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Your ‘Unique Literary Territory’

Your ‘Unique Literary Territory’

There are scores of over-quoted rules relating to the craft of writing. ‘Show, don’t tell.’ ‘Make your verbs work harder’ (which generally just means: avoid relying too much on adverbs). And – my personal bugbear – ‘Only write what what you know.’

This last was iterated with great vehemence by a famous author I recently went to see speaking at an event. She’s ferociously intelligent, and I’ve always admired her writing – even when I haven’t liked it. So it surprised me that she should be advocating this most unimaginative of precepts. It reminded me of a workshop I once attended, when an unexpectedly heated debate arose over the same issue. One writer took it so far that she said you should never write from a perspective you haven’t experienced directly yourself – that it can only ever be intrusion and appropriation.

I disagree, strongly.  Of course, if your subject matter, setting and characters happen only to be taken from what you know, that’s fine. Many novels I’ve edited have been thinly veiled memoir (particularly first novels), and brilliantly honest for that. But I certainly don’t think setting limits for your writing is helpful. Why can’t you set your novel in space? Why shouldn’t a young straight man write from the point of view of a gay elderly woman? (Let his readers be the judge of whether he’s done it successfully and sensitively.) I recently read a story in a writing workshop in which the first-person protagonist was deaf, blind and dumb. It was a breathtaking feat of imagination, and the best piece of work that writer has produced so far.

This is a lovely article by Tim Gautreaux, in which he shifts the emphasis in that shackling piece of advice: he urges you not to write what you know but instead to know what you write. Each of us has unique driving interests and preoccupations that will find their way into our story, whether it’s set in space or our own back garden. It’s our own ‘unique literary territory’, and need be limited and contained by nothing.

MK

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Further Musings...

‘Eat More Cake’: The Pitfalls of Publication

‘Eat More Cake’: The Pitfalls of Publication

You’ve been working on your book for a very, very long time. There have been moments when you’ve wanted to give up on the whole thing – when you’ve marvelled at your audacity ever to have believed you could be a writer. You pushed through those moments, and through writer’s block, procrastination and – probably – extreme financial pressure. And then, out of the uncertainty …

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Writing: The Loneliest Art Form?

Writing: The Loneliest Art Form?

‘Writing, at its best, is a lonely life,’ said Hemingway – and for many writers that is true. Some great authors have, at least openly, courted solitude: Lord Byron flamboyantly stated, ‘I only go out to get me a fresh appetite for being alone.’ (We challenge you not to read that in a hammy Louisianan accent. We’ve tried, and we cannot do it.) The potential loneliness of writing is multifold …

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How to Start Writing: Getting the Words Down

How to Start Writing: Getting the Words Down

You want to write.

You think – actually, you’re pretty sure – that you’re quite good at writing. Friends find your emails funny, people appreciate your way with words. You read a lot and know when something is not well written and, if you’re really honest with yourself, you know that just sometimes you could do better. At least…

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Apply here for the Ink Academy Writing Course

Applying to the Ink Academy Writing Course is quick and simple. Just upload a sample of your writing below, along with your name and email address, and we will be in touch with enrolment details.

The sample of your writing does not need to be polished or perfect, or even from the work you want to develop on the course. It is just so that we can ensure our course is best placed to help you. For more details, please see our FAQs.

Please feel free to include any additional information, for example:
– Anything you’d like us to know about your writing experience, the project you’d like to work on or the submission you’ve uploaded below
– Preferred times and days for tutorials
– Whether you would like any additional Group Workshops (1 is included in the price)

Upload 1,000-5,000 words of your writing here: