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Writing – The Skills Of The Pen! by Nadine Sutton

I was asked to “write something about writing” and I started to think. I would like to talk about my work and to pass on a few tips to other aspiring writers.

But I often feel like writing is not a “real” skill.  One of my best friends can paint and draw, really well and I admire her so much.  I feel like she can use her hands to create something that didn’t exist before.   She can use her brain and creativity to put faces and images on paper and show them to others.  But all I’m doing is putting words on a page or a computer screen. Ordinary words, nothing special or scientific.   Words that everyone can understand.  We all do it every day. Even if we don’t write at work, we write notes for the milkman, shopping lists, notes to friends etc.

At work- in most of my jobs I’ve done quite a bit of writing and drafting information pieces and replies to clients. I like it, but some of them I can do in my sleep because they are very routine.  Others are more complicated.  But it is all “writing stuff down”.

So when I think of my writing stories, I often feel that it is not any special talent… – “all I do is think of a few things and put them on a page.”

It’s not a technical skill, once you master the basics of using a pen, or learning to type and being able to spell.  It doesn’t compare with using paint and brushes or drawing with pens and pencils and trying to achieve some kind of likeness.  Learning draughtsmanship and the use of paints and colours.   And it is not like being a musician and learning how to read music and play instruments.

So what is the skill involved?  Often when I work with an editor or ask a friend to look over something I’ve written, I am embarrassed by the duff lines that they point out, where the meaning is clumsily expressed, or there is too much repetition or a bad use of language.   I want to crawl away!  A friend once said to me “writers are often storytellers, rather than people who are elegant in how they express themselves.  Many writers just have an idea or a tale in their heads and they want to tell it to people, and they may not put it very beautifully but the story is good and interesting.”

I agree.  Certainly some of the authors I like to write are more storytellers than “beautiful writers as such”.  They may not write grammatically or elegantly, but they can put over the excitement of an adventure story.  People who are “fine writers” may not have very much to say.

So in a way, writing is about marrying up skills.  There is imagination, thinking of something that maybe never happened or could not happen, and making it seem real to the reader.   There is research, if you are writing about something that has not happened to you, learning about historical events or other issues, so that you make sure that the background of the story is accurate.

So where do my skills come in?  Having a reasonable degree of ego, I feel sure that I have some!

I am not – unlike some writers – very imaginative.   I have never tried to write fantasy, because I feel I can only write about something that really can happen.  I would never write vampire novels or stories about fairies or even the next world.  I even shy away from science fiction and science fantasy.   Most of my stories have a bit of my own real life in them, even if it is very oblique.  It is something that I have felt, or thought a lot about, or often, something that happened to me, even if it was years previously!

So when I write, I can’t imagine anything that I haven’t at least seen in a movie or TV, or in a portrait. Images come to me from the visual media.  And ideas for the action for the story, come from real life.

I enjoy research.  I love to read and can absorb information fairly quickly if it is a subject I enjoy reading about.

Until recently, I mostly wrote historically based stories, and that meant spending time reading books and internet articles on the eras I wanted to portray, so that I was sure that I knew enough about the time I was writing about to get things right.  Reading novels from the past helps get a feel for how people spoke then and how they used language.  Reading history helps to get the background of what events shaped them, what they would be talking and thinking about.   If you write about the upper classes, as is common in historical romances, then you need to know about the public events of the time, as many of them would be involved in politics or the military life and they would know about the goings on of the Royal family of that time.   You may wish to introduce historical real life characters and it is important to make them seem reasonably like they were in life.  I feel that it is unfair to real people not to pay them that much respect.  Many Regency writers enjoy using the Duke of Wellington, who had a very distinctive personality and a blunt way of expressing himself.

For most romance writers, Georgette Heyer is a great resource.   I am sure that she has been an inspiration to most would be writers.  Even if her dialogue is a very stylized expression of Regency language, and was not written at that time, it still gives a feel of real life Regency language.   Jane Austen is a contemporary writer for that era, and her language is simple and direct compared to earlier 18th Century writers.

So research is important and enjoyable.  I mostly do it by reading but I also ask people questions, if they have specialised knowledge about jobs that I don’t know much about. It can be quite hard to get a reply at times, and you need to be persistent.  But research is something that needs to be handled delicately.  It can clog up the flow of the story if you stop and put in a big chunk of something that you read up, just because you want to use it. I think it is better to use your research lightly and just make short “one sentence references”, glancing at the subject, rather than a paragraph.   In real life, people didn’t “go on” at length in conversation about something that was common knowledge.  They might just mention it in passing.

So when you have your characters, and ideas for what is going to happen to them in the story, and have read up enough about the country and/or era where they are going to be “living”, then you start!  I am a “seat of the pants” writer. I don’t usually plan, and if I do plan, I often change things because I feel that the character wouldn’t do this or that when I get to know them better. I don’t write outlines and I admit it, I don’t like to re write!  I plunge in, start the story and then have to stop about half way through and work out how it is going to end.

Then when it is all finished, the hard work begins.  Submission to a publisher will mean editing and re writing. A tactful intelligent editor is an angel and there are some of them out there.  I find that a good editor can help to make the work so much better, without losing the freshness of your original ideas or changing your characters.  It helps to deepen the characters and “bring them out” so that the reader can get inside their heads.  A good editor can point out mistakes, and inconsistencies, which happen to the best writers.  And she can look at it with a fresh eye and notice clumsy wordings or repetitions which can mar the work or confuse the reader. It does mean some re writing, but if you have thought about your work as you have been going along, it is not too hard and there is the satisfaction of knowing that you’re making the book better.

So that’s what it is all about.  Writing is a skill, thinking of something entertaining or meaningful that you want to tell people about, and finding a way of embodying it in the people that you put into your work. Then there’s the research to get the basics right.  Then the actual writing, which is the fun part, seeing your ideas take shape on the page. And last of all the hard work of improving it, making it sound good, making it clear to your readers, reaching out to them to convey your enjoyment.  It all begins with one sentence on a page!


Tree-solo 250Bio: I come from Ireland, but I have lived in many different places. I’ve spent many years in Ireland, and shorter times living in Europe. For a long time now, I have lived in London, with my partner, but I don’t see it as my permanent home. However, I enjoy the artistic side of London life. I love to walk around and see buildings that have been here for centuries and to look around historical monuments, particularly the Royal Palaces. I enjoy the theater though it does not seem to me as good as it used to be! I used to go very often, now it’s more like an occasional treat. But I really love music, particularly country, folk, “light” opera, some Rock, and the music of the great musicals; I take advantage of being in London to attend concerts.

My hobbies are sedate ones. I like to knit and used to make a lot of woollies when I lived in cold climates. I also try my hand at things like flower arranging, jewellery making and painting. I used to swim and ride horses, and to play a little tennis, but I don’t get time for that nowadays. I love music and enjoy very much listening to music and going to concerts and musicals, and I take singing lessons. Naturally I love to read and always have a couple of books or my Kindle with me. I enjoy walking and an occasional game of golf and I love board games. I also enjoy travelling, whether by train, boat or air. I particularly love America, and hope to visit there again very soon.

My initial degree was in history. I loved English but I wanted to do something more “relevant” and I dabbled in politics. When I left college, I worked in many different fields, changing jobs quite often. Some of my jobs were to do with books; I was a library officer and worked in the office of a bookshop. I’ve also worked in the legal field, in education, in social work support, and in businesses. At present, I work in a public service and health field. I’ve worked in social work, helping with volunteer organizations. I used to work with a hostel for homeless people and with visiting the elderly and people in need.

My great hobby is reading, which naturally led me to want to write. I started writing when I was a kid, with absolutely no success. I wrote very serious short stories, usually with a feminist slant! I tried serious historical fiction. Then I gave it up for some years as I needed to earn a living and didn’t have the time. I enjoy my work, but I love to write. It is a very important creative outlet for me, as my job, while it’s useful in promoting public health and very worthwhile, helping the public, doesn’t have any creative side.

I have also done light journalistic work, on women’s issues, but about 10 years ago I began to explore creative writing, and to try to write fiction again. I took a few classes, and then I started to write light historical fiction, and joined writers’ groups. Now I’ve chosen to write modern fiction and my new story The Lovers of the Road is the result. I am looking forward to its being published and to finding, I hope, some new fans.


loversoftheroad_200x300A road trip to Nashville with a young Irish immigrant has Garth Clayton questioning everything he’s ever believed about himself. Will Garth embrace his true self or lose the only man he’s loved?

Garth Clayton is a guy who doesn’t have any complaints about his life. He’s a successful musician and songwriter. He lives very well in a New York bachelor pad with a steady girlfriend, which isn’t too shabby for an introverted kid from the Bible belt. When he offers a ride to an Irish immigrant, he never expects his life to turn upside down.

Connor Adams is the opposite of Garth. He’s wild, foolish, and not about to apologize for who he is. He likes to live on the edge. When he is nearly arrested for a fight in a gay bar, Garth is shocked to learn of Connor’s sexual preference. Unable to hide the truth any longer, Garth confesses the deep secret he’s kept buried—he’s attracted to men.

Garth and Connor start a secret love affair, but when Connor asks Garth to be truthful about their relationship with his parents, he can’t bring himself to do it. Unwilling to be his “dirty little secret” any longer, Connor ends things. Will Garth stop hiding his true self, or will he lose the man he loves?

Buy a copy of ‘Lovers Of The Road’ at Breathless Press.