A Writer’s Diary – Marz Q&A

The third Discussion Thread happened on Friday 25th March. It’s taken me a while to archive it here (very busy with Writers Rebel recently), but here it is.

The next one is imminent: April 29th.

Hello Grab-baggers,

I am very aware how the Diary might be reading right now – sticking to very small concerns, and making no mention of the war in Ukraine. However, I’ve decided to go ahead with it as planned.

Now we’ve reached (so soon) the last Friday of March, I’d like to invite you to join a discussion thread.

I’ll be here at 4pm, and this time we’re going to be talking about publishing, getting published, and – most specifically – publishing on Substack.

Any questions or suggestions you have, please sling them my way by commenting on this post.

The last couple of discussions have been extremely fun and interesting. I’ve archived them here and here.

Thank you for following the Diary. Your presence is transforming how I think about writing.

This week, I learned that A Writer’s Diary is in the Top 25 on Substack for Fiction.

All best,



Congrats! Number 25. An odd number, so very pleasing. Does your wife read your diary?

Dear Grace,

yes, which I can only assume means I was in at number 23. This was a fact I only discovered when I looked at the subscribe page, via a New Incognito Window (because I didn’t want to be taken straight to my admin page). As far as I know, there’s no chart or ratings in the public domain. Back when I was setting up the Substack, deciding whether or not to categorize the Diary as fiction or non-fiction had me hesitating for about a week. Maybe this is a sign I made the right choice.

But to answer your question – Leigh has read all of the Diary, everything that will appear this year, and although that wasn’t a comfortable experience, and brought up a lot of stuff, she was happy for it to go out into the world. I’ve written about us before, most of all in Ghost Story.

Hope to see you around soon.

All best,


Hi Toby – just wanted to say a massive thank you for A Writer’s Diary. It’s a daily delight delivered to my inbox. No mention of the war is a positive! No questions, just a thank you from a very appreciative reader.

Dear Gareth,

thank you. And thanks for writing.

I’m wary of offering escapism for escapism’s sake. There are other and more important things in the world than pencils – of this I’m in no doubt. However, writers of all sorts do have this desk-stuff confronting them all day long. It’s obstacle and relief.

I always envied painters the amount of time they could spend doing the physical business of brushes, palettes, glazes.

The loss of life is the most appalling thing, and the blazing aggression. But one of the other things the destruction of Eastern Ukraine has made me very aware of is the fragility of domestic space. How many ‘right places’ have been obliterated in the past month? ‘That’s where that mug hangs.’ ‘Grandfather always puts his slippers there.’ ‘The cat sleeps on the windowsill on the left.’ We are so powerfully reassured by these locations, which are gone in a second. It may be our lives that that go from them, or they that go from our lives. But those walking into exile are heading into spaces where there are, in the first few moments, or perhaps for years, no right places. That is one of the worst of the minor cruelties.

You didn’t ask for this, but it’s been on my mind.

All best,


Thanks for the reply Toby. I think I better understand what you originally meant, and some thought provoking reflections as to what people are going through in the Ukraine on a personal and domestic level.

I must admit this is not something that always springs to mind when people are losing their lives in such horrific fashion, but thinking about having your normal life ripped away must be one of the many indignities.

It wasn’t what I asked for, but it was what I needed!



Hi Toby,

Publishing seem such a dangerous button to press. To push through the hesitation and utter words which cannot be unseen once on the page. As a non participant, I’m more interested in why someone decides to publish and why a particular work rather than how to. The integrity of placement.

On a different note, I was compelled to attempt your free writing and, with all rules removed, it’s not as easy as words on a page. Jabberlitty could be a a new form of expression, quick register it.

Further, I like the examination of minutiae. It calms me, lets me linger on images and sensations and sometimes form sentences as I drift off. And I’ve not done that in a long, long time.

It’s all good.


25 and hurtling skywards.

Dear Chris,

I’m pleased to hear it’s all good.

Why someone decides to publish is a difficult question. It’s sort of taken as a given, especially on writing Twitter and within Creative Writing programmes. It’s the reason lots of people post or pay the money for workshops and teaching. But publishing, as most published writers know, is a treacherous business. It does strange things to your sense of what you’re writing for.

I’m no longer sure what counts as ‘published’. When I began writing, I thought being published meant a large publishing company producing a physical book with your words inside that you hadn’t paid them to produce. Publishing was anything book-like that wasn’t vanity publishing. However, certainly at the beginning, my desire for this wasn’t without vanity. I wanted to be good enough to be published. But I didn’t doubt (or not very often) that I could get to be good enough, given the number of hours available to me in my forseeable life. I was prepared to do anything I needed to – junk any unnecessary parts of my personality – in order to get the large publishing company to love me. I didn’t questions what that ‘good enough’ might mean. (Perhaps I’m being a bit hard on my young self.)

Later on, publishing was something I felt I had to ignore – along with whatever successes it might bring – in order to do the writing better. If I was too preoccupied with strategising my next book, to achieve some particular new level, then I’d inevitably write worse. As a result, I did a kind of anti-strategising, and followed deadkidsongs with Finding Myself. That was not a move likely to please anyone. How could I escape my own preconceptions of myself in order to escape other people’s preconceptions of me? I still think that’s worthwhile, if only as an avoidance of ego-traps.

Why a particular work is an even more difficult question. I don’t think I can answer it. Works tend to be cuckoos in the nest; other treasured little speckled eggs tend to end up dropped onto the roots and go splat.

Jabberlitty is a fun idea. I think it’s yours, though.

Be assured, the minutiae will continue.

Thanks for those questions.

All best,


Perhaps knowing preconceptions are out there/ inside somewhere, is the first win. Publishing or not, everyone should take a writing class because the act of writing, rewriting and possibly learning from it, changes people in unexpected ways. Again all good. The appearance of your cuckoo strikes a cord and is the 3rd bird in my emails this week. Bird by Bird indeed.

Thank you for the diary and the time you give to your readers.


Feynman (Mr F.) now stretches in the coastal sun in the form of a large, old and adored black cat. He keeps company with bro Oppenheimer (Opi, also sage) and Bogard (cute but no respect for birds). These days the boys judge the world silently because there are no words.

Hi Toby,

Do you have the same reader in mind when you write the diary as opposed to a novel?

The Diary is almost like daily flash fiction.

Best, Ian

Dear Ian,

well, thanks to your retweets on Twitter, you (along with Saskia van der Linden on Facebook) are one of the readers I definitely know is out there waiting.

But, in the moment of writing, I don’t think I think of a reader. I have some vague scale of comprehensibility. Does this sentence make sense? Is it something I, or anyone I know of, has said before? Is it worth saying?

In the past, for specific sentences, or even specific novels and stories, I have had a reader in mind. Often, they were either very like the main character, or the person I could imagine enjoying the book most.

With the Diary, a lot of it was written without any certainty of a single reader. Like my other diaries and notebooks, the words could have stayed in the dark, shut up on the shelf.

But when I decided to try publishing it, via Substack and then in a book, I went back through it with the idea there would be readers. Some changes were made then, and then again when I looked at each entry that was scheduled to go out.

I once met a stringer, a freelance journalist in Prague. He said his way of judging a story was, ‘Would they be interested in this if it happened anywhere? in London or Timbuktu?’ Stories that weren’t dependent on place were stories that sold. His best story was about pet shops in Prague selling birdseed that, if you were lazy and let it start growing at the bottom of the cage, came up as marijuana.

The Diary is partly about not pushing readers to be interested in it. I don’t think it’s place-dependent. It’s not about three-act plot structure. It’s, hopefully, about slow and growing fascination and involvement. It’s about mutual trust.

All best,


That’s all for this month.

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe for free to A Writer’s Diary here.

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