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 – FIRST DRAFT SENT!

A big milestone for me today – I have submitted the draft of novel number three, the progress of which many years of you have been following on this blog. It’s a strange feeling, because on the one hand, it’s immensely satisfying to have juggled and plotted the lives of a number of characters and reached a point where I have a completed story. But on the other, I know that this is only a milestone; it’s by no means the end of the journey.

I’m looking forward to receiving feedback from my agent and editor, both of whom have immense skill and insight when it comes to the finer points of storytelling. I am of course very nervous, too. I want them to love it – I want everyone to love it! I don’t mean I want them to say it’s perfect, because it won’t be – beginner writers take note: by the time you take a novel off the shelves in a bookshop, it will have been redrafted more times than you can begin to imagine. But I’m just hoping that they’ll share my passion for these characters and what happens to them, even if I have to rewrite, rethink and re-order whole chunks of the text.

So, what has the process of getting this manuscript ready for submission involved in the last couple of weeks? Well, it’s amazing how you can think you’ve done all you can and then find SOOOO much more to do! You may remember I made myself a novel “to do” list, which initially had about 65 things on it. It was wonderful to cross off several of those items each day, but I think the number probably doubled. They varied from bigger things like, ‘write an epilogue’ to smaller technical things, such as: ‘show character getting dressed’ (I noticed that the character was naked in one paragraph, and then he was opening the door and stepping outside – he wasn’t meant to still be in the buff!)

Then, when I thought I’d done all the ‘story’ things, I read it through again looking for typos, punctuation errors, extra spaces etc – it seemed like there were millions. Then I read it through again, and found a million more.

I’d written most of this draft in Scrivener, so I then had to compile it as a word document, which was really easy, except that Scrivener refused to accept that my prologue wasn’t chapter 1 (even though I put it in a separate folder. Anyone??) Anyway, I ended up having to manually change the chapter numbers – all 50-odd of them! And then I realised I still hadn’t written the sodding epilogue. It may be that the epilogue isn’t needed, but I thought I needed to know what happened to the characters after the ‘ending’, so I sat in my favourite coffee shop and bashed out an epilogue of sorts. That will be the most first-draft-y bit of the whole thing!

It’s been a lot of hard work, and I know there will be a lot more hard work to come, but I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to hit ‘send’ earlier this afternoon (despite sitting here looking at the screen for a few minutes before plucking up the courage to actually make that click!)

And so now I’m going to have a break for a few days, catch up on some reading, and maybe even let my thoughts roam over a few ideas for novel number four. The immediate plan, though, is to sit and drink a glass of bubbly in celebration. There’s still a long way to go, but at least I’ve reached this significant point in the process. Hubby is having a glass, too – after listening for hours on end to me moaning about how difficult it all is, he deserves it!

Things may go a little quiet on the blog now for a while, but I’ll still be blogging about the writing life at least every three or four weeks. In the meantime, cheers!

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

THE WRITING LIFE

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

MY WRITING LIFE

As many of you will know, this blog series started as a series of 10 posts following my progress on what I’m now calling the ‘zero draft’ of my third novel. The 10 weeks were up two weeks ago and I published an extra summing up post a few days later. I’ve had such great feedback on the series that I’ve decided to continue posting, although with shorter and less frequent posts right up until this novel is published – hopefully some time in the summer of 2015. While I’m still working on the draft I’ll post fortnightly. So, what’s been happening in the last two weeks? (Apart from eating cake and drinking coffee, that is…)
In the last post I asked whether other writers make a habit of doing ‘morning pages’ or any other warm-up before settling down to their work-in-progress. I was struck by one of the comments by a writer who says she writes for 10 minutes or so every morning as a sort of ‘good morning’ to herself, a way of connecting with the day. I liked this idea, and have taken it up, using it as a way of recording roughly what happened the day before and thinking about what I have to do on the coming day. I’ve found this helpful so far, especially as I’m using it almost as a writing journal where I record ideas I have for scenes I’m working on, or for new scenes that I need to write.
Looking back through that journal, I find that in the last 14 days:
  • There have only been three days where I’ve not worked on the novel at all. Two were because I was babysitting; no excuse for the other day.
  • My  current word count is only about 4000 words higher than it was in my ‘summing up’ post, because much of what I’ve done over the last two weeks has been rewriting.
  • I have written three completely new scenes, rewritten two existing scenes extensively and edited/tweaked two other scenes.
  • I have crossed three things off of my novel ‘to do’list.
  • I have added six things to my novel ‘to do’ list.
  • I had one lunch with a writer friend, one feedback session with three other writers, and two coffee shop writing sessions (alone – not as productive because I gave up sooner)
  • The day after my lunch with a friend, I typed up the 800 words I’d written by hand while on the train to meet her. It transpired that what I’d written was total rubbish. So annoyed that I then wasted an hour watching silly videos on Facebook. 
  • I had one brilliant idea and about 25 crap ones.
  • I did a reading and talked about my writing journey alongside four other writers at the Wakefield Literary Festival. We went out for a meal afterwards. I drank too much wine…

New Amazon reviews:
The Things We Never Said: three 5-star, two 4-star and two 3-star
The Secrets We Left Behind: one 5-star, two 4-star

Nice things that have happened since last time:
I was interviewed by Amanda Saint of Retreat West
I learned that the virtual book club @HelpMyBookClub are doing The Secrets We Left Behind as their September book and save asked me to do a Q&A on Twitter in early October.
I learned that The Secrets We Left Behind, had appeared on this Daily Express list of Best women’s fiction 
Autumn is happening! I couldn’t help myself – I brought these home….
To find out more about me and my work, please visit My website, like my Facebook page or Follow me on Twitter @sewelliot

MY WRITING WEEK – THE FINAL ANALYSIS…

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

MY WRITING WEEK – WEEK 10

Been on holiday so posting rather later than usual. This is the last post that will include a daily look at my writing life, but the blog series has been so popular that I’ve decided to keep it going (although in a shorter form) right up until this novel is published – that’s assuming I don’t make a complete and utter cock-up of it, obviously! So for the foreseeable future, I’ll be posting every two weeks or so, and as we get nearer to final draft and publication, the posts will probably be less frequent.
I was going to include a summary of the 10 weeks in this post, but that would make it rather long, so I’m going to do that in a separate post in a few days’ time – look out for it!
Wednesday 27th August
All I’ve done on the novel today is make some notes because I’m suffering from severe lack of sleep which, ironically, it’s the novel’s fault! As you’ll have seen from the last couple of posts, I’m at the point where I’m considering changing the linear structure to something a bit more interesting (and therefore more difficult). Went to bed thinking about this, slept for two hours then woke up with it all buzzing around in my head. Got up for an hour and read something else to take my mind off it, then went back and dozed for another hour, but that was my lot. Gave in and got up at 5am, made lots of notes, because another possibility has occurred to me, although after making the notes, I don’t think that will work. So although it doesn’t feel like I’ve achieved anything (too tired to do anything involving brain work for the rest of the day) the idea was something I had to explore and I had to go to the process of thinking it through on paper in order to discover the pitfalls and rule it out. Time spent: two hours.
Thursday 28th August
Wrote for an hour first thing, trying out another possible angle. Don’t know about it yet – will read later and think about it. Off on holiday for a week tomorrow, so spent most of the day doing laundry and packing for the week, and doing an online shop to be delivered to where we’re staying. What clothes to pack? If the weather here in the last few days have been anything to go by, I’ll need thick jumpers and wellie boots. Still hoping for an Indian summer. Time spent on novel: one hour
Friday 29th August
Long drive to Scarborough, but worth it. Cottage is gorgeous – tastefully decorated and more spacious than our house! Had a lovely walk along the cliff top under dark, brooding clouds with the constant hum of wind coming in off the North Sea, and the haunting cry of seagulls swirling just above us. Lovely. Time spent on novel: 0
Saturday 30th August
Started another scene this morning, writing by hand because the scene started to evolve by accident while doing my ‘morning pages’. I don’t do morning pages every day, but I’m always planning to. Writers who do this on a daily basis seem to find it very useful, as do I when I make the effort, so I really should do it more often. I find it much easier while on holiday, though, because I feel that any writing I do this week is a bonus, whereas at home I feel guilty for writing anything that isn’t the novel. Stupid, because I know just spending 20 or 30 minutes a day ‘warming up’ could really improve my main work. I’m keen to hear others’ views on warming up/morning pages – is this something you do regularly? Occasionally? How does it affect your writing? Time spent: two hours
 
Sunday 31st August
Feeling stuck again in terms of structure. When I look at the overall story, there are big gaps in time when nothing particularly interesting happens. The best way to get over that would normally be to start the story perhaps two thirds of the way through, and then flash back to the episodes that are relevant. But the point at which it would be logical to start doesn’t have enough tension, and I’m not sure my reader, not having seen the buildup to where the characters are now, would know them well enough to stick with them. Spent the morning scan-reading through again to see if any new ideas leap out at me. Already found another chapter that I suspect is a bit of a filler. It may need to go. I seem to be cutting as much as I’m writing at the moment! Time spent: 2.5 hours
Monday 1st September
Rainy day – good for writing! Having failed to come up with anything remotely clever in terms of structure,I’ve realised I need something in place just to help me move on, so I decided to try dividing the narrative up into a rough five-part structure. Having done this, I then made a list of things to do in order to make that work. The list includes writing new scenes, rewriting parts of existing scenes, and writing linking bits to explain time jumps. A paragraph of summary is often better than a whole chapter if the only purpose of that chapter is to  move you over a period of time. I realise I have two such chapters, and I’m afraid they’ve got to go, so today I cut another 3500 words. Started rewriting a scene that takes place a few years later with the aim of trying to give readers the information they need without boring the pants off them. Time spent: three hours
Tuesday 2nd September
Wrote a new scene 1200 words, and started rewriting an old scene. It’s now lunchtime and I’ve been working most of the morning, so feeling that I’ve achieved at least something, I’m going to knock off for the day and be properly ‘on holiday’. Especially as the sun has come out. Glass of wine, Lisa Jewell’s The Third Wife on my Kindle (wonderful!) Sorted! Time spent on novel: two hours 

Overall
Given that a good chunk of this week has been taken up with getting ready for, driving to and being on holiday, I’m fairly happy with having spent at least twelve and a half hours on the novel. I’ve done quite a bit of rewriting and editing, and lots of thinking! I’ve probably written about 2000 new words, but I’ve also cut 3500, which is why I’m focusing on clocking up hours rather than words at this stage. 
Horrible things this week
I know – this is a new one, a one-off, I hope. Horrible review for The Secrets We Left Behind, basically accusing me of ripping off the plot from another novel! I’ve read that novel and there definitely are similarities, but massive differences, too – apart from anything else, it’s a crime/psychological thriller! Wasted a lot of time searching back through my computer files to find Word documents dated 2009 (other novel published 2011) showing that my plot idea was already in place. Resisted the temptation to respond to the reviewer.
Nice things this week
Being on holiday near the sea, obviously! But in writing terms, a couple of days after the review mentioned above, I had a really lovely one which cheered me up enormously. I don’t usually quote my reviews, but can’t resist this time: “It’s a novel I will re-read and savour. Susan Elliot Wright’s storytelling and empathy for her characters is second to none. Her prose style is almost perfect. She has become one of my all-time favourite authors and I can’t wait for her next book.” Isn’t that lovely? Absolutely made my day. I know some authors don’t read their reviews, but when you get one like this it gives you such an enormous boost. Thank you, lovely reviewer!
New Amazon reviews
The Secrets We Left Behind: Four new ones: two 5-star, one 1-star and one 2-star
The Things We Never Said: Two new ones, both 5-star 

Coming soon
Look out for my next post in a few days time, summarising the ups and downs of the last 10 weeks. The next post will be in a couple of weeks from now, and will give an overview of progress. Ooh, And if you’re in or near Wakefield on 20th September, come along and see me at the Orangery. Details on my News and events page
To find out more about me and my work, visit my website Or you can ‘like’ my Facebook page Or follow me on Twitter @sewelliot

Writing a first draft

29 June 2012
18:50
Hemingway once said, ‘All first drafts are shit’.  Ernest, me old mate,  that is an understatement! I am referring, of course, to  my own current first-draft which at the moment is a steaming pile of merde if ever there was one.  I have to keep reminding myself that there were times when I felt the same about my first novel, but after a great deal of rewriting, I now think it’s rather good, and so do Simon & Schuster, who are publishing it in May 2013.
 
  
A novel has to start somewhere; it doesn’t just appear in the right order with the storylines perfectly developed, the characters rounded and convincing, the themes consistent, relevant and thought-provoking.   You have to craft and hone and polish.  And most writers agree that most of the crafting and honing and polishing comes later – after you’ve written the first draft.
But it ain’t easy, folks, so although I hope this post will encourage other authors who are currently wading through the mires of their own first drafts, it’s also a bit of a pep talk to myself, because at the moment, I’m going through a very sticky patch. I’m changing things  –  I’ve changed the  period  the novel is set in and the occupation of the main character, I’ve changed the age of a supporting character, and I’ve introduced a new viewpoint. No doubt there will be a lot more changes. I’m also plagued by doubts – is the plot too thin? Will it be believable? Are my characters convincing? Will the whole thing work? Will anybody give a flying feck?
The thing is, I know from past experience and from talking to other writers that it would be unusual not to be thinking like this at this stage. So I’m ploughing on and I hope to have a rough – very rough – first draft completed by mid-August. There! I’ve stated it publicly, so now I’ll have to do it! Some people write a first draft in a few weeks, and I envy them. I take considerably longer. I started working seriously on this idea in December, so if I hit my August deadline, it will have taken me eight to nine months – and at least the same again for rewriting.
 A couple of years ago, I attended a novel masterclass by award winning author Jill Dawson. Jill keeps a journal-type notebook for every novel, in which she records her thoughts about the novel and the writing process – she uses the notebook almost as a silent writing buddy, having ‘conversations ‘ with it about the work as it progresses.  With her most recent novel, she confided, she’d got to the 40,000 word point and had decided it wasn’t working, and what’s more, couldn’t be made to work. At the point of despair and on the verge of giving up, she decided to have a flick through notebooks from previous novels. She found that she had experienced the same excruciating doubts with every novel she’d ever written – including the orange-shortlisted ones – and very often at the 40,000 word point!
So what we need to do is to really get it into out heads that a first draft is little more than a rough sketch, and we fill in the colour and texture later. At this stage, even if you’ve done plenty of planning,  things will change along the way, so to a certain extent, you’re still telling yourself the story. There will be inconsistencies, plot threads that lead nowhere, one-dimensional characters, rubbish dialogue, important scenes that are skimmed over, lengthy scenes that will end up being cut completely. There will probably be superfluous back story,  lots of ‘telling’ and info-dumping, and no real sign of a decent theme. Stephen King tells us not to even think about themes in the first draft, and I think that’s good advice. The real themes may turn out to be different to what you expected, because your unconscious will have been working away on your behalf.
So no matter how dreadful your first draft seems now, just plough on.  Keep moving your story onwards, even if it feels mundane and clumsy, even if it goes off in directions you hadn’t planned. Remember that it isn’t set in stone  – a half-realised scene can be added to later; a digression that doesn’t work can be cut. Just keep putting the words down! Some writers like to check their word counts each day; others prefer to write for a timed period, or to write to a particular point in the story. I’m a word-count person, and I like to have some sort of visual encouragement, something that shows my progress. I reckon my first draft should be about 90,000 words, so I took two jars, and counted out 90 glass pebbles into one of them and stood them on my desk. For every thousand words I write, I move a pebble from the ‘to write’ jar to the ‘written’ jar.  
I’m happy to say that the jar on the right is the ‘written’ jar! It’s a little bit of nonsense, of course, because many of these words will end up being cut, but I find it helps to spur me on.
When you get to the end of a first draft, it’s time to celebrate – even if it’s pretty poor – because now you have something to work on. Rewriting and editing will turn a poor first draft into an okay one, and an okay draft into a good one. From there, you’re talking very good or even excellent. But if you don’t have a draft, you have nothing.
Do you struggle with your first drafts, or do you find that the easy part? Are you able to ignore the flaws and keep writing, or do you edit as you go along? How long do your first drafts take, or does it vary?  I’d love to hear your experiences – perhaps we could cheer each other on?   
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