The Observant Writer

by Helen Kenwright

It’s easy to get lost in our own heads, as writers. That’s not a bad thing: sometimes our minds just get full of Stuff and Feelings and Weird Imaginings that are much better off written down. But it’s also helpful to look more closely at the real world around us. Through observation we improve our descriptive skills, which in turn will make it much easier to write down the Stuff, Feelings and Weird Imaginings. 

I have a ‘7 Sources of Inspiration’ list to turn to when I want to brush up my skills and get some new ideas along the way: objects, places, people, sounds, art, seasons and elements. 


This is the classic writing exercise: choose an object and observe it in all its glory. Look at it from all angles, prod it, sniff it, lick it (if safe!). Look at it in different lighting. Through a magnifying glass. Through dark glasses. As if through the eyes of a child. Just really, really, look. It’s a classic for a reason: the more we look at something the more we forget it’s socially constructed label (‘pebble’) and the more we develop our own language for our observation, whether concrete description (‘gritty’, ‘smooth’, ‘rough’, ‘brown’) or more poetic (‘glittering mica’, ‘ice-smooth’) or delving straight into symbolic meaning (‘guardian of the centuries’, ‘essence of the earth’, ‘building block of creation’). It’s all good. 

It’s amazing how little we do really observe the world around us, especially the familiar parts. Next time you read an amazing description of a milk jug in a novel, don’t think ‘I could never write like that’. Think, ‘Wow, that writer really understood that milk jug’. And then go off, notebook in hand,  and find a milk jug to stare at for a while.

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Ranting, Blogging and Self-Expression

By Helen Kenwright

We all love a good rant, right? 

That moment when things have built up inside you to fever pitch and all your frustration and tension bursts out of you in a torrent of words, faster than a pro rapper and frequently littered with expletives: you might rant out loud, on paper or perhaps you actually are a rapper and spit it out in bars on a stage. However you do it, it can be a really valuable release.

It can also be entertaining for an audience, readership or incidental bystanders. A lot of stand-up comedy routines are well-crafted rants which pick the audience up and carry them along with passion and humour (especially satire, sarcasm and irony), inviting the audience to agree, to applaud, to get all the benefits of the rant without having to peep a word themselves. 

But there are obstacles which can prevent us reaping the benefits of our ranting. In this post I’ll give some tips on how to get the best out of a rant, whether for your own wellbeing or to entertain others.

After all, the whole world has a lot to rant about right now. 

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Working from Home: Tips from Writers. Or, how to pull creativity from chaos.

by Helen Kenwright

Many writers are already experienced home workers, whether novelists, agency writers or freelancers. Writing doesn’t pay much (if anything) so office premises are but a distant dream for most of us. Or even, a nightmare. A lot of us actively enjoy working in our own space, safely separated from the rest of humanity. 

So we are ideally placed, not only to survive the current crisis without a sense of major change (except for the toilet roll shortages; I’m afraid I have no clue how to solve that one) – but to thrive in glorious isolation. We can hand on our wisdom to all those workers who find themselves with a work laptop perched on the edge of their kitchen table, wondering how Jane from accounts is coping and planning how to cover up the unfortunately yellowed wallpaper (with the ketchup stain on it) before it features as a backdrop for their next conference call on Zoom.

It’s also a good opportunity to check in on ourselves and our own working practices. Perhaps we can take this opportunity to make sure that when lockdown is over, our doors open and we emerge, blinking into the sunlight, we are in good shape to handle the brave new world awaiting us.

So read on for some tips on how to have a healthy working life at home, whether you’re a writer or Jane from accounts, who’s trying to manage a spreadsheet on one screen and homeschool her children on the iPad.

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New Adventures

At York Literature Festival, on 16th March, we will have a very special Writing Tree event. It’s been really exciting to plan this, and our own event at such a well-established Festival marks an important landmark for us. Over the past year, alongside our usual services, we have been developing a modest publishing portfolio, and plans for an in-person writers’ club in York, both of which will be launched at the event. These developments are focused on our usual mission of supporting writers, including those who are less often catered for in mainstream writing activities.

Our Writing Club will be an opportunity for writers of all levels of experience and with all kinds of writing goals to meet like-minded others. We want to offer a range of activities, including space to share writing tips, develop projects and socialise. Many writers are nervous to join local writing groups, especially if they don’t yet feel comfortable sharing their work; yet they are keen to meet other people who enjoy writing as much as they do. The Writing Tree Writers’ Club aims to provide a place where this can happen. The York branch will be a pilot project, and we hope to offer clubs in other places in the future. 

Similarly, as an emerging Independent Publisher we aim to cater for writers who might otherwise find it daunting to get their writing out there into the world, and lack a voice as a result. We aim to open for general submissions in the future, but at the moment we are working with carefully selected partners while we hone our publishing model. 

Our first such partner is Converge, a project based at York St John University, which provides high quality education for people recovering from mental illness. Last summer we published ‘Creative Writing Heals‘, an anthology of work by their creative writing students. We are currently preparing to bring out their second volume, as the first was so successful that annual sequels are planned. 

Meanwhile we are about to launch our second in-house anthology of fiction written by our own writers, teachers and editors. Ocean will be available from the 16th March, and you will be able to read an excellent bonus story from Ekaterina Fawl here on our blog from Tuesday. Don’t miss it!

So, we’ve been very busy behind the scenes, but over the coming months we’ll be back here on the blog, bringing you ideas and advice to help develop your writing. If there’s anything you’d like us to talk about, do say so in the comments and we’ll do our best to oblige!

Happy writing,

The Writing Tree Team.

The Joy of Restraints: deadlines, themes and wordcounts.


In theory, writing a story which might be included in an anthology seemed like a wonderful idea. In practice, it seemed like a very stupid one. Once I’d decided to go for it, every single story seed I’d ever had promptly withered and died. I wandered around for days trying to shake something promising out of my brain, but to no avail. Cue self-doubt and panic: I’d blithely committed myself to producing something and I couldn’t even think of anything suitable, let alone write it. Worse still, there was a deadline, an absolute date by which I’d agreed to submit a story for publication. It seemed like the only answer might be gin.

Forest. I rolled the word around my brain as I walked the dog. What sprang to mind when I heard the word ‘forest’? What pictures formed in my head?

Teddy bears. Yep, teddy bears. ‘If you go down to the woods’ and all that, swiftly followed by Goldilocks and axe-men intent on lopping the heads of princesses at the behest of jealous step-mothers. Ridiculous, I told myself; you’ll have to think again. Continue reading

Crafting a poem: an insight

by Susi Liarte

In this post I’m going to cover how I usually approach writing poems. It’ll be reflective of the type of poetry I like to read and write, which is short, rhythmic poems that try to capture some imagery or poignancy. There is no ‘knowledge’ required of types of poetry and it is not my aim to cover that in this post, so I’ll be using very little terminology. I’ll work on doing that in another post. With that out of the way, let’s start!

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The Writing Squad

writing group pixabay

by Ekaterina Fawl

Writing is a lonely pursuit. There’s really no way around it: when it’s happening, it’s just paper – or the screen – and you. We have the company of our characters, of course. We draw constant, invaluable mentorship and inspiration from our favourite authors. But there’s nothing quite like sharing your stories with actual real people.

Unless you’re already a successful writer, swamped by fanmail, you might struggle finding readership. Your Mum might read your latest masterpiece, but you might not get much more than “That was nice, dear” in terms of feedback. It might be time to discover local members of your secret tribe of mad scribblers and join a writing group. Continue reading



by Helen Kenwright

Most of the writers I know have a stack of notebooks that live a quiet life, sitting on a shelf or in the deep darkness of a drawer or chest. Doomed to be unwritten in, simply because they’re ‘too pretty to use’. I confess I have this problem myself. I can’t resist a pretty notebook, and generous friends buy them for me, too. But then I buy a stack of cheap, plain ones to write my drafts in. Workhorses. Ordinary enough that I won’t mind crossings out and bad handwriting and all that messy stuff that happens when you’re crafting something. Continue reading

No writer is an island

by Cathryn Burge

If there’s an opinion piece type that’s guaranteed to raise my blood pressure, it’s one in which the author pontificates about How To Write – particularly if their pontificating is dressed up as well-meant advice. And there are lots of articles like that out there, especially on the internet. Here, have a small selection:

  • If I’m reading a Western story and the author has tried to render the characters’ accents phonetically via non-standard spelling, I stop reading. Please don’t.
  • I don’t judge … well, actually, I do. I stopped reading a romantic story when the author thought the expressing ‘sucking face’ would make a nice change from ‘kissing’. It didn’t.
  • Careless spelling in summaries augurs ill for a story. ‘Adam’s proposal peeked Rickard’s interest’. Peeked. PEEKED. Someone please tell the author the word they were looking for was ‘piqued’.
  • Another phrase I’m sick of reading is ‘their tongues fought for dominance’.

Don’t get me wrong: we (almost) all do it. We look at other writers’ work and pass judgement on it. After all, why shouldn’t we? Developing the ability to differentiate between what works and what doesn’t can help us make our own writing better. But how can we be sure of what’s ‘good’ and what’s ‘bad’? What standards do we use to guide us? Continue reading

The Writer’s Cooldown

by Helen Kenwright

So, how was Nanowrimo for you? Or perhaps there’s another big writing project you’ve recently finished?

One of the criticisms sometimes directed at Nanowrimo is that it can cause writer burn-out. Hopefully if you’ve followed the advice in Ekaterina’s blog post last month you won’t have succumbed to total mental and physical exhaustion. But there can be an aftermath to be dealt with, and in this post we give you some advice to help move forward from the experience, however it went, and keep writing into the future. Continue reading

Review: Lights, Camera, Fiction!

Lights, Camera, Fiction! by Alfie Thompson

reviewed by Susi Liarte

In this post I’m going to write about why I love this book, what it offers (and what it doesn’t) and how it can help writers among the many other writing books out there. I haven’t read any of the author’s other books, but I know she has published one called Writing for the Reader which I’m interested in checking out next.

Lights, Camera, Fiction! packs a lot into a slim, 250 page volume. Its tagline is “A movie lover’s guide to writing a novel”. The book approaches the subject by analysing several well-known films and picking out different aspects such as character and plot in order to showcase what they do well, and how this can work for novels as well as screenwriting. The core structure pairs one film for each topic as follows, but references and examples to other films are scattered throughout. Continue reading

NaNoWriMo, your wrists and the triumph of common sense

by Ekaterina Fawl

My first NaNoWriMo was a wild ride.

I’d heard about this challenge from a friend. They weren’t doing it that year; all my questions as to why not were met with hollow laughter.

I decided to give it a try, and do it all by myself. I didn’t join the website, thinking it would just upset me if the Internet recorded my early failure for the posterity. I didn’t think I needed a writing buddy, or any kind of community support. All I needed was write 1667 words a day for a month. Easy.

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The Landscape of Inspiration

by Susi Liarte

Imagine you are walking through an old town. The houses and paving are all made from local materials because these were the easiest to gather at the time. This is what it means to write what you know – to draw from the experiences and inspiration you have to hand. However, it does not limit what you can create because you are always gaining new ideas. When you are walking through a different story, a different author’s landscape, even when you are looking at familiar things they are built in a unique way. Your work from the past is also an old town; what you create now can capture its style or rise like a piece of modern architecture. Regardless, what you design with your imagination needs a strong foundation – the writing craft itself. Continue reading

Writer’s Block

by Ekaterina Fawl

This happens to every writer sooner or later: the words stop flowing. The muses have left. The writer’s block has descended, and you can’t write anymore.

That, of course, isn’t really the case. We’re always able to write. Any skills we have learnt are still there, our talent, imagination and creativity don’t disappear. And yet sometimes it feels like there’s no way to push through this slump, or worse, no reason to even try writing again. Continue reading