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Kraken by Kraken

By Beatrice Hitchman

1. Don’t write what you know. Or do. I don’t have any answers. If you write what you know, you might end up really bored.

2. If you’re bored – even a bit bored – the reader will be doubly, trebly, infinitesimally bored.

3. So what if you write what you don’t know? What if you write about a mermaid swimming, heartsore, off the edge of the Marianas Trench? What if you write about an eighteenth-century female pirate, swashbuckling to save her lover? What do you need to know to do it well? Start with the bare minimum, try not to worry, and build outwards from there.

4. What’s with all the nautical imagery? Are we all swimming in the dark? Just follow the submersible’s headlights. The writer Anne Lamott recommends we build up our stories bird by bird. You only need to see one step, stream of bubbles, one Kraken ahead.

5. If you are using a spreadsheet to plan your first draft, consider whether you are really getting into the spirit of the thing, because you must.

6. embrace the darkness. Metaphorically, technically, if not literally (we want you to keep your eyesight good for a fifty-year writing career). As writers, when bad things happen, we are blessed and cursed with ‘good material’: the uncanny ability to take that desperation and recycle it into seductive prose, allegedly to help others feel less lonely (but caveat: you are your own Orpheus. You’re mainly doing it to help yourself.)

7. When you’re writing, as Atwood says, you’re always ‘dealing with those from previous layers of time…negotiating with the dead.’ Writers are always haunted, and we might as well get used to it, but ignore what’s been done before, or what others are doing. Nobody can cope with that much history.

8. What else will you meet down there? Every story needs a good monster, but forgive the poor phrasing of my question. The monster needs to be a who.

9. You’re going to ask me about getting published. And I’m going to say, that’s like panning for gold: luck, perseverance, poring over maps, all play a part, and so does the thrill of holding up the glittering speck of a success. But really, asking about getting published is also, kind of, the wrong question. Why do free divers go down to such enormous depths on a single breath? Because they love it. Sure, it’s great to have a World record, but it’s also because it’s in their veins: because they can’t not dive. The writing is the bit you can control, so focus on that, and the publishing may – or may not – follow.

10. I don’t have any answers. Heave ho, boys. As Mantel says: ‘…do I take my own advice? Not a bit.’

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