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Relationships in Fiction: Writers’ Gym Podcast Episode 16

In this episode we talk about relationships in your fiction and how they can mould and shape your stories and the arcs of your characters. We explore the ways in which characters interact and consider sources of conflict and interest in these interactions.  From dysfunctional families to romantic attachments via warring parties and long-held feuds we hope to provide you with some ideas and  inspiration for writing your own fictional relationships.

A Freelance Guide to Saying “No”

Maintaining boundaries around things we love is a different kind of difficult to when it’s other people’s time, or money, or love, we’re protecting. 

The chat at the end of yesterday’s Writing Room included us congratulating a writer on saying a significant “No”. 

Some writing work had come in for them during their two hours they’d put aside for doing their own writing, here in the Writing Room (if you haven’t joined us before, it’s a free silent space for writing, or co-working of any kind, unmuting for a chat at the end. Join us any Monday morning). 

The “no” in question was the best kind of “no” when it comes to boundaries around things we do, actually, want in our lives. 

‘Sure,’ the “no” went. ‘I’ll be on it after 1pm” which is when the Writing Room ends.

I’m not the only writer and/or freelancer in that Writing Room who recognised and celebrated that victory. Victories of self-esteem and free will, of noticing our choices exist and making them actively, are the core of being a good line manager to ourselves. 

And it can be bloody hard. 

Maintaining boundaries around things we love is a different kind of difficult to when it’s other people’s time, or money, or love, we’re protecting. If we’ve booked time with a friend, or for work, it’s easier to recognise our own unavailability. But writing time is a contract with ourselves. Sure, emergencies may come along. But what we accept from ourselves as “reasons” not to show up for our writing are always worth checking in with.

Am I being a supportive boss to myself right now? Or am I taking myself for granted?

The Writing Too conversation went on to what happens “when” someone comes into the room we’re writing in and starts talking to us. I remember being on both sides of this, and how surprised I was many years ago when a family member snapped at me, apparently (to me at least) out of nowhere when I thought I’d just been being friendly. It was being on the other side of that which helped me realise a boundary-pusher isn’t a boundary pusher if they don’t know the boundary is there. 

Another example I hear from time to time is “Oh yes, I reinforced the boundary… but then they were so insistent…” 

A wall isn’t a wall because somebody else acknowledges it. It exists independently of their acknowledgement – or lack of acknowledgement.

That’s why I’m sharing this, because most or all of us are on at least one side of it any given day:

Our next workshop is Feedback: How To Give It, How To Take It: Wednesday 12 June at 1pm.

Or, join us Friday evening to start the weekend with Cocktails & Creativity, 6.30pm-8pm.

The Writing Room returns next Monday, 11am-1pm.

Listen to The Writers’ Gym podcast with Rachel Knightley, Emily Inkpen and Chris Gregory on AppleSpotify or any of your favourite platforms. Next new episode, Relationships in Fiction, airs tomorrow morning.

What’s On at the Writers’ Gym?

Take your words for a workout this week, 1-7 June

Many years ago, before I was published and before I realised how much knowing I had the right to write came into what I did (or didn’t do), here is what I noticed: enthusiastic, talented writers would turn up for workshops, full of good intentions. They’d return the next week, full of those same good intentions. What happened to us in between? Lots of things. Life. But not very much writing. This wasn’t because writing wasn’t important to us. The opposite was the truth. We don’t put off the things that don’t have to be done at all, unless we care a great deal how they turn out. 

The Writers’ Gym was born of that recognition: that, as with the physical gym, writers can develop strategies to make, and keep, writing a regular and healthy routine; that what goes on the page begins in our mindset.

Creative confidence doesn’t just affect what happens on the page. It’s how we approach career and personal life decisions, conversations, and everything else we care about.

If you’re new to the Writers’ Gym, drop in any time this week:

Saturday 1 June, 2pm-3pm at Riverside Studios: Curious about creative writing? Love flexing those storytelling muscles but don’t always find the time to make it a habit? Drop in for a writing workout at the Writers’ Gym. A fun and freeing work-out to build your confidence and your word-count. 

Monday 3 June, 11-1pm: The Writing Room FREE for everyone on my mailing list. Time and space to think and write with likeminded people. No expectations, no readings, just an open chat box and unmuting for ten minutes’ chat at the end.

Monday 3 June, 6:30-8pm: Your Writing Career Whether you’re considering your first steps into professional writing or are looking to expand on the writing career you’ve already begun, this is the place to clarify the aims, markets and networks that will get you where you want to be, and how to make sure you treat your ‘dreams’ as the goals they truly are.

Wednesday 5 June, 1-2:30pm: Coffee & Creativity Community time to talk, write, and share work, ambitions and celebrations. Free for Writers’ Gym members. Free for Writers’ Gym members: type your discount code where indicated.

Thursday 6 June, 7-9pm: Freelance Writing Toolkit at Riverside Studios: Week 1 is all about Thinking on the Page: Explore your motivation and interests as a writer, extend the power and reach of your voice, and discover how that voice directs you to new markets and opportunities.

Friday 7 May, 12-1pm: Friday Writing Workout Boost your confidence and your word-count with our lunch-hour writing workout. Whether you’re an experienced writer or just beginning, enjoy exercises, discussion, tips and techniques to build your strength, knowledge and creativity.

Members and VIP Members: please use your exclusive codes on any online workshops to activate your discount. Forgotten/lost your code? No problem: just email or ask in the Voxer app.

Plan your writing workouts from events listed up to a month ahead, or request your membership booklet on the website.

Catch the latest episode of The Writers’ Gym podcast on Apple, Spotify or any of your favourite platforms.

Point of View, Conjunctions and Casual Racism

And how being a writer makes you a better friend.


About seven years ago, shortly after I moved in with my partner, I asked him to hang a sheet I’d taken out of the washing machine over his office door.

He looked at me (a foot shorter than him), at the door, and at the sheet. Then he said one of my favourite character dialogue lines I ever pocketed for writing workshops.

“It must be weird being little.”

It was funny and it was beautiful. A sudden and absolutely truthful realisation shared aloud that he and I live in the same home but in different worlds. That was what made it so touching, so memorable. We recently compared our pedometer steps after sharing the same walk the other day (big difference); he’s also been present when I’ve told an event organiser something wasn’t working and been ‘reassured’ and dismissed, then had my partner communicate the same information to the same person (and be listened to, taken seriously and thanked).

The best writing prompt of all? Stepping into someone else’s shoes. Maybe the ones right next to ours. We always, always come out of it with a better understanding of a character, having hit ‘refresh’ on our assumptions. 

The better we think we know someone, or something, the less precisely we go about imagining what it’s like to be them. 

Except in those moments like the sheet over the door. 

But creative writing means thinking as someone else. It means actively creating those moments, those realisations, that empathy.

That’s why I find swapping genre, height, race, hidden disability, musical or literary taste – et infinite cetera – so liberating as writer. I can access what it feels like to be me, unlimited.

A less funny example of assumptions and opportunities of turning them around happened to me yesterday morning. 

I was in a cab on the motorway, somewhere between my home and the home of my co-presenter where we’d be recording the second half of the current series of The Writers’ Gym podcast. I was in a cab rather than doing the thrice-as-long journey to alleviate any anxiety, so I’d be as present as I could be when we recorded. This is what he said:

“You look like that singer. The one who died. She was Jewish but she was very good.”

Oh, the power of that conjunction. The assumptions it contained. 

“Amy Winehouse,” I said. 

“Yeah, Amy Winehouse. She was Jewish but still, very good. You look like her.”

Right, I thought. Here I have a choice. 

I had no choice. that right now I was on a motorway, in the rain, halfway between home and where I was going, that the driver (a large male) and I (a small female) were alone together. I didn’t necessarily believe I was in any immediate physical danger. But like anyone who is smaller than most people and has been sexually assaulted and/or stalked, imagination and awareness of potential are skills we don’t just use in our writing. 

But I do not feel in physical danger. Emotionally hurt, vulnerable. But with a chance to create something here rather than hide, rather than withdraw. I could let feeling small and vulnerable (short woman, large man, who had already made comments that made me not be surprised when this particular line of dialogue came out) mean playing small and vulnerable. And comparatively safe. 

This man, I reminded myself, has heard and been interested in me talking about being a writer and coach; how having a career where I get to witness and support people unlocking their creativity to make their own stories happen – yes on the page but also in their careers and personal lives; moving beyond their assumptions about themselves and the world. He already knows that about me.

What if, when I leave this cab, he is slightly less racist (ie slightly less generalising of a group) or at least more aware of racism, than when I got into it?

That’s what I did. I told him I was Jewish, and let the reality of me speak for itself.

He backtracked a bit, I continued talking to him. 

I will never know if it changed anything, if he is any more aware of having made an assumption or seen the potential for specificity where before there was generalisation.

But we do. We know.

When we write, when we explore the specificity of a character, we’re flexing those creative muscles and seeing individual people, greater possibility. 

“It must be weird being little.”

It’s not being another person that’s weird. What’s weird is those moments of opportunity where we see not our own version of someone else but what it’s like to be them. And it’s so much more complex, more nuanced, more individual, than the version of their story we’d otherwise have written. 

Creative I-dare-you:

Write a scene in which your character is wrong about something. What’s the realisation, if there is one? Or the missed opportunity, if there isn’t?

There Will Be Time

Hurrying was easy. Carrying everything, slightly too fast and on my own, was straightforward. 

I could congratulate myself for surviving.

For multitasking. 

For keeping the wheels on.

For putting the fires out.

The biggest surprise in my psychotherapy and coaching journey, almost ten years later, remains my relationship with time. I didn’t really know I had one. A race? Possibly. Not a relationship.

This tin lives on the bookcase behind my desk:

As with any writing and confidence habit, we have to want it first. The clearer our picture of what we want, the clearer our plan can be for making it happen. The more connected we feel to the ‘reps’ that take us closer.

The thing I want to never say again – as I said to all my friends and all my potential writing time ten, fifteen years ago, even if I didn’t phrase it like this – is “I don’t have time.” 

When the truth will always be, “Actually, it’s all we have.”

I’ve got better about creating time since I’ve got better at looking myself in the eye and asking the two questions beneath everything else:

‘What do you want?’ and ‘What do you fear?’ 

One of the big answers for me has always been “time to write”. I’ve made steps in that direction since (and because) I acknowledged how important an objective this was for me. When I put boundaries around my time so when I’m off work, I’m off work, and when I’m seeing clients I’m seeing clients, and when I’m writing I’m writing, each ‘rep’ is more muscle memory. I’m getting used to lifting those weights.

Fifteen years ago, a seven-day working week was worse than normal: it was a point of pride. Okay, on Sundays I “only” taught one hour down the road from where I lived. But there was not a single day my mind spent out of work-mode and my creativity suffered for it. Not just on how (little) I wrote but how (little) I valued my own time, skills and potential as a result. I thought – no, it was far more automatic than that; assumed – that not stopping to think or feel showed I was good at what I did. Now, the opposite is true. I know you get a better quality of Rachel when I’m as present in my moment with you – whether we’re in a coaching relationship, a writing workshop or a coffee shop. Everyone in my life benefits when I remind myself the only person who can make time to go deeper in my experiences is me.

But none of this is the reason I love having this tin in my sightline when I approach my desk in the morning, or feeling it behind me as I move through my day. It reminds me of something even deeper, however fast I’m moving:

I don’t need to get this ‘right’ first time. Possibly, there is no ‘right’ at all. 

What I do need, is to give myself time. To take time. To take one authentic step at a time, in the directions that matter to me.

And there will be time. 

Find out more about writing and confidence coaching, along with the full Writers’ Gym weekly programme, on the website.

Catch the next episode of The Writers’ Gym Wednesday morning, or catch up on all the others, on Apple, Spotify or any of your favourite platforms.

“In a world of our own, but not on our own.”

I used to call it laptop racing. It needed (or I thought it needed) at least one other writer (so we could mind each other’s laptops), and a reliable supply of cake and coffee (hence the need for laptop-minding). 

It helped. It more than helped. It kept me moving forward with writing at a time when anxiety took up too much of my ‘what if’ circuitry for creativity to get the disc-space. 

Ten years and four books later, nothing has changed in terms of cake and coffee. Or the usefulness of seeing other writers at their laptops or notebooks. I don’t need it necessarily, but it’s still the emotional seatbelt that keeps me at the wheel when otherwise it would be much easier to stall. 

More importantly, now creativity gets more of my ‘what if’ disc-space, I know it was never about whether I ‘should’ need. It was about recognising how well it works for me, and putting the creative energy into making it happen, creating the circumstances in my life that served my intentions. Which begins with recognising how successful, enjoyable and reassuring it is – not just for me, but for my network of published and unpublished writers alike.

That’s why every Monday, from 11am to 1pm, everyone in my community is invited to drop in (or stay the full two hours) and write in a free online space. 

We unmute for ten minutes at the end of the session for a chat about life, the universe and writing, and the chat box is open throughout. 

‘Show Don’ t Tell’ is probably the loudest writing cliché out there, and it’s not just useful on the page. I show myself I’m a writer at the start of every week, simply by being there. 

What one newcomer said last month about being able to see other writers (including, with those who turn off their cameras, simply the presence of other writers):

“I’m in a world of my own but I’m not on my own.”

That felt like a very good expression of why writing (and reading) are so satisfying, and of how much more of ourselves we can give the other people and things in our lives when we are reliably refuelling ourselves with the space and time we need for our internal world. 

Drop in to the Writing Room this Monday, any time from 11am to 1pm (free every Monday).

Grab a creativity and confidence workout with Writing the Self: Memoir, Life-writing and Fictionalised Experience, Wednesday 1pm-2,30pm.

Join us for Coffee & Creativity Wednesdays, 1pm-2.30pm.

Subscribe to the Writers’ Gym podcast on Apple or any of your favourite platforms.

A new voice at the Writers’ Gym

Newsletter 17 May

Back in the era of my life when journalists were those fictional creatures called “grown-ups”, I remember reading one of them explaining how every other forty-something-year-old s/he spoke to seemed like a proper adult, while s/he was just pretending. 

That I still know, decades later, that I read it, though not where or who wrote it (to give you an idea of tone, if it wasn’t Tim Dowling then it should have been) shows me something was already ringing true, even then. But it rings a lot louder once you areone of those forty-something-year-olds, and the universe still hasn’t whispered definitive instructions; hasn’t passed you that how-to manual you remain a little bit convinced exists somewhere and everyone else read ages ago but remains stubbornly out of your eye-line.

Dr Rachel Knightley at the Writers’ Gym is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

This is why it’s such a joy introducing Isabella Barbieri, my former MA student at Roehampton University and now my newest member of staff at the Writers’ Gym. I’ve experienced first-hand Bella’s impressive writing and editorial skills; I’m also delighted to be sharing such a friendly example of the difference between what ‘award-winning’, ‘qualified’ and ‘published’ feel like on the inside, versus what they look like on the outside! Here I am speaking to Bella earlier this week:

In addition to welcoming Bella to the team, we have another ‘first’ at the Writers’ Gym this week. InkCouragement is the writing and creative confidence webinar giving personal training for the thought habits that underscore what we write, or let ourselves write, before we’re anywhere near a pen. It’s free to members and everyone is welcome. Submit questions anonymously using the chat box on the day, or email them in advance to I was so happy to receive this feedback from participants; there’s nothing more satisfying than creating the thing you know belongs in your world and seeing others benefit from it:

Feedback from InkCouragement participants this week.

Inkcouragement returns Tuesday 18 June.

My conversation with Bella reminded me that Impostor Syndrome doesn’t go away, but nor does it need to as long as we can move beyond expecting our thoughts and feelings to change, and instead change how we listen to them – because that’s a creative muscle we can exercise far more easily and authentically. “What if,” I remind myself before everything I do, “everyone out there is just as scared as I could ever be?” Then it stops being “How can I convince/impress my audience?” and becomes “How can I welcome y audience to my space?”

A reminder that comes back to me every week for one reason or another, either for a client or a friend or for myself, is that grown-ups are like dragons or gryphons or unicorns: a lovely idea, but they don’t exist. The only person who decides what a grown-up version of me looks like is me. The more authentically I listen to what that means, the less it’ll look exactly like the next person – whether that’s how and what I write, dress, do or choose to be. 

Obvious to say, but not always to feel. So, this is my Creative I-Dare-You to myself and anyone else who wants it this week:

With any (maybe every) choice that comes up, ask yourself in curiosity:

“If I were writing the script, what would my character choose to do now?”

Take ourselves off autopilot, and we might just find we were the one writing the story all along. 

Join the Writers’ Gym this week:

Friday 17 May, 11am-1pm: Writing Room EXTRA Members only: please check your Voxer messages for the link.

Monday 20 May, 11am-1pm: The Writing Room FREE for everyone on my mailing list. Time and space to think and write with likeminded people. No expectations, no readings, just an open chat box and unmuting for ten minutes’ chat at the end.

Tue 21 May, 1-2.30pm: Writing the Self Memoir, Lifewriting and Fictionalised Experience. Find the story at the heart of the experience and the skills to share it with the audience you want. 30% off for members. Free for Writers’ Gym founder members and VIP members: type your discount code where indicated.

Wednesday 22 May, 1-2.30pm: Coffee & Creativity Community time to talk, write and share work, ambitions and celebrations. 15 minutes’ chatting time either side frames the writing time, to move forward in your creative work.

Thursday 23 May, 7pm-9pm: Your Creative Writing Toolkit at Riverside StudiosJoin me in person at Riverside Studios. Book with discount code CREATIVE20 so they know you’re a member or friend of the Writers’ Gym!

Friday 24 May, 11am-1pm: Writing Room EXTRA Members only: please check your Voxer messages for the link.

Plan your writing workouts from events listed up to a month ahead, or request your membership booklet on the website.

Catch the latest episode of The Writers’ Gym podcast on Apple, Spotify or any of your favourite platforms.