15 Things We Should Stop Doing as Writers

Here are 15 things I believe we should stop doing as writers, especially if we want to reach our true creative potential and enjoy what we do. I confess I’ve done them all and there are still times when I have to remind myself not to fall back into the bad, old ways…

1. Doubting Ourselves –some doubt can be good, the kind of doubt that asks is this chapter working, can I improve it, does the writing flow, will my character come alive for the reader etc. etc.? This kind of doubt helps us to become better writers.
The doubt I’m referring to is that crippling, ‘I’m no good,’ ‘this is hopeless,’ kind of doubt, the kind that stops us writing in the first place. I think most of us experience doubt like this from time to time and it’s tricky to deal with but when I experience it I ask myself what’s the bottom line? Am I prepared to give up this thing I love called writing? The answer always comes back no and so there is nothing for it but to carry on. The only way I know to banish this doubt is to write on and to cultivate self- belief.

If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced. – Vincent van Gogh

2. Comparing ourselves to fellow writers – it’s easy to look at other writers, especially if they are gaining recognition or success, and compare ourselves to them. Envy creeps in, we’re bound to feel it, we end up either trying to find fault with their writing or finding fault with ourselves. Either way this is no good for our writing. When I feel like this I try to accept and acknowledge my feelings, after all it’s pointless denying them, and then I find something really good, something genuine, to say about my fellow writer. And then I write on. Comparisons are odious, no two writers are alike we each have our own unique voice.


Cafe Plaza Agde – my notebook and pen.


3. Worrying about the market – you can worry and think all day about what’s selling right now, about what agents and editors are looking for, about what will be the next big trend but this won’t improve your writing. My experience of trying to write for agents and changing things for potential publishers (different if you actually have a publisher) led me nowhere other than away from what I loved doing into a world of angst and second guessing and ultimately rejection. So I say write what you love, because at least that way you are true to yourself and you have pleasure and satisfaction in what you do.

4. Putting all our eggs in one basket – pinning all our hopes on one poem, one story, one novel is like loading an only child with expectation that may be impossible to live up to. Fine to re-enter what we think is a good story for any number of competitions over time but in the meantime we must keep writing. It is only through writing that we become better writers and with something new on the go it’s easier to forget about not winning the competition or not securing an agent. Next morning I went over to Paul’s for coffee and told him I had finished. ‘Good for you,’ he said without looking up. ‘Start the next one today.’ ― Steven Pressfield

5. Complaining –we all like to complain sometimes about how difficult the world of publishing is. But it’s a mistake to get mired in this world of complaining. Complaining breeds negativity, wallowing in negativity is not in the least creative and will do nothing for our writing. In fact it may make us stop altogether. One of things I did when I was unable to get my second novel The Orchid House published was publish it myself. We have that opportunity now, we are no longer totally at the mercy of the publishing house. We can be positive and pro-active.

6. Allow people to cut into our precious writing time – too many people do not see a writer writing as work. They think we have lots of free time to do many other things: the chores, the things on their agenda, social events etc – but we are working and we need to say so. In the past I’ve told white lies and invented deadlines that didn’t exist but now when I find my time being eroded in this way I take my diary, pencil in writing days and say quite clearly –I’m afraid I can’t I’m working that day, that week. End of story.

7. Drinking too much tea and coffee, especially when we’re at the computer is not good for us, we should be drinking water instead – seriously it helps a lot to have a big glass of water to hand and to replenish it frequently. Your brain needs water – ‘Lack of water to the brain can cause numerous symptoms including problems with focus, memory, brain fatigue and brain fog, as well as headaches, sleep issues, anger, depression, and many more.’ Merlin Hearn. If you don’t believe me read more HERE


The cafe Commerce in Agde – a great place for writing

8. Excusing ourselves from reading – I often hear writers say they’re too busy writing to read. But reading is fuel to our fiction and we must read and we should read contemporary fiction at least some of the time else we risk becoming too isolated and out of touch, out of fuel and too absorbed in our own writing world. ‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.’― Stephen King

9. Wasting time on social media when we should be writing – I’ve done it, we’ve all done it, spent precious time trawling through Twitter or Facebook, Pinterest etc. instead of getting down to work. One writer I know resolves this problem by writing in a room on a machine with no internet connection. Going out of the house can help with this but in these days of free Wifi it’s only a partial solution, rationing is another. There are no easy solutions but I like to remind myself that an hour of writing makes me feel so much better than an hour on Twitter.

10. Holding on to our fears – as writers we often hold back on what we put on the page. It’s important to think about what we would write if we thought no one was going to read it or no one was going to criticise it – it’s here that the greatest originality and truth of our writing lies. So I say feel the fear and write it anyway. There is nothing that we cannot do as writers. I am currently writing about Arkansas in 1930 in the voice a woman I could never have met. Several years ago I would not have contemplated this. I still think it’s risky but I know it’s time to stop dwelling in the comfort zone.

11. Physically torturing ourselves at the computer – writing can be tough on the hands, back, neck, eyes etc. Long periods at the computer are not always good for our health. We need to take frequent breaks, use ergonomic keyboards, lumber rolls and everything that’s out there to prevent us seizing up. For help and advice on this take a look here.

12. Giving up – all the best writers suffer rejection, for some the rejections run into double figures but nonetheless they persist. So while we are busy writing the next thing, we should still persist in our attempts to find an agent, or a home for our latest story, a publisher for our novel. Take Eimear Mc Bride: McBride wrote A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing in just six months, but it took nine years to get it published. Galley Beggar Press of Norwich, finally picked it up in 2013. In 2014 it won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. I need to remind myself of this more – I know sometimes I give up too easily. I guess that’s fear of rejection but rejection comes with the writing territory and we need to thicken our skins and start believing I ourselves. For some of us ignoring our fear of rejection is the very first step to writing the very first page.

One particular road to self-belief and finding the courage to become vulnerable and daring in our lives can be found here with Brene Brown


13. Working in isolation – writing is a solitary activity but there are great benefits from going out into the world and working with others. If we only spend time in our ivory towers we fall out of touch with people, with life and the world we are writing about. Out there in the world so many ideas lie in waiting, so many other creative people exist, whose ideas can enrich and inspire ours. Taking a poetry workshop with established poets – well outside my comfort zone – led me to a new place in my writing and directly to the success of my story Millie and Bird, inspired in turn by a painting. I’m currently looking forward to running a series of workshops with war veterans – I will meet new people and I know it will influence my writing.

14. Feeling failures, thinking we’re imposters – just because we are not on a longlist, shortlist or any other kind of list, bestseller or otherwise we should not judge ourselves or others as failures. Lots of writers I meet will not call themselves writers because they say, ‘I haven’t been published.’ Not being published does not mean we are not a writer, it does not mean we are failures or imposters. When we write seriously and with intent we are writers whatever anyone else says. There’s only one difference between published and unpublished writers and it is this – the first group see their work in print on the shelves of Waterstone’s or Tesco or online at Amazon; the second group are yet to have physical evidence of the hours, weeks, years spent fashioning words into their patterns. You are already a writer. Kate Mosse

15. Taking life so seriously – I know I’m guilty of this. I’m a very serious person and I think writers often are but I know it’s important sometimes not to take ourselves and what we do too seriously. It’s important to have fun, to live as well as just write. Living life enhances the writing. So go out, shop, dance, sing, fall in love, eat cake, drink wine, share what you’ve learned, help other writers, find the wildest, comfiest or weirdest place to write. Get away from the machine, buy a notebook and pen ( surely we are not writers without these) sit in cafes or bars, take a holiday, observe the world through dark glasses and whatever you do WRITE.

Battered Moons Poetry Competition

moonlit field

Moonlit Field by Maryhere, Morgue File

I was meant to be cleaning the house and I was, honestly, but every now and then I checked back into my email and to Twitter. That’s how I came across the Battered Moons Poetry Competition – I love the title – which is now open for 2015 entries.

It got me thinking about my files full of poems – most of which still need re-visiting, some of which are past saving, but some of which, when I came to read them, (more welcome distraction from domstic chores) surprised me. I think I’ll enter. For one thing I love Pascale Petit’s poetry and she is one of the judges. For another it will make me make my poems the best they can be and for another if you love writing as much as I do, it’s exciting and fun and a whole heap better than cleaning the house.

Even more exciting the Iron Press launch for my story collection, Millie and Bird and Tales of Paradise…on Friday. I’m getting nervous

Things We Need to Know About the Middle of Our Novel

This week I find myself having reached what Walter Mosely calls ‘the midlands of the novel.’ My novel is short, a novella even, and although I’m not entirely sure yet of its final length, I sense I’m at the middle, that crucial stage where the story and in particular the tension have to be sustained. According to Mosely this is a potentially, ‘treacherous place,’ where the narrative can sometimes sag and fall away. It can wander, become bloated or unfocused and the tension may begin to seep away.

I do know my final destination but I’m not sure about what happens to my characters on the way there. I have a number of possibilities in mind but no clear direction and although I’m a great believer in writing on, I also know there are times when you have to stop, assess where you are and think about where you are going.

I was already sensing that my storyline was drifting somewhat and that maybe I was losing pace and tension when I decided now was that time to stop and to start thinking about ‘the midlands’ and the future.

So where did my thoughts lead me and what do I think will help in addressing the issues that we face when we reach the middle of our novel?

Here are the thoughts that occurred to me particularly from reading Walter Mosely and here’s what I decided to do:

1. The map of our novel/novella is already there in the very beginning of our story, it lies in the characters we have created and the conflict we have established. We lose sight of this at our peril.
So – I’m re-reading the manuscript with particular attention to the beginning and to each of the key characters, making notes under their names as I go, thinking about each of their stories and how they will develop and be resolved.

2. The middle of our novel/novella is like the whole – it needs a beginning, a middle and an end – just like every scene does. So it follows we need to give the beginning of the middle the same attention we give the beginning of the novel itself etc.
I’ve gone back to the very beginning of the middle. Here my protagonist Alice is finally forced to go and live with a man who doesn’t love her and who she knows to be cruel and abusive. I realised in going back that I’d missed a great opportunity to heighten tension by not detailing what happens – I’d alluded to things, skimmed over their crucial first days together, failed to be specific and made it far too passive. It would not have made a good beginning. I’ve addressed this and I think it makes a big difference.

3. The middle is the place where the strands we have established need to be explored and woven together into the whole cloth… So……

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New on Writers’ Rooms – Marina Sofia

The latest in my Writers’ Rooms series – the lovely Marina Sofia

Marina Sofia is a global nomad and writer, currently residing just outside Geneva. She has been published in online and print journals, as well as a couple of poetry anthologies. She is currently working on a psychological thriller set in Geneva. Take a look at her writing space and read what she has to say about the writing process HERE

You can find her online on her blog  .

She reviews regularly for crime fiction lover  and is part of the editorial team for online  DVerse Poets Pub.

You can follow her on Twitter HERE

Where Do Stories Come From? – Writers and their Ideas

Feeling better, for me at least, means my thoughts turn to writing. I managed to get to the lovely Shepherd’s Dene writing retreat on Sunday, organised by Rachel Cochrane and although I was still somewhat under the weather I wrote 3,000 plus new words! (Highly recommended)
And so I am back in the White River in Arkansas in 1930s with my young protagonist Alice– still wondering how I got here and how or why I discovered her voice in my short story Eating Words (which you can read here at the Manchester Prize site – just click the link to download )

What makes us write a story, where does the inspiration come from, is it even an idea in the first place? Probably not I think. I am with Ursula le Guin when it comes to the writer and the ‘so-called’ idea:

‘The more I think about the word “idea,” the less idea I have what it means. … I think this is a kind of shorthand use of “idea” to stand for the complicated, obscure, un-understood process of the conception and formation of what is going to be a story when it gets written down. The process may not involve ideas in the sense of intelligible thoughts; it may well not even involve words. It may be a matter of mood, resonances, mental glimpses, voices, emotions, visions, dreams, anything. It is different in every writer, and in many of us it is different every time. It is extremely difficult to talk about, because we have very little terminology for such processes.’ Ursula le Guin

Stories often begin for me with a mood and a feeling. I think that’s why place is such an important inspiration for me. I often find myself fascinated by a place and I know that I want to find out more about it, spend time there, write about it. As I begin to immerse myself in the place I listen for its voices, there may be words that float out of the ether, there may be a name.

Then again there may be none of these – there may not be a place, there may be a thought, a glimpse, something remembered, something dark, an image, a person spotted on the tube….something that connects with what already preoccupies my thoughts, that springs up out of who I am and what I have experienced.

Above all there has to be the feeling that this is something that speaks to me, something I want to explore, spend time with, nurture and grow. This is the magic of the story and who knows exactly where it comes from or where it might lead? Certainly not the writer.


Being ill…

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERABeing ill whatever else it does puts a stop to galavanting – puts a stop to most things, shrinks life small, so that it’s mostly confined to one space. In my case I’m fortunate that this space – the bedroom – has a wide bay overlooking the field opposite our houses. I can’t imagine life without the field – it’s been there unchanging since we moved in 28 years ago. It’s part of the family.
When the children were small I would sit with them and watch the first lambs let loose every spring, we’d mark the coming of the fieldfare and waxwing, later view with fascination the lumbering grey cows in the long silvery grass. There is a small road below us, between house and field but it’s not visible from the bedroom, just the field and its wide sky as if it was our very own backyard.
Not everything about being ill is bad (especially if you know recovery is on the horizon). The first week I could do nothing, but the second I’ve appreciated the field anew, reacquainted myself with it, even begun a poem about it. I’ve caught some great radio, read a fair bit– finished the new Anne Tyler – made notes, made lists, made the most of my new I PAD, retreated, rested and regrouped, being ill is not all bad…..

Poetry and Prison

Watching this inspirational TED talk by the poet Cristina Domenech took me back to my prison days – my years working at HMP Low Newton Womens Prison, Durham. During my time there as a teacher and later as a manager I was involved in many creative projects especially with Writer-in-Residence Wendy Robertson and I was never anything other than convinced of the huge life affirming and life changing potential of writing in prison

This a very moving example of just such a project and it’s outcomes.  If you like to read more about my 25 years inside prison click HERE

I also have a prison story (a long short story) available on Kindle HERE on Amazon

Writing About Sex

This is my most viewed blog post ever! (First published August 2013.) At the risk of repeating myself here it is again….


One of the most daunting things for a writer can be writing a sex scene. Writing about sex is something many writers avoid or manage through implication or omission; and sometimes that’s fine, sometimes that works best with the fabric of the novel. But sex is a huge part of life and while we may not want gratuitous sex in our novel – we are not writing erotica – sex may be integral and therefore hard to avoid. So why do we avoid writing about sex? I would suggest there are several compelling reasons:

  • we don’t want readers to take the book for something it’s not – in my experience it takes only the odd sex scene for certain readers to do a nudge, nudge, wink, wink, or quote page numbers at you, which can feel very demeaning
  • embarrassment – we think of all the people we know who will read it – our families, children, friends, our mothers!
  • readers will assume because we are writing about sex, however deviant it might be, that we have been there and done that or perhaps want to – assumptions which are often crude and untrue.
  • the language for writing about sex is tricky. What words do we use? The naming of parts – genitalia – can give us a real headache or should I say – ball ache?

We don’t seem to mind writing about every awful thing from say, the horrible death of a child, to violent, abusive relationships, cruel assassinations, prostitution etc but we shy away from writing a sex scene.

Barbara Kingsolver in Writers On Writing – Collected Essays from The New York Times says:

‘Great sex is more rare in art than life because it’s harder to do. To write about sex at all, we must first face down the polite pretence that it doesn’t matter to us and acknowledge that in the grand scheme of things, nothing could matter more. In the quiet of our writing rooms we have to corral the beast and find a way to tell of its terror and its beauty. We must own up to its gravity. We must also accept an uncomfortable intimacy with our readers in the admission that, yes, we’ve both done this. We must warn our mothers before the book comes out…’

When my novel The Orchid House came out – it’s a novel in part about sexual obsession – my mother was no longer alive but I warned my father who likes to read everything I write. I simply said, ‘there’s a lot of sex in it dad, so you might not want to read it.’ I gave the same warning to my children.

When I first sent The Orchid House to my agent her response was ‘the sex is great, put more in it, the French do …’ So I did, but ultimately that felt wrong and when the book came back into my hands – after what was a close call with a big publisher – I made sure the writing about sex was as I’d originally intended.

So we know the territory of writing a sex scene but how to do it?

Firstly when writing about sex I think you have to decide to throw caution to the wind and forget your blushes,then:

  • don’t deal in clichés especially when it comes to genitalia, penetration and orgasm – no throbbing members, or crashing waves.
  • remember sex is much more than this final act,
  • choose your language carefully, but be specific.
  • Make it unique, come at it from what Natalie Goldberg describes as ‘across the shore…’ not necessarily head on – come at from eating a melon, swimming naked, from silk, from chocolate, use what is sensual.
  • think of the body as your landscape,
  • write freely with no self-censorship go for it, then see where you arrive, you can always edit it later
  • write as if no one is ever going to read it then have the courage to use it

‘Eroticism is a big word. If you are nervous look around the room. Begin with something small and concrete – your teacup in its saucer, the thin slice of apple, an Oreo cookie crumb on your red lips…’ N Goldberg

Good Luck!


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Kate Tempest

A friend from Aussie emailed me recently and suggested I check out poet, spoken word artist, musician, playwright and novelist, the amazing Kate Tempest. If you haven’t already heard her then prepare to be amazed and awed! She is a huge talent (already won the Ted Hughes prize and been nominated for a Mercury Award) You can find out more about her HERE. Listen below – she’ll take you by storm.