Author: Lisa Clifford

Forget your New Year’s writing goals; here’s why.

Here's why you should forget your New Year's writing goals.Phew, the wave of New Year’s resolution Blogs with 2019 writing goals are over. Though that avalanche of What are your New Year’s Resolutions? are well intended, I do get a bit irritated by the end of it all. That’s because I don’t believe writing and truly doing what you love is a resolution. Writing is a way of life. That’s the difference. A resolution is a decision we are resolutely duty-bound to uphold. It’s a resolve we often break. Or that breaks us. Whereas writing is a lasting habit that develops through the love of what you’re doing. A way of your life.

For those of us who truly love expressing ourselves through the written word, writing makes us feel serene, satisfied and happy. So, like meditation, yoga or music, writing is essential to our wellbeing.

Here's why you should forget your New Year's writing goals.It’s all about a little bit of writing every day. That Art of Writing mantra of I’ll just write for 30 minutes, then before you know it, you’ve written for two hours.

We have to believe in ourselves. Understand that we are writers. Whether we are published or not makes no difference. We write because we love/need to write and if publication follows – great! If not, it doesn’t matter because you’re producing and creating something that you love. You will be halfway to your dream of publication simply because you are writing. It’s your way of life.

A couple of news updates:

Here's why you should forget your New Year's writing goals.We are now offering free Webinars for former Art of Writing writers.

We’ve found that when you’re with us in Florence you write your best prose. You leave Florence in tremendously high spirits. You’ve found your voice, your pace and you’ve set aside your daily time to write (as a way of life). But then life gets in the way and you find it harder and harder to sit down and be still.

So, to help our writers keep in touch with their creativity, on January 31st, all Art of Writing Alumni are invited to join our Webinar on How Dialogue Moves Plot Forward.

Am jumping out of my skin at the thought of seeing all our old friends together, once more! Let me know if you’d like to join us.

Here's why you should forget your New Year's writing goals.Our Literary Agent for 2019 is Jeff Kleinman from Folio Literary Management in New York.

Jeff is looking forward to your 3,000 word MS submission and chatting with you about your future. Here’s some news from one of Jeff’s writers, Elizabeth Letts. In an interview with Publisher’s Weekly, Elizabeth discussed the inspiration behind her upcoming novel, FINDING DOROTHY, explaining how a photograph of Maud Baum and Judy Garland on the set of The Wizard of Oz set the book in motion. Click here if you’d like to read the interview in full.

Here's why you should forget your New Year's writing goals.

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Florence, Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together. Email me at so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

The perfect Christmas gift for a writer.

What is the perfect Christmas gift for a writer? TIME TO WRITE.

Now I feel very strongly about this. If your children or partner or parents ask you what you’d like for Christmas, tell them you need time.

I love preparing the Christmas lunch for my family. But I don’t like getting caught up with all of the holiday lunches and dinners. And you know what it’s like in Italy – every day has two full-on meals. Lunch and dinner are three course meals and someone has to cook them. ME! So for Christmas, I’d like guilt free writing time. Somebody else can do lunch every day. Am happy to cook dinner (hint, hint – does anyone in my family actually read my Blogs?)

What is your chore? The job that someone could take from you, so that you can spend the day writing?

Ready submitCan you nip out to a café some mornings? Plot, dream, plan and write out of the house? Distraction free!

Take-away is looking good too.

Doesn’t anyone want to go to a movie? While you stay home and write?

Not to mention how much time the food shopping takes over the holidays. How about you pass that duty on to someone and you write?

As we say at The Art of Writing: I’ll just write for 30 minutes. Then before you know it, you’ve written for 2 hours – if you have TIME.

Good luck in grabbing, negotiating, being given time to write over the Silly Season. I wish you all good words.

PS: The above comes with a warning. Guilt-free asking for time can also be a psychological grapple for many of us writers.

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Florence on June 2-6 2019? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Write for One Person

By Matthew Ferrara

As writers, we often approach our stories by thinking about our audience. What do we want our readers to feel, to see, to experience through our tales? We get excited about taking them on a journey where they laugh, cry, get a little scared and hopefully love the ending. So we write, write, write in the hopes that we’ll get everyone there. And sometimes, when we look back at what we wrote, we find that somehow it doesn’t work. Not only won’t readers get there, we didn’t even get there ourselves. So what happened?

Write for One PersonShould we just write another draft, or a third? Chuck it all out and start from scratch? Change the vocabulary to hit readers over the head with our point? Actually, the answer is none of these. The solution is something altogether different: It’s to forget about readers, that mass-group that Steinbeck called “the nameless, faceless audience” and instead write to one single reader. One person. Someone you know well enough that you can see them reading your words in your mind’s eye, and reacting to your words the way only they can react.

To forget the everyone and write for someone.

Write for One PersonI learned this lesson from my career as a speaker. When you walk out on stage to 5,000 people in a room, there’s no way to be sure your message will reach them all, delight them all, convince them all that your story is right for them. Try as you might, you can’t make eye contact, let alone word-contact, with everyone. And you’re a speaker: someone who writes with their voice in real time under bright lights. So what do I do?

I speak to one person the entire time. Someone I can see right in the front row. If I can’t see them because it’s dark, then I imagine my best friend in the front row, sitting there, listening to my story. I talk as if it’s just us in the room, and I make my point as comfortably as if I could see their reactions to my words. This is how I know how to start, how to select my words, how to manage the page, and most of all, how to keep going. I turn a speech in front of everyone into a conversation with someone.

When I write, I do the same thing.

Rather than writing for the masses, to an audience I’ll never see or meet or hug, I imagine the person I want most to love my story. I envision them fully: What they’re wearing, how they’re sitting, how their eyes are moving, and so on. It helps me visualize when to slow down or speed up. Whether my words are too complex, or easy. Their reactions tell me when it’s time to use an example, or move the scene, or close the chapter.

One person makes all the difference to my writing. It takes the pressure off. No more worrying about pleasing the whole universe of readers, just tell a story to someone I know will already like it. I find more energy to keep writing, because I want to continue the conversation, to tell the next part, to my friend sitting there. And I immediately discover my voice, because it’s just me, telling my story, without any need to imitate anyone else’s style.

So why not try it? Who do you know that would love to hear your tale, who would sit there all night as you told it, and would feel it the way you meant it to be felt? Who can you sit next to you every time you pick up your pen and encourage you to keep going? As a writer, sometimes less is more. So erase your vision of the great-big-audience and redraft one person to write along with you. Dante had his Virgil. Who will you have, as you go on your writer’s journey?

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Florence on June 2-6 2019? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Your novel from the inside out…

Your novel from the inside out...I am beyond excited to announce that acclaimed novelist, writer and journalist Shelley Weiner will be our creative writing teacher for our June 2019 retreat in Florence. We couldn’t be more thrilled to have her expert guidance on how to unlock creativity and cultivate the novel within. In her own words, here is her goal for our June 2019 retreat. 

When I started out as a writer of fiction, I’d be infuriated by the throwaway comment, ‘Oh, everyone has a novel inside them.’ Holding back my irritation, I’d respond with icy calm: ‘A story maybe – we all have stories. But have you any idea of the midwifery – the skills – required to deliver that story? To nurture and refine it, and transform it into literature?’ That would stop them.

Your novel from the inside out...And it would stop me too. I was struck (and remain struck and intrigued to this day) by the complexity of the process of conception, construction and performance required in the creation of a robust novel. At the same time I was strangely reassured by the realisation – an ‘aha’ moment! – that yes, indeed, we’re all filled with stories, and that the creative spark can light on any single one. The fire that takes hold, the urgency of having something to say, is surprising and exciting – whether it’s on a high literary plane or no more lofty than a sense of bursting into a room with a piece of juicy gossip to impart.

Your novel from the inside out...It is this exhilaration, the sense of fullness from within, that I want to capture during my sessions at the Art of Writing. While teasing out the tales that we carry with us, I’ll offer the tools to shape them into the beginnings of a novel.

We’ll start with character – not only who, but why, and how. We’ll invent with freedom, with total disregard for what people may think (it’s a retreat, after all – the constraints of real life are distant and irrelevant here). We’ll allow our characters to talk, plausibly and pointedly. And, of course, being in glorious Florence, we’ll let them act and react within the setting – romantically? Murderously? In deepest mourning? It’s all possible – and liberating – and satisfying.

When writing students ask me whether I think they’ve ‘got it’ (talent – genius – the means to a multi-million publishing deal …?), I prevaricate, for the question is a difficult one and my answer can be impactful, one way or another. The ‘it’, I finally tell them, rests on curiosity about life, about human behaviour. Equally important is the tenacity, the grit, to see a project through, from start to finish. As for that publishing deal – since no one knows what the next big commercial flashpoint will be, it can be distracting and counterproductive to write for a perceived market.

Your novel from the inside out...The only way forward, then, is to embark on a piece of fiction from the inside out and to remain inside it for as long as possible. To invent, construct, and perform until that work is sufficiently realised and robust enough to survive outside your orbit.

The Art of Writing provides the perfect environment for this to begin to happen. Under my firm but sympathetic guidance and in the company of like- minded people who all care about literature, participants will discover what it is they want to say and be provided with the most effective tools with which to say it.

My aim – and what more fertile environment than Florence in June? – is to help nourish ideas that may have long been dormant so that they’re vigorous enough to survive. And to have the best kind of creative fun along the way.

Shelley Weiner, November 2018

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Florence on June 2-6 2019? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.


When an acquisitions editor gets a gut feeling from a manuscript in her slush pile.

When an acquisitions editor gets a gut feeling from a manuscript in her slush pile.Talking to Martha Ashby, UK HarperCollins’ Editorial Director, about the first time she picked up Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

How did Martha Ashby know? When she fished this year’s UK Number One Seller, Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, from the slush pile? How did she know that out of dozens of manuscripts on her desk, this story would trump them all?

‘It was Gail’s sense of voice that spoke to me immediately. I felt as though a real woman had sat down next to me and started to tell me about her life,’ said Martha when I spoke to her at this year’s Art of Writing summer retreat.

‘Within a very short time, maybe the first page, I knew this book was going to reach people’s hearts.’ Martha Ashby is an unassuming woman in publishing. She’s young, fresh faced and easy going, and her job is to read, choose and bid for manuscripts that could potentially turn over millions for HarperCollins. She definitely hit the jackpot with Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

When an acquisitions editor gets a gut feeling from a manuscript in her slush pile.
(left to right) Martha Ashby, Lisa Clifford, Jane Corry, and Matthew Ferrara at The Art of Writing.

‘I know if I love a book very quickly. I always know very soon. People get quite concerned about the question of whether or not you like the protagonist. That question is often discussed. But Eleanor spoke to me. She was funny, full of quirks and faults but I loved her. And that’s really what it was all about. I simply fell in love with this lonely, problem-filled but funny woman. I knew that I would bid for the rights for this book and was so relieved when we secured Gail.’

When an acquisitions editor gets a gut feeling from a manuscript in her slush pile.‘We only take on about two to five new writers a year. Maybe in a really good year we would take on eight. Gail had never published anything before. We have a lot of established writers we have to take care of, so we are careful taking on new writers.’

I always feel honoured interviewing people like Martha Ashby. The people whose tastes and judgements dictate what we read. I recorded Martha’s comments on Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine during the 2017 and 2018 Art of Writing in Florence, when she was our guest in-house editor. In 2017 Martha was editing the book, getting it ready with her team for publication. In 2018 it was on sale. During the two years Martha was with The Art of Writing, she listened with patience and care to each of our writer’s pitches individually and privately.

With luck, and hard work, maybe one of our writers will be next on her bid list. Keep writing, keep working and keep hoping.

When an acquisitions editor gets a gut feeling from a manuscript in her slush pile.Read The Bookseller’s take on Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine:

Gail Honeyman’s standout debut Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (HarperCollins) has been named Book of the Year at The British Book Awards.

The judges praised both the writing and the publishing of Honeyman’s debut, and said the combination made it a clear winner. The novel was “absolutely hilarious”, “literary and commercial” and struck an “amazing balance between light and dark”, while the campaign to promote it was “beautifully done”, they said.

HarperFiction acquired Eleanor Oliphant on the eve of the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair in an eight-way auction and straight away decided that they would make 2017 “the year of the Oliphant”. Its retail strategy was focused on Waterstones, independents and also Scotland, where the author is based. The title went into the Sunday Times Top 10 before Christmas, with nearly 290,000 copies sold across all formats before paperback publication. The Marketing Strategy behind the book was also recognised at the awards, winning Marketing Strategy of the Year in the trade awards.

I cannot wait to have you at our 2019 June 2-6 Art of Writing retreat

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Florence on June 2-6 2019? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

The writing classes we can’t do without in our 2019 writer’s retreat.

The writing classes we can't do without in our 2019 writer's retreat.Starting your book? How can you keep it going? How is your narrative and dialogue? Your sense of place? How much does your first line matter? How important are your first five pages? These are all questions I’ve been mulling over – for YOU! What are the most important writing classes to cover over five nights and four days during our Florence retreat next June?

I adore learning how to create real characters – they’re what pull your readers’ emotions – but I also love learning about building a voice. Nowadays every agent I talk to goes on about ‘voice.’ It seems to be the fashionable word for publishers and agents right now. I mean, voice has always been important, but it seems to me ‘voice’ is the go-to word now for those actually buying or selling your work.

The writing classes we can't do without in our 2019 writer's retreat.
The Art of Writing June 2018 with Jane Corry

So, when planning 2019’s Art of Writing, how important are writing classes on suspense? Engaging your reader, so thatthey simply must turn the page? Vital, of course! It’s all essential: they’re all intertwined. So I am setting that class up too. Plus advice on how to build your social media platform. As well as more on narrative pace and momentum, along with the arc of your story.

It’s impossible to choose one focus over another. It’s all too important. So nothing will be left out. Next June 2-7 will have everything, as much as possible. All of it. Including leading literary agent Jeff Kleinman flying over from New York for our writers to pitch their ideas, plots, or books. It’s imperative you have the opportunity to sell your work, as well as improve it.

Suffice to say, all these writing classes are in. Sorry. You’ll be so tired you’ll be dragging yourself to the local piazza for wine or an espresso. Your brain will be so full of writing information you won’t be able to choose between lasagne or spaghetti carbonara. But you’ll be so inspired, your fingers will sing on the keyboard. Your pen will dance on the page.

That’s my dream. That you’ll be brimming with confidence. That nothing will stop you from doing what you love. Writing.

The writing classes we can't do without in our 2019 writer's retreat.

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Florence, Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together. Email me at so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Start a daily writing habit.

Start a daily writing habit.There has to be a way to get some words down. Not more words, just some words.

It’s summer in Florence. August, the month when no one works. Though that’s no excuse. Still, all the Florentines have left for the beach or the mountains. Florence is full of hot tourists trying to find their way to the Duomo. Temperatures are up to 40 degrees. My kids are on school holidays. The days are long and lazy – every one of them blue. Along with 99% of Italians, my husband is also on vacation. Luring me to the beach with promises of spaghetti alle vongole or risotto al mare, under a striped awning with a glass of cold wine. How on earth can I write my 10,000 words this month with all these temptations?

Enter the 250 words per day rule. That’s it, as low as I can go and still move my bookStart a daily writing habit.forward. It has to be the way to maintain some sort of flow. While my discipline is out the window, emergency measures are necessary. JUST 250 WORDS A DAY!

The thought ‘I should be writing,’ burns in my brain and makes my summer life really difficult. Trying to shake the ‘I should be writing’ chant is impossible. So I am trying out this daily writing habit – just 250 words per day.

When I don’t write, I am anxious. When I do write, I am happy, self-assured and fulfilled.

Do you want to try the 250 a day word rule with me? And let us know how you go? Or do you have any secrets, tips, formulas that can help me get through this Italian August with something to show for it?

Seriously, let me know.

PS: This Blog is 295 words, does that count?

Start a daily writing habit.

How to fall back in love with writing.

How to fall back in love with writing.It’s all too easy to feel burned out from writing when we’re struggling with deadlines and battling with an incomplete manuscript. The love of writing can so easily transform into a daily effort to get words on paper, where we wrestle with our muse and our creativity. 

It’s not easy rekindling your love for creating when the very thought of writing exhausts you, and you dread going to your desk. So how do you fall back in love with writing?

As one of my favourite creative teachers, Julia Cameron, says: ‘Do something for yourself that you normally wouldn’t do. In order to have a real relationship with our creativity we must take the time and care to cultivate it.’

How to fall back in love with writing. Elizabeth Gilbert, Big MagicSo nurture the artist within! It can be something as simple as an hour in a café, with a pen and paper, making a list of all the story ideas you want to write. Don’t worry about deadlines or time constraints, but do let your imagination wander and let yourself feel the throb and excitement of new ideas. Knowing that if you are a part of this Blog, you are a creative, here are some creative gift ideas to nurture your creativity and and help you fall back in love with writing:

Buy yourself a lovely new notebook, one that you always thought was too expensive for yourself.

Buy yourself some sweet little pot plants for your windowsill or garden.

How to fall back in love with writing. Elizabeth Gilbert, Big MagicGet those pots of rosemary, sage and basil – even if it’s just because they smell nice!

Buy some inexpensive water colours or sepia water colour pens and take the time to draw or paint some pages in your notebook, while you listen to your favourite music.

Get that special bottle of wine, special coffee or special tea – your favourite, not your child, mother or spouse’s favourite!

Buy a ticket to your favourite band, show, production or play.

Make or buy your favourite sauce, relish or jam.

How to fall back in love with writing. Toni MorrisonGo for a walk to your favourite museum or art gallery, or browse your favourite shop.

Make a date with yourself to go to some different flea markets or foreign food shop.

Read this blog on how photography can help you improve your writing, and this one on knowing when you and your writing need oxygen.

Buy at least one novel from a local bookstore (and spend a morning, afternoon, or whole day browsing books!).

This summer, stay cultured, stay calm and stay happy on the inside. Take breaks, and don’t be afraid to step away from your writing. Remember, the only way to truly nurture your writing and your creativity is to first nurture yourself

How to fall back in love with writing.

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Florence, Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Landing that dream publishing deal.

Landing that dream publishing deal.What a publishing deal! I haven’t yet written about my interview with one of our Art of Writing writers who recently received a publishing deal that has ‘sent ripples through the publishing world.’ Started five years ago on one of our retreats, this book has garnered a 6 figure advance in the USA and Australia.

To read her reaction to this deal is more than encouraging. It’s inspiringly thrilling. Because she is just like us. Trying, honing, working, writing, constantly thinking about and evolving her text. So further to my series on Why can’t it be you? here are some of our writer’s thoughts and reactions upon signing her publishing contracts.

Land that dream publishing deal - Jodi Picoult“I never thought this would happen to me. This is my first book. It took me about five years to write because I work and also have children. But I scraped the time together while my husband brought me cups of tea.”

“It’s always been a dream of mine, to write a book, so I thought I’d give it a crack. If I hadn’t booked in with the Art of Writing I would never have been forced to write those first 3,000 words. Sometimes you have to put yourself in the situation where you must write. People are waiting for your text. Lisa’s request for 3,000 words made me start.”

“Each day I moved the story forward. Just a little bit but it was moving ahead. I stayed with it.”

“I didn’t want to show up to the Art of Writing without having done my homework.”

“I’d had the idea in my head for a while. I felt a need to write it.”

“From now on I want to help older writers. I could never have written this book when I was younger. This is an accumulation of experiences, thoughts and my life’s understandings. It’s the older writers that already have the ideas and maturity. They’re the writers who need help getting their stories down. I needed years to grow the layers in my book.”

“I never expected this kind of success. I am still in a state of shock. I thought at best my family would find my manuscript in the bottom drawer of my desk during my post-funeral clean-up.”

“I wrote with my Art of Writing pen – I call it my luck pen!”

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Why can’t it be you?

One of the strongest emotions I had towards the end of our magical June Art of Writing retreat in Florence this year was: Why can’t it be you? Publishers and agents are constantly scouting for new talent. They want the next wonderful book. Why can’t that book be yours?

Publishers want your work. They need you, the writer. We often think agents and traditional publishers are doing us a favour by listening to our story lines, plot twists and personal memoir journeys. Not true. Without writers learning, growing, pushing themselves, they wouldn’t have a job. Writers keep agents and publishers employed. Your unique voice sustains a whole industry.

Why can’t it be you?
Left to right. Martha Ashby: Acquisitions Editor HarperCollins UK, Lisa Clifford: The Art of Writing, Jane Corry: Penguin thriller writer and our June 2018 teacher, Matthew Ferrara: Motivational speaker and creativity workshop inspirer.

Please don’t think you are not good enough. Writing a good book/novel/memoir does take time. You can expect four, five, six drafts – sometimes many more. You can expect to send your work off then have it sent back with huge structural change suggestions. Character foundation questions or character eliminations. Plot changes. I even had one editor ask me to change the end of Death in the Mountains, only to change their mind after I’d re-written an entire ending. They preferred the original ending (grrr).

One of our earlier AoW writers finally finished her manuscript. And guess what? She’s been offered an extraordinary two book deal in Australia and New York. It took her FIVE YEARS to write her novel. How wonderful though! How extraordinary – she never believed it would happen to her but it did. I will write more about our writer’s experience in my next Blog.

Why can’t the next successful writer on the best sellers list be you?

It has to be someone.

Why can’t it be you?

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