This site runs on small donations- thanks!
Full list of articles

Micromastery - learn small, learn fast and find the hidden path to happiness will be published by Penguin books (UK) in May 2017. It will be published in China, Taiwan, USA, Germany and South Korea in the months after that.

Friday
Dec092016

Nora says

Nora Joyce to James: "Why don't you write sensible books that people can understand?"

hmm.

Friday
Dec092016

Larkin Says

'A writer's reputation is two fold: what we think of his work, and what we think of him. What's more, we expect the two halves to relate: if they don't, one or other of our opinions alters until they do.'

Fairly inescapable.

Monday
Dec052016

the happy beaver

Sunday
Dec042016

Five day course thoughts

Just finished teaching a five day course on 'secrets of story'.

the main 'secret' was that you can make a story out of anything as long as you re-use elements that are there in the beginning.

You have a squirrel, a car horn and a banana. The squirrel tries to stop the old style horn by shoving a banana into it. But the banana blasts out. It hits someone in the back of the neck. The horn is still sounding. The angry person pushes the squirrel. The squirrel pushes back and almost steps on the banana. He avoids it carefully. But then a policeman calls to him about the car. He looks up, turns, and now of course slips on the banana. Or something like that- this story was made simply by thinking of ways to reuse three things. You might think you already do this but I find most story makers are looking forwards, running a little fast, to the next thing. Instead of looking back at their stock of toys, images, people and finding ingenious ways to re-use them. Storymaking is all about parsimony.

 

 

Saturday
Dec032016

rabbit talk

 

 

Friday
Nov112016

key to practical polymathy

I've long been interested in polymathy and written about it here and for Aeon magazine. I found though that the subject is both engaging and elusive, it sort of slips through your fingers. People like the concept of polymathy but then think 'what next'. Today i realised the thing holding people back is a fear of learning something new. For whatever reason. Often they have ceased to give themselves permission to learn something new (reasons being - too old, too busy, not talented etc). My breakthrough is Micromastery- because it- ABOVE ALL ELSE- restores the permission to be interested in whatever you want. It restores the permission to learn. Anyway after that trumpet burst I just want to remind the loyal readers out there the book is coming out in May courtesy of penguin books...

Thursday
Oct272016

how does a writer learn?

I used to think a writer learned from other writers by reading a lot and thinking a bit about things after he had read them. I don't think so now. Most books just pass you by.You work out how they 'work'- and that is something, but this is no use to you as a writer, only as a critic. A writer is someone who can write books, not tell you what is wrong with other people's books. In fact several writers I know who are excellent at their trade and successful to boot haven't much of a CLUE what makes a good story or book- but that doesn't matter- they know how to make one.

Bak to learning - you learn instantly from something you admire and are open to. That works, you tell yourself, I'm going to copy that. Of course when you copy it no one can tell because every half decent writer learns early on how to cover their tracks pretty well. But that's the way- BANG- instant knowledge when you SEE something that is right for YOU. Not every book is, but when you find the ones that are, copy mercilessly.