What are we doing here?
Introducing a new offshoot of my podcast, for writers and lovers of writing.
In early January 2021, the author Hannah Begbie tweeted about my podcast, In Writing with Hattie Crisell. If you haven’t heard it, it’s an interview series where I visit writers at their desks (sometimes virtually) and we talk about how they work.
Hattie Crisell @hattiehattieLucy Prebble (I Hate Suzie; Succession; A Very Expensive Poison) is my guest on the new episode of #InWriting. She’s brilliant on why dialogue’s not always the most important thing in a screenplay, writers’ room dynamics and more. Thank you @lucyprebblish! https://t.co/9bahZ2iWng
I don’t know Hannah (though doesn’t she sound great?), but when she wrote that tweet, she exactly summed up my hopes for the podcast: I want anyone who loves writing to find it sustaining, revelatory and supportive. I bring this up now because it’s also what I want for this newsletter.
I am a writer. I’ve been doing it professionally, as a journalist, for 15 years, and very unprofessionally forever. My life is littered with incoherent notes, journal entries, articles, letters, the beginnings of manuscripts, lists, poems, over-considered emails, now-hopefully-unfindable blogs and so on. But my confidence is unreliable. If there’s one thing I’ve struggled with as a writer, it’s finding the morale and self-belief to push forward, persisting with one project until it’s finished.
This is the big psychological problem of what we do – an activity which, though delicious, makes us feel vulnerable. Almost every writer struggles with it. My guests on the podcast are successful, sometimes famous people – but I’ve only interviewed perhaps one or two who didn’t imply that at some stage or another, they’d been awash in neuroses and self-doubt.
Every credible resource for writers addresses this problem, from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way to George Saunders’ A Swim in a Pond in the Rain to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird – and I’ve read all of those books. I’ve listened to some fantastically encouraging podcasts, and I’ve spent years having the same old conversations with published friends (and my father, an academic author) who’ve done their best to persuade me to just get on with it. I’ve done 42 interviews so far for my own podcast, speaking to David Nicholls, Charlie Brooker, Sathnam Sanghera, Curtis Sittenfeld, Robert Popper, Lucy Prebble, Jon Ronson, Kit de Waal, Liane Moriarty and Maggie O’Farrell, among others. There is no source of support and comfort that I haven’t greedily turned to.
But I still struggle. Doing an MA in creative writing has helped a lot, but I’m approaching the end of it, and that’s scary. I need all of these pieces of scaffolding, and I need this conversation to be ongoing; I hope that I can make a place for that, for myself and other writers, with Substack.
If you already like the podcast – don’t worry, it’s just on hiatus. There will be more episodes this year, I hope. I want to use Substack, in the meantime, to keep talking about writing and to foster a community of writers. I’ll be sending a weekly newsletter where I’ll talk about different elements of the creative experience, common problems that we tackle or questions that I’m pondering. I’ll share what I’ve learnt from my podcast guests and my reading; from being a journalist and editor; from my MA, and from my own work. I’ll also recommend some of the good writing I come across along the way, whether it’s an upcoming novel, a brilliant new sitcom, a poem or something else entirely. All of that will be free to anyone who wants to subscribe.
The other reason I’m starting this project, however, is because it offers a new way to use my writing to make a living. I’ve been a freelance journalist for a long time, and while I think it’s one of the most fun jobs on Earth, it does not offer a secure existence – this is more true in 2022 than ever. So I’m going to add some paid elements to Substack, for those who want them.
The first small but crucial paid bit will be the ability to comment. What I hope is that subscribers will get in touch via the comments, speaking to each other as well as to me, so that we can all share torches and sandwiches.
There will also be audio recordings of the newsletter, so that you can listen to it while you walk the dog or brush your teeth, or whenever you like – and once a fortnight, I’ll share a writing prompt that I hope will spark your imagination and put you in the fun mode of writing (as opposed to the pulling-teeth, loathing-yourself mode). What I really hope is that those who feel inspired might share what they’ve done, or some of it, in the comments too. If you’re not already letting people read your writing, now’s the perfect time.
There might be other bits for paid subscribers too; I have a few exciting ideas and I’ll keep you posted. If you opt for a paid subscription (roughly the cost of one coffee a month), please know you’re helping me to pay my bills and keep writing, and also that I’ve always considered you a good-looking and charismatic person with great integrity.
When I had to come up with a tagline for this new venture, I used Hannah’s tweet as inspiration:
This is In Writing with Hattie Crisell, a life raft for writers at sea.
‘A torch and a sandwich for writers caught in a mid-first-draft cave of self-loathing’ was better, but had too many characters – but the principle is the same. Thanks Hannah, and thank you for reading.