Writing with Help : A Dilemma

I’ve talked before about the kinds of assistance you can have with your writing: join a writers’ group, take a course or find a tutor to work with, either for mentoring or for an appraisal. Think carefully which method will be most useful. A writers’ group is a good start but you will receive other writers’ work to comment on. A course on line which includes not only the tutor’s advice but also on-line group chat will make you give more attention to the words you set in front of others. The choice between mentoring or appraisal is a personal one but do research your options and consider the commitment to cost. If you use more than one kind of external input – and I’ve used all three – it’s possible you’ll get conflicting advice.

Recently, I had a tweet asking how to deal with conflicting advice. If this is concerned with detail, such as characters’ names, setting, date of story etc, that’s up to you. Don’t let anyone take you off your original path of what your novel is about, why you’re writing it, whom are you writing about and what this piece of work means to you. If your writing is not original, why are you spending time with it?


My first experience of working with a professional was joining an on-line novel writing course with the Unthank School of Writing tutored by Dr Stephen Carver. www.unthankschool.com Dr Carver’s comment on the start of the novel was I like the way the older teller surfaces with: ‘You note I say ‘assume’.  This was both helpful and encouraging. A fellow pupil liked the line, Being nine was so much better than being eight. The novel’s lead narrator is a child who has been 8, 9 and 10 at different stages of the novel. That comment from a reader was decisive. In his summing up at the end of the course, Dr Carver said: Your descriptions are tight…without overdoing it…your touch throughout it light. But also: this felt too much what we used to call ‘armour plating’…in fiction it’s misplaced to be this directive. Which was a truly firm piece of advice and directed me to a decision I had to take. Which leads to the question of differing advice.

I am now working with a mentor Emma Darwin. http://www.emmadarwin.com Every 2 months I submit a piece up to 11K words for a detailed mark-up. About 10 days later, we meet for one and a half hours. The mark-up often includes comments such as more here or I think this needs to be made clearer or you need to anchor this scene in time and place. We also discuss various aspects of the writing and the way forward.

One of her suggestions was that I write an outline of the novel in grid form, including plot points, characters as they first appear, dillema in each chapter and resolution or hook. I’d never done one before but it was a revelation and I refer to it often.  See blog Outlines and Timelines posted 9 June 2020.

Since , for this draft, I’m working with Emma I take her advice, stick to the outline – although I have made one change which grew out of having a grid outline, and add more words. When I look back at earlier work, my immediate reaction is that I’ve gained clarity but lost something from freshness of the prose. Since I accept that I must take the reader with me, I continue to follow Emma’s advice.

I will re-read and take decisions, once this draft is complete. That is my advice to other writers. I know the prospect of yet another draft is daunting but writing novels doesn’t happen overnight. By the way, keep all your drafts. Delete once the novel is published.





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