Category: The Art of Writing

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.


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.

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?

Developing Your Platform

Developing Your PlatformLast week Matthew Ferrara talked about connecting the art of writing with the art of photography, which he will be teaching in much greater detail in his Art of Writing ‘Connect the Arts’ lecture in June.

Matthew is also an absolute leader in teaching writers how to connect to their readers online. For this week’s Blog, let us concentrate on his class on ‘Developing Your Platform’ class, which he will also be hosting for us in June and where he will advise each of us on our internet profile and help us work out how to master social media networks. I for one, am in desperate need of this kind of tailored information. We can reach so many people through the internet if only we understood more about it. Matthew says that now more than ever every author, in fact, every business, needs an online strategy.

Developing Your Platform“Writers today have lots of online options for creating long-lasting connections with their readers. They are building strong communities of loyal fans, who provide them with feedback and ideas for their future projects. Online communities are one of the strongest sources of referrals and testimonials that can boost your book sales. Every author needs to develop an online strategy that contributes to their lasting success.”  

Matthew will lead us into his Art of Writing talks with a series of tips and tricks in understanding the different kinds of social media and how they can work for you. Here is what he has to say about the importance of listening to your readers to help you understand your online brand:

Developing Your PlatformGreat Authors Listen, then Write. One of the greatest opportunities of modern technology is the ability to “talk” to so many of our readers and fans. With social media, it’s easy to send updates on our next book, book signing appearances and continue the conversations we start in our books. Yet great writers know that the source of their best efforts starts with their ears, not their fingers: listening to the ideas, feedback and comments from readers is a rich source of materials. In many ways, successfully building your brand using the web starts by opening “listening spaces” using social media, video and your blog. Ask questions that get your readers involved: Which way should you go? What character should you add – or kill off? What moved them the most in your last piece? Don’t waste the opportunity to get people connected to your characters, your ideas and your brand by merely using social media as an announcement tool. Curate simple conversations that offer them a stake – a chance to influence – your future work. When your ears do the listening, it’s easier for your fingers to do the writing.

Sincerely and personally, I am beyond excited about Matthew’s classes, and I cannot wait to hear more of what he has to say. 

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing in Florence? 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.


How Photography Can Help Improve Your Writing

Look through your lens before picking up your pen. In Matthew Ferrara’s words, here’s how he uses photography to help flesh out characters and scene setting, and to jumpstart his creativity when he’s feeling stuck. His class on how to Connect the Arts will be at 16:30 on June 5!

As a writer, one of the most important things we do is “set a scene.” The places where our stories unfold are as important as our characters and their actions. Developing interesting and heart-felt scenes is hard work: It’s more than describing the features of a room or buildings on a street. Helping readers get a sense of detail, dimension, sounds and light challenges us to see the picture very clearly in our heads first. Then the words can flow across the page. One way I help myself do this dovetails with my other passion – photography – to visualize real scenes I’ll turn into places for my stories and articles.

As a photographer, each photo is like a dozen opening paragraphs compressed into a few inches of space. Just like an opening chapter, I have to compose each shot as I take it; frame the moment; highlight the action and draw the reader into the action. My camera is like a drafting tool. If I’m going to open a story in the countryside, I drive out to a place near my house and take my camera for a walk. I’ll capture different times of the day, try different angles and play with the light. Sometimes I’ll spot something I almost overlooked, like an odd rock formation or a camouflaged bird in a tree. Those surprises encourage me later to vary my starting points for setting a scene.

Other times, I spend the day photographing people on the street. Catching a waitress in a café or a clever street performer helps me save glimpses of character traits for future stories. A unique smile or a strange piece of clothing journeys from my camera to characters on the page. I’ve learned to “always be on the lookout” for a scene, some action or clever ray of light that can catch my reader’s attention. When I draft articles and need new ideas, I sit with my computer and flip through photos until something jumps out at me. If I get stuck describing a place or a person or even a plate of food, I look back through my shots to give my brain a gentle jolt of creativity.

Connecting different forms of creativity – photography, dancing, painting, cooking – to our writing is a powerful way to think of new ways to compose scenes. Every art form has unique perspectives and powerful ways of using places, people, sights and sounds, just like a writer does. To make my stories come alive, I often start by looking through my lens, before picking up my pen.

Florence at sunset

How to create interesting characters, Part 2.

How to create interesting charactersContinuing our look at character building, here is the second part of my series on how to create interesting characters. These two paragraphs were written by Martyn Bedford, our 2017 Art of Writing teacher. It’s wonderful advice.

It’s important that your character develops in the course of the story. By the end they should be different (either practically or emotionally) than they were at the outset. This can be subtle or dramatic but the lead character needs to have changed in some way. If they end the narrative as they began it, unaltered by what happens along the way, there is no story.

To be ‘real’, a character needs to be particularized not generalized – by that, I mean they must not be stereotyped, but individual and unique. Paint him or her in small details rather than broad brushstrokes.

How to create interesting charactersIn other news:

Emma Fraser, our Art of Writing manuscript assessor, tells us that Bloodhound Books are opening up for submissions on March 10th. This could be a great ‘in’ if you are working on something with suspense.

And why are publishers still coming out with hardbacks first?

Lastly, the link below is a nice Infographic from Global English Editing and the Expert Editor.

On the writing routines of 20 famous writers. I enjoyed it because am always struggling with my own writing routine!

How to create interesting characters

The key to creating interesting characters.

Last year I grew as a writer. All thanks to Martyn Bedford. This special, kind and giving English gentleman walked me through some marvelous moments in character building and on creating interesting characters. Martyn Bedford was our main teacher at the Art of Writing last June. His teaching techniques were sublime. Not only do we LOVE Martyn’s books, we also love that he is a Creative Writing teacher who actually writes. So much easier to trust a teacher who does what they teach.

Here are some of Martyn’s valuable words of wisdom on creating interesting characters.

For me, character is the key to any piece of fiction. It is more important than plot, because if we aren’t interested in the character(s) we won’t be interested in what they do or in what happens to them.

Drama is human, not inanimate.

So give them desires, fears, attitudes, emotions. Ask yourself: What motivates my protagonist? Who is she/he? What does she/he want and why?

Become an actor playing the part of that character. In each scene, get inside their head, or put yourself in their position, and let that inform how they speak, think, behave, feel. Take us inside your character’s thoughts, let us see through her/his eyes.

Wherever possible, instead of telling the reader about your character, show her/his inaction and dialogue. Let us see for ourselves what she/he is like.

Be sure to make your hero or heroine central to the plot – the story’s driving force, its beating heart. And take care that she/he is active rather than passive. In other words, don’t make the main character little more than a window on the story or a piece of driftwood floating on the tide of other character’s actions.

Martyn Bedford:

This year Jane Corry will be our Art of Writing teacher, in Florence, from June 3-8.

This is Jane’s second time with the Art of Writing because we adore how she teaches us to infuse suspense into all our projects. Let’s face it, nowadays if you don’t hook your reader quickly, your readers won’t want to turn the page. No matter what you are writing, a family history, historical fiction, a romantic comedy or your own memoir, engaging your readers immediately is more essential than ever.

More on Martyn’s character building tips next week. And all the very best to you from a freezing Florence. It snowed in the mountains around Florence yesterday. Very conducive to writing.

But I Don’t Know Where to Start!

Writers often ask me where they should start their story. They have the idea in their heads. Scenes, thoughts or characters whirl in their imaginations. That’s where you should start writing. With whatever it is that is tugging at your mind.

This point is clearer, in an old Blog post recently found by a reader: Start with a fragment. John then sent a series of questions. I have outlined them here for this week’s Blog. I hope this helps!

But I Don’t Know Where to Start!

I wonder about your research methods, and how much, if at all, they vary for non-fiction or fiction. Do you scout sites/locations, just as film crews do?

With my Creative Non-Fiction books I always scout the real location. Though what ends up on the page may vary greatly from the original site, I find it necessary to go to the location.

Was sketching the only way you could recreate an appropriate scene? I expect that you have also used many images, both your own photos, and those available on the web, to provide colour, texture and detail to stimulate your imagination, but are there any of the old mezzadria farmhouses still preserved in a state that reflects the early 20th century?

When I sketched the old Tuscan farmhouse setting for Death in the Mountains I needed to understand the feel of the living room and kitchen. If I know what it looks like in my imagination, readers will too. I won’t get confused, so my readers won’t get confused. Stories often play out in kitchens and living rooms. So we must know exactly their dimensions and building materials. Knowing those elements gives us sight, sound, smell and touch. If I know what the floor is made from, I can imagine the sound of footsteps, or creaking wooden floor boards. The sounds of children playing on floor boards etc.

But I Don’t Know Where to Start!

Do you ‘walk through’ your rooms/scenes, in or out of character, to get the feel of the setting and to capture ‘their’ reactions? I guess I’m trying to see how you visualise what you are creating.

Yes, when I’m writing, I am inside my head so much that I don’t even see my office, I see my site or location. My characters walk. How many steps does it take? When Artemio was attacked in his barn, he crawled to the house. How far away was the barn to the house? He fell against the front door. How? What exactly did his body do? How did Bruna drag him in, a woman on her own? How did Felice and Bruna drag him up the stairs? How close was the door to the stairs? You have to totally immerse yourself physically and mentally in the scene’s action, understand everything about it. Only then you can describe it. You have to feel it happening.

But I Don’t Know Where to Start!

Does it in any way approach being an observer, describing settings, even ‘recording’ conversations?

Yes, I record conversations and interviews all the time. Try to get the nuance of voices, dialect, sayings, odd phraseology. Tone too – gravelly, high pitched. Voices reveal so much and later, when I’m transcribing I can find so much more description.

Thanks so much John! Don’t hesitate to write back, everyone, with any thoughts or questions.

I hope others are as interested in your answers as I am. Thanks again for sharing aspects of your writing process with us.


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