In search of a perfect formula or Cu2CO3(OH)2

Not quite Cu2CO3(OH)2, but wondrous, nonetheless.

We are drowning in a sea of information, except that we’re not necessarily becoming any more informed. More opinionated, possibly, but that’s not quite the same thing.

Wanna be a writer?

Sure you do, and now it’s easy. You don’t need to live, to challenge yourself, overcome difficulties and express your inner truth; no, you just need to follow the steps, connect the dots and, most importantly of all, trust in the formula. 

Because there’s always a system, right? 


Alongside opposable thumbs, superior intellect (superior emotional intelligence pending…) and an ability to make and use tools, surely one of our greatest gifts is the ability to make and recognise patterns. We are adept at observing and recording, and then making deductions to allow us to make sense of whatever we’re presented with.

When it comes to writing, which – frankly – can be a difficult thing to do – the notion of a surefire pattern or formula can seem oh so tempting. Here’s the thing though: most of those patterns have worked for one or two individuals. When they say ‘it did it for me’ they’re not kidding. But they’re not you.

I’ll wager few of us have deliberately tried to live a life like Ted Hughes, or Jack London, or J K Rowling, but somehow all the elements of their lives – skills, experiences and opportunities – coalesced together wonderfully and the results are literary legend. 

And yet…

There are courses aplenty that not only show you techniques to free up your own creativity, they also give you the formula. Ah, that tingly formula – making us wonder why we ever tried to take the long way around. Forget “Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting, lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,” the formula for writing is, ironically, a lot less formulaic.

– You need a proper education, or an intuitive grasp of language.
– You need to apply the standard rules of grammar, or to apply your own (James Joyce and Eimear McBride).
– You need to have contacts, or you need to be lucky.
– You need a social media presence, or no one ever sold novels through social media.
– You need a strategy, or you need to learn as you go.
– You need an agent / publisher, or you need to go it alone.

Chamomile tea is available at the end of this post.

I’m not saying that there aren’t many useful things to be learned from courses. For examples, a novel writing summer school I attended at University College Falmouth (and if you want to know why it’s written in that order, look at the initials – I was genuinely told that) radically changed how I write and gave me new insights about plotting, POV and characterisation.

What I am saying is that you need to find the formula for you. The fact that there are no guarantees and no absolutes is not a tragedy. Sure, it can feel that way when you think you’ve tried everything and nothing has worked. But that just isn’t so. No formula, no fate and no destiny is not a tragedy, it’s a liberation.

(And yes, you might say that thinking that way is fated anyway, but how would we ever know that one way or the other. Unless we’re fated to, I mean.)

Science relies on formulae, which, by definition, produce the same results when the same elements – in the same combination – are combined in an identical set of circumstances. And that’s the point. No two people, no two book and no two sets of circumstances are identical.

Writing, like life, involves risks, chances, connections, timing, opportunities, inspiration, influences, money, talent, perseverance and not a little luck. Who knows? Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Whatever your system (cosmic ordering, how to write a perfect novel pts 1 to 24, the ‘you can sell a ton of books like I did’ course, or my parents own a publishing house and distribution network, etc.) please don’t let any of it distract you from the only system that does work.
– Select from any of 26 letters.
– Add appropriate punctuation (and only you know what’s appropriate for you).
– Write with passion, style, talent and authenticity, or none of those things.
– Get to The End.
– Edit.
– Now you have yourself a book.
– Figure out what to do next.

And why Cu2CO3(OH)2 in the title? Well, if you haven’t looked it up yet – and I seriously doubt that – it’s the chemical formula for Malachite. When I was first introduced to geology as a child, and later, when I used to make jewellery from semi-precious stones, I thought Malachite was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. Still do, actually.

The picture above holds its own story. Anything super green tends to catch my eye – broccoli, the Faery tradition, emeralds, algae covered rocks – all those and more. So when we were walking on the beach and I saw them, how could I resist? No matter that the rocks were unstable and only an idiot doesn’t have two hands out to steady themselves, right? That picture is the last one the camera ever took. Shortly afterwards it – and my elbow – had a close encounter with a couple of boulders. Memory cards are surprisingly robust these days, don’t you think? It must be something to do with the manufacturer’s formula…


  1. Chloe says:

    I think we can never emphasise too many times how the key to "success" is to write well. That doesn't guarantee success of course, but it MUST be a prerequisite to it – or at least to any satisfying version of it.

  2. Agreed. The only success we have absolute control and influence over is the quality of our finished writing. All else is secondary.

  3. Monika says:

    I loved this post, Derek. I loved the writing and I loved the things you've said. Simon and I have asked ourselves this question over and over again: Why not me? After feeling like we'd done everything we're "supposed to." Our conclusion: So much comes down to luck. Or not. But this is what makes the artist brave: Believing that you have something to say, or create, or contribute…so you JUST. KEEP. AT. IT.

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