Thursday 16 January 2020


This time of year can be very hard, it is often dark and grey outside. There might’ve been pressure over the holiday period when well-meaning people ask, ‘Are you STILL wring your book?’ or ‘When IS your going to be published?’ It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, particularly if you feel like you have
Writing pressures
been writing/editing for a long time, you’re facing edits/rewrites, or it’s a blank screen blinking at you because you can’t think of an idea, but you know you want to write. It’s hard, but you need to ignore these pressures and focus on your writing.

One of the most important things you can focus on is the difference a story can make to the reader, particularly if you are writing for children or young adults. A story can help a reader escape their reality. It can provide a sense of hope and a belief that things can be all right in the end. Stories can be a way to understand the world we live in. We hear the term ‘windows and mirrors’ a lot, but it is important. A book can provide a window on someone else’s life, so a reader can walk in their shoes, or it can be a mirror, so a reader can see themselves in a story. This is particularly important when thinking about creating stories that are inclusive. Writers should not shy away from difficult and challenging themes as well because a book is a safe place for a reader to explore said themes. The stories provide an opportunity to ask questions of the narrative but also for the reader to ask questions of themselves. It helps them work out who they are, but just as importantly, who they are not.

In a world that is becoming increasingly hostile and intolerant, it is important to encourage empathy. It is proven that reading stories can create empathy. Empathy Lab is doing great things to #EmpathyDay is 9th June this year. They also create a reading list entitled Read for Empathy Guides for Primary and Secondary which schools. Empathy is a key element of emotional intelligence, and part of helping children to appreciate others. As writers we understand we need to create fully rounded characters and that includes emotional depth: even the ‘baddies’ in a story should be making decisions that are right for them, emotionally, at that particular moment.
highlight the importance of empathy around the country.

Philip Pullman
When thinking about your writing, I will add a caveat for all writers. I have spent many years supporting aspiring writers in my jobs either as a Creative Writing Lecturer or working as an editor/workshop leader at The Golden Egg Academy. There is a moment when a new writer comes to me and confidently tells me about their story starting with the words ‘My story is going to give a message about…’ It might be any contentious subject or a moral message of some sort, whatever it is my heart sinks. I can understand the desire to want to write a story like that but invariably they become didactic. Philip Pullman summed it up brilliantly in his acceptance speech for his Carnegie Medal when he suggested ‘”Thou shalt not” is easily forgotten but “Once upon a time…” is remembered forever.’ What this means to me is that the story has to be the priority, not the message. Focus on that and let the narrative do the work rather than lecturing the reader.

Keep writing your stories, focus on the hope you can create and empathy. Remember books show that the world can be a better place and that the reader can make it so: as Neil Gaiman has suggested when talking about reading: ‘You’re finding something out as you read that will be vitally important for making your way in the world. And it’s this: The world doesn’t have to be like this. Things can be different.’

Stories bring hope, even in these difficult times. Remember the difference you can make.  Good luck with your writing. I know it’s hard, but you can do it.

'Those Sweet Words' by Norah Jones for today


  1. I agree totally about the story taking precedence over any 'message'. I liked a comment Mel Brooks made once, saying that he was all for messages, even in a comedy, but that they needed to folded into the story; they should never ever take the place of the story.

  2. That is a brilliant comment by Mel Brooks, I love it. Thank you Nick.