Merry Christmas by Christine Duncan

Wrap your packages, bake your cookies, hug your love ones and celebrate! Christmas is here. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas.


Practical Tips

Some practical tips to remember.

Always have notebooks handy where ever you go and always check your pen has ink. Take a spare pen if possible – or have a note taking app on your phone.

Back up. Back up back up back up. Back up on a flash drive AND onto a cloud drive. Have three copies floating around and back up every single time you write. If you are in a long writing session back up every hour.

If you have only a hand written copy, find a way to back up. Scan. Photocopy. Take a picture.

Keep a list of characters and important plot points nearby where you can look up and reference them. Otherwise you will forget a character’s name, or that important plot thread you meant to resolve. I have a poster up on my wall with them all written in, and I keep a photo of it on my phone.

If you use research, keep a note of where you got the research from. You will want to refer back to it. There will be information you won’t know you need until you write. Bookmark the websites you use.

When writing dialogue, stand up and walk around and say it out loud. If you trip over the words, if you find them awkward to say, your dialogue isn’t right.

Keep your laptop battery charged. And your phone battery if you write on that. If you write on paper, make sure you have a lot of your favourite pens. You don’t want to have to stop working because you’ve run out of paper at 3am (you and I both know you write at 3am).

Keep a notebook and pen, or a voice recorder by your bed. You will have amazing ideas just as you drift off to sleep, or if you wake up in the middle of the night and you won’t remember them.

Finally, take a day off once in a while. Personally I do this once a week. You need a rest, you need to reset your batteries, you need the inspiration watching or reading something different or just being somewhere else can give you. And try to stick to this at the beginning, because at the end you will write like a demon and won’t be able to stop for anything.

And finally – try to connect to other writers, whether online or in real life. This isn’t just to discuss ideas, though that’s good too. This is just to reassure yourself that all weird stuff you do as a writer isn’t that unusual and you not a complete weirdo.

I hope that helps.

The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

The Women Of Baker Street

Sent from my iPad

Critique Anyone? By Christine Duncan

I spoke to a writing friend last week who had moved to another part of the country. We had been writing buddies for a long while and critique partners. And we decided to try again.

We don’t write the same genres, we aren’t even in the same time zone anymore but we are good for one another. Writing doesn’t have to be a solitary pursuit, does it?


Disappointment, it seems, is a constant companion for any writer. There’s the difference between the glorious story you had in your head. There’s the thousand no answers for every yes. There’s the bad reviews, and the bad sales and the disappointing royalties.

So how to deal with it? Well, first, remember your life outside writing. Yes, you do have one. Watch something brilliant on TV. Watch something awful on TV. Read a book totally unconnected to anything you write. Eat a cake, a really good cake. See friends, play with a dog, go for a long walk, anything away from writing.

Then, look back on all the good. If there’s only one good review, read that. If you have only one passage you written that you like, read that. Remember all your successes, no matter how tiny.

Some people like to read about all the writers who failed before the made it, the people who turned down Jane Eyre or Harry Potter, or about writers like Mary Wesley who wasn’t successful until her 70s.

By the way, if you have a friend facing disappointment, please never say to them ‘Something will turn up’ unless you want them to scream ‘What and when!’ at you.

In the end, if I have had a disappointment, I face it, I cry, I scream, I weep and wail – but for that day only. As Scarlett said, tomorrow is another day. I will start again tomorrow.

The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

The Women Of Baker Street

Sent from my iPad

Don’t Write for Free, People! by Christine Duncan

It happened again today. I spoke with a good friend who is also a writer. She started her career writing for a newspaper. She has written published fiction books. And she has written on the net, getting comped for her time with hotel rooms, and other goodies.
Now she is writing for free. For an internship. So she can establish a byline.
Don’t do it, people!
Mind you, I do know that writing is difficult. I know that it doesn’t pay well. But the reason is simple. Writing doesn’t pay well because even writers, who know how difficult it is, even writers who know that you have to understand grammar, and people and art of story telling and that is not easy, even writers who can identify the run-on sentences and sentence fragments that I just wrote, don’t value the craft of writing.
When you write for free, when you edit for nothing, telling yourself that you are earning a byline, or will be making a name for yourself, or are publicizing your work, or whatever you are telling yourself, you are lowering the value placed not only on your writing, but also mine. You are telling the world, even if you don’t believe it to be true, that everyone and their Aunt Susie can write and that you want it so much you will do it for nothing.
Please don’t do that. Please.

The Lightness of Character

I listened to a radio programme about Dickens Christmas Carol. It said there had been a thousand adaptations – which at first I thought was an exaggeration, but now I think about it, could be about right, if you count all the school and amateur productions and pastiches (I wrote a Stargate pastiche on it once. No, you can’t read it, it’s awful).

Anyway, they said the reason it had been adapted so many times is not just because it’s a cracking story (it really is) but because the characters are so lightly drawn. Dickens normally describes his characters in meticulous detail, giving them strongly individual characters and complex back stories. If you are to remain true to the plot, there’s a lot you can do with Sydney Carton or Estella that’s different.

In Christmas Carol, however, the characters are less firm. They are instantly recognisable – the lowly clerk Bob Scratchit, the dying child Tiny Tim, the determined cleaning lady, the saintly Belle. But all are just touched on, with just a few details. We know them, we recognise them, but we know almost nothing about their backgrounds or their motivations or their sorrows or joys.

It’s to Dickens’ credit that they are fully living characters anyway (perhaps apart from Belle but, except Estella, Dickens was never at his best at writing good young woman). But what people have gone is use that basis to create something new. They’ve taken those few notes about a character and created something else, something new, something still true to the character but with so much more to say.
And just to mention – it’s often works best with Belle. She gets changed the most and benefits from the changes most.

Dickens created, just for once, characters we know, but that we can also build on. He gave us the people, and left their stories mostly untold. And what it does show is this – first, you can create a real character with just a few words – a note about a scarf, a sigh, a gesture and that can work. You don’t need to say any thing too much about a character.

And second, if you do do this, people will fill in the gaps with their own experiences and knowledge. Will you mind this? (It would be hypocritical of me if I did, considering what I write!) I don’t, I think it creates a wonderful richness to the characters, and gives them a life I could never have dreamed.

The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

The Women Of Baker Street

Sent from my iPad

Writing as a Solitary Pursuit by Christine Duncan

I recently read an article that said people who are solitary are more creative. It sounded like a no-brainer to me. How creative can you be when you are in the middle of a crowd or chatting with your friends?

The article went on to say something that the author undoubtedly thought was profound. The reason you are alone matters. If you are solitary because you are shy or just don’t like social interaction, you are probably not creative. If you are solitary because you enjoy it, and you are being solitary with a purpose, then you are probably creative.

I’m at the point here where I believe I need to get in line the next time they hand out money for these studies. I could use it to fund some alone time to write.

Seriously, I do not think you need a degree to figure this one out.

I think the conclusion can go the other way around too. If you are creative, you are looking for some time to be solitary so you can act on it. And it isn’t always easy to do so before you forget your wonderful idea.