W4W: Why all writers must be swots

Exam paper

Image : Pixabay

Exam season is drawing to a close here in the UK.

After months of preparation and stress, thousands of GCSE students will face their final papers before kicking back for few weeks, while trying to ignore the shadow of gloom that is Results Day.

Remembering my own experiences of this time is uncomfortable.

When I took my GCSEs, they were called O Levels (a simpler name for a harder exam, if the tabloids are to be believed) I don’t remember learning how to


I’m not saying I wasn’t taught the techniques, merely that I don’t recall the information being passed on to me.

But then, my mind is hazy about a lot of things from that time: how to calculate the area of a circle; why I stood outside the school gates, holding a cigarette for the Head Girl, before being caught by the evil harpy that was Miss Brown and losing my Prefect’s badge; why I chickened out of meeting Dominic behind the print works after school, even though he was pretty good looking and no one else had asked me out through the whole of Secondary School.

I think I might have glanced through a handful of old test papers, but in the main my revision technique was

(1) Wake up thinking about upcoming exam.

(2) Experience a sickening feeling of dread.

(3) Attempt to cover up sickening feeling of dread by playing the Seven and the Ragged Tiger by Duran Duran very loud.

(4) Eat oven chips.

(5) Got to bed.

(6) Wake up thinking about upcoming exam …

I passed most of my exams – some scraped more than passed – but would have got an A in The Union of the Snake,  if it had been on the curriculum.

When it came to studying for my degree, I took the whole thing rather more seriously.

I read, re-read, annotated, drew crazy looking diagrams with five different coloured luminous markers,  bought a stack of old exam papers and spent every evening for weeks on the run up sitting mock exams in my dining room until I could answer a question about Religious Observance or Women’s Role in Roman Society blindfold with my hands tied behind my back, scratching my answers into the wall with a spoon clenched between my toes.

I got a First.

Now, writing a novel is rather like sitting an exam that’s really important to you but has no time limit and which you’re never quite sure is over until someone buys your answer papers from you.


I’ve revised my YA novel many, many times. I’ve sent it out to four agents, three of which have come back pretty quickly with a big no and the fourth has yet to answer at all.

So far, I have failed the exam.

But an editor has just looked through my first chapter for free, covering the page in lovely squiggly red comments.

Now I’m back to revision.

Maybe this time I’ll pass the resit.



Written for Kat’s W4W prompt.

The editor in question was James at Storymedic. I’m not sure if he’ll read any more chapters for free, but read his blog anyway – in it you’ll find some brilliant guidance for writers.

24 thoughts on “W4W: Why all writers must be swots

  1. I was a little weirdo that actually liked exams! Yep, I was the one who always asked for more answer books first and scribbled away right up to the last 20 minutes and then went back and reviewed everything I’d written. I enjoyed the pressure of it and disliked the continuous assessment approach of my degree. I’ll take an exam over that anyday!
    And you have not failed Lynn! Everytime you revise that novel you are a step closer to success! You will get there!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Sorry, premature comment syndrome! What i was going to say was the only one was in English, writing stories! I didn’t like exams as a teen cos I was too lazy to revise but cared enough to feel sick when I hadn’t! My degree was still tough, but I was less scared as I’d prepared properly.
        You sound like the ideal student. I bet you’ve past loads of exams in your time 🙂
        And thank you for such a lovely, supportive comment. One day I’ll get there, hopefully 🙂


  2. I must take issue with your allegory. Of course, I’m not as far along as you are, so maybe I will feel differently when in your place. Here’s what I think: you’re not sitting for an exam. You have it backwards. Every time you send in your manuscript, you’re the examiner, checking to see how intelligent that publisher might be. Is their reading comprehension at an acceptable level? Can they ask and answer appropriate questions? Do they have a sufficient level of intelligence?
    If they can’t see the genius of your writing, maybe THEY need a resit.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha! You did make me smile with this! Do you think it would be worth me emailing the agents who have rejected my MS and telling them they failed the exam? Could be interesting. Thanks Casey 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Do it, do it, dooooo it! Okay, no, I’m only kidding.

        Hey, how long did it take for you to get a response on your ms? I might have missed the window; he never replied (on the blog or otherwise).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, I wondred if you’d heard back yet. He was really quick with me. Shame if he doesn’t come back to you, though he has a job and is trying to freelance too, so maybe just busy? Hope you hear something.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Or maybe he just thinks it’s beautiful and I should pub…bah ha ha ha I can’t even finish. 🙂

        I do hope he’s just busy and will get to me eventually. I sort of want to ask but I also don’t want to bug him (which then makes him decide I’m annoying and not worth his time)…so I guess I’ll work on being patient. That always needs practicing…


  3. I only became a swot in middle age. If I’d known how much fun it was I’d have tried it sooner. Keep at it. Agents and publishers have preferences. You will find one that prefers your story to everybody else’s.
    Good Luck.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Maureen. Same here – I spent my last years at secondary school drinking lager and hanging out with boys, not studying. Late bloomers, that’s all we are.
      Thanks for the encouragement. Maybe one day. 🙂


  4. My memory is similarly fuzzy about why on earth I did so many idiotic things when I was that age. Or any age, really!

    As far as revising, it sounds to me like you’re in the right groove now. Good luck with the “resit”!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Someone thought your novel was good enough to scribble on! Put like that it doesn’t sound positive, but it means he thought you had something worth working on, doesn’t it? He wouldn’t waste his time doing that with a manuscript if it was a no-hoper. I’m right, aren’t I?
    I’m sure I’m right.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, thanks Jane. Well James (the editor in question) was very kind and said it was an intriguing opening with potential, so it could be worse. We’ll see if I have the energy to re-edit – I hope so 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Time Management and a clearly set out Plan are, essential. You cannot write in one go. You have to draft and redraft. Whether you are sitting an Exam, or writing a Manuscript, you have to wait for your creativity to blossom; your drive to evolve; and, your determination and excitement, to eventuate. This comes, with practice!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sound advice, there! I’d say you can train your creativity to flow by making time to sit and write regularly. It’s like a muscle and words are the weights! Nice observations 🙂


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