Thank you to all those who entered our competition. We had over 100 entries – that was a lot of reading!

1st Stevyn Durham for Nobody Could Fill Your Boots

2nd Kirk Vanderbeek for his entry Worrywart

3rd Gill Price for her very moving poem The Pilgrim

Survivorship Bias

World War II plane research: The prototypical example of survivorship bias comes from statistician Abraham Wald at Columbia University, who conducted research on WWII bomber planes to recommend places for reinforcement.

His team reviewed the data from all returning bombers and identified the locations on the aircraft in which they underwent the most fire. Rather than recommend those locations as places for reinforcement, however, Wald recognized they were using a form of survivorship bias. Wald noted these locations were actually spots in which aircraft could sustain many bullet holes and still return, while the planes that sustained enemy fire in other locations were the ones that went down.

His team recommended reinforcements to locations less represented in the data of returned planes—as a result, they made more effective predictions and saved many lives.

What Is Survivorship Bias?

Survivorship Bias is a logical error that leads to false conclusions by concentrating on the people or things that made it past a particular selection process. And when we do this, we tend to overlook those that got ignored, typically because of their lack of visibility.

It happens a lot in our day-to-day lives and negatively impacts our decision-making.

A great example is copying what successful people have done and receiving advice from the so-called gurus and experts:

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college and became wildly successful. But for most college dropouts, it means unemployment and having more immediate student debt.

Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Neymar are getting paid highly as football players. But the truth is, most players never make it into a game in their lifetime.

Motivational gurus talk about following your passion and trusting your gut feelings — but there is no shortage of people who followed their passion and ended up seriously wrong.

When we’re listening to the success stories in any field, we get inspired by the companies, portfolios, and people who made it to the top. What we don’t hear and see are those who tried and failed because generally, people don’t talk about them.

How To Avoid Survivorship Bias

Understanding survivorship bias itself helps to prevent it from happening in the first place.

When you get clear with what it is, it becomes easier for you to see it again and again everywhere.

The next step is to seek the other part of the story that is missing.

Take ‘following your passion’ as a piece of success advice. We first look at successful people who have followed their passions — and indeed, they accomplished what they desired at the end of the day.

However, you need to ask one other question:

Did other people fail because of not following their passions?

If the answer is yes, then we can conclude that ‘following your passion’ is the key characteristic to accomplish success.

However, the truth is that there are a lot of people who followed their passions and failed.

This simple question forces us to look at both positive and negative evidence — and only make our assumption certain when there is no way to prove otherwise.

What Is He Banging On About

Why is this in a blog that’s supposed to be focused on writing.

Well, a lot of people look to successful authors for an understanding of the magic formula.

What do they do that makes them successful?

Just do that right?


Looking at successful authors doesn’t give you the big picture.

There are many unsuccessful authors that have followed the same formula as successful ones.

There are some ‘rules’ that apply to writing, but they are not the thing that makes writing successful.

Look beyond the rules and any perceived ‘formula.’

What makes successful authors successful are the stories they tell and the voice they use to tell them.

And even then, there is an element of luck, of circumstance way beyond an author’s control: flavour of the month and all that.

Write a good story that you care about: do it in your own voice, not a clone of someone else’s. If you’ve made it this far (TLDR right!?), thank you and keep writing!



A saying that resonated deeply with me when I first heard it, is:

‘Take wisdom where you find it.’

When you come across something that makes sense to you and teaches you something about the world – take it.

It doesn’t matter where it’s from, what’s behind it, or whether you were expecting to find it: if it makes sense to you – take it.

‘What has this got to do with writing?’ I hear you say…


It doesn’t matter what form our writing takes, we can learn from all forms of writing.

We may not believe this to be true or we may not be looking out for it, but it’s there.

Writing a screenplay? What can you learn from poetry? So much! Brevity, turn of phrase, focus, portraying emotion and thought, honesty – so much!

Good writing is good writing.

Watch out for it.

Learn what you can from it. Speaking of brevity… there’s no point in laying out loads of examples, you’re all smart cookies, you get what I’m driving at… so… I’m off!

Boost Your Writing Success Rate

Want to know the best way to boost your success rate with your writing?

Change the definition of ‘success.’

And it’s not even cheating!

We all have our reasons for writing and most of us include among them getting a story / piece of work out into the world.

What form that story takes differs for each of us but includes poetry, prose, journaling, blogging, whatever. We may be writing flash fiction, short stories, a novella or a novel… skits or full screenplays… they are all about the story.

When we decide what ‘success’ looks like for us, we should all include ‘just getting something down’ as one of the criteria.

Whether we intend to share or not, getting the thoughts down via writing on to the page, that’s a great win!

If we’re writing to share, to get stuff out there to a wider audience, sure that’s the end goal and we may measure our success by that criteria, but take the little victories along the way.

Keeping our spirits up, staying positive, fighting off ‘imposter syndrome,’ moving forward towards the goal, all that is helped by little wins. Smaller successes on the way to the big one.

It may go something like:

Have the idea.

Plan it (or not).

Refine the idea.

Write it.

Rewrite it on the fly (even though it’s best not to).

Edit it.

Edit it another ‘x’ times ‘til you’re no longer confident it works / you can’t stand the sight of it.

Rewrite / edit it some more.

Have a better idea which you go off on a tangent with.

Get it in to the hands of beta readers.

Rewrite it and despair that it will never actually be finished.

Edit it again, spotting more things you ‘need’ to change.

Get it reread.

Refine it.

Get it out there.

Immediately realise you want to change it and beat yourself up over it.

The end goal isn’t the only success: it isn’t the defining measure of your success.

Actually finishing any piece of writing is a great achievement.

As are all the steps along the way – they are all little wins, the smaller victories that you sometimes forget about in the big picture of being ‘successful.’

Redefine the way you think about being successful – if you’re getting stuff done: you’re successful! And if you’re not… don’t worry, it will happen…

Information Is Empowering

Information is empowering.

It allows us to make better decisions.

An overload of information can lead to a mind-fog: it can obscure our vision of what we are trying to do or communicate.

Writers love gathering information. It allows them to write with confidence.

Which is of course great!

But just watch out for those rabbit-holes of research – I think we’ve all been there. We go to look-up some fact, some small piece of info that will open up our writing, add to the background, or reveal something about a character, and then suddenly… wham! An hour has passed and we’re in to a topic that is only vaguely tangential to what we were looking for in the first place.

Keep an eye out for those rabbit-holes…

I’m late…

Talkin’ Aint Doin’

A favourite quote from a great TV series, ‘talkin’ aint doin’!’

Sums up lots of people’s attitude towards writing – not particularly charitable or understanding, a bit harsh really, but true.

We all struggle to find the time to write. And it’s not just the time but the energy: when we’re ground down by work and everyday life, we are not always capable of getting in the right headspace to be creative.

We talk a lot about what we want to do, what we’d like to do, and what we’d do if we could.

Some people would say, ‘well you can. You just have to do it.’

Easy right?

Of course not.

So why do people think it’s OK to say it?

Well, basically, because it’s true.

Just turning up and doing it is the professional approach.

We might not be in the right frame of mind, but we get on with it.

We’re not professional writers so why should we try to emulate their behaviour?

Because it gets things done.

Editing is a real thing.

You can make something better once it’s done.

If it’s not done, you’ve got nothing to work with.

Don’t try to make it perfect, just get it done.

Just write. Just do it.

Set some time aside: 10 mins, 20 mins, half an hour, an hour… whatever!

Set aside some time, sit down and write.

Just write something.

Write to spec, write your current project, write in your journal, write whatever pops into your mind about anything…

Make writing a habit.

Get used to taking advantage of whatever time you have.

Don’t expect perfection, or anything close, just get the ideas in to words and get the words on the page.

Try it.

The cliches and tropes are true: the more you do it, the better you get.

The key is doing it.

All this is tough to hear. It can be discouraging if you keep not finding any time to write.

But you don’t need much: you’re a smart cookie – find some small increments of time and do it.

Once you start finding time, the words will come more easily and the time you have will produce better stuff. But you have to make a start.

Time & Circumstance

Each writer needs different things to be in place to get into the swing of writing.

The hardest one to find is time.

When do we find time to write?

How do we find time to write?

We will all have a different answer to the issue of time, or we don’t and it’s a major factor in why we get nothing done.

We can either get up early and fit it in at the start of the day or stay up late and do it at the end.

Easily said right?

Other people helpfully suggest all sorts of alternatives, all revolving around us being nice and disciplined and not giving up the time we set aside for anything.

But real life isn’t like that. And we all know it. So, we smile politely and say, ‘what a great idea! I should have thought of that!’

When do we write?

There is something tied to the ‘time thing’ (bit like ‘space-time,’ stay with me…) and that’s circumstance.

In what circumstances can we productively write?

Some of us need silence, some need music, some need to be in a specific location.

And there are other circumstances that need to come in to play: some need to clear their mind by distraction, some by focus, some by re-reading, some by evaluating plans. Many things must come in to play to make the time we have for writing productive. And all of those things take time!

If I have two hours set aside for writing, I have to spend at least fifteen to twenty minutes clearing my mind. Sometimes this takes the form of a related activity like research or rereading, but often it’s just ‘mucking about.’

That’s my process.

Writers talk a lot about ‘process’ but it’s still a greatly misunderstood part of writing.

Acknowledging your process is important.

It allows you to set a routine by which you reach a point where the writing happens.

Time is the number one factor in getting writing done.

But circumstance, the process, is number two.

And not at all ironically, the more we write, the more we set the time and process in motion, the better we get at accepting and doing it.

Weird right?

When do you write?

What is your process?

What is the pattern and process? Do you recognise it and work with it or remain frustrated that it never happens?


Before a very brief post about ‘context,’ here are two examples of how to use language to obscure or clarify an idea: below are two statements from the interweb about the meaning of ‘context.’

‘In semiotics, linguistics, sociology and anthropology, context refers to those objects or entities which surround a focal event, in these disciplines typically a communicative event, of some kind.’

‘The circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood.’

And on we go…

I’ve recently been involved in a discussion around AIs and what they are, what they could be and what they will (probably) never be.

One of my main points was about context. At the moment, ‘we’ are developing AIs, or what we laughingly refer to as ‘AI.’ This means we are setting the parameters for the operation of the AI – we are setting the boundaries within which it works.

No matter how ‘good’ the AI is, it’s acting within our set boundaries.

For the AI to achieve anything akin to its own intelligence and purpose, it must have a wider context. It must understand things outside of any imposed boundaries. It must find a wider context for its existence.

How it achieves that is the core of any debate.

And now my point in the context of the nature of this blog, which is ‘writing’…

Stories need a defined context.

The reader should ideally be aware of the context.

Who and what is the story about? All the plot that unfolds within the story should be within the context of the story.

It’s a weird one.

Bit like the word ‘context,’ which, if you say it enough, just loses meaning and becomes silly.

Some writers do not like the idea of writing within boundaries, while others find it helpful. It’s the perception of the boundaries as a hinderance rather than a liberator of creativity.

Most writers reading this will be writing for the own enjoyment rather to a strict brief or outline. So why should they limit their creativity? Let it run free and go where it will!

And of course that’s as it should be.

But consider defining your story, give yourself some focus. Make things happen in the context of the story.

That is actually very liberating indeed.

500-Word Challenge

Here’s a ‘just for fun’ challenge that will help hone your writing skill…

Write a 500-word story that answers these questions:

Who is the protagonist?

Where are they (era / location)?

What is happening in their ‘normal life’?

What do they want to happen?

What happens to challenge what they want? (Inciting incident.)

Who is involved in forcing / making change?

Why is the antagonist doing it / why are events happening?

How does the protagonist identify what they want with the new challenge?

How are they going to get it, do they need to go somewhere specific?

What will happen if they don’t get what they want? (Stakes.)

Who can help them get what they want?

Who is going to stop them getting what they want?

What changes will they have to make internally to achieve their goal?

What physical challenges will they have to overcome to achieve their goal?

What is the last, greatest challenge they will have to overcome: internal or external?

Do they succeed or fail in achieving their goal?

What happens to those who helped or hindered them?

How have they changed from the start of the story to its conclusion?

What is their new normal at the end of the story, do they go backwards or forwards? How do they feel about themselves and the world around them?

Character Motivations

It’s important for a writer to know what the motivations are for each character they are creating: both in terms of story motivation, and of scene motivation.

Scene motivation varies wildly depending on where the scene is in the plot.

Story motivation is more fundamental and needs to be addressed at a more fundamental level.

Something that can help us define motivation is ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’?

In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow published a paper in the Psychological Review called, ‘A Theory of Human Motivation,’ in which Maslow outlines five tiers of need that drive human behaviour.

These tiers are more commonly known as ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.’

Are you thinking, ‘What are you banging on about, you muppet?’

Or, ‘Yeah, of course!’

You may be thinking it’s a cliched approach to human behaviour, or a bit of all or none of the above.

Or maybe that you just want a nice cup of tea and a biscuit.

Who knows. People are complex right?

You can use the Hierarchy of Needs to determine how easily a character might abandon their quest for their goal: letting go of a Tier 5 or 4 goal might be relatively tempting if all other needs are met. Letting go of a Tier 2 or 1 goal will bring physical danger, so is less likely to be an option.

The hierarchy of Needs is also a good way to show how balanced and rational your character is (or appears to be) – if they are hyper-focused on achieving a Tier 5 goal and don’t care about risking Tier 2 and Tier 1 objectives, they are putting themselves at risk for something that is essentially not needed (as perceived by others). This asks all sorts of questions that a writer can answer, and the reader will enjoy finding the answers to in the story.

The Hierarchy of Needs is a simple tool that can be used to nudge all sorts of complex questions.

No matter the type of story you’re telling, your characters’ motivations hold the power to make or break a reader’s interest.

Conflict means little without context. But when you allow readers to understand and empathise with your characters’ actions, you encourage the reader-character connection that keeps readers turning pages.

We’ll be looking at a variety of ways to understand a character’s motivation on our meeting of 23-03-23. The meeting will focus on character profiles (what info to capture), motivations and goals, and how knowing them can help you more easily write your story.

Meeting of 23-03-23 – Dedicated Meeting

Hi All,

We’ll be dedicating the next meeting (on 23-03-23) to looking at ‘character profiles.’

The development of the main characters is essentially what any story is about: whether it’s a novel, short story, or flash-fiction.

A lot of writers struggle to recognise and accept this.

Readers respond to the journeys of characters.

Readers get attached to characters and enter the world of the story through the character’s experiences. The characters are the filter through which the readers experience the world.

A lot of writers struggle to recognise and accept this too.

(Why writers struggle to accept the key importance of characters is a whole nother session!)

For the purposes of this session, we are going to accept the fact that characters are the heart and soul of a story.

(This is true for both planners and pantsters, and we are all a mixture of both, but again… we’ll save that for another session…)

What the characters want should be defining the story.

How they change on their journey to get what they want needs to be explored in the story.

Knowing who they are and why they want what they do, makes it much easier to write the story.

Defining the characters and grounding them in the story allows them to grow.

Without a clear understanding of who the characters are and what they want, a lot of time is wasted finding out while writing the first few drafts.

(We have talked about ‘Character Archetypes’ in another session, and understanding their archetype can also play an important role in grounding them in the story. As we have so many new members now, it might be worth revisiting the ‘Character Archetypes’ session?)

Questions you should be asking yourself about characters in your writing:

Are they convincing?

Do they have depth?

How do I make sure they have a ‘character arc?’

Character profiles can help you address these first two questions.

Unless you know what they want and why they want it (in the story), you will struggle to answer the third question.

(A character arc is the path a character takes over the course of a story.

A character’s arc involves adversity and challenges, as well as some internal changes to the character, and ultimately leads to resolution.

Most protagonist character arcs start with the inciting incident that sets up the stakes and central conflict facing the character. The way the arc progresses from there, depends on what sort of story you are telling and how the character functions.)

What is a character profile?

A character profile is a detailed biography of a fictional character that covers everything from a character’s age and appearance, to their psychological make-up and relationships.

By answering the questions in the character profile, an author can better understand that character’s life, personality, motivations, and story function in their writing.

What’s the point of filling out a character template if I’m never going to use most of the information in my story?

You shouldn’t try to pack every character detail into your story. Only use what’s relevant to the actual story.

What makes a good character profile?

A good character profile is one that helps you build a holistic picture of your character in the context of your story.

In that sense, ‘good’ is relative to what you need for the story.

Having detail on the profile that you will not use is fine, as long as it adds to the character in a way that helps you write them.

Every writer will be different in what they need.

What do you need to know about your characters before you start writing them?