Lines and lessons for writers.

Yours Affecy,

The Inimitable Boz


Ebeneezer Scrooge being paid a visit by the Ghost of Marley.

On this day, 173 years ago, A Christmas Carol was published for the first time. To mark this literary milestone, we’ve packaged up some of the choicest morsels of advice for writers from its author, the much-loved Charles Dickens.

Dickens wasn’t just one of the most revered novelists of his day – he was also a prolific writer of letters. Looking through his correspondence, you can’t avoid being struck by how much time and encouragement he gave to his fellow writers, while also feeling relieved that writing, even for someone as gifted and proficient as The Inimitable Boz, could be a huge challenge. For every writer who has worked against the clock, within word limits, with illustrators and as an editor, here are 10 of Dickens’ finest words of wisdom.

(If you are looking for a Christmas present for a Dickens fan, all quotations in this post are from Hartley, Jenny, The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).


Happy writing!



Even Dickens had to worry about deadlines.


1) Deadlines destroy your social life

I like the matter of what I have done today, very much, but the quantity is not sufficient to justify my coming out tonight.

                                                                                                                                To Catherine Hogarth, 1836

2) It’s good to seek a second opinion

What do you think of this name for my story – Buried Alive? Does it seem too grim?

To John Forster, 1858

3) Pedantry is an essential quality of good editing

There is one slight slip….. Magdalen “laid down”…. To lay is a verb active, and to lie down is a verb neuter. Consequently, she lay down, or laid herself down.

To Wilkie Collins, 1862

4) What is written for one purpose may not suit another

If you will take any part of it and cut it up…., you will (I think) at once discover the impossibility of publishing it in weekly parts.

To Jane Brookfield, 1866

5) Editing can be a messy job

And I am perfectly addled by its horrible want of continuity after all, and the dreadful spectacle I have made of the proofs – which look like an inky fishing-net.

To John Forster, 1856


Never fun…


6) Give credit where credit’s due

I have read your book with the deepest interest and sympathy, and admire, more than I can express to you, both the generous feeling which inspired it, and the admirable power with which it is executed.

                                To Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852

7) No matter how good your writing, it can be hard to conceal your identity

… I should have been strongly disposed, if I had been left to my own devices, to address the said writer as a woman.

To George Eliot, 1858

8) As an editor, accepts others’ edits

I shall gladly acquiesce in whatever more changes or omissions you propose.

To John Forster, 1846

9) Creativity is not always a swift process

You can hardly imagine what infinite pains I take, or what extraordinary difficulty I find in getting on FAST.

To John Forster, 1846

10) Even the best struggle

But the toil and labour of writing, day after day,… is IMMENSE!

To John Forster, 1846

Dickens knew the struggle was real.

Dickens knew the struggle was real.