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06 August 2020

#WriteCBC tip and task from Struan Murray

Struan Murray, author
by Anna Davis Events, Writing Tips

August is usually holiday-month for #WriteCBC and for the CBC team – but in this weird year, we’re all at our desks (though at home!) – and we reckon lots of our #WriteCBC regulars are too – hi, you people! If you haven’t taken part in #WriteCBC before, we’re delighted to have you join us – and you can quickly get up to speed by reading this blog with information about how to play. It’s lots of fun and you might just win a free place on one of our six-week online writing courses.

This month’s special guest is the very talented and lovely Struan Murray. Struan took a Three-Month Novel-Writing course with us a few years ago, taught by Nikita Lalwani. He went on to win the Bath Children’s Novel Prize and to gain representation with Curtis Brown’s Stephanie Thwaites. His wonderful debut middle-grade novel Orphans of the Tide was published by Puffin earlier this year, and has been garnering praise and winning hearts throughout the lockdown period. We are thrilled to welcome him to #WriteCBC!

Struan’s Writing Tip:

All writers battle with their inner editor. Self-editing is an essential part of writing, but your inner critic can often derail you. When first-drafting, try writing long-hand rather than on a computer, to keep you away from that delete key.

For many of us, writing longhand is a curiously antiquated business. We might pick up a pen to write a greetings card or possibly a shopping list (and some of us don’t even write those by hand any more!) but that’s about it. This goes for me too, by the way: pens feel cumbersome in my hand these days – and when I start to write, there’s a kind of dull awkward ache to it … But Struan’s point is an important one. Many of us delete more than we actually write on a daily basis, and the computer is our enemy in that respect. It’s simply so easy to edit when you’re working at a keyboard that the temptation to keep fiddling around with your prose is almost irresistible. And consequently your word count can remain frustratingly static day to day – or can even shrink back rather than keep inching forward.

If you can acquire the habit of writing longhand – even if just occasionally, when you feel you need to freshen things up – it forces you to work in a different way. The absence of a delete button encourages you to think clearly and express yourself confidently. You may find your first draft prose reads less ‘correctly’ than when you sit at a computer but is nonetheless vivid and striking in its texture. And if you think it’s not worth trying this out, just think of your favourite books of yester-year: From The Great Gatsby to The Lord of The Rings; from The Catcher in the Rye to I Capture the Castle – none of those wonderful classics was written on computer.

One thing, though – it’s still worth typing your work up afterwards. In those pre-computer days, plenty of famous manuscripts were left in trains or taxis or were stolen or mislaid … There are definitely some respects in which the writer’s life has improved!

Struan’s Writing Task:

Your character must try to solve a problem (they don’t have to succeed). Set a timer for 10 mins and start to write longhand. Allow the idea and the writing to lead you. No editing! Then read through, choose an extract that you like and tweet it.

So here we go. Put that laptop aside and get out your pen and notebook. For this task you can use a character you’re already working with or think of a new one. There must be a problem for your character to solve – and that can be anything that occurs to you – from being stuck in a lift to dangling from a cliff edge to trying to stop a washing machine from flooding. Don’t think about it for too long – this task is all about letting the writing flow. Just set a timer to force yourself to work quickly, pick up that pen – and off you go!

For this #WriteCBC we’re not asking you to give us a whole self-contained scene. We don’t want you taking a longer piece of work and carefully editing it down to tweet-length. No, this time we want you to write freely and just show us a fragment of what you produce. It could be the opening line or two – or perhaps something from further into the piece that appeals to you when you read back over it. And resist the temptation to just give us a line from your WIP that you’ve carefully crafted already – we can usually tell …

Today we’re looking for something fresh and intriguing and striking. Off you go!

This month’s winner is … Jayne Block @JayneTeresa

The tavern rumours were that estate steward James and his overseer Pete were tight, as solid as the ironwork on the oak door. Alf didn’t like solid things. He liked to find cracks, fissures he could slide into, while hiding his true intentions with a deceitful smile.

We love the way that Jane’s extended metaphor conveys the relationships between and personalities of three characters. This is a wonderful example of how silencing your inner critic and resisting editing can allow something like a metaphor to take your writing in a new direction.

Well done to our runners-up! GeorginaSewell, @DanielTatarsky, @_L_MO, @JeannaLStars and @Melliver each win a copy of Struan’s Orphan’s of the Tide. Email us (cbccourses@curtisbrown.co.uk) to claim your prize.

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