How to earn money as a writer

Yesterday I got sucked into an internet hole of articles about writers and money, including this controversial piece about going broke after a six-figure advance. Before I published a book myself, I used to Google this issue a lot. Was it even possible to earn money as a writer? Could you do writing as a…

Should I quit my job to write?

I recently got an email asking for my advice on this subject. The writer felt now was the time to really commit to their work, and was considering taking a big pay cut and reduction in hours in order to do that. It’s something that comes up a lot – when should you quit your…

Through the brick wall

Sometimes, trying to succeed at any endeavour can feel like hitting a brick wall. Especially if you’re trying to get into the kind of career that has no training scheme or internship programme. Everywhere you turn there’s a barrier, and you have no idea how or where to push against it. So what’s the best…

Whose story is it anyway?

On Saturday I taught a workshop on character and viewpoint for a large and lively bunch of writers as part of a course run by Spread the Word. I thought I’d try to distill down what I said – sometimes I don’t quite know what I think about a topic until I’ve said it. Character…

Why crippling self-doubt is your friend

You know that Yeats quote (very apposite right now as I think it was about the Easter Rising): ‘The best lack all conviction, the worst are full of passionate intensity?’ * Well, this could also be said of writers. I mean, we’re all full of passionate intensity or we wouldn’t do this thing at all,…

Stay in your lane

Remember the 2012 Olympics? When London was paved with sunshine and we won gold medals as easily as falling off a log? Well, that was the last time I watched any sport. Every four years is enough for me. But I remember one thing most of all: the way commentators always urged the runners to…

Top 10 books about writing

I’m sometimes asked about what ‘how-to’ writing books are good. I usually say that 90% of them are total garbage. If you need to be told to buy a computer and/or notebook and pen, you’re probably in the wrong game. BUT – there are some excellent ones, that will provide either top advice, or consolation,…

Your book is not an egg custard

As part of my ongoing quest to be just be better…somehow…I like going to classes. To me adult education represents the idea of change, of improvement. The belief that just because we will never be a professional chef or singer or stuntwoman, it doesn’t mean we can’t learn to bake bread or hit high notes…

A letter to my 18-year-old writer self

I’ve just been asked to write a piece for the new Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, which pleases me greatly, for various reasons. Not least because I can vividly remember being eighteen and spending a whole dull summer in my parents’ conservatory, poring over my copy of it (I spent a book token on it I…

How to spring-clean your ideas (or why data storage is your Horcrux)

So, it’s nearly March. I assume everyone in the country has MarieKondoed their entire house and now only owns two pairs of pants and a poncho? Yes, good. There is something rather intoxicating about throwing things away. I’m impatient, so I did the process in three weeks instead of the six months she advises (I have…

Turning down the volume

To get to the island of Iona, it’s a long way. First you have to drive to Oban (about two hours from Glasgow). You have to wait for a ferry. They go every two hours – if you need to kill time you can eat some oysters while you wait. Then you get the ferry to…

How to be a failure

I’ll be honest, I feel like a failure about 85% of the time. Whether it’s about exercise, eating sugar, or more generally and nebulously as a writer….it is a problem. I don’t think I’m alone in this. I firmly believe that, if you have a particular thing you want to achieve, and that thing is…