Advice for writers, from writers

By National Centre for Writing | Posted: Monday February 22, 2021

Tips for improving your craft and productivity from our UNESCO Virtual Writers in Residence

Got a great idea but don’t know where to start? Need some ideas for how to rejuvenate your writing process?

We asked our five UNESCO City of Literature Virtual Writers in Residence for their advice on getting started or developing your writing. Drawing inspiration from the writing projects that they are working on during their residency – from creative non-fiction to climate writing – they've offered some quick wins for improving your craft and your productivity.

Five non-fiction writing tips for beginners 

By Marcin Wilk, Kraków

Marcin is a writer, journalist, and blogger based in Kraków. He is currently writing about Norwich's independent bookshops and how they open doors to the local community and the wider city.

Marcin's top tips come from workshops he has hosted in Poland for writers who want to work on non-fiction, biography or memoir. They aim to help writers at the very first stage of working on a project.

Tip one: Find the reason, the aim and the audience

At the beginning it’s worth answering some basic questions. The answers might be essential for the whole work, so be honest and precise in answering them. These questions are:

  • What is the reason for starting this project?
  • Why did you choose that topic?
  • What is the aim of your work?
  • What audience do you want to write for?

Read more of Marcin's Writing tips

How to include positive climate solutions in your writing

By Lynn Buckle, Dublin

During her residency Lynn is exploring the eradication and re-emergency of waterways in Norwich and Dublin – looking at gender, power, and place through the lens of fictional nature and climate writing, from her own disability perspective. Below, she offers some advice on incorporating simple and effective climate change solutions into your writing.

Tip one: Know what this means. What are Positive Climate Solutions?

They encompass all the things we can do to avert climate disaster, from large political policies to making small personal changes in the way we live.

Any positive climate solution can be included in any type of writing. It can be incorporated in tiny ways into any genre. Whether you write literary fiction, historical romance, thrillers, crime, speculative, sci-fi, commercial, memoir, essay, or poetry, you can insert at least one positive solution to averting climate crisis in your prose. For example, you might describe a poetic character’s clothes as up-cycled, use a wildflower garden as a domestic drama setting, or site a crime in a recycling centre. Or you could go bigger, swapping the entire premise of your suspense from apocalypse survival to apocalypse prevention.

Read more of Lynn's Writing tips

Want to maximise your writing process? Don't create in front of a computer!
By Valur Gunnarsson, Reykjavik

For his residency, historical fiction writer Valur Gunnarsson is undergoing a literary walk along the coast in dialogue with W.G. Sebald and Icelandic literature. Here, he examines the value of stepping away from the computer and devoting more time to thinking than writing.

'Writing should take up very little of a writer’s day. Sitting in a room in front of a computer screen is not the best way to be inspired. [...] The creative part of a writer’s day should go into thinking about the work in question.'

Read more from Valur

Five everyday writing tips for any writer

By Vahni Capildeo, Edinburgh

Vahni's project looks at Lighthouse and Anchorage and they are producing daily poems inspired by their walks to the lighthouse in Newhaven while reading Julian of Norwich. Building on their experience as a non-fiction writer and poet, they have compiled five everyday writing tips that will suit writers of any form.

Tip one: Writing is a bodily experience as well as a mental process

Be aware of your sensory self. What kind of noise or silence do you like around you, when you’re writing? What can you do to immerse yourself in it? If sound is not a primary medium for you, what other aspects of your environment help you to concentrate? What’s a comfortable body temperature for you when you are crafting a piece of work? I know that sometimes I like an edge of cold, for example if I’m working on non-fiction.

At other times, especially when writing poetry, I need to feel cocooned and warm. It is quite hard to maintain a world of words in your head, especially when all sorts of other things might be pressing in. You might want loud music playing, or a swatch of textured fabric to hand. It doesn’t matter how silly or indulgent it seems. Try to make whatever small physical adjustments keep you in the imaginative zone.

Read more from Vahni

How to embrace disorganisation in your writing

By Liz Breslin, Dunedin

Finding it hard to live by the 'great writer' rule book? Beating yourself up that you're not organised or focused enough? While exploring Norwich and Dunedin through webcams for her virtual residency, poet and playwright Liz Breslin has found it helpful to remind herself that you can embrace disorganisation in your writing.

Tip one: It’s all material

This is what I tell myself when saving things I’m never going to buy to online shopping carts, cleaning the back of my teabag cupboard or sitting through meetings. Letting my mind wander at these moments is also important, and doodling in the margins of whatever is handy. Someone will use a gold-star phrase, or I’ll get obsessed with the mannerisms of whoever is presenting. The names of the tea or the jaunty blurbs on the packets will make me mad. Cleanliness is next to organisationaliness but it’s the scrap of something I find that will stick in my mind, as well as the Kate-Winslet-in-Ammonite fingerless gloves in my cart because they’d totally give me a writer in a garret vibe and besides, they’re vintage.

Read more tips from Liz

Imagining the City: more from our UNESCO Writers in Residence

Join us on Instagram for daily writing prompts inspired by UNESCO cities

Join us on Instagram throughout February for a series of daily writing prompts inspired by our residents' UNESCO Cities of Literature. From bookshops to beaches, our writers have devised a series of images and written prompts that reflect the concerns they're exploring throughout their virtual residency. Check in with us each day and see if any of our mini exercises spark your creative imagination!

Follow us on Instagram

Free online event – The view from afar

Tuesday 30 March, 7pm BST, online, free

What is it like to visit and write about a city that is hundreds (or thousands!) of miles away during a pandemic? How can this distance shape your writing? Join us as we hear from Liz Breslin and Marcin Wilk about how they have been viewing Norwich from afar during their virtual residency. Liz and Marcin will be in conversation with Megan Bradbury, author of Everyone is Watching.

Book now

Free online event – Coastlines and waterways

Tuesday 20 April, 7pm BST, online, free

Join us to hear more about how Lynn Buckle, Vahni Capildeo and Valur Gunnarsson have spent their virtual residency exploring waterways and coastlands, creating connections between Norwich and their own UNESCO cities of literature. They will be in conversation with Patrick Barkham, whose writing reflects his own fascination with water, coastlines and life on islands.

Book now

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