Scotswrite Collected Writing Wisdom

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I had a fantastic time as a delegate at Scotswrite 17, a 3-day conference for writers in Scotland organised by The Society of Authors. Here are some top tips from the weekend.

If you want to write for TV be sure to familiarize yourself with the layout of ‘shooting scripts’. You can find these online. If you are pitching to write for an existing programme, prepare to be drilled in interview on the characters and current storyline. (Martin McCardie)

If you’re lucky enough to have original work commissioned for TV or film Charlie Higson recommends negotiating full producing rights – or none at all. In between – visiting set but with no power to change anything – is not a happy place to be.

If applying to write drama for BBC Radio Scotland producer Kirsteen Cameron says simply pitch an idea – no need to write a full script as the producers like to be involved in the development of ideas. Find a producer you like from listening to the radio and pitch them directly. Some room for original short stories and radio dramas. (45 mins radio drama = approx. 7,500 words; a short story for radio = approx. 2,000 words.)

One of the most important parts of the creative process is spotting a good idea … and hanging on to it. (Charlie Higson)

Struggling to get past a writing block? Sometimes good enough is best. This will not be the last thing you write. (Mark Brown)

Writers have the opportunity to remove elements of stories that perpetuate injustice or stereotype. (The stories we make, make us.) Getting mental health right in fiction helps us to get it right in real life. (Mark Brown)

Consider working on several writing projects simultaneously. A different playlist – or even scent – for each project can help capture the ‘mood’ of each. (And the playlist can be great to share with your readers once the book is published.) (Charlie Higson)

Resist the temptation to be too grateful – this leads to not reading contracts properly and to undervaluing the work of the writer. (Know the going rate for your work. E.g. Scottish Book Trust ensures writers are paid £175 per hour for workshops, readings or other events. If you do decide to offer a free event, always outline what the standard agreement usually is to help others value and respect your time and that of your fellow writers.) (David Hahn / Emily Dodd)

If your work is being translated, don’t forget to enquire as to the name of your translator and send a friendly email at the start of the process. Often a translator won’t be able to make direct contact with the original author but an author can make contact and this can have a very good impact on the translation process. (David Hahn)

Don’t put on somebody else’s armour – just be yourself. (Emily Dodd.)

Don't confuse your self-worth with your writing, or a piece of writing. (Kevin MacNeil)

A great exercise in the empathy needed to be a writer is to imagine everyone you meet has a sign around their neck saying: ‘Imagine what it’s like to be me!’ (Kevin MacNeil)

It can be illuminating to ask actors to workshop around a problem in a narrative. Actors are primarily concerned with how events affect their own character and will ask pertinent questions like ‘why did my character do that when he / she just did that other thing?’ (Martin McCardie)

Take care of your physical health. Screens at eye level – don’t look down to your work. Don’t let bad habits develop such as working on the sofa with little regard to posture. (Caro Ramsay)

Make sure you have a will including any matters of copyright; consider assigning Power of Attorney also. (Elspeth Paget)

Know that in corporate publishing, there may be 30 people at an acquisition meeting. Crystallize that pitch until it is easy to share and unforgettable. (Sam Eades)


Thanks to all the organisers for their hard work in bringing this event to Scotland. It reminded me of my favourite aspect of a successful conference: that it extends our sense of what is possible.