Dramatic writing course wish list

I am studying script writing. For the first exercise I have to list what I hope to achieve by the end of the course.


  • I hope to improve my ability to write dialogue.
  • I hope to improve my ability to write an action packed story.
  • I hope to improve my characterisation.
  • I hope to become more knowledgeable about drama.
  • I hope to have enjoyed exchanging ideas with classmates.

Can good writing be taught?


Can good writing be taught? I think so.

Two ingredients go into a piece of writing: idea generation and technical ability. Everyone can benefit from tuition in thinking and in written expression.

Generating ideas

I’m sure there’s no limit to the range of tuition that  improves a writer’s ability to generate ideas.

At the moment I am taking a course in non-fiction nature writing. Nature writing is built on sensory observation and factual knowledge.

To improve my factual knowledge I could study botany or volunteer in a zoo. I could teach children about nature or go for walks with an identification guide.

To improve my observational ability I could write poetry about experiences such as swimming and eating. I could meditate outside every day, and learn to be fully present in my surroundings.

None of these activities look like writing lessons, but they are! Whatever we do to grow our minds is a writing lesson.

A good general education also helps writers to develop as thinkers. A few years ago I took lessons in journalistic reporting. Last year I did a course in travel writing.

Both times I learnt to introduce readers to a place by focusing on a single topic such as food or music. Learning how journalism works is not the same as studying writing, but it will help you learn how to present a story.

Look for free journalism courses on Coursera and EdX.


Improving technical ability

From literacy and dyslexia tutors through to poetry teachers and newspaper editors, there are writing teachers and mentors everywhere. We all benefit from spending time with educators and experienced colleagues.

If you hire a professional editor to polish your manuscript, ask them to leave comments explaining why they made the changes. You will learn from working with them.

If your secretary has a magical ability to translate your chaotic words into well written correspondence, ask them to explain how they did it.

Read writing style guides. I’ve listed a few in the writing guides section on my website. Take a MOOC in writing. I love this Wesleyan University one on Coursera.

You could even join a writers group online or at your local library.

Learning opportunities are everywhere

Good writing can be taught. You’ve probably had lessons without knowing it.

Looking back at my life I see I’ve had so many formative experiences; including the year I spent addicted to HBO drama.

I’d love to hear about your formative experiences. Feel free to leave a comment and say hello.

When a non-fiction writer lacks resources

“Cut your coat to suit your cloth” is an English saying. It means make your plans according to your resources. Don’t spend more than you earn. Become an experienced mountaineer before you try Everest.

Cutting your coat to suit your cloth is a sensible strategy. We make progress by building on what we already have. You won’t get far writing travel articles about Brazil when you can’t leave Mumbai. Cut your coat, write about Mumbai instead!


It’s because of resources that I used to think fiction writing was easier than non-fiction writing. Arthur C. Clarke wrote fiction about space without leaving Earth. A science fact writer is limited by access to scientific knowledge.

Back in the early days of the internet, when I finished my PhD I was devastated to realise I could never write about my specialism again. Going to research libraries was impossible because of distance and cash.

This experience shaped my attitude towards non-fiction writing. I thought it needed time and expense. Resources. After many years (because I’m a dunderhead) I recognised there is free material all around me.

Non-fiction writing can be like painting from real life. Take any object, scene or  experience, and write about it. Look at what artists depict. They paint pictures of street scenes, landscapes, animals and people. A writer can do that with words.


Last summer, a friendly robin landed on my table at the cafe where I like to write. The year being 2017, I reached for my camera and put the bird’s photo online.

I could have written about the robin instead. Every Instagramable moment is a writing opportunity.

In my non-fiction writing I must cut my coat to suit my cloth. It’s the only way to develop a daily non-fiction writing routine. I can’t develop as a writer if I’m giving my energy to dreaming about resources outside my reach.

I can’t write about my PhD specialism. I’ve missed a decade of research. I can’t write an investigative article about London politics. I don’t know anyone in the mayor’s office or have the experience. I can’t write about the Arctic either, even though I’d love to. I’m too far away.

I can write about London (the city I live in), the daily life around me, and about English nature. All that is cost free and everywhere I go.

If you’ve been blogging about your surroundings, I’d love to see your work. Share a link to your blog in the comment section below.