Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Gleaned Genius (Pt 7)

Last week Janice Galloway (contemporary Scottish literary legend) arrived to give a rousing inspirational ramble about writing and her anti-memoir This is Not About Me.

I scribbled some notes under the vague heading ‘writing advice,’ although Janice’s approach to writing is quite straightforward compared to those pros with rituals and regimented weirdness.

She says (paraphrasing – not exact quotes):

1. No ventriloquising. The writer’s voice shouldn’t be ignored, concealed, or festooned with artificial baubles. You might not like your natural writing voice, but it’s self-deception to ignore it.

2. Writing should, under no circumstances, be forced. If your manuscript requires a decade of tinkering and perfection, there’s no point straining to write when the Muses aren’t there.

3. Never overdescribe a scene. There should always be a space for the reader to insert themselves into a scene, to let their own imagination fill in that which goes unsaid.

4. There comes a point when the writer should stop editing and let their manuscript go. There’s no such thing as a perfect manuscript, only a work polished to as good as humanly possible a standard.

5. Let your narrative breathe, get out of its way. A variation on the ‘showing vs. telling’ adage, basically – selective and precise detail when required.

6. You should have very little regard for who you include in your book from real life. It’s the writer’s job to write from life, and that includes putting family, friends or others noteworthy into your text (if necessary), and not disguising them for fear of offending those close to you.

7. The physicality of writing – what rituals do you use to feel your way into your characters? Try acting or thinking like your characters, getting into their skin (adopting their mannerisms as you write etc.)

8. Read Liars in Love, a short story collection by Richard Yates. Just do it.

9. Writing can be an endurance, and even those who struggle and hate the actual process of writing should keep hammering away at their novel. The writer’s task is to write, regardless how tired and disgusted they become with a manuscript!

Those are my (unintelligible and hastily scribbled) notes from her brief talk. She was fabulous, darlings, and expressed the above with lashings more wit and articulacy. For those unfamiliar with her works, add The Trick is to Keep Breathing to your neverending ‘to-read’ lists. I’ll be micro-reviewing her memoir when I get the chance.



  1. I love Richard Yates. Or at least I think I do, judging from the one book of his I've actually read. In translation, stupidly enough. But at least it was before the movie.

    I believe a number of those are great advice for all of us; I believe some of them are good advice for a few; and there is one or two I question altogether. But it's a great list. I wish I got to attend rousing rambles about writing, but whenever I try, they insist on speaking about the ruddy Middle East.

  2. Ha! The Middle East of Scotland was mentioned. Naturally.

    I hadn't heard of Yates until she mentioned him -- I didn't even know Lost In Translation was adapted from a book. I couldn't stand the movie, so... hmm. I'll unwillingly dip my two into the Yates pool later.

    Yes, some of that advice is dubious, isn't it? Mad even. But sage nevertheless.

  3. An excellent list, especially number 3 (for me). As I'm more focused on dialogue than setting, I always worry that I've left the setting completely to the imagination of the reader.

    Thanks, Mark. :)

  4. Your settings are quite precise, usually. Your wanderlust serves you well, comrade.