THE WRITING LIFE – publication week and what it’s really like

The long-awaited (by me, anyway) publication of What She Lost was a week ago, so I thought this might be a good time to reflect on what publication day (and week) actually means for an author.

 

A mother whose memory is ravaged by Alzheimer’s, a daughter desperate to discover the truth, a terrible secret that has haunted them both. Can Eleanor reconnect with her mother before it’s too late?

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THE WRITING LIFE – a great big scary decision!

So, major decision since my last post. After weeks of being stuck, hours upon hours upon hours of thinking so hard I thought my brain might explode, and more importantly, in-depth discussions with my agent, I have decided to put aside the novel I was working on (my fourth) and start something completely new. Arghhhhhhh!

I feel the need for a calming image here…

That’s better. Now, a few deep breaths…

Okay, so yes, that’s what I’ve decided. Altogether, I’d written about 70,000 words, 45,000 of which I really liked, although after chatting with my agent, I can see now that I’ve not quite shown my character on paper as she is in my head. That can be fixed. But what can’t be fixed without extensive rewriting and rethinking, is the story – or lack of it – which is why I’ve decided to put this one side, possibly for a couple of years.

Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that What She Lost, my third novel which is out in January, caused me some serious problems and it too, required extensive rewriting – I think I rewrote around 75% to 80%, and it’s now much nearer to the novel I had in my head when I started writing it.

Iris Murdoch said, ‘every book is the wreck of the perfect idea’ and that pretty much sums up my experience lately. It’s so frustrating to have an idea that is close to your heart, to have something to say that you feel is important and not be able to say it in a truthful and engaging way. I’m now pleased with What She Lost, but it did require an enormous amount of work, which I was only able to embark on after my editor and agent read the first draft and we had a long, creative meeting to thrash out some of the difficulties.

This time, my agent has read a sizeable chunk of my draft and confirmed my biggest fear – there wasn’t really enough to keep the reader turning the page. There are other problems too, of course, but I know how to fix those. The bigger issue is that my story just isn’t strong enough at the moment. This is partly to do with the structure, the order in which events occur, but I think I’ve maybe come at the whole thing from the wrong angle.

If I’m honest, what I have is interesting characters and an interesting situation – but that ain’t a story! So I need to do a lot more thinking in order to find a new way of approaching this novel. I’ve created a folder on my desktop into which I’ve put all my existing notes and drafts for that novel, and to which I will add whenever thoughts occur to me. In a couple of years from now, I hope to return to this character I love so much – I’ve called her Eunice Shaw – and create a story around her that I’ll be proud of.

In the meantime, I’m in the very early stages of exploring a new idea. This time, on the advice of my agent, I’m going to attempt to write a detailed synopsis before I start writing. It’s something I’ve tried (and failed) to do before, but now, having had the experience of going so massively wrong with two novels, I’m going to do my level best to find a more efficient approach.

I will, as always, keep you posted on my progress (or otherwise…).

In other news:

  • Both my existing novels, The Things We Never Said, and The Secrets We Left Behind, Are on special e-book promotion for the rest of this month (June 2016). The Things We Never Said is less than a bus fare at 99p, and The Secrets We Left Behind is 1.99 – less than a decent coffee! (Click links to buy) 
  • Workshops: the last in the current series of our How to Write a Novel workshops is on 23rd of July and there are still places available. It’s just £40 for the whole day. This workshop will focus on how to get published – writing a synopsis, approaching agents, etc. We’ll also look at traditional versus self-publishing. These workshops have been so popular that we’ve decided to run the whole programme again starting in September. Full details  here

Also, as I say from time to time, it’s great when a reader takes the trouble to leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads – it helps authors enormously, and it really doesn’t have to be very long. In fact, I’ve just received one of the nicest short reviews I’ve ever had:

This book captured the modern day and the 60s beautifully. It captured everything perfectly. I don’t remember many authors names, I will remember Susan Elliot Wright.


Isn’t that lovely? Thank you, dear reader.

THE WRITING LIFE

Since my last post on 22nd of September, progress on my novel has been painfully slow. I’m a bit stuck again. My character is at a turning point and I thought I knew what would happen next, but there’s a nagging voice telling me, ‘she wouldn’t do that, she’d do this instead’.
If I follow that path (which I sort of know I’m going to) it’ll lead to even more work and planning/plotting. And it may mean more cuts, too. Sometimes it’s difficult to accept that you have to cut work that is perfectly good (“murder your darlings”) and it’s always daunting to know that there is a lot more work to do than you’d thought. But, as I keep telling my students, there are no shortcuts. Well, there are, but if you take them, it’ll show. So I need to resign myself to the fact that I still have a great deal of work to do, despite having thought a few weeks ago that I was ‘nearly there’. Oh such foolish optimism!
A quick look over my writing journal for the last two weeks reveals that I didn’t work at all on the novel for an entire week, although I was writing notes about possible ways forward. I don’t know about you, but when I’ve had a break, I find it terribly difficult to get back into it. It’s true that the last couple of weeks have been busy – I’m teaching again, which involves a lot of preparation, and I also have a few events coming up, so preparing for and publicising these has taken up time, but if I’m completely honest, that’s an excuse!
I find the hardest thing is to actually open up the document – it feels almost as though I’m afraid of it! But once I make myself start looking at the work I find I am gradually drawn back in. I usually go back to the point just before the troublesome bit and start editing/rewriting. That way, I’m drawn back in at just the right place.
So that’s what I did, but I’ve not made much progress – probably a few hundred words a day, if that. But I’ve done a great deal of thinking and making notes about possible ways forward. It’s not nice being stuck, but I don’t feel as horribly stuck as I have done in the past. I know there’s a way through, and it may be that I have to write two different scenarios to see which one can be made to work. Whatever happens, there’s a lot of work to be done here, and sitting around moaning about it isn’t going to help! How do you get back into your WIP after a break?
On a lighter note, one of the things that kept me away from the novel for a couple of days was an event at the Ilkley Fringe Festival. I was sharing the stage with fellow authors (left to right) Bill Allerton, Bryony Doran, Jenny Rodwell, Linda Lee Welch, Angela Robson, Ruth Valentine and Danuta Reah.

We were talking about our diverse experiences of getting into print, and it was fascinating to hear the other authors’ stories of their personal journeys to publication. Having already spent the afternoon at a book signing in WHSmith, we were keen to repair to the pub afterwards for a well-deserved glass of wine. It’s always lovely to socialise with other authors and I came away from the weekend feeling I’d made new friends.
Next morning, we met for breakfast at Betty’s tea shop in Ilkley. Here you can see us holding advance copies of a short story anthology called Watch and Wait, published by Cybermousemedia in support of the Lymphoma Association. 
More about this in the next post, but I’d just like to mention the launch of the anthology, which is happening in Sheffield on 21st of October. Full details are on the news and events page of my website – it would be great if you could come along!
Last bit of news – I’m teaching a one day Creative Writing class in Sheffield on Saturday 11th October.It’ll be inspiring, productive and brilliant fun! Full details on the workshops page of my website

New Amazon reviews:
The Secrets We Left Behind – one 5-star, one 4-Star
The Things We Never Said – two 5-star, two 4-Star

Follow me on Twitter @sewelliot or ‘like’ my Facebook page