The Best 9 Short and Snappy Podcasts for Fiction Writers

 

I love the conversational style of many podcasts. They allow the listener to get to know a podcast’s host(s) and their guests in a very real way, and that’s nice. But it has a downside. Sometimes the tips, tricks and advice you came for can get lost in the chatting and banter and in-jokes. Sometimes, the digressions are just too frequent. Sometimes, just sometimes, you wanna get what you need and sneak out the backdoor without a by-your-leave!

Short podcasts are like the one-night-stands of the podcast world. They’re for writers that wanna get straight down to the nitty-gritty. They are for writers that don’t want to get to know their podcast hosts. Writers that are a teensy bit commitment-phobic. And sometimes, I’m one of those writers. They are also for the time poor writers who have to cram their writing-related learning into time snatched here and there.

So I went on a journey of discovery, to find the shortest and sweetest podcasts around, and here they are:

1. Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing

When it comes to the main focus of this podcast, the clue is in the name: this girl digs grammar. Grammar isn’t exciting, let’s face it, but she deals with her subject-matter with such enthusiasm that she manages to transfer some of her excitement to the listener.

In terms of the rest of her content, I’d describe it as eclectic. She explores interesting linguistic conundrums and the origins of certain words. These things might have no practical use for the majority of writers, but they’re interesting all the same.

Listen to this: I’m known to commit a wide variety of criminal acts with commas, so here is a good episode on the comma splice.

2. Writing Excuses

WARNING! I originally believed that this podcast would provide me with fresh excuses for not writing. Some new excuses would come in reeeeaally handy. I was very disappointed when I realised that this channel provides you with ZERO writing excuses. Zilch. None. Nada. Instead, this crowd of ‘bait and switchers’ have the gall to offer advice on how to get writing again. Disgraceful! So if writing is what you want to do, this podcast is really very good. If you’re looking for ways to explain your lack of writing activity, you’re going to have to look elsewhere.

Writing Excuses is a very popular podcast that has been around for twelve years. They have a massive back-catalogue of brilliant podcasts featuring a stable of excellent hosts and a huge variety of different guest writers, so the voices and perspectives are well mixed and kept lively, fresh and interesting from week to week.

The USP of Writing Excuses a writer’s podcast is that its episodes are short, and they rarely stray over the twenty-minute mark. Perfect. There is no room for idle chit-chat or digressing here. Each episode contains craft-focused advice. Each season (of which there are now twelve) focuses on a different aspect of the job of writing a novel. Also, they have transcripts for all of you committed ‘readers’ out there as well as writing exercises to practice what you have learned.

Listen to this: I found it hard to pick one podcast because there are so many good ones. I settled on this one: ‘Blocking’.

3. Helping Writers Become Authors- KM Weiland

This podcast is hosted by writer K.M. Weiland, and she has put together over four-hundred episodes, very few of them straying over the fifteen-minute mark. It doesn’t feature guests or other hosts, it is just her lovely voice offering lovely writing advice. The content varies from book reviews to opinion pieces on how to write a novel. At the beginning of each episode, she manages to squeeze in a short update what is going on in her world, followed by snappy, on-point bursts of advice, so you feel like you get to know her as a person whilst also getting the benefit of a nice, short podcast.

Listen to this: Check out the 12 February 2018 episode – ‘Cohesion and Resonance! Cohesion and Resonance! Cohesion and Resonance!’

4. Writing Coach- Ann Kroeker

Ann Kroeker’s podcasts are proof that the best things come in small packages. There are only a handful of episodes over the ten-minute mark. There’s a mix of really useful content for writers here: from advice on how to effectively use social media to managing your perfectionist tendencies. This podcast is great for inspiring you to write and spurring you on– Kroeker is a coach after all!

Listen to this: I find editing to be the most confusing and overwhelming part of the writing process, here’s a great podcast episode on High-Level Edits.

5. 10 Minute Writer’s Workshop

This podcast, hosted by Virginia Prescott, is really brilliant in terms of the quality of the content, but it also stands out for the quality and clarity in terms of its production and the calibre of their guests. Though there are many author interview podcasts, this one is specifically aimed at writers. These are interviews with writers for writers. And they interview all kinds of people that write for a living, including the less obvious. You will hear about writing from the perspective of cartoonists, writers that co-author, songwriters and even an associate Supreme Court Justice. You will also get to listen to successful and esteemed fiction writers such as Tana French, Colson Whitehead and Emma Donoghue. Sadly, the podcast is no longer producing new episodes, but there are sixty existing ones to get through, so enjoy!

Listen to this: I found it really hard to pick a favourite, but Workshop 30: Jodi Picoult is really good. I really connected with as she is attracted to the really dark stuff and I think we are alike in that way.

6. Story Works Round Table

This is a fairly new podcast with really fantastic conversations around craft.

Listen to this: Balancing the elements of your narrative is one of the greatest challenges of writing a good novel. This is a great episode ‘Balancing Action and Non-Action’.

7. The Guardian Books Podcast

The podcast episodes are described as ‘small and mighty’ and they certainly are. This is a podcast aimed primarily at readers, so it features a lot of author interviews and readings from big names such as Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan. But the real gold for writers, in my opinion, is to be found in the discussions around thematic trends. The hosts and guests discuss things like memory, and Greek mythology, and black history. There is so much here to inspire and inform a writer as we listen to people, experts in their chosen topic, dive deep and share their knowledge with the audience.

Listen to this: The theme of memory and its connection with identity is a common one in novels. In ‘Do Our Memories Make Us Who We Are?’  the hosts discuss this question with Wendy Mitchell (author of the memoir, ‘Somebody I Used to Know’) and neurologist, Jules Montague.

8. The Open University Creative Writing Podcast

This is an old, and sadly defunct podcast from 2008, but the beauty of writing tips is that very few of them go out of date. There are only thirty-four gorgeous episodes, author-interview based, and they are absolutely TINY in terms of length, rarely do they exceed the ten-minute mark. They are like the Snickers of the podcast world, a small snack but satisfyingly dense in terms of content.

Listen to this: Tanika Gupta on ‘Voice

9. The Portfolio Life- Jeff Goins

You have probably heard of Jeff Goins by now. This goes to show how good he is at putting himself out there. He is proof positive of what effective self-promotion can do. He now makes a living from writing, something so many of us aspire to.

The episodes in this podcast aren’t all short, but many of them are around the thirty-minute mark, so I’m including this podcast on my list. There are some craft episodes in there, but the vast bulk of his content falls into two categories: practical business advice and more abstract advice on inspiration and the magic of writing.

Goins is well aware that modern writers are expected to be many things. Gone are the good old days that writers could shut out the world, get drunk and get on with the business of writing. Most writers hate the idea that they will have to get involved in the murky business-end of books, but unfortunately, all writers now have to make efforts to sell themselves, regardless of whether they are self-published or not. It’s not enough to just write a great novel, you have to tell the world how great it is– often enough to get it into people’s psyches, not so much that you seem like a braggart or the literary equivalent of Del Boy trying to flog your wares out of the back of a dusty old van. It’s hard to imagine being a salesperson as an author and maintaining your dignity, but Jeff can help you out here, because he’s a good writer, but he also happens to be a skilled salesman and platform-builder. Things that all writers should aspire to be.

Listen to this: This is a good episode about establishing your platform personality 3 Steps you can Take Today to Start Making a Living Writing

Add Sarah Werner and 10 Minute Writer’s Workshop

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Why Writers Should Learn to Listen — to Podcasts

For a long time, I didn’t understand the allure of the podcast for aspiring writers. I didn’t understand the point in listening to advice on writing as opposed to reading it. It felt a bit like cheating on the written word to me, but I’ve since learned that I’ve been seriously missing out on some great entertainment with a side-order of excellent fiction-writing advice.

As with most things, with the exception of learning how to base jump from the roof of a very tall skyscraper, writing is learned best by just throwing yourself into it. Doing it, doing it badly and then redoing it. Because, unlike a misjudgment made whilst freefalling from a tall building, the mess can be fixed with a discerning eye and a delete button. But there are nuggets of advice-gold to be found in them thar podcasts, but something else too. Something just as precious. Writers are a sharey bunch, and they are sharing their experiences of writing with you. Their ups, their downs, their highs, their lows. Many of them will resonate, and it makes you feel a little less alone in your writing bubble. And all of these people came out the other side with a finished story. That’s reassuring. Not as reassuring as a safety net might be for that reckless base-jumper, but reassuring nonetheless.

Here are my top reasons to listen to writer’s podcasts:

1. You learn free of charge

I am yet to find a podcast that charges, but podcasts do cost people time and therefore money to produce. Most podcasts raise the money to produce episodes through advertising, and they get advertising based on listenership, so please, at a minimum, subscribe to a podcast if you like it. Other podcasters have a Patron site or similar, where you can make donations, or they are writers themselves, so buy their books. Podcasts are incredible resources, so keeping them going is in all of our interests.

2. You get access to some great minds

Podcast creators are often great minds in and of themselves and have so much to offer, but many podcasters invite really incredible guests on to discuss writing. The only way you will get to hear these people speak in many cases, is by hoping that they’ll attend a writing event near you, or wait, pen and notepad at the ready, for them to do a radio or television interview. Podcasts give you access to some incredible literary minds, and the best thing is you can rewind and replay a podcast over and over.

3. You can learn while you do other things

You can listen to a podcast while doing anything– except writing. I can’t listen and write at the same time. But you can clean, walk, watch the kids, commute etc. while listening away.

4. You feel like you’re listening to a friend

Writing is a lonely profession. Listening to a podcast makes you realise that other people are going through the same trials and tribulations that you are, and it makes you feel like you are part of a community.

So I’m going to recommend some podcasts…

Due to my newly discovered love of the podcast I’ve decided to write a few posts, concentrating on the various categories of podcast aimed at writers, and though many of them overlap to some extent in their content, I’m going to categorise them based on what the majority of their podcast episodes deal with, and I’m also going to write a post on short podcasts for those of you that can’t dedicate an hour or so of your day to listening attentively:

1. Writing Advice podcasts:

These podcasts might deal with the craft of storytelling, or they might deal with the nuts and bolts of grammar or punctuation. It is often solid, tried and tested advice mixed with the experiences of the host/guests in terms of what works for them.

2. Motivational and Inspirational podcasts:

These deal with the creative side of writing.

3. Business podcasts:

These involve discussion around the business of writing, such as marketing and platform-building. These are very important, as all writers must know how to build their audience, regardless of whether they are published or self-published. I include ‘techy’ podcasts in relation to marketing in this category.

4. Author Interview podcasts:

Authors will often read from their book and talk about how their novel came to fruition. Though these aren’t specifically ‘advice’ podcasts, it is always interesting to hear about the processes of other writers. You might learn something.

5. Book review podcasts:

Though these podcasts aren’t specifically aimed at writers, there are two reasons that a writer might want to listen to a podcast like this. Firstly, it is really important that a writer learns how to dissect a novel and analyse its composition. What works, what doesn’t. Listening to a book reviewer will help you to develop those critical thinkings skills. It also reminds you that you have an audience to cater to, and what kinds of things might they say about your novel if they were reviewing it.

6. Short podcasts:

There are a number of podcasts out there that pride themselves on being brief and to the point and come in under thirty minutes per episode. They fit into the various categories above but deserve an entire post of their own as I love trying to fit a few episodes into a day as I snatch time here and there.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be putting together posts on specific categories of podcasts, and picking the best from each bunch. Let me know in the comments if you have any favourites you want me to take a look at.

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Starting The Second Novel- Feelings

 

I usually like to eat negative feelings into oblivion one cheesy corn-snack at a time, or drown them thoroughly with a nice glass (bottle) or two of red wine. Mostly, I like to bury them in the deep, deep sands of denial. But apparently, writing your feelings down is supposed to be cathartic and therapeutic. Thankfully, I like to write, so there’s some hope of getting through this period of emotional turmoil without ending up with diabetes or cirrhosis of the liver.

I am supposed to be starting my second novel today, and as you can see, instead of doing that I’m writing this blog post. So why amn’t I writing my novel? I have everything I need to begin: a good idea, experience and I know the process. The prospect of starting that magical first draft process anew should fill me with anticipation, excitement and happy tingles.

And yet? And yet.

I am terrified.

For all of you embarking on your first novel, I’d love to tell you that having finished it you’ll be brimming with confidence. That you’ll strut to your desk with a popped collar, crack your knuckles to get to work on book #2– you probably won’t. You’ll likely be full of apprehension and procrastinate for a long time. Like me. And here are five reasons why:

1. The second novel is notoriously difficult

The myth of the difficult second novel will have drilled its way into your psyche by now. If it hasn’t, I just popped it in there. Sorry about that. Obviously, if you keep hearing that something is going to be difficult, it fills you with dread. If professional, successful, published authors feel that fear, then it is normal for you and me to feel it too.

I remember draft #1 of my first novel so well. Before I started I read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’. King advised me that magic was involved. That magic is what carries you from day to day. You don’t know where the words and ideas are springing from, but they come. It was surprisingly easy to write 2000 words or more every day. I had the ‘writing fever’ as JK Rowling likes to call it.

What if you can’t conjure that magic again the second time around? I suppose we need to just try and remember the feelings we had before starting the first book, and how well it all turned out in the end– in other words, we need to have faith in the process.

2. This novel won’t be as good as the first

This is a danger. I mean, this is a real danger. I’m not a published author, yet. So I don’t have an audience to please. There are no expectations weighing me down. But the way I’ve decided to look at this is: reactions to the stories themselves are totally subjective. Whether a story is more interesting or engaging than another, is entirely down to the reader. If you would read it, then write it. You’re as good a judge as anyone else. When it comes to the objective stuff, such as the quality of the writing, you should be able to craft a better novel the second time around. Or at least, you should find it easier to craft a good novel the second time around. We know the wrong turns we took the first time around, and we know how to avoid them.

3. My Second Novel is too Similar/Different to the First

Published authors embarking on their second novel are terrified of trying something new but equally terrified of writing something too similar to the last novel and becoming formulaic in their approach. That is the fear that writers have. However, some readers enjoy the familiarity. They feel that reading their favourite author should be like putting on a pair of comfy, well-worn slippers at the end of the day. This mostly applies to genre fiction or serial fiction. And I love a bit of genre fiction now and again. How comforting it is to put on those comfy slippers and relax.

Other readers like to see the range of what one writer can do. I’m also this kind of reader. I don’t mean that I want the writer to jump from one genre to another, but if the writer is ‘genreless’, I like to be surprised. I crave a completely new experience from that same writer. If I discover a really good author, I trust them to write something good and to write something compelling. Something that I can’t possibly predict.

Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite authors because she manages to do both. She writes a lot of dystopian/speculative fiction, but she doesn’t limit herself to that, so I don’t count her as a genre writer. Each of her novels differs in voice and content, and whilst some, like Oryx and Crake, are as funny as they are dark, some are very serious in their tone such as The Handmaid’s Tale. When it comes to placing those two books side by side, you’d think they were written by two different authors. I think that’s an amazing feat to pull off without compromising on the quality of the writing itself. When I pick up a Margaret Atwood novel, I’m guaranteed three things:

(a) A gripping plot

(b) A well-written story

(c) It will be different to her last.

I trust her to deliver, whatever the content of the book. I hope that if I can have her confidence and attitude, my novel, despite being very different, will be as good as my first. I hope that when they are published, my readers will trust me to produce something good every time, and not worry that one book differs too much from the last.

Of course, Margaret Atwood can get away with this stuff because she’s Margaret Atwood. Margaret Atwood is in a position to do whatever the hell she likes at this stage, but who’s to say that one day you won’t be nipping at her ankles, as you rise through the ranks. Who’s to say you can’t make diversity work for you.

4. I won’t love this book the way I loved the first

At times, when I was writing my first novel, I felt an incandescent rage towards it. When the characters weren’t behaving or the plot just wouldn’t knit together and I couldn’t think of solutions or because it felt like the editing would never end. But mostly, I loved my book. I adored the characters, the island, the plot– all of the things that I had created. They made me happy. They made me feel proud. I had written a book that I wanted to read. I know that my novel is, like most novels, far from perfect, but even with its flaws I still love it.

I’m the oldest child in my family. I remember when my mother confided in me that she was scared, when pregnant the second time, that she couldn’t love my sister as much as she loved me. I was totally adorable, so I understood her concerns. She thought it was impossible for her to love another person to the same extent– that there wasn’t enough love to go around and I’d always have the lion’s share. Then she gave birth to my sister, Lois, and she found that the capacity in her heart grew, and yes, she could love us both equally without diluting her love for me or giving my sister less. Though I suspect that I am secretly her favourite child, she assures me that love doesn’t have to be divided up, it can simply grow.

I hope that applies to novel #2. That I can just love them both equally, and with no favouritism.

Or else, I’m hoping that my first novel will be something like my first love– a defining period in my life but something I ultimately learn from and move on. And that my second novel might even (inconceivable right now, but possibly) be better.

5. Writing it is going to be daaaaamn hard

Having already had a spin on the mind-fuck merry-go-round that is writing a novel we are only too aware of the difficulties that face us. I think it’s natural to be hesitant about throwing yourself back into that particular emotional meat-grinder a second time around. It isn’t an easy thing to do, and we know that now.

We need to keep remembering how important it is that we transfer as much of ourselves onto the page before we leave this place, and how worthwhile it is. Look back on your first novel and think:

‘I did it. I really did it.’

And give yourself a pat on the back, before taking a deep breath, girding your loins and starting all over again.

New Year, New Novel?

It is now 5pm on the 1st January 2018, and the ‘new me’ still hasn’t shown up. I’m patiently awaiting my total transformation, but I’m not sure it’s coming. In fact, I seem to have disimproved since 2017. I swear to God I’ve gotten fatter, grumpier and stupider. And I have a throbbing headache, after drinking ONE solitary drink to ring in the new year. ONE DRINK because I thought ‘I’m going to be a good girl and ring in the New Year the right way…start as I mean to go on’.

One drink and I’m crippled with a headache! What brand new fuckery is this, 2018???

Am I to be punished for my virtue? If so, I see no point being virtuous (* hastily retrieves all the ‘bad food’ out of the bin).

To add insult to injury, 2018 has cursed me with a pigeon, who has craftily camouflaged himself in a nearby tree. This pigeon insists on tormenting me with his incessant hooting. I didn’t know that pigeons could hoot, but I’m no happier for having acquired this new information.

FUCK YOU PIGEON AND FUCK YOU 2018!

Anyway, though I may await change, I know damn well nothing will happen without me making it happen. Before I made the decision to write my first book I’d approach every January 1st with a list of resolutions as long as my arm. One by one, I’d abandon each of them. In the end, conclude that New Years’ resolutions are a load of shite, an annual exercise in mass-insanity.

But this year I’ve had a change of heart. I’ve decided to join the party. The beginning of a brand spanking new year is a good time to take stock of where you are, where you came from and where you’re going. This year, I’ve decided to make some resolutions. I’m doing this because I finally know how to go about achieving them. 2017 was the year I finished my first novel. The thing I had planned and failed to do every year before that. What I’ve realised is the same principles apply to all goals:

(a) I have to really, really want to achieve them and commit 100%

(b) I have to be SMART

(c) I will achieve them by making slow, steady, incremental progress

I have three big goals for this year. One of which is to write my second novel. I’m afraid that I won’t achieve it. I was afraid before I started writing novel #1 but the fear was different then. It was a fear of the unknown. A fear that my resolution would fall by the wayside, as it had done so many times before. The fear is different this time. It stems purely from the knowledge that writing novel #2 is going to be a hard, rocky, lonely road. But at least I know what is possible when I commit to it.

But before I start, I gotta do something about that fucking pigeon.

(*Googles gun laws in Ireland).

 

What not to buy the writer in your life for Christmas

As a follow-up to my post entitled ‘What to Buy the Writer in Your Life‘ I thought it prudent to outline the items that you shouldn’t buy for your writer friend under any circumstances:

Another Notebook

I find it hard to resist the allure of a nice notebook with its pretty cover, and the blank pages and all the potential they hold. I’m sure that most writers have a notebook fetish, but it’s more of a magpie instinct. An urge to collect and leave to gather dust in a drawer.

One of my bestest friends, who may or may not read this post, will probably be horrified and think I’m an ungrateful wench when she reads this, but I’m willing to take that risk for your benefit, dear reader. She bought me a very special notebook.  It is tan, leather-bound, monogrammed and gorgeous. But can I write in it? Hell no! It’s too beautiful. I could never defile its crisp white pages with my hideous handwriting. It’s sitting in a drawer in its fancy protective bag and that is where it’ll stay.

The moral of my story is this: I appreciate the sentiment, the expense and the beauty of the thing. In fact, I love the notebook so much I will probably ask to be buried with it. But it will never be used as intended. Not because I don’t appreciate it, but because I do.

I’m not a writer that uses notebooks. I use my phone to jot things down. The benefits being that I (a) always have it on me, ideas pop into my head in the strangest of places and (b) it is lightweight and fits in my pocket/hand (c) I don’t need anything more than my finger and the phone. Notebooks pose two problems, (i) you must always have the notebook with you to avoid forgetting important ideas and (ii) you must always have a pen. Pens tend to gather in gangs when you need them least and abscond when you need them most. There are many writers that claim to only use notebooks as they prefer to make notes freehand, but those writers already have a favoured notebook of exactly the right size and weight for transporting around with them.

If you’re determined to buy a notebook, buy a particularly lovely one to be used for Instagram photos, but don’t expect it to ever have the nib of a pen touch its pages.

Distractions

Sometimes writers like to disappear down rabbit holes for hours at a time and hide from their writing. So buying a writer a computer game/console/ or series box-set which might be appreciated, isn’t going to keep them focused. It’s hard enough for writers to resist the lure of the internet but they can easily lose hours in a game or a series. I’ve been known to lose days to computer games. I lost 24 hours straight to The Sims when I was a teenager. My mother confiscated it when I emerged from my bedroom at 8pm in my pyjamas, with dehydrated eyes, grey-tinged skin and a twitch.

A lot of creative people have addictive personalities. Of course, we only become addicted to things that are bad for us. For example, I break out in a cold sweat if I don’t inhale at least one packet of salty corn snacks once a day, but somehow never developed an addiction to running…

If a writer is going to form an addiction, encourage them to develop one that’s good for their writing. See my Blog Post entitled ‘What to Buy the Writer in Your Life‘, # 1, ‘alcohol’.

Books

I loooove going to a bookshop to buy books. I could easily spend an hour in a bookshop browsing. But I don’t like it when people buy me books. The danger is that I’ll have read it, already have it (waiting to be read) or hate it. Most writers have a ‘to-be-read’ (TBR) list (many people put those lists on Goodreads, just FYI). Unless you can get a peek at that, don’t bother buying a book for your writer. If you have a book that you really like, lend it to your writer. Otherwise, give them a voucher and let them buy their own damn books you control freak!

There is one exception to the ‘don’t buy a writer books’ rule. Most writers will accept the gift of a particularly gorgeous classic in hardback that’ll look fabulous on their bookshelf but which nobody will ever be allowed to read.

Novelty stuff for Bants and Lolz

There are lots of silly, gimmicky things aimed at writers. They are an absolute hoot! Things like notebooks for the shower and writers blocks that are actually (wait for it) BLOCKS OF WOOD! Hilarious.

If you give the writer in your life one of these items they’ll say ‘haha, hysterical, my sides are splitting’ and then dump it at the first opportunity.

Ugly Mugs

Your friend is a writer. They sustain themselves almost entirely on caffeinated beverages. They are also pedantic. They have the strong belief that they are mug connoisseurs and there’s a right kind of mug and a wrong kind of mug for various drinks. They already have at least one ‘special’ mug. Probably three (I have a mug for white coffee, a cup and saucer for black coffee, a mug for tea and a transparent mug for herbal tea). The mugs will gather on their desk until they absolutely have to be washed.

If you have your heart set on buying a mug for your friend, how can you ensure that your mug can compete with the tasteful mugs your friend has carefully chosen? How is it going to stand out from the crowd? The answer: buy something that looks like some thought was put into its design and it might actually be used. Whatever you do, don’t pick a fugly mug. You don’t want your mug banished to the back of their cupboard with the rest of the fugly mugs. What makes a mug fugly? It’s basic, usually white, it features a cliched quote, and worst of all, the quote is written in a horrible font. Writers take great offence to an ugly font. When I’m gifted a hideous novelty mug I leave it by the edge of the kitchen counter for my cat to knock off. That’s about the only thing it’s good for. Don’t let your gift meet a similar fate.

Christmas Presents for the Aspiring Writer in your Life


(If you’re a writer reading this, this post isn’t for you. This is for you to surruptitiously leave open on the iPad/phone/laptop of a loved one. You deserve gifts. Goddammit, you deserve good gifts! It’s not like you can afford to buy them for yourself!)



Buying gifts for a writer is a nightmare, but I’m here to wake you up to the fact that it needn’t be. I’ve carefully curated a list of twelve things your writer friend is very likely to appreciate. You may buy some or all of these gifts for your writer friend/lover/family member. Don’t forget, everyone knows that sums expended on presents directly represent the amount of love you feel for a person, so give generously.

1. Alcohol:

Unless they are a rare breed of teetotal writer, your writer will welcome alcohol. Alcohol helps with writing. That’s a fact. All of the best writers were/are notorious booze-hounds. Especially Jane Austen. If your writer is not yet a drinker you need to give them a nudge in the right direction. This is for their own good.

Fancy booze is the in-thing these days. Artisanal gin infused with essence of unicorn horn and whiskey aged in wooden barrels once owned by King Arthur and the likes. Get some of that so that they can work on developing their drinking habit without worrying that they might become some common-or-garden alcoholic. Bonus: Posh liquor will look Instagrammable tastefully placed beside item #2 on your writer friend’s desk.

My Pick: Writer’s Tears Whiskey

2. A Cat/ Multiple Cats:

 

Mr Purrfect, making a writer of me

The best thing about a cat gift is that most shelters are giving the little feckers away for free! Can’t wait to get rid of ’em! It’s a win-win-win situation. Cats help with writing. All the best writers have/had desk-cats. This is a fact. For bonus points teach the thing to hold pens, so that it can earn its keep.

 

My Pick: Something like this

3. Good coffee/ vouchers for the closest coffee shop/ coffee paraphenalia:

Coffee will provide much-needed fuel for your writer friend. They are going to need it to counteract the effects of imbibing fancy whiskey. See # 1.

My Pick: Homitt Cafetiere

4. A Fancy Pen:

This is for when your friend/lover/relative is signing books at their swanky book launch. They’ll probably have forgotten all about you by the time they reach the heady heights of international stardom. At least you’ll get the satisfaction of nudging the person beside you in the book-signing queue, pointing to the pen and saying ‘I gave him/her that’. 

My Pick: Handcrafted ballpoint

5. A Holiday:

I know, I know, I know. Holidays are pricey, but believe me, the writer in your life deserves it. Writers are constantly working. Even when they’re not. Their brains are constantly ticking over, searching for new ways to entertain their readers. This selfless act is, quite frankly, exhausting. They are willing to make this sacrifice for the benefit of their adoring fans, of which you are one. Be a good fan, and pay for their holiday. I hear Barbados is good this time of year. Even better, don’t insist on going with them. Send them off on a writer’s retreat. Alone.

My Pick: find a comprehensive list of writer’s retreats here. 

6. A Book Voucher for an Actual Bookshop:

Though they love their kindles, writers love an excuse to visit a bookshop. They enjoy spending hours browsing and carefully selecting books from the shelves in the ‘literature’ section. They like to conspicuously read random passages from hifalutin novels while nodding thoughtfully and saying ‘mmmm’. As they do this they are sneaking glances at the pile of commercial fiction on a nearby table, choosing the book that they’ll actually buy on their way out. New books are expensive, so don’t be a tight-arse. Give generously.

7. Writerly Cufflinks /Jewellery / Pins /Clothing/Bags:

All writers secretly want everyone to know they’re a writer. You’ve probably already noticed how they attempt to introduce it into conversation with strangers whenever the opportunity arises. Save them the trouble by buying them a statement piece that screams ‘I’m a tortured writer, ask me about it!’. Etsy , Amazon, Penguin , Out of Print Clothing and The Literary Emporium all sell nice things. These sites also sell non-wearable stuff for the writerly naturist in your life. I recommend bookends, luggage tags, framed posters, bookmarks, coasters and keyrings for those weirdos.

My pick: For the pedantic lady in your life

8. A Writing Course:

Writers love a good writing course. Online or in person, it doesn’t matter. Just pick wisely. ‘Poetry for Beginners’ isn’t going to please a person that already believes they are the 21st century’s answer to Lord Byron. Handle their fragile ego with care, or you might inadvertently ruin their Christmas.

My pick: Udemy online courses 

9. Time:

If the writer person in your life is a parent, the most beautiful gift you can give them is a day (or ten) of peace, quiet and R&R away from their offspring. Babysit, or get a babysitter, give them some ‘me’ time. They will adore you. They’ll probably end up writing during that ‘me’ time, but at least they’ll get to do so in blissful silence.

10. Apps or Subscriptions:

Scrivener, Grammarly Premium, Spotify Premium, Headspace, Audible, Journal of the Month, Amazon Kindle Unlimited are examples of great things to buy for writers, but your writer might just have them so make subtle enquiries/ hack their computer before you buy. Warning: don’t be alarmed/disgusted if you check their browsing history…anything that’s on there is probably there for research purposes only. Probably.

11. An Air-Purifying Plant (in a nice pot):

My office is like The American Office. I too have a Pam. My palm tree. She’s good for air, and humans need that shit, even writers. Pam is hanging onto life by a thread, but I’m sure I’d have choked on my own Co2 in this sarcophagus/office of mine without her. I’m alive and kicking, and that’s all down to Pam. Cheers, Pam! You deserve a drop of water for that!

12. Self-Care/ Wellness Gifts:

Writers often neglect themselves because sometimes the physical world around them seems less important than the world they are inhabiting in their heads. In other words, they can be awful slobs. Get them a couple of yoga classes, a massage, a spa day, a session with a personal trainer, a session with a stylist, a fecking haircut, pay for a cleaner for their gaff, bring their laundry to the local launderette. Warning: it’s probably a good idea to power-hose the writer down and treat any parasitic infections before bringing them anywhere in public.

Disclaimer: It is possible that the writer in your life will balk at all of these suggestions, as it it possible that I am writing this post purely out of self-interest and as a massive hint to my own family and friends.

The Dublin Literary Pub Crawl

I try and stay away from patriotism for two reasons. Firstly,  because she has an ugly sister called ‘nationalism’ and I want to give her a swift kick in the gee. Secondly, I think it’s a bit silly to be proud of the successes of other people that have feck all to do with you.

But despite all of this, I can’t help being very proud of the literary history of Ireland.

In fact, I’m verging on smug that so many great writers hail from this small island. It feels good to be able to walk the same streets they walked, to visit the places where they studied and honed their craft, and, most importantly, drink in the same pubs they drank in.

So, in a fit of patriotism, I decided to book two last-minute tickets for Dublin’s Literary Pub Crawl. What better way to indulge a totally undeserved sense of personal pride in the literary achievements of total strangers than a pub crawl? This tour has been on my ‘bucket list’ for the past few years and being a typical local, I kept putting it off. But I began to regret my decision to buy the tickets before securing a second person to accompany me.

Derek and Colm enacting a scene from Strumpet City

My mother is the biggest bookworm I know. She devours books at a phenomenal speed. In fact, she reads so much she’s like my book beefeater, she’ll read a book, give me a review and if she gives it the thumbs up I’ll read it. So, I thought the combination of literature and lushing would be enough to get her on board. When I mentioned that there would be a little bit of walking outdoors involved in she didn’t look impressed. Turns out she loves heat and shelter more than she loves books and booze. I feared that she was backing out, so I offered to buy her dinner. This was the clincher. Like mother, like daughter. Feed us and we’ll do anything. Even venture out on a cold Thursday in November.

We got a taxi to The Duke. No driving as we both planned on getting fully involved in the spirit(s) of the tour. We went upstairs and within minutes of having arrived, our tourguides, Derek and Colm, launched into a rousing old tune about drunken candle-makers, before popping on a pair of bowler hats and enacting a section of Waiting for Godot. I knew at that point, that it was going to be a good night.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that our guides are both actors and former history teachers. Not only that, but Colm is also a writer. He managed to fill an entire book with stories about Dublin’s writers and its pubs. An entire book! So, we couldn’t possibly drink in all the watering holes that the greats frequented or we’d be dead by pub number eight. Our guides had to choose the best of them and so we were limited to four.

Each pub we visited was patronised by at least one famous writer, and/or featured in their writings. Many of the greatest scenes in Irish literature are set in pubs. It’s not surprising to me that pubs are the source of much inspiration. They are fantastic places for people-watching, as after a few people tend to let their guard down. If you really want inspiration for characters in your book, I recommend visiting a few.

Between pubs the tour made various stops at places such as St. Andrew’s Church and Trinity College. Our guides shared trivia, quotes and anecdotes about famours writers, and enacted scenes from novels and plays. They covered most of the greats: Joyce, Beckett, Swift, Boland, Heaney, Behan etc. I absolutly adore Oscar Wilde. He led a very interesting life, so there were a few stories about him. The best was the one about him drinking a bunch of hardened American miners under the table after giving them a talk on art and aesthetics.

As well as sharing the literary history of the city, our guides also spoke about the social, economic and political history of Dublin. They told us about the birth of the city with the arrival of the Vikings up to the more recent history of the civil war.

There was a quiz at the end of the night which brought out a scary competitive side in my mother. Something I had never encountered before. I was grateful that she came second and won a little prize for herself. I don’t want to think about how she might have reacted to coming away empty-handed.

Mum after coming second in the trivia quiz, doesn’t she look happy?

The guides fit an incredible amount into a two-and-a-half hour tour. The great reviews are well-deserved. At €14 per person, it is very good value for something so entertaining.

Overall, it was a great night. I hope that in retracing the footsteps of some of the greats, some of their magic might just rub off on me.

An Interview with Cynan Jones

Catherine Day, catherineeday Dublin, Ireland, author, novelist, writer

Aspiring novelists are often told that every word in a novel must do a job. That’s great advice, but what does that kind of precision actually look like? Answer: it looks like any novel written by Cynan Jones. Jones writes the most evocative prose, without wasting a single word. His writing is so precise that fellow author, Jon Gower, described him as writing ‘with a scalpel, rather than a pen’.

Aspiring novelists are also told not to write reams of static description. This is a faux-pas that even established novelists struggle to avoid, but Jones skillfully and seamlessly interweaves descriptive language into the narrative. It is never cut adrift from the story itself. Something that is very difficult to achieve.

I recommend that aspiring authors read, at a very minimum, one of his novels. Not only will you enjoy it, but you might learn something about the two elements of the craft that I refer to above. Things that I’m very much still working on.

I met Cynan Jones at the West Cork Literary Festival (link to blog post on the festival). I very cheekily asked him for an interview and I’m very grateful to him for agreeing to it, and offering his insights and advice as a successful author for the benefit of my readers.

Your writing is vivid and evocative, but there is no superfluity in it. It’s clear that you are very efficient in how you approach the editing process. Most aspiring authors find editing be the most bewildering and daunting aspect of the process.

(a) How do you approach it? Mercilessly. You can’t fall for your own prose. You can’t let poetry seduce you. Are the words earning their place? If they’re not, what is their function? That’s how I approach editing.

(b) How do you know when to stop cutting words? Instinct. I put things under such pressure. Actually, I’ve found myself in situations when I’m cutting words for the sake of it, just to prove the words aren’t in control. So… the only thing you have is the instinct that put them there in the first place, and the intuition to keep them if they were the right ones.

(c) Do you have any editing tips for aspiring novelists? In most cases, the clearer you are about what you want to say, the fewer words you’ll need. If you’ve gotten wordy somewhere, it’s usually because you’re not clear yourself on the story. You need to spot that before someone else does.

You now have five novels under your belt. Is this pared-back style of writing now instinctive, or do you still have to edit heavily?

It’s different with every book. With every story, even. But in general, less unnecessary stuff hits the page now. The technical side of things is more competent, so I’m more free to concentrate on the effect beyond that – much like a sportsman gets to a point where they’re thinking about what to do with the ball, rather than ‘how’ to hit it.

In Cove, the protagonist suffers from amnesia after being struck by lightning whilst at sea in a kayak. He has a shard of a memory of his past. A wren’s feather is the anchor for that memory. Through this simple object, you manage to create a delicate poignancy without sentimentality. You ‘see’ your stories before you write them, but as emotion cannot be seen, how do you manage to ‘visualise’ emotion and what process do you go through to express it through the setting and the objects that surround your characters?

The things we see trigger emotions, so you show the reader something they react to, rather than try to deliver the emotion to them pre-packaged. You have to trust the reader to get it, and have the instinct and technique to write it right.

You are courageous enough to write the story that is meant to be written, and refuse to ‘write-by-numbers’. Many aspiring authors fear breaking with convention, despite the fact that their story may require it.

(a) How difficult did you find it to stay true to your story? — The key is to let the story speak louder than every other voice that wants to offer advice on it. The story knows itself better than anything else does, but you have to give it the time to be able to transmit that.

(b) What other risks have you taken with your writing that paid off? — At the risk of avoiding the question, there are so many. It was a risk from the start. I’ve ditched other opportunities to pursue it; I’ve stuck with what I believe I should be writing, not adjusted in order to be published; I’ve made massive calls with most of the books, on the grounds those books themselves demanded it. (See above note about the story knowing itself!) I cut 60,000 words from the precursor to The Dig, for example. In one stroke.

(c) What convinced you that the risks were worth taking in the first place? — The thrill of writing a strong story outweighs the risk of not being published. If ‘being published’ is your end game, you’ll always be compromised.

You set many of your novels beside the sea, or in Cove’s case, on the sea. Given that you live close to the sea, can you describe your own relationship with the ocean?

No different from my relationship with the solid ground around me. I’m a product of this place, and so are my stories. In essence, I populate the place around me, as I did as a kid. It’s make-believing.

 What I loved about Cove was the fact that the descriptive language used was woven carefully into the story itself, there was no static description. At the same time, in your interview with Cressida Leyshon for The New Yorker you stated that you wanted your readers to pick ‘their patch of ocean’. How do you balance a need to inform and guide the imagination of the reader with description, whilst also assisting the reader to maintain their autonomy over the picture painted in their head?

It’s just trust. As I mention above, regarding emotion. That sounds glib. But it’s trust in the reader.

Quick-fire Questions:

What is your favourite part of the writing process and why?

The spark of a story. That’s what makes you go to the desk, put the time into learning to write. To do justice to that. It’s the driver.

What one piece of advice that you would give to people that want to learn the craft of writing?

Read.

What do you think are the fundamental elements of a good story?

There’s no easy answer to that. A story has to have life. It can only be broken up into fundamental elements in the way a baby can be broken up into sets of arms and legs and so on.

What have you learned about yourself since you started writing novels?

I actually do like writing in the way I imagined I would if I made a fist of it.

Who is the writer you most admire?

Impossible. Gun to the head, one author. John Steinbeck.

What was favourite childhood book?

Childhood goes on for 16 years or so, and I read avidly for all of it. I guess the Narnia Chronicles were huge; Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Trilogy. But I also remember titles I could tell you only the broad strokes of: The Indian in the Cupboard. Young Legionary. The Sword in the Stone. Later on, Cussler, Conan Doyle, Alexander Cordell’s Rape of the Fair Country. The list is endless, and responsible for me writing in the first place.

If the writing ended tomorrow, and you could pick a dream job, what would it be?

If I don’t do the writing, it does end. Nothing is going to ‘stop it’ other than a collapse in the conviction it is my dream job.

You mentioned at the Cork Literary Festival that you like to paint. Who is your favourite artist?

Sounds like a cop out, but I just don’t do ‘favourites’. Sentimentally, I’ve had a print on the wall of John Singer Sargent’s The Black Brook since I was in Uni. That’s rich and evocative, fluid and detailed. I also have a lithograph by Viani. One simple, subtle line suggesting form. Two utterly different ends of the visual medium.

To read more about Cynan, visit his website here.

Best Writing Online Resources and Apps

Feeling uninspired when you want to get stuck into a new project is fairly fecken demoralising. Some people eschew writing prompts, but like everything, there are the good, the bad and the ugly.

There are many online/appy resources offering writing prompts, but my pet peeves are the auto-generated ones or the ones that consist of a single word. The entire point of a prompt is that it moves you in some way. A machine generating groups of unrelated words and spewing them out, or a person opening a dictionary, closing their eyes and picking a random word with their finger isn’t going to cut the mustard.

The best prompts are generated by human beings who have actually put some thought into the exercise. Human beings can find something intriguing in the composition of a sentence, or the appearance of an object, or a picture. AI is yet to develop that gift. And so auto-generated/ lazy-human generated prompts are going to be the less effective ones.

I know, I know, I know. Some nutters like silly prompts because they like to write for fun.  Not me. I like my writing like I like my coffee: potent, dark and utilitarian. No. I don’t want to write a story about a psychic ballerina whose arch-nemesis is a three-legged unicorn that works in Starbucks. No sirree. You might disagree with me on this, and if so you’re welcome to leave your comments below. Maybe you found a market for your romance novel about the lion-tamer that falls in love with the ghost of a near-sighted juggler until he receives a mysterious invitation to herd alpacas in Peru. I’d love to hear that silly prompts led to something good and publishable.

In terms of the benefits of using good prompts, when I first started writing this blog, I made it clear that I claim no expertise on anything but my own experiences. I find prompts great when I’m letting the novel rest and I want to work on other things. The idea of working on other things is great, but sometimes I can’t summon even the tiniest germ of an idea for a new project.

Thanks to the use of writing prompts I have the makings of five good short stories, two plays and a novel. I might go back to them after I’ve finished my novel, or I might not. ‘How can you afford to be so casual in your disposal of good ideas?’ you ask. Well, a happy side-effect of my success with writing prompts is that I’m confident that there’s no limit to the number of stories I can summon up from my imagination. If nothing comes naturally to me, I know that ideas can be lured out from their hidey-holes with the assistance of a writing prompt. There are loads of ideas knocking around up there, some of them are just a bit shyer than others.

Here are my favourite resources for fiction writing prompts. I’ve linked to them so that you can explore them at your leisure. As you’ve probably guessed the sites/ apps with silly/one-word prompts don’t feature.

Apps

There are about a thousand writing-prompt apps. Here are the best available on Android. Please recommend iPhone apps below:

  1. Writing Prompts Pro– I don’t usually promote apps that cost money, but this costs a bob. One piddling little bob. It’s worth it. It’s a good’un.
  2. Writing Prompts- Data Mixer
  3. Writing Prompts Short Stories- Invariant Labs

Twitter

#WritingPrompt is a hashtag that will lead you to many wonderful things on Twitter. The prompts are generated by multiple people, so the quality varies. If you scroll through you’ll find a prompt that sparks something. I guarantee it.

Writer’s Websites

Surprisingly, there aren’t a lot of great websites dedicated to prompts. Here are the best I’ve come across.

  1. Poets & Writers
  2. Think Written
  3. Creative Writing Prompts
  4. Gratis Graphy
  5. Think Written
  6. The Writer’s Digest

Tumblr

Tumblr has a load of really good member pages with great quality writing prompts. Check these out:

  1. Writer Prompts these are quite dark-leaning, which I like.
  2. I Dare You To Write
  3. Unblocking Writers Block
  4. The Writers Handbook
  5. Awesome Writing Prompts

Instagram

These are the best accounts I’ve found on Instagram:

  1. Writing Prompts
  2. Creative Prompt

Pinterest

Pinterest is awash with great visual and written prompts. These are just some of the good boards I found after a quick scan.

  1. Mandy Corine Writing Prompts 
  2. Fakerhead 47 Writing Prompts 
  3. PS Literary Writing Prompts
  4. Explore Daily Writing Prompts

Facebook

Most of the Facebook pages dedicated to prompts are, instead, a mix of inspirational quotes, memes, links to writing advice blog posts etc. I could only find one page dedicated solely to writing prompts, and it’s good: Writers Write

Google

Some interesting things pop up when you type ‘writing prompt’ into Google, and click on images.

Over to you: Do you use prompts? What are your favourite sources? Please leave links to any I’ve missed in the comments.

The Final Edit Fear

In Ireland, we have this thing called ‘The Fear’.

It’s not quite the same as the Hunter S Thomson ‘Fear’, but it’s similar. Drugs can be an aggravating factor in the Irish ‘Fear’. But mostly it is anxiety resulting from a night of drinking. Of course, it isn’t exclusive to Ireland. People experience it anywhere in the world that alcohol is consumed, except over here, we’ve given it a title.

The Fear tends to strike hardest on a Sunday afternoon, as the realisation dawns on you that you’re due in work the next day and will be required to do stuff. Stuff that requires actual thinking.

You lie in bed: mouth like the Sahara, head thumping, stomach lurching, sweat lepping from your pores. You attempt to piece your memories of the events of the previous night together. Try to fill in the gaps. The weight of a horrible, nameless shame bearing down upon you, cementing that awful certainty that you said or did or something terrible. Of course you did. And that many people witnessed your downfall. Most likely, they filmed it on their phones. Whatever you did, it’s definitely on YouTube. Probably going viral on Twitter right now.

Perhaps you split your skirt/trousers attempting an overambitious dance-move and had to slink off in shame, covering your arse with your handbag/jacket.

Perhaps you got over-amorous with a stranger in a public place.

Perhaps you said some shitty things to a person you care about.

Whatever it was, you know for a fact you went too far.

Way too far this time.

The Fear will convince you that you are a worthless human, you have a tendency to make terrible life choices, and it’s best that you remove yourself from normal society. That way you can’t do any more damage.

You only have three options:

  1. Fake your own death, move to Colombia and start a drug empire. You are such a complete degenerate, this should be no problem for you. Or,
  2. Find some spot in the wilderness and live on your wits and instincts, in total isolation. You’ve watched a couple of episodes of Bear Grylls: Born Survivor. You’ll be grand. Or,
  3. Find religion, join a religious order and live a cloistered life forevermore. Only Jesus can save you now.

I’m currently preparing a pros and cons list for each of the above options. The strange thing is, that The Fear that I’m feeling isn’t alcohol or drug induced. It’s writing-induced. Editing-induced, to be precise. I’m neck-deep in my final draft and I’m in a loop of negative thinking. I’ve missed two deadlines because I’m afraid of being finished.

I don’t think I’m alone in my thought processes. I’m sure you have felt the same way, or will at some point.

The fear that:

You’ve come too far to turn back.

You’ve invested too much time (ergo, money) in this novel.

You’ve TOLD people that you’re writing a book for fuck’s sake- and so you have to produce something. And you’re so close to the end. You can’t give up, walk away, can you?

But your book is terrible. Isn’t it? It’s awful! It should never see the light of day.

It is the worst book ever written in the history of books.

You should destroy it with fire immediately.

You begin to have nightmares that your book has been published and is being badly received.

You imagine that your readers’ reactions will range from: outrage that you could even consider publishing such a literary abomination, through to disgust, through to pity and amusement that you ever thought it might be a success.

These thoughts enter your head so you begin to shrink away from your book. You begin to fear it. It is like something that has crawled blackly from the deepest depths of your nightmares. Like that young-one in The Ring.

And it is part of you.

And that scares you the most.

That you will never be able to hide from it if you finish it. If you put it out there.

I read an excellent piece recently that said that it isn’t procrastination but perfectionism that is the writer’s biggest enemy. I’d love to link to it but I stupidly didn’t save it and I can’t find it anywhere. I think that this pretty much hits the nail on the head. Writers want to produce something beyond reproach. Something perfect. And the longer you delay, the longer you can put off the day you have to face the criticism, because there will be plenty.

I know that ‘perfect’ is an impossible standard to meet, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to get close. How can I know when my novel is as close to perfect as I can get it?

How will I get over this massive speedbump in my path?

I don’t know yet, but I’ll let you know as soon as I do.

Over to you: how do you deal with a sense of fear/paralysis when you are coming close to the end of your novel? How do you ready yourself for the criticism of others?