Hone your observational skills and fire up your imagination.

In October 2023, I wrote about the nature of practice for writers and what we can learn from footballers and musicians. That post developed in to Grist, a program to help authors develop the basic skills they need to become great at their craft.

In the post, I outlined six things I think writers should practice regularly: 

  1. Observation

  2. Feeling both physical sensations and emotions

  3. Listening

  4. Intentional reading and watching

  5. Self-education

  6. Note taking

Of these, the first four will form the foundation of Grist, a monthly essay or sometimes a Zoom call, for paying subscribers where we talk about a topic that fits into one of those categories with the aim of adding a little extra grist to our creative mills.

What will Grist cover?

To give you a sense of the kinds of things I’m thinking of, here are some of the topics that I’d like to cover: 

  • Expanding our emotional vocabulary: Looking at the ‘emotional wheel’ and Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi’s The Emotion Thesaurus

  • First Five Minutes: Welcome to Wrexham vs The Matildas – how effectively does each series set up their premise? 

  • Reading: We’ll do a little background reading about Alhambra, a palace fortress in Spain, and discuss its similarities to stately homes and the usefulness of hidden spaces as plot devices. 

  • Chocolate tasting: How does bog standard milk chocolate compare to a mid-market dark chocolate, and how do they both compare to chocolate from the heritage Nacional cocoa tree, a variety that’s 5,300 years old? 

  • Deep listening: What is it, how do you do it and how will it help you when you’re doing research interviews? 

What will I get out of Grist?

Neil Gaiman talks about the need for writers to have a compost heap:

You know, for all writers, you kind of have a compost heap. And if any of you are not gardeners, kitchen people, the compost heap is where you throw all of the garden and the kitchen rubbish, the food scraps – you throw it all on the compost heap. And then it rots down. And a year or so later, you look around. And you just have this lovely brown stuff that you can put on the garden, out of which flowers and vegetables will grow.

And I think it's really important for a writer to have a compost heap. Everything you read, things that you write, the things that you listen to, people you encounter-- they can all go on the compost heap. And they will rot down. And out of them grow beautiful stories.

Grist is a way to regularly feed your compost heap with fascinating bits and bobs that will, over time, turn into valuable fertiliser for your stories. Indeed, all of the sessions will be designed to enrich an aspect of your writing, helping you to create:

  • More compelling characters

  • Lusher world building

  • Stronger language (with less cliché!)

  • Plots that are more deeply rooted in your fictional world

  • More powerful dialogue

  • Deeper insights into your characters’ interior worlds

  • A more resonant sense of time and place

  • A clearer understanding of structure, set-up and story progression

Every session will aim to give you something interesting to chew on, some nugget of information or understanding that can feed into your own work. And it will be a fun ride, with plenty of opportunities to get to know other writers.

When will the Grist sessions be held?

Most Grist content will be essays published in the Grist category. When we do a video call, it will be held on a weekday evening, usually 19:00 BST, so that subscribers from North America can join us.

These events won’t be recorded or available for catch-up – the value is being a part of the conversation. And that value is increased when people know that they aren’t being recorded and can thus share their ideas freely without worrying about what others might think later down the road. We all know how hard it can be to share our half-formed creative thoughts, and I don’t want to put barriers in anyone’s way.

Grist is open to subscribers of both Word Count and Why Aren’t I Writing?, who will be notified by email ahead of each session.

If you’re not already a paid subscriber, now’s a great time to become one! It’s only £5 a month or £50 a year.

Become a paid subscriber now to join Grist!