Well, I hope the tone of this post conveys the excitement I’m feeling at the moment. Regular readers will know that I am one of those writers who finds the first draft (or “zero draft”, as I’ve been calling it) absolutely torturous to write. I am happy to report that the zero draft is more or less complete, and I feel I am now a good way into what I can confidently call the first draft. This is the bit I love! I can now see the shape of the whole thing. I know what happens, to whom, and when; I know how they feel about it, and I know what the consequences are. I still have to rewrite most of it to add more texture, more nuance, more sense of place. But this story is now living and breathing, and I’m excited about it.

I should make an effort to record how I feel now, in detail, so that the next time I’m at that difficult ‘this will never work’ stage, I can look back on it and remind myself that there is a way through, and that even if it takes a long time to find it, it’s truly wonderful and worth the hard work when you get there. Unfortunately, this stage is a relatively short one. Writing a novel is a bit like doing a basic jigsaw with no picture to guide you. The incredibly difficult stage of trying to fit the pieces together has taken over a year; painting the picture on the front is the fun part, and will be a quicker process. (Of course, I’m saying all this with the assumption that my agent and editor will like the results, and I won’t have to go back and rewrite the entire thing!)

Writing retreats have helped enormously – I’ve been on two recently. I talked about the first one in my last blog post. The second retreat was with Arvon, at the beautiful Lumb Bank writing house, near Hebden Bridge.

I’ve been to Lumb Bank several times before, both on taught courses and on retreats. There’s something about the place that I find incredibly inspiring, and every time I go there, it feels like going home. In fact, when I was shown to my room this time, I suddenly felt quite emotional. Maybe it’s because when I started  my first Arvon course back in 2002, I felt like someone whose hobby was writing; by the end of that week, I felt like a writer.

Or maybe it was the beautiful surroundings that caused the lump in my throat; or being in the company of so many lovely writers, old friends and new. It was probably all of those things combined.

So, the long and the short of it is, during those few days at Arvon, I wrote three complete new scenes (my ‘scenes’ may end up as short chapters, but I prefer to think in scenes at this stage in case I need to juggle things around.) I also rewrote two early scenes that I needed to keep but which now required a complete overhaul.

After talking with fellow writer, the lovely Rosie Garland, I also came away with a new morning routine. We’ve discussed ‘warm-ups’ before in this blog, Rosie tries never to miss a single day. ‘I’m about to run a marathon,’ she told me. ‘I’m not going to do it without warming up first.’ Every morning, Rosie writes six images – just a couple of sentences on each; then a haiku, the subject of which often arises from one of the images. Then she does the classic ‘morning pages’ – three pages of freewriting. Only then is she ready to start her work on her novel.

I’ve been doing my own version of this warm-up, which is exactly the same as Rosie’s, except that as long as I’ve done six images and a haiku, I allow myself to write two pages of freewriting rather than three. If I miss out the haiku or one of the images – I usually describe something I can see, but sometimes it’s something I remember – then I do the full three pages. It feels good.

Whether the morning routine has made a difference, I don’t know, but I find I’m starting work much more easily each morning, and since Arvon I haven’t missed a single day. Nor has there been a day where I haven’t worked on the novel, even if only for half an hour. It’s usually for much longer, though – at the moment, I’m working until my eyes hurt!

So, all in all, it’s going well. I am, at this particular moment, a Very Happy Writer!

In other news:
Last time, I reported that Apple iBooks had picked up The Secrets We Left Behind for a special promotion. Well, it looks like Amazon has followed suit and so  the Kindle version is now £1.99 on Amazon, too (although I don’t know for how long). UPDATE 18th Nov: damn! seems to have finished already.

Signing event:
If you’re in or near Sheffield on Saturday 29th of November and you’d like to buy a signed copy of either of my books, or a copy of the Watch & Wait anthology – Christmas presents, perhaps? (God, I hate the self-promotion, but here I am, trying to self-promote!) Or even if you just fancy a chat, please come and say hello. I’ll be upstairs at WH Smith, Fargate, Sheffield, S1 from 1.30 until about 3.30. There may well be chocolate involved.

New Amazon reviews:
The Secrets We Left Behind: no new reviews (OMG! No new reviews! I did get a lovely reader email about this one, though)
The Things We Never Said: Two 5-star and one 4-star

If you’d like to keep an eye on what I’m up to, follow me on Twitter @sewelliot or ‘like’ my  Facebook page. You can visit my website here


Well, not really final, but still. When I started this blog 10 weeks ago, my word count was 36,594. I ended up dividing the 10 weeks into a block of six, during which I was writing new material and discovering the story, and a block of four, during which I was focusing more on rewriting and looking at structure. So for the first six weeks, I kept track of the word count, and for the last four, I focused more on the time spent at my desk. So here’s how it added up:
In the first six weeks, I wrote just over 41,000 ‘new’ words. This total doesn’t include words added while editing/rewriting. But I also cut around 16,000 words. Again, this total doesn’t include smaller cuts. The current word count is 68, 252.
Over the last four weeks, during which I’ve been measuring time spent working on the novel (that’s time spent actually at my desk, so not counting the hours I think about it while cooking meals, walking the dog, etc) I’ve spent at least 74 hours at my desk, working on my novel.
As every author knows, an important part of the working day is the point, usually before coffee but after checking emails, watching funny videos on Facebook and chatting on Twitter, when you look up your latest Amazon reviews. No? You mean it’s just me? Sorry, don’t believe you. Over the 10 weeks, The Things We Never Said received a total of 29 reviews, of which 17 were 5-star, seven were 4-star three were 3-star and two were 2-star. The Secrets We Left Behind received 32 reviews; 19 were 5-star, eight were 4-star, three were 3-star, and (gutted) one was 1-star and one was 2-star.
I also received 13 lovely reader emails (and four more that I haven’t included in this total because they’re from people I know)

I’ve just realised I have no pretty pictures for this post, so just to break it up a bit, here’s a photo of the new sofa in my study. Can’t think how I managed without one – it makes for a damn good sit down!

Has keeping this blog affected my work?

In order to write the blog post at the end of each week, I’ve kept a daily record of what I’ve been doing, so it’s been quite time-consuming. But it’s made me much more aware of how I spend my time. I wanted to write a completely honest account of my working week, so it’s felt a little bit like working in a goldfish bowl in that, if I’ve wasted a whole morning faffing about on Twitter, or bunking off to meet a friend for coffee, that’s fine, but I know I then have to confess it on the blog. I think this may have helped to keep me on the straight and narrow a little more than I might otherwise have been.
It’s also shown me just how much my teaching and domestic/family commitments impinge on my writing. One thing I discovered through the blog is that when I have a family commitment later in the day, it really affects my ability to get started on the novel. What I should do about this is to start on the novel first thing in the morning and leave emails/admin/social media, stuff until later. But I really struggle to do that. I have this feeling that I should ‘get things out of the way’ first. Anyone else have that problem?
The other thing that’s happened is that I now know what the novel is about. This may or may not have anything to do with writing the blog, but I suspect it’s helped because it’s made me think more closely about the decisions I’m making and why am making them.

Where I’m up to now

I’d say I’m virtually at the end of what I’ve been calling the ‘zero’ draft – I now know what the novel is about, I know the characters, I know how the novel ends, and I know most of the things that happen to the characters along the way, although I still have ideas for a couple more scenes I want to add in. I’ve also come to the conclusion, having tried various other options, that telling the story in a linear way, possibly in five parts, may be the best way option.
I’ve had lots of positive feedback on these posts, so as I said last week, I am going to continue posting about my progress with this book right up until publication. I’ll probably post every two weeks or so while I’m still working on the draft. Then there will be gaps while my agent and editor read the manuscript and give me their feedback, then I’ll post again while doing the rewrites, and eventually we’ll get to the point where there will be infrequent but hopefully exciting bits of news, such as a decision on the title, the unveiling of the cover, etc etc. By that stage, though, I’ll be starting to work on book four…

If you’ve missed any of the posts, you can find them through the archives. To find out more about me and my work, visit my website It would also be great if you would ‘like’ my Facebook author page and follow me on Twitter @sewelliot