Friday, 22 March 2013


Imagine you’re a writer. Go ahead, millions of other people do it, and many of them dispense advice on the subject. Of course, we all know that any list of Top Ten Writing Tips should contain only one tip: ‘Stop writing lists of writing tips and get back to work.’ But the lists keep coming.

Now imagine you’re a successful writer, and someone asks you for your top writing tips. If you really knew the magic formula why would you give away the secrets that made you rich and famous, any more than Coca-Cola would reveal their recipe to help competitors put them out of business? You might offer some platitudes like ‘You can’t write the final draft first’ or ‘Try not to drink spirits before noon’ but that's it. So, given that all writing tips are bullshit, I offer the following UNWRITING TIPS, which are guaranteed to work, but not necessarily in a good way.


When in doubt, begin with a sex scene. Then do some writing.

If your friends say you should be a comedy writer, forget it. Comedy writers don’t have friends.

Motivate yourself with the ‘Carrot and Stick’ approach. You can stick the carrot wherever you want.

Don't waste time on being jealous of more successful writers. Focus on your task of sticking pins in little dolls of them.


Never use two words when one word will do instead of the two words you were going to use.

Always think about what you can leave out. For example, when sending work to agents, don't include a photograph of your genitals.

Write about what you know. But as if it had happened to someone who knows much more than you do.

If you’re adapting your own work, ignore the original author. If you have to collaborate, work in different rooms.

Always take a break if you've spent more than six hours at a stretch in online arguments about punctuation.

If you can consistently write five thousand words a day you should probably drink less coffee.

Remember, writing is rewriting. No, wait. GOOD writing is rewriting. Or maybe, "The BEST writing..." No, the first version was OK.


The key to writing an effective screenplay is tension and pacing. If you get too tense, get up and pace around for a while.

Write the film YOU'D watch if you were the kind of person who'd watch the type of film that someone like you would write.

Get to know your characters. Ask them questions. If they won't talk, lock them in a room with a rotting seal carcass.

Always know what your characters are doing when they're off screen. Make sure they're not sneaking off to appear in someone else's screenplay. If you catch them masturbating write a scene in which a piano falls on them.

It’s said that if Shakespeare were alive today he’d be selling scripts to Hollywood. But it’s more likely he’d be selling whatever's kept him alive all this time.


Always be concerned about plagiarism. If it's not happening to you, you're clearly not writing anything worth stealing.

If your agent is wearing a sombrero and you're not in Mexico, that could explain why you found it so easy to get an agent.

Always carry a notebook and jot down interesting things you see and hear. Except when you're in North Korea.

If your keyboard is sprinkled with flaky white powder and it's not drugs, it's probably time to wash your hair.

Never give up on your dreams. Except that one about the giraffe and the mayonnaise. That’s just sick.

Ensure your futuristic sci-fi script doesn’t go out of date by not writing it yet.

Always believe in yourself. Unless you’re a ghost. What kind of idiot believes in ghosts? Get over yourself.

Give your novel an exciting postmodernist vibe by writing about a character who strongly objects to being based on you.


Always think of yourself as a professional. Then all you have to do is find a profession.

cartoon illustration at top by Dan Pearce


  1. Love this - the perfect antidote to all the writing advice I look for instead of bloody writing! 8-)

  2. That made me laugh a lot. With that kind of 'I-know-it's-true' laughter ...

  3. Brilliant. One of the funniest blogs I've read

  4. I'm laughing and my son's looking at me as if weird. Hang on, I am.

    That was brilliant and sooooooo funny.

  5. Thanks for the appreciative comments. In the end, tips abut writing are like poems about swimming: they may be inspiring but they don't improve your technique. The only way to learn about writing is to write.

  6. Brilliant! Really funny. Helpful too! I honestly was never comfortable with that sombrero. Had me chuckling all the way through. Then I read some more of your posts and enjoyed them too. So, how do I follow your blog? I can't see an appropriate button.

    1. That's a good question. I've had a look and I think I need to add a Follow gadget. But right now I can only find one that wants everyone to be on Google+ which I'm not. I'll investigate. I don't know why I haven't done it before. Thanks for asking.

    2. Have you tried looking for an inappropriate button? ;)

  7. Lol. Great piece of writing on unwriting. Especially like the rewriting tips. From one writer to another:)

  8. Wonderful stuff. Is Utter Folly in paperback now? If so, I'll certainly be treating myself to a copy!

    1. Thanks, and yes, Utter Folly is available in print (from Amazon). All the best.

  9. Great! We all need a huge dose of unwriting every day.

  10. Love this, Paul. If it all goes wrong in law I will unwrite about why it went wrong, and then be doubly disappointed when nobody reads the blog. Proper familial inspiration. x

  11. Sex, drugs, and sausage rolls! I am currently waisting my time instead of writing, I might need a siesta now due to the stress of it all. Thanks for the tips......