Welcome to Tim Lott's Writing Bootcamp
Tough love for those who love writing
Tim Lott’s Writing Boot Camp
Hi, I’m Tim Lott. I’m a writer - and I’m tired.
I’m tired of the creative writing industry – of which I’m a part - and all the seductive promises it makes to hopeful writers.
I’m tired of people teaching novel writing and memoir who have only a limited understanding of what they’re talking about – especially if they happen to be literary academics rather than working novelists or memoirists.
And I’m tired of watching students hand over their money, week after week, to buy what in some cases is simply a mixture of fairy dust and snake oil.
In order to refresh myself I’ve started this Newsletter so I can instruct others while debunking myths and feeding out the knowledge I’ve picked up in 25 years as novelist and ten years as a writing teacher.
All for free ( mostly).
I want to bring to your attention the fact that there are some difficult truths about novel writing which it suits the creative writing industry ( and make no mistake it is an industry, for all its cuddly, genteel demeanour) to keep under wraps – or at least not think about too much.
(This, incidentally, is where the ‘Boot Camp’ comes in. Not because I’m expecting you to get up at 5 am and do road work, but because my strand is about hands-on, practical advice without any frills. It’s Tim Lott’s Tough Love)
The first difficult truth is – yes, anyone can write a novel, but very few people can write a good novel. Because they don’t really know what makes a novel work. Or - equally likely -they simply don’t have sufficient talent or imagination.
Also writing a novel is not ‘fun’ – at least not all of the time. It’s one of the hardest of all the arts to master. Harder, in my view, than learning the violin ( not that I play the violin). Harder than painting a portrait ( not that I paint) . Harder than acting ( not that I…well, you get the idea). . And at least as hard as writing a screenplay or a play ( both of which are really hard).
Other facts that usually aren’t mentioned by industry salespeople are as follows.
Writing is not a job you can learn. It is a mystery. But although it is unfathomable, it is not entirely without signposts. I specialise in pointing out those signposts to you – rather than telling you ‘how to write a novel’ ( nobody knows how to write a novel, not even novelists).
Furthermore, there is a huge difference between TALKING ABOUT fiction and ACTUALLY WRITING fiction. ‘It is one thing to study war, another to live the warrior’s life.’ wrote Telamon of Arcadia, Mercenary ( from Stephen Pressfield’s ‘Tides of War’) .A lot of courses , books and websites simply like to swap stories about – well, stories. Because talking about fiction is endless in scope and endlessly pleasurable.
Actually writing fiction, on the other hand, is often tiresome and difficult ( although when it’s going well it’s one of the best feelings in the world).
So that’s the bad news. The good news is, you won’t know whether you can write a novel until you try. This newsletter is here to help you try – but also to help you be realistic about what you can achieve.
But ( I hear you say ) – aren’t there dozens of courses, creative writing websites, classes and writing clubs that will help me understand how capable I am of writing a good novel? And teach me to overcome my weaknesses?
Not so much, actually Because the creative writing industry has nothing to gain by telling you the truth about your writing - and everything to lose.
So if you have no talent, or no ideas, you can be sure that no-one is going to mention this unpalatable fact to you.
Neither am I probably. But neither am I going to encourage you to pursue a fruitless quest for something you will never achieve.
This is how I am different and why is this a boot camp.
I’m different because I take writers who want to write fiction seriously.
I don’t puff up their egos. I don’t tell them how wonderful their sentences are while forgetting to mention that they don’t have a clue how to tell a story. I don’t pretend that they can write a novel in 30 days or that writing is a lovely fluffy fun thing to do while you’re staring dreamily out the window at a rural landscape and sipping a cup of herb tea.
I tell them the truth. That it takes not only talent and endurance – particularly endurance – but also a willingness to listen to expert advice, as well as honesty, application, insight, luck and a deep understanding of the craft of writing
Why listen to me (especially when I have such Cassandra-like leanings)? I have been writing novels since my first fiction work ‘White City Blue’ was published in 1999. Actually, I wrote a novel before that but I prefer not to think about ‘The Nipple Man’ – God, the embarrassment – which was the terrible one I wrote in 1992 and thankfully never got published).
‘White City Blue’ won the Whitbread First Novel Prize. I was 43 years old so I had paid my dues ( in my view, if you want to be a novelist, you have to pay your dues first.)
My first published book was a memoir, ‘The Scent of Dried Roses’ which won the PEN prize for autobiography and is now a Penguin Modern Classic. I’ve now got ten novels under my belt.
But that only means I can write. Can I teach ( a completely different skill)?
I’ve taught for The Arvon Foundation, Guardian Masterclasses, The Faber Academy, The Novelry, The How To Academy, The Idler Academy and Brunel University. I have worked as an independent writing mentor for the last ten years and have taught scores of writers on a one-to-one basis. I’ve also read pretty much every important book published on the craft of novel writing, right from EM Forster’s ‘Aspects of the Novel’ (1927) through to George Saunders’ ‘ A Swim in the Pond in the Rain’ ( 2021). I have a veritable library of pretty much every attempt to unpack the techniques behind writing novel or memoir. And her’s a spoilier alert. A lot of them – most of them in fact – are not particularly useful.
There are some, however, that are indispensable.I have collaborated with some of the best story teachers and theorists in the world among them John Yorke ( ‘Into the Woods’) and Will Storr ( ‘The Science of Storytelling’). Robert McKee, legendary author of “Story’ says this about my work: “Shaping a novel chapter by chapter requires complex psychological insight. Tim Lott possesses that insight”
Not coincidentally all these writers concentrate more on film, TV and drama than novels – because novelists are way behind the curve when it comes to the two central functions of writing - plot and character.
So - I know what I’m doing – as much as any novelists know what they’re doing. Which is far from everything. But that’s going to have to be enough. Better that than endlessly immersing yourself in realms of information that is extraneous, or pretending to be valuable when it is really just filler.
I will be posting roughly twice a week. There is no paywall at the moment, although that may come later as I try to build a community. I hope you can be part of that community. It won’t always be a warm bath – and sometimes it will be a cold shower – but I guarantee that if you engage properly, you will end up a better writer.
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If you want more information – my website is timlott.com, where you can find a video posted on my mentoring services, testimonials, book reviews and other stuff.