunted House’ and ‘Body Horror’. Enjoy!

William shifted uneasily in the bed. It was no use. He couldn’t sleep. Every time he was just about to drop off, he was woken by a creaking in the great house. It seemed to be coming from all around him, loud and all-pervasive. The sound filled his ears and jolted him from the edge of much-needed sleep.

Clearly, it wasn’t going to happen. He sat up in bed, then fumbled for the matches he had left next to the huge oak bed. He couldn’t find them. The dark was making him jumpy. With a sigh of relief, he found the box and lit the candle that was next to his bed. The oppressive darkness was replaced by flickering shadows. William wasn’t sure if this was an improvement or not.

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My accidental novel: Thoughts on first drafts

I accidentally wrote a novel. Well, it certainly started that way. I started working on a short story in December, setting out a really basic outline and running with it. After about ten thousand words, I realised I had barely scratched the surface. Clearly, this short story was something more expansive. The story demanded a larger setting. So I continued on until finally, last weekend, I typed THE END. What was a short story has now turned into something approaching short novel length. I had very little idea what I was doing and even less of an idea on how I was doing it.

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The importance of a creative routine

my journal, it all it's scruffy glory
One of the most important changes I have implemented in the last couple of years has been a creative routine. I find it helpful to work regularly towards a goal, writing every day instead of waiting for inspiration to strike. Showing up whether I feel like it or not. When I was writing Amber Stars: One Night of Stories, I woke up at six every weekday, wrote for 45 minutes then got on with the rest of my day. I’ve kept it going since and have drafted several short stories, a play and a novella in the past months. A regular time to write, while the world is quiet, has been immensely helpful for getting the words written.
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August bits and bobs

We sat on a cliff, watching the sky turn from purple, to amber, to darkness. There was beauty all around us, we just needed to stop and wait for it.
I was away for a large portion of August, with my phone deliberately turned off. I was in the Isle of Skye and saw amazing things, like the sunset above. As such, I don’t have much this month, but there are a few things I enjoyed:

  • I wrote about Free Speech a little while ago, so was interested to read about the group who try and promote it as a big issue. The only problem is, they seem to be achieving the opposite:
    Continue reading

Writing Fast and Sloppy

So this is a post on freewriting and i am carrying on writing without stopping and i can’t stop i just have to keep writing writing got to keep writing and-

Whenever I’ve had a spare ten minutes recently, I’ve been practising freewriting. It is fantastically simple. Open up a blank word document, set a timer and just write with great speed. I ignore typos, ignore grammar and just focus on filling the page. Generally, if my mind goes completely blank I just start to repeat “Writing, Writing” over and over again until my mind snags on something and I start again. The result is 500 words or so of the above.
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July Links: Summer was on a Tuesday this year

I’ve been really busy this month with all good things. I went to three music festivals, canoed down the Thames and generally had lots of good times.. But in between playing Pokemon Go, there’s been a few articles and things that are worth reading:

  • The ever reliable Leo Babuta with some writing advice. It’s advice from more of a mindfulness perspective. This is particularly helpful advice i feel:
    >Anyone can write, and everyone should. You don’t have to be James Joyce to write. Even if you never want to be a pro, you can write in a journal every day, or write letters to a loved one (and send them or not). You don’t have to be polished. And it’s a great practice, to learn to focus and overcome fears and procrastination, and learn to allow the words to flow from the mind.
    Continue reading