Marie Kondo and Writing

I have begun my ruthless war on the stuff and clutter in both my tiny studio flat and my writing life.I am hoping that with a decluttered living space and a decluttered mind I will regain the joy of writing.

The theory behind the extreme decluttering is that you should only keep things you actually use and things which bring you joy. When I do handwriting these days I tend to use fountain pens and have five of them each with a different colour ink cartridge. I have a small collection of biros which fit nicely in my hand and with which I can write neatly. These I have kept. All the biros which have sneaked in from work are being returned there. I do not use them and they cluttered up my repurposed enamel teapot. Likewise all the small pairs of scissors which somehow got back here and ended up in my dry goods measuring cup. They are being returned to work too.

I have put all the ink cartridges in a small glass pot where they are tidy, secure and make a nice decoration on the corner of the desk.

All the rest of the tut which found its way onto my desk during the month has either been put in it’s proper place or binned. The result is a nice clear and clutter free desk where I am surrounded only by the items I need to write. Already I am feeling good here and inspired to write.


The books which have inspired me as a writer and helped me learn my trade


Years ago, when I was thinking of becoming a writer, I consulted a few how-to-books by well-known writers and then went on to read their novels to see how their ideas worked in practice.

One of my favourites back in the 1990s was Rita Mae Brown. I read her book Starting from Scratch: A Different Kind of Writer’s Manual (1988), which contained lots of ideas for a beginner writer. And, of course, I read lots of Rita Mae’s own books. Back in those days it was harder to get information about publishers and so on, so this was a really useful manual.

I also owned Patricia Highsmith’s Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction (1989) as well as several of her books.

Many years later, when the idea of fiction writing re-entered my head, I looked at other manuals for budding writers. A key text was The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery written by Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick (1998). The large number of post-it notes inside the book shows how I used it to plot various novels. It is an excellent guide for anyone starting out as a mystery writer. The ideas for character development and plotting are extremely useful.

I have owned several different editions of Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to the Narrative Craft (7th ed. 2006). This is a book which never fails to help and guide. The short stories and extracts demonstrate how the techniques work in practice. Her insights into the writing process are both profound and encouraging. She notes that “most of the time spent writing is not spent putting words on the page.” (2000: 13) So true. I recently spent an entire week flicking through the internet and reading articles about my topic before setting down to type.

Finally, in the list of writing manuals I must mention Derek Neale’s A Creative Writing Handbook (2009), which I have just pulled out of my backpack. What a wealth of information and ideas there are in this book! Like Burroway’s book, there are lots of extracts from successful writing to show you how it can be done.

The fiction books I have read are far too numerous to mention. I am sure that, in some way, practically everyone has had some influence of my writing. The novels which are currently finding their way into my hands time and time again are small classics. Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop is a masterpiece of condensed writing. I love the way she can convey information and atmosphere in such a controlled fashion. The short, sharp sentences say all that needs to be said. Stephen Isherwood’s writing in A Single Man is sparse but powerful. It is a masterpiece of writing. The film, I have to say, is a wonderful companion to the book.

I have been learning how to create characters from Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. This is a marvellous book set in a small town and dominated by one character. From Olive herself, and the people who have been affected by her, we learn about her as an individual. She may not be the nicest character you have read about but Strout presents all sides of her story so in the end you understand her. I read this book straight through so as not to miss any of the nuances. It is a lovely lovely thing.

Always behind the scenes are the novels of Carol Shields. I find myself referring back to her characterisation and storytelling time and time again. Her final novel, Unless, has been one of my favourites since it was published. The storyline is not an easy one to read but it is told so beautifully that I have to keep going back to it.

A thread on a web-forum has just alerted my to The Writing Life by Annie Dillard (1990). The extract I have read looks promising. I can see this book in my hands with a day or two. Why have I never heard of her before? I note that according to Wikipedia she has been influenced by Thoreau, Emerson and de Chardin. It seems to me that I have much to learn from this writer.

The search for inspiration and advice never ends. I read practically every newspaper or article I get my hands on about the writing process. I read books regularly. Some of the books I read are old favourites. Some are books new to me. Once discovered all books have enlightened me in some way whether they were, in my opinion, good or bad books. Not all the books I have read have held my interest to the end but I have admired the craft behind them. And I shall carry on reading and writing.


Deep Writing


Prepared text for a modern printing press

I recently read an article on the topic of “Deep Writing,” in which the author advises that writers need to park their worries and concerns before they start writing. I think that is an excellent point – it is difficult to write when stressed or worried. It is only natural that these stresses get in the way of the though process.

The writer recommends several techniques to create that special kind of “writing world” that “real” writers seem to inhabit. These involve setting timers, parking worries in a box outside the door, not checking emails or websites until the day’s writing is done, writing a set amount each day and so on.

I am NOT one of those writers who can write everyday. In fact, I sometimes don’t write for a whole week. I might think about writing but I don’t do it. As a writer of historical fiction, I spend a lot of time fact-checking and in the process get carried away looking at interesting things which are not necessarily relevant. I think I am a more rounded person because I learn all kinds of random things from the internet. I am not sure I am going to find much use for today’s nugget that the Duchess of Wessex has a computer database of all her clothes, but you never know.

However, I can enter a kind of writing zone when I want to. The whole of this week I have been doing my research with the backdrop of builders working overhead. I got a surprising amount done, considering the noise they made, and happily immersed myself in Wikipedia and various YouTube films. When they disappeared on Thursday evening, I was wound up enough to sit at my laptop and make major revisions to chapter one. Then, I went back to doing other things. I plan to work on chapter two tomorrow but there’s no hurry. The story will come when it is ready.

I sometimes wonder if I would write more if I didn’t have to go out and earn a living. I don’t think I would. I do “deep writing” when my brain tells me it is ready to write. When my brain is distracted then I do other things. Somehow or other, I seem to get to the end of the novels and produce, I think, something worth reading. That, I think, is the aim.

BTW the writer of the original article has had hundreds of articles etc published. That is impressive.

I include the original article for your perusal:




How to beat writer’s block

Many of my readers will have experienced “writer’s block” at some stage. They will have found themselves struggling for ideas, become in awe of the task they have set themselves, become overwhelmed by the burden of writing and talking about writing and thought they could no longer keep writing. There are ways, though, of getting through this and on to the next phase.

  • Watch films and pay attention to plots and dialogue
  • Read books and analyse the plot structure 
  • Read an inspiring writing guide to get ideas for new writing or rewriting 
  • Go somewhere new and write a description of the place
  • Get on a bus or sit in a coffee, listen to the conversations around you then turn it into a mini scene
  • Join a writing group and read about / talk about other people’s writing
  • Read some of the author interviews in The Paris Review to get inspiration
  • Revisit favourite books and take some time out to refresh your brain
  • Get some exercise and fresh air to the brain
  • Keep a blog so you will be forced to write
  • Keep an eye on the news – you next plot twist might be there
  • Never give up.

A lot of these ideas work for me. In addition, I find sitting in a writing space with other writers just getting on with it helps. 

Finished the first draft? Now start editing

There are three stages or parts to the editing process: structural editing, line editing, proofreading and copyediting.

A structural edit is the first edit. It tells the author what to keep in and what to take out. This edit helps the writer to get the plot in place and make sure that it is consistent throughout. A structural edit will also deal with Point of View, Show not Tell and Characterisation. A writer may have been attending a writing group or critiquing sessions in which some of these issues have been dealt with as the writer has progressed with the story.

A line edit is more concerned with how the story reads line by line. A line editor is concerned with how each line serves the character, the plot and the Point of View. It is not concerned with the overall structure of the story.

Proofreading and copyediting look at the written words in terms of grammar, spelling, factual inconsistencies and typos. Copyediting and proofreading should, ideally, be done before the manuscript is sent off to t a line editor or structural editor.

The editing process can be an expensive business for a writer, so the writer should rely on readers and writing groups as much as possible to reduce the amount of work an editor needs to do. If a writer lands a book contract then the editing is done by the publishing house. Self-publishers may have to do as much of their own editing as they can. A good self-editor might be able to get away with only paying for a structural edit.

All writers need a good editor as a good editor which help the writer develop the book in the best way possible. A poor editor could destroy both the book and the author’s morale. So choose wisely and get the editor to do what you need them to do.

Does a writer need a website?

Does a writer need a website? Absolutely. It represents you and your writing to the world. You can control what is on your website and how you reach out to your audience. It is your homebase. As Kimberley Grabas puts it, your website is “a marketing and networking hub and a portal that allows communication to flow between an author and his or her readers.” ( Kimberley has some tips to pass on.

What should the webpage be about? The writer and writings. This is where you sell yourself and your writing. It is not a place for sharing family photos.

What is the purpose of the website? To promote the writer and writings. The website promotes you, it promotes your books and it promotes your ideas.

Who is the target audience? Current and prospective readers. Readers might want to find out more about you and your books; prospective readers might check you out and then be encouraged to read your books as a result.

What should be on the website? Writer bio, book info, contact info, events etc.

Website or Facebook page? Possibly both though people seem to find out more about books by doing web searches and reading websites ( Some authors have author Facebook accounts in which they only write about their books and connect with their fans. It sounds like a really good idea.

How often should you update your website? Ideally, monthly. If people return to your website they want to see something new and some evidence that you are engaging with your readership. If you post something new on a regular basis, then you will get return traffic. I bought a template for my website which I have been busy adapting using HTML and Javascript. I have total control over my website, which I think is essential for writers.

What about a blog? A blog is a good way of communicating with a wider community on a regular basis and getting feedback on what you are writing. There is some good information on setting up a blog for writers on  this website:

How expensive is a website to run? If you can do a bit of the HTML stuff then creating a website is actually cheap. Notepad comes free with Windows and you need a little coding knowledge to use it. Professional, and easier, software is Dreamweaver. This is expensive, but you can download a free trial. Dreamweaver allows you to have design view (for non-techies) or coding view (for techies). You can create beautiful website with a little persistance. Alternatively, you can buy and template and adapt it, get someone to make the site for you (very expensive) or build a basic site using Blogger, WordPress or any of the other free alternatives. It will cost a few pounds to buy a domain name and around £30 a year for hosting, depending on the package you buy. I am currently trialling a new version of my website ( which is a template I bought on the Internet and then adapted using Notepad.

Does a writer need a Twitter account? Not unless you are really really famous and people are going to follow your every word or you have a brand new book out and you want to publicize it. Then, I would consider have a book specific Twitter account.

Indie writers need all the promotion and marketing tools they can get so a dedicated website has to be a must, in my opinion.