Astrological help for writers….

Indulge me. Have a guess. Which planet, do you think, might be specially linked to the writer’s craft? Yes, very good. It is indeed Mercury.

Mercury represents the principle of communication in all its facets. Pitching and selling ideas, reworking, appraising, editing; all the activities of the scribe’s trade are encompassed by the Mercury function.

Gorgeous Mercury!

Mercury – isn’t he gorgeous?!

In the spring, summer and autumn/winter of each year, the planet Mercury does something strange. It appears to slow down in its orbital pace, stop, then start to move backwards. This is known as retrograde motion. It is of course an illusion. Otherwise, we’d have fallen off the solar system aeons ago.

However, the effects down here on Earth when Mercury is in its  2-3 week retrograde phases are anything but illusory. For years, I studied this phenomenon in my own life, the lives of family, friends, and astrology students. In sum, communications of all types become strangely awkward and hard to manage during those times.

I learned to look forward to having some rest during Mercury Retrograde, since my referral rate dropped. Normally clients always turned up for appointments, MR periods being the exception. Cancellation rates increased. Once, a client called to cancel because her house had just caught fire (yes, she called the Fire Brigade first!).Two clients often turned up at the same time. Cheques invariably got lost in the post, or clients forgot to bring cash. One summer I moved office during MR, becoming involved in a dispute of byzantine complexity with the telephone company which took almost a nervous breakdown to sort out.

As MR periods approached, I used to entertain my students by looking at their individual horoscopes, which enabled me to be more specific regarding possible MR effects. I told one student, a lawyer, that a female helper in his workplace was likely to have communication problems which would impact on him. His feedback?  His secretary sprained her wrist, and was unable to type during the entire MR period.

Mercurial people, eg writers, are those most affected  by Mercury’s retrograde phase.

What can we writers do to maximise advantage and minimise disruption when Mercury is retrograde? MR is a positive time for going back over all matters to do with communication, and cleaning up.

Some examples: if you’ve been putting off a purge of your filing system, do it now. If your accountant has asked you nine times for your last year’s papers, use this 2-3 weeks to update them. Dig out and finish some of those half-worked articles. Use MR times for reminder letters to editors. If you’ve been writing furiously and the brain/wrist is seizing up, have a break. Catch up with some reading. As we know, fallow time is creative.

The don’ts? If it is not feasible as a working writer to avoid or delay taking new initiatives or completing existing processes, eg sending out new proposals and submissions or signing contracts, leases, etc, try to accept complications or thwartings philosophically. Also – be prepared for delays, eg when travelling, especially long distance.  Don’t sit under the mailbox waiting for cheques. And please, don’t arrange for a phone installation!

“Come on then !” I can hear you shouting as you search for my phone number or email. “Tell us WHEN !”

Just send me a £50 cheque and a self addressed envelope….

….oh, all right. Since this is a writer’s website, I’ll tell you.

The Mercury Retrograde periods for 2009 are: 11 January to 01 February + 07 May to 31 May + 07 September to 29 September.

(update: The Mercury Retrograde periods for 2009/2010 are: i) Retro 26/12/09, Direct 15/01/ 2010. ii) Retro 17/04/10, Direct 11/05/ 10. iii) Retro 20/08/10, Direct 12/09/ 10.iv) Retro 10/12/10, Direct 30/12/ 10.)

Let me know how you get on ! Susan Elena my web person, a highly Mercurial person, has a very rude name for Mercury Retrograde. She is on her way back from Istanbul at present. I will be amazed if it goes smoothly……

(slightly edited : first published in the Women Writers’ Network Newsletter August 2004)


600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2008
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page


To the website! Chapter 2

“……Much of 2007 was taken up in reflecting on a challenging topic: should I become more computer literate – a writer with a website – or sink slowly to the bottom of an ageing and increasingly befuddled slime of computer-refusing baby-boomers? Befuddled slime did not appeal……”

To the website! Chapter One

(c/f July 08 archive) described the process of acquiring a new AppleMac laptop and getting on the Net via mobile broadband – both accomplished during April 2008.

Now read on!

Still can’t quite believe this….it is September 2008 and I am now a writer with a website!.To inspire and encourage other writers in the same direction, the first thing to say is this: the process of moving from dinosaur to cyber-babe has been great fun, very creative, and not that difficult. For this, much credit goes to my web person, Susan Elena. Her winning combination of geekiness (does this word exist? It does now….), efficiency and reliability, clear teaching and patient good humour set a context where I could relax and have a laugh – mostly at myself, with plenty of input from Susan! – as well as learn a whole range of new skills.

I was also fortunate in benefiting from the very considerable computer expertise of my friend Willie Miller, who runs a successful urban design practice here in Glasgow, Scotland, UK and uses both Macs and PCs. An initial discussion with him, after I had drafted and showed him the Home Page and categories within which I wished to locate articles, proved very useful in focusing the research I did prior to beginning to work with Susan.

There being innumerable Net articles on Writers Websites, it felt very lucky right at the outset to come upon just what was needed to get going. Check out “ , the site of Sky Bolt Enterprises which specialises in ‘….effective business websites….’ and a very practical article by Ginny Stibolt called “You Don’t Have to be a Technical Wizard or Rich to Have an Effective Writer’s Website”. It fitted my starting level of comprehension, ie at the bottom of the cyber-literacy food chain. Read it for yourself. Before you start, you need to know why you want a website and what you want it to do. You should then be able to compose a clear, brief and if possible entertaining mission statement for visitors to your Home Page. As Ginny Stibolt observes: “….you have less than 10 seconds to capture their attention. You must state or imply your message instantly.”

I checked out quite a few writers’ sites, and decided that the one whose form I liked best was Bryan Appleyards. I am a fan of his writing so this may have caused some bias! But the clear, unfussy, simple way it is laid out appealed to me – easy to navigate and easy to read.

Following my meeting with Willie and subsequent research, I drafted a preliminary list of ten key website requirements to give Susan a clear idea of what our aims were. Here are four which you might find useful as starting points for thinking about setting up your own site:

1. Purchase a domain name and arrange hosting. Set this up with your name on it, not your web person’s – thereby retaining your independent status.

2. Set up the website as a blog with archives and some fixed pages: eg for Biography, CV (if you decide to put this up, bear in mind the risk of identity theft), Clips, and several writing themes. Thus when you want to put up new articles, the additions can initially be posted on the weblog, then transferred to archives under appropriate headings.

3. Create simplicity of use, so that you can transfer words and images from desktop into website without intermediary help or having to learn eg HTML. This is where a blog format really works.

4. In sum – create structured, categorized, designed web space into which you can then cut and paste your own material at your own pace. Aim to make your web person redundant rather than establishing an (expensive!) ongoing dependency.

Willie suggested WordPress, who provide a wide range of FREE templates, as a good option for a flexible blog package. This was also Susan’s recommendation. I have found my WordPress template very easy to use, with lots of clever and ingenious features – eg Blogstats. This supplies details of visits to your site in addictive and easy to read graphs for day, week and month, enabling you to monitor your fame rippling across the Web!

(Considering my avowed intention right back at the beginning to lurk quietly in an unpromoted corner of cyberspace whilst putting everything together, I am truly amazed at how many visitors the site has had already. Thank you and keep visiting! )

With Susan’s help, I also arranged to be hosted by WordPress. This is very easy to accomplish, at a very modest cost.

We met for nine 1.5 hour sessions from 8th May until 21st July 2008. Essentially, Susan showed me what to do, and I went ahead and did it. Within a couple of sessions, I was happily pasting already prepared articles into the fixed pages we set up on the site, each page presenting one of my writing themes as well as Biog, Clips, Favourite Quotes and Cartoons.

I learned very quickly how to add interest to the text with colour – deciding to stay mainly with black and green for an uncluttered, professional look. Some images were uploaded next. Although it is a writers’ site, I didn’t want it to look too ‘wordy’. Following this came learning how to insert links into articles, then the Blogroll facility which enabled me to post a few key links – relating to each of my writing themes – on the bottom right of the Home Page.

At the start of our process, Susan said “ What do you want to call your site?” I hadn’t a clue. Playing around with a few phrases relating to my writing themes proved unproductive – so I just used my own name. Then, early in August, the title came through. “Writing from the Twelfth House”. This feels right, for reasons which are revealed in Evoking the Twelfth House.

Willie Miller, a speedy kind of person, couldn’t believe that I intended to take the whole summer setting up the website. However, in an article called “Learning to do slow”, you will see why. It has felt very good to do so – taking time gives the creative process opportunities to let ideas ripen and take shape. A website is, of course, a work in progress like any other creative venture. But I am reasonably happy with it as it stands. It will develop as my web and computer skills progress – do return from time to time to see how we are both getting along!


……To the website! Chapter Three…… will appear in a few weeks, to give you some ideas and tips on the very important ongoing task of publicising your site. Watch this space……


1200 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2008

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page



To the Website! Chapter One

Susan Elena is quite a woman! I am a person of somewhat fixed ideas, and she has proved herself expert at dynamiting them. For example, I would have spent months angst-ridden over exactly WHEN to launch the website – but she simply went ahead and did it in mid May. I had no intention of posting anything else on this blog page until September – but, quailing under her humorously withering look when I said I’d post an article for practice then take it off, I have as you can see simply left it on….

The intention in posting To the website! Chapter One is very simple : to encourage all writers to GET A WEBSITE ! I hope this encourages you, wherever you are….

” Much of 2007 was taken up in reflecting on a challenging topic: should I become more computer literate – a writer with a website – or sink slowly to the bottom of an ageing and increasingly befuddled slime of computer-refusing baby-boomers?

Befuddled slime did not appeal, and my old second hand laptop was throwing minor but alarming wobblers. Then the decision was sealed late January 2008 by a visit to the Women Writers Network website, an excellent organisation of which I am a member. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Only four members of the network had sites listed then.(2009 update: sadly, Women Writers Network is no more….)

Researching writers’ websites glaringly exposed the limitations of my dial-up. Its slowness made it impossible to access many sites. Something else became very clear. Having a website meant investing in a new computer and some form of broadband. I could access broadband and WiFi from home. But my office building has no WiFi and my office – being a place to hide – has no phone line. Next conclusion: I needed mobile broadband.

Three things became evident from my restricted and patchy research. First, it is mad to be a writer, especially if like me you will shortly have a book to promote, and not have a website. Second, you need to decide on a focus: author-focused, book-focused, or issue-focused. Third, if you are not technically-minded, you need to find an anorak, preferably under thirty, who won’t charge you the earth, will set up the site competently, and steer you patiently through the whole process.

I found my anorak, a can-do, competent young woman of twenty-eight : Susan Elena. Then I hit the wall, waking up at 3 am with acute anxiety. The prospect of what lay ahead felt overwhelmingly daunting. My state of retreat and paralysis lasted much of March.

However, early in April the paralysis broke with a simple decision. I would set aside website building meantime, to concentrate first on acquiring the new computer and going on mobile broadband. The very next afternoon I was able to go into my office – where, incidentally, the building, being tarted up to enable a public enquiry, was crawling with noisy workmen – and get down on paper my website requirements and sample home page. I had been putting off this task for weeks.

On Monday 14 April I had a one-hour shopping appointment to discuss my requirements with one of the staff at the AppleMac store in central Glasgow – Justin. He was great. Tuesday saw me buy a new MacBook, taking out a three-year aftercare plan which a friend described as “the best value on the planet”. He was right. The support I had initially could not have been better. Further visits on Wednesday and Friday ironed out some initial teething problems. On Friday morning, I returned to the store with a mobile broadband package, which Justin installed in a mere fifteen minutes.

At 3pm on Friday 18th April, I sat in my office and stuck the mobile broadband dongle into my new Mac. I am now connected – watch this space! “

600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2008
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Chapter Two of To the website! will appear when the site is ready to go live officially….ie in September 2008

First Post!

This is my first post – it feels a little strange to be writing it since my web person Susan Elena and myself are engaged in a deliberately (on my part) slow process of stocking the site with articles, column, serialised new work, quotes etc etc – and we are currently lurking in a tiny corner of unpromoted cyberspace, not expecting anyone to find or comment on the site for – probably – several months. I have a running joke with friends that I will then begin broadcasting to the world/three people in Outer Mongolia, as the case may be. If you are one of the Outer Mongolian Three I would love to hear from you in due course!

Since my aim is to inspire, how about this quote which I came across today in my reading hour:

“….in this journey of the spirit, I and others still walk that steep uphill road….And all our religious edifices, which serve first as staffs to help us on our way, in the end become crutches which we must discard….And the doctrines which we espouse and which we hold dear are only smooth shining stones which we pick up on the road and place in our baggage. With each new dogma and doctrine, the baggage grows heavier, until we discard these pebbles, one by one, leaving them on the roadside for others to find and carry a little further. And in the end we have need of neither doctrine nor creed, nor to name that which we worship – for it is beyond all image and words….” (pp 120-121 Women in Search of the Sacred by Anne Bancroft (Penguin Arkana 1996)

Comment: “Great – well done you and welcome to the blogosphere ”

From Willie Miller on Weblog

Comment: “Googled your name and here we are! Like the Quote, it sums up Pisces rising to a ‘T’” X From Pam Blair on Weblog