THE WRITING LIFE – productive procrastination for writers

Does anyone else suffer from ‘between-books paralysis’? When you know you should be planning your next novel, but every time you try and think an idea through, you either hit a brick wall very quickly, or you’re daunted by the sheer size of the mountain you’re about to climb.

I’m in that situation right now. Book 4 (STILL untitled) is all but finished apart from the copy edits, but book 5 remains elusive. I have four or five bits of ideas bubbling around in my head, some overlapping, but none clear and solid enough yet. I keep reminding myself that I have to commit to an idea, and then I have to make it clear and solid – it’s not going to magically happen on its own.

But in the meantime I am procrastinating, as authors are wont to do at times like this. It makes me feel guilty – I hate these horribly non-productive periods. A few years ago, I blogged about ways writers can actually justify procrastination – if you’re a committed procrastinator, you can justify anything – and I thought I’d return to that theme now, with a few new tips thrown in. So, in no particular order, here are some ideas:

Watching TV
Choose programmes that can feed your storytelling skills or give you ideas for characters. Films and TV dramas can be great for this, especially as they can demonstrate how to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’ – note how characters’ actions, dialogue, and facial expressions show what the characters are thinking and feeling.

Looking on Rightmove
Houses can be a great source of ideas, and the way a house looks, both inside and out, can tell you a lot about the people who live there. I love looking around other people’s houses, but I draw the line at posing as a potential buyer so estate agents will show me round someone’s gaff. Rightmove is the next best thing. You can look at any type of home, in any city, in the countryside, on the coast.

I go for the ones with lots of photographs, and I prefer houses that are not empty. That way, you can get ideas from the way the rooms look while people are actually living there. This can be a starting point for a story, or you can use it to develop characters in something you’ve already started. If you’re learning about who your character is by discovering more about where they live,  you’re not just dreaming about what it would be like to live in that gorgeous house should you ever have a spare million knocking around – you’re doing legitimate research.

Looking around the shops
Like looking at houses, this is also justifiable research. What  sort of clothes, shoes, food, furniture, artwork, bedding, etc  does your character choose? From which shops? Does she buy her clothes from Top Shop? Harvey Nichols? M&S?  Or does she prefer charity shops? And is that because she’s hard up, or because she has an alternative way of dressing? Mooching around the charity shops can be good for ideas, too – handling a worn pair of shoes, a well-thumbed cookery book, or a still-perfumed scarf can suggest things about a character that you may not have thought of otherwise.

Going for a walk
Walking outdoors, preferably somewhere green and beautiful, is not only healthy and pleasant, but it’s often a brilliant way of solving problems in your work. There’s something about the action of putting one foot in front of the other that seems to stimulate ideas – right now, I’m hoping it’ll help me formulate an idea for my next novel.

And to be honest, even if it doesn’t help you move forward with your current project, it’s got to be better to be out in the fresh air, preferably somewhere green, than rotting in front of your computer while you stew on your own laziness, lack of imagination, and the certainty that you will never write anything decent again… or is that just me?

Cooking meals for the freezer
If you hate cooking, skip this one, but personally, I find cooking hugely therapeutic, and if I’m not producing any writing, at least I can stash away some ready-cooked meals so that when I do finally get started on my next novel, I’ll have a supply of quick meals in the freezer for those days when I find myself writing well into the evening.

Getting your accounts up to date
In the same vein as cooking while you have time, why not use the time you have now to reduce stress at the end of the tax year? I loathe doing my accounts, and if I’m deep in writing my novel at the time I have to submit my tax return, dragging myself away from something creative and fascinating in order to do something bewildering and boring is virtually impossible. I spent yesterday working on my accounts from the beginning of the financial year. So even if I don’t keep to my plan to record everything as I go along (I always plan to do this but…) at least the first three months are done.

Phoning a (writer) friend
Talking to other writers is never time wasted. whether you’re talking about your process or your progress (or lack of it),  just talking about writing will make you want to get on with it, and bouncing ideas off another writer is always useful, even if it’s just to hear your own thoughts spoken aloud. Sometimes, acting as a sounding board for someone else can help to stimulate your own ideas, too.

Thinking about and promoting your published work
If you’ve already got something out there, why not give it a little boost to remind people it’s there? Has it just had a lovely review you can tweet about? Is it on a special promotion somewhere? While we’re on the subject, my first novel The Things We Never Said is in the Kindle summer sale for less than a quid! (My other books have great reviews, too, and I’m crossing my fingers that What She Lost will be chosen for a price promotion soon.)

Look at the book or books you’ve already written to remind yourself that you can do it, that the random collection of thoughts, character sketches and half-formed ideas knocking around in your brain will eventually morph into a new novel, just as they have done before. Or if you’re stuck on your current project, remind yourself that you’ve had problems in the past, and you’ve overcome them. Remember that time when you thought your last novel was a pile of crap and you would never finish it? Now go read your five-star reviews….

And finally: Reading
We so often see reading as something to be done only during leisure time, but you’re a writer so it’s different. Every book you read is a training session – you’re learning more about technique and craft and storytelling with every novel you pick up. With some books, the main thing you’ll take away is how not to do it, but that’s okay, too. If you have a current work-in-progress, or are thinking about the next project, you can probably include some fiction in your research reading – there’s nothing wrong with benefiting from research done by other authors!

So, I am now going to attempt to follow my own advice. I’ve already done a few of the things on this list, but they’ve mainly been the catching-up-with-other-stuff  ones rather than the imagination and idea-stimulating ones, so I guess I’d better get on with that.

Oh, and there’s one other thing you can do towards productive procrastination – write new blog post…

 

THE WRITING LIFE – new website, new novel, new ideas…

Hello! This is the first blog post via my brand-new website. I’m pleased to have a ‘proper’ website at last, and I’m enormously indebted to my clever son for building it for me, and for being patient with my dithering over how it should look and work in terms of links, pages etc. I think I’m finally getting to grips with how to update it and add content now, so hopefully it’ll have stuff to interest both readers and writers.

So, the first thing to report is that the e-book version of my debut novel, The Things We Never Said has been picked for the Kindle summer sale promotion, which means that for a few weeks only, it’s just 99p!

 click here to buy

The Things We Never Said will always have a special place in my heart, partly because it was my first novel, but also because it brought me so many lovely emails and loyal readers. And I still totally love that cover!

It’s been a busy time for me recently, because not only have I been working on this website as well as promoting my third novel, What She Lost, I’ve also been finishing my fourth book, as yet untitled. I’m very excited about this new novel, because for the first time, I’ve felt confident about the story, almost from the word go.

I wrote the first draft in four months, and I’ve spent several more months redrafting. I submitted the new version to my agent and editor a few weeks ago, and I’m delighted to report that they loved it. There were a few points that still needed addressing, but these only took a couple of weeks, and now it’s off to the copy editor. There will be more tweaks and twiddles – I’m sure the copy editor will find plenty of typos,  repetitions, inconsistencies, and other problems I haven’t spotted, but after that, it’s done and dusted. Apart from coming up with the right title, of course.

Titles. Oh dear. Is anyone else as rubbish at titles as I am? I’ve come up with a few for this book, as has my agent, but nothing feels quite right yet. Sometimes, something jumps into my head and I think, ‘that’s it!’ and then the next day, I think ‘that’s awful – what was I thinking of?’

But apart from the title, there’s not much more for me to do, so I’m now trying to come up with an idea for my next novel.  I gathered together some of my notebooks from the last couple of years, together with a folder full of random notes scribbled on scraps of paper, and I spent several hours reading through them.

It’s amazing how the same things seem to crop up over and over again – the same themes, same situations. Thing is, a theme and a situation  does not a story make! And not only that, but I need to decide which theme, which situation I’m going to go with, and then I need to develop it. My love of cooking means I’m always using  food analogies, so here’s  one about finding a new idea for a novel: I have a few basic ingredients, but not enough to know what I’m going to cook. I need to decide what dish I want to make, then I need to gather the rest of the ingredients, and most importantly of all, I need to work out a recipe.  I suppose I’m also wondering whether to stick with the sort of dish I usually cook, or whether to make something a little different.

I envy writers who are constantly bubbling with ideas and can’t wait to finish one book in order to get on the next. I have no trouble coming up with situations and characters, but as to what actually happens and how it will all end is a huge struggle. It seems that every promising storyline quickly hits a wall on which the words THAT WON’T WORK  are written in six foot high letters. Any tips or advice gratefully received!

Right, back to the notebooks…

 

THE WRITING LIFE: Endings – happy? hopeful? sad? A dilemma…

Another long gap between posts. My excuse is that my new baby – in other words, my new book – just recently made its way into the world, so I’m still quite busy promoting it. (Click here to buy on Amazon)

To continue with the analogy, my fourth novel, which I’m currently redrafting, is close to full term, so all in all, I’ve been busy. Right, I’ve had enough of that, now, so I’ll start talking normally.

I wrote a first draft of book 4, as yet untitled, relatively quickly – in four months – and I’ve been rewriting it since the beginning of February. A good boost to the process was a six-day writing retreat at the Arvon foundation’s Clockhouse. away from domestic responsibilities and in the company of three other lovely writers, I got loads done.

Communal sitting room
private study lounge

My task was to make the novel little less dark, so there were new scenes and chapters to write, but I also needed to do some restructuring. To my delight, there was an enormous corkboard in the room. I work on Scrivener, but I still like actual physical pieces of paper on an actual physical corkboard. I printed out my chapter summaries and was able to fit the whole novel onto this wonderful corkboard so I could move stuff around.

The rewriting was going so well, I was fairly sure I’d be finished by the end of this month. But now I’m about to embark on writing the final scenes, I find myself suddenly crippled by doubt and indecision. I usually go for ‘hopeful’ rather than ‘happy’ endings, but my original ending for this book – can’t give details, obviously – couldn’t be described as either.

When I wrote it, I thought it was the right ending for this character’s story – the natural progression for her, given previous events. My character was not exactly ‘happy’, but calm and accepting of how things worked out. But my agent and editor didn’t like it. Let’s face it, they’ve been in the business a long time – they know their shit, basically, so I’d be stupid not to listen. The three of us bandied round a few ideas for an alternative ending, and I set out to do the redrafting with one or two possibilities in mind.

However, now I’m at this stage where I’m trying to actually write the alternative ending, I find I’m horribly stuck, because something is telling me that these alternatives are wrong – contrived. I know many other writers will say I should stick to my original idea. But the thing is, there’s no point in doing that if it makes the book into something no-one wants to read.

So what do I do, people? What is more important to the reader, a truthful but sad ending, or a believable, hopeful ending, that may just seem slightly contrived?

A couple of years ago, I read a book that I loved from the first page and almost to the last. It was brilliantly written, with sympathetic, convincing characters and a page-turning plot. The central character was in severe peril, and I was convinced that something would save her at the last minute. It didn’t. I was devastated. The integrity of the author was flawless – in that situation, at that time, what happened in the novel is almost certainly what would have happened in life. But I went from wanting to recommend this book to everyone, to not recommending it to anyone, because the ending had left me feeling so bleak and I didn’t want to pass that on. (If you’re interested, I blogged about this at the time – you can read the post here)

So you see my problem? I don’t think my ending would be as bleak as this one was, but maybe I’m deluding myself. readers and writers, I’d be interested to know your thoughts on this dilemma! The only thing I can think of to do at the moment is to try and force myself to write one or two alternative endings and see how they feel. I’ve already set one of them up through the novel, but even that feels almost impossible to write at the moment. Arghh!

On a more positive note, there have been some lovely reviews for What She Lost this week:

Amazon reader review

Amazon reader review

Amazon reader review

If you’d like to find out more about me and my work, please visit my (soon-to-be revamped) website or follow me on Twitter or Facebook

THE WRITING LIFE – Sheffield launch of What She Lost

A very quick blog post this time, because I’m packing to go to London as we speak. So it was the Sheffield launch of What She Lost at Waterstones on Thursday last week, and I think it went rather well. It was a pretty good turnout of somewhere between 50 and 60 people. Lots of friends, obviously, but also some ‘real’ readers, as in people I hadn’t met before, or who I only knew through Twitter or Facebook – it was lovely to be able to put faces to the names. Continue reading

THE WRITING LIFE – book 3 out in less than two weeks, redrafting book 4

Whenever I start a new blog post after a bit of a gap, I feel like I should begin with: it has been eight weeks since my last confession…

Yes, I was quite shocked to see that I haven’t blogged since just before Christmas. My only excuse is that there’s a lot going on in my writing life at the moment.

In my last post, I talked about the experience of writing the first draft of my fourth book surprisingly quickly and receiving positive feedback. A few weeks ago, on a cold and drizzly day at the end of January, I met my agent and my new editor for lunch in a lovely little Bloomsbury pub. we sat at a table next to a blazing log fire and discussed how I might approach the next draft. Continue reading

THE WRITING LIFE – hurrah! Great feedback on the zero draft!

I haven’t blogged since I finished the ‘zero draft’ of my 4th novel at the end of October because everything went a bit crazy (in a good way). Clare, my lovely editor at Simon & Schuster who I’ve worked with since 2012 told me she was leaving to go to Orion.  I was pleased to hear she was making such an exciting career move, but obviously gutted to lose her as an editor. Anyway, when she knew I’d finished this draft, she asked if there was any possibility it might be ready for her to read before she left Simon & Schuster – in five weeks!

My plan had been to do a leisurely re-draft over three or four months. After all, the zero draft was full of exposition, the voice was inconsistent, there were countless repetitions, slow scenes, scenes with no action etc. Could I possibly get this anywhere near decent shape in just five weeks? Clare had liked the original synopsis, so I really wanted her to see it, especially as it took me so long to write my third novel, What She Lost – out in March but now available for pre-order…
Out 9th of March – just over 11 weeks to go…
So I had one hell of a deadline! I set to work…

Fortunately, I had a five-day retreat booked where I’d planned to ‘make a start’ on the redraft. I threw myself into it and worked 9-10 hours most days. One night, I was so fired up and excited that, having made myself stop work at 9:30, I went to bed at 11, couldn’t sleep and ended up getting up and working again until just after one in the morning. 

I worked my arse off! I always get a lot done when I’m on a retreat, but this time, the amount of work I got through was astonishing. Partly because of the deadline, but also because I had enjoyed writing the zero draft (the very rough, pre-first draft) so much that I was bursting with excitement and couldn’t wait to start on the next draft, the one I would show to my editor, albeit a much earlier version than I would usually share.

For me, redrafting is one of the most enjoyable parts of writing a novel, and this time, it feels like I’ve written the whole thing on a high. The most brilliantly wonderful thing is, she loved it! She has loved my books before, but they’ve usually been through at least one more draft and are a lot more polished by the time she sees them. So you can imagine how thrilled I am, especially as I’ve actually enjoyed this early part of the process for a change.

Obviously there’s still work to do, and I’m looking forward to hearing my new editor’s thoughts towards the end of January, and to getting started on the next draft.

In the meantime, I’m wondering if I’ll ever be able to repeat what has been such an uncharacteristically enjoyable experience. Writing a detailed synopsis helped enormously, but I found it hard. It took me weeks! But writing the synopsis turned out to be a microcosm of writing a novel, with all the getting stuck, thinking the story won’t work, putting into much back story – at one point, I started to feel pleased with myself when I realised I’d written a page and a half, but then I realised that it was all back story! So I drew a line under that and started again. But then one paragraph began to suggest the next, and slowly, the story started to develop.

I’ll definitely try this again. It’s true that some stories may not work, but probably better to find that out after four or five weeks working on a synopsis than after four or five months (or longer) working on a novel, which is what I did earlier this year.

I’m now turning around ideas in my head for book five. Who knew how hard it would be to make up stories? 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

If you’d like to know more about me and my work, or if you’d like to sign up a ‘writing a novel’ workshop, please visit my website, or say hello on Facebook or Twitter

THE WRITING LIFE – book 4, zero draft – complete!

Newsflash! The Things We Never Said is on a Kindle Monthly deal at just 99p throughout November Buy it here

Well, I did it, I hit my deadline!  I have written a very rough, very basic draft of my fourth novel in a little under four months. To be honest, I could have finished this on Saturday, but I really wanted to put that last cross on the calendar today. Ok, so maybe there’s a touch of OCD involved…

If you’ve seen my recent blog posts or if you’ve been following my Facebook page, you’ll know that I’ve been using some incentives to help keep me going. First, there’s the calendar, an idea I adapted from one I saw in Mslexia magazine. Just print out a calendar, then for each day you hit your writing target (mine was an absolute minimum of 200 words but aiming for 1000) you put a cross in the squeare for that day. So here, a cross means I wrote at least 200 and if I got to 1000, I added a dot.

I also used a reward-based incentive. Assuming this draft would be around 90,000 words (it’s ended up as 81,500) I put 90 small coins in a glass, each coin representing 1000 words I had to write. Each time I wrote 1000 words, I took one of those coins out and chucked it back in my purse, but I also put a pound coin in another class. So I saw the number of words I had to write going down, and the amount of money I had to celebrate completing the draft going up. It’s a winner!

So there’s now £81 in that glass, and me and Himself will be having a night out on it this week. (I think I’m going to have to do something similar to the redraft – got to celebrate the end of that, too.)
Here’s the proof of my wordcount and a sneak peek at the first page:

Of course the other thing that helped was that this time, for the first time ever, I was working from a detailed five-page synopsis– thanks to my agent Kate Shaw for keeping on at me to do this! I found it very difficult – it took several weeks – but I will definitely try this approach again.

Inevitably, things have changed a little from the original synopsis, but the basic story is the same. I’ve changed some character details – occupation, for example. I’ve also got rid of one supporting character and introduced a new one. The other thing that’s different is that a few things I thought I could skim over in a paragraph as back story have turned out to demand full scenes of their own.

What I’ve learned is this: planning a novel out like this is difficult, and there were many points at which I felt sick, certain the idea wasn’t working and lying awake at night agonising over whether I would be able to make it work. But this is EXACTLY what I usually go through halfway through writing a novel anyway. Maybe sometimes an idea doesn’t work, but surely it’s better to abandon a synopsis after a few weeks of work than to abandon 70,000 words after several months, which is what I ended up doing back in June – you can read about it here

So, I feel exhilarated having completed this draft and very excited about embarking upon what I hope will be a decent first draft. I will, of course, keep you posted.

If you’d like to know more about me and my work, or if you’d like to sign up for one of the popular Novel Writing workshops I run with Russell Thomas, please visit my website, and you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter

THE WRITING LIFE – PRESENTS WRAPPED, EDITS DONE!

So the Christmas cards have been posted, the tree is up, the presents are wrapped and I’VE SENT OFF NOVEL NUMBER 3!! Okay, so this isn’t the first time I’ve sent it off, but I think it’s virtually there now, properly finished all bar the copy edits.

After completing the terrible first draft in January 2015, I rewrote 75 to 80% and with great trepidation submitted it again at the end of August. Of the three novels I’ve completed, this was without a doubt the most difficult to write. Regular readers of this blog will know the agonies I’ve been through with it! Anyway, my editor read it immediately and loved it. In fact, her email was so full of praise that tears sprang to my eyes as I read it. I’m not telling you this to blow my own trumpet, but to demonstrate that even when you’ve struggled with what seems like an impossible project, it’s still possible to bring it up to something you’ll eventually be proud of.

I had most of September off while my editor and agent prepared their feedback. As usual, I agreed with about 98% of their suggestions and set to work making those changes. Back went the new draft for my editor to read again. She was happy, so I was happy. She suggested a few little revisions and pointed out a scene that needed to be more convincing, so I knuckled down and did that near-final round of edits in a couple of weeks.

At that stage, I passed it to three trusted readers: my husband, a reading friend who has similar taste to my own, and a writer friend who I know to be both insightful and honest. All three pointed out useful things, from references that were too vague to more significant problems: “I was confused here about where and when this happens.” So that was another few days of edits.

But I love it; I pounce on those problems because I can see the whole thing improving before my very eyes. I read it through one more time myself – isn’t it amazing how many typos, missing words, repeated words etc can elude reader after reader after reader? I picked up quite a few, but I’m sure there will be yet more. And then I sent it. There may be a few more tweaks, but I feel sure that we’ll now be talking hours of work rather than days or weeks. It’s a good stage to get to! My editor is on holiday until the second week in January, so I won’t hear anything for a few weeks, which is just as well, because it means I can get on with book four.

Book four is progressing slowly after an initial burst of introducing the characters and setting up the situation. I’ve stopped writing for a while in order to think about the plot. With the first three books, even though I often got stuck along the way, I’ve known where I was heading so I just forged ahead to see where the writing took me. This time I’m not so sure, so I’m going to try a little planning, just to see if I can actually plot this story to the end.

Over the Christmas break, (I’ve decided I’m going to give myself a proper break for a change) I’m going to do lots of reading along with the eating and drinking, and although I won’t be ‘working’ as such, I intend to keep my notebooks and my laptop within arms reach so that I can do a little on the novel every day. I don’t expect to be doing that much actual writing, but I do hope to try and work out the story, or at least, a skeleton of an idea on which I can hang some flesh. I’ll let you know how that goes!

Have you ever changed the way you work, either from ‘pantster’ to planner all the other way round? How did you find it? Which works best for you?

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas! Here’s a picture of my very small, scrappy and misshapen Christmas tree. (tiny house, only two of us, not much dosh!) See you in January!

To find out more about me and my work, or to sign up for workshops please visit my website, like my Facebook page or follow me on twitter

THE WRITING LIFE – 30 NOVEMBER 2015

Since my last post two weeks ago, my ‘writing life’ has been something of a mix, because I’m still working on book three but I’m also trying to make some headway with book four. So this is where I’m up to as we speak:

I’ve now had my editor’s feedback on the first round of edits and it was all generally positive. There were a few typos, repeated words, and little things along the lines of: ‘this chapter ends rather abruptly, add a sentence or two to round it off?’ All easy to deal with.

There was just one thing that she felt still wasn’t working, and that centred around a character’s motivation, which my editor wasn’t convinced by. She felt that this particular character wouldn’t do the thing I had her doing. I gave this a great deal of thought, and then I re-read the chapter. I could see what she meant – this buttoned-up, emotionally distant character was a little too in touch with her feelings in the scene. However, the reason she does what she does is clear in my head and is not  unconnected to her emotional reticence.  I rewrote the chapter, changing her behaviour and attempting to make her motivation clearer. I hope I’ve succeeded. I’m waiting to hear from my editor who has kindly agreed to look at the rewritten chapter and give me her thoughts before I send back the whole draft.

I’ve worked through all the smaller points now, and if the rewritten chapter is okay, my next step is to read through the whole novel again, but I’ll do that after I’ve heard from the two trusted friends who are now reading it. These are my first readers apart from my husband, who’s just read it, and my editor and my agent – I don’t ask anyone to read the whole draft until it’s nearly ‘there’. One friend is already halfway through and loving it (hoorah!) and she flagged up something that confused her – another case of what was clear in my head not being clear on the page!

If the rewritten chapter is not okay, then it’ll need more of a rethink, but I’m hopeful. Apart from that, the main thing we need to do now is agree on a title. I’ve come up with a list of possibles and my editor is doing the same. Watch this space!

Update on book 4 (no title for that, either!) I haven’t moved very far forward in terms of word count since my last post – only a couple of thousand more words – but I’ve been thinking about it a lot and brainstorming ideas. I’ve also been doing some research for the main part of the story which is set in 1961/62, and I’m having a great deal of fun doing that, especially since I managed to get hold of some copies of Woman Magazine from 1961.

What fascinating social documents these have turned out to be, and invaluable for researching women’s lives at the time. As well as interesting features, there are advertisements providing lots of information on fashion, cosmetics, and furniture and household appliances. There are recipes (none of which I’ll be trying any time soon!) giving an idea of what people were eating in those days, and one of the most interesting sections – readers’ letters. The problem pages tell you so much about day-to-day living, morality, and society in general. And all the letters are great for language – lots of words and expressions used then that we don’t really hear any more.

This feature, which is all about dressing appropriately for what the day has in store – Lorna’s outfit was perfect for work and for an evening with her ‘current boyfriend’ afterwards. “He said, ‘let’s go for a spin in the car and will have dinner out later’ – forgetting to mention a round of golf on the way home. Lorna’s formal suits didn’t quite make the grade!” Poor Lorna. The feature goes on to examine Lorna’s lifestyle in order to give her some fashion advice. In just one paragraph I learned that Lorna, who was a ‘high-powered press and publicity gal’, earned £10 a week, out of which she paid £4 rent for her small flat, 4s 2d on travel, and 2s  on lunches. She also spends 9s 6d (so about a twentieth of her weekly wage) on a ‘professional hairdo’ once a fortnight, 6s 6d on cosmetics and 1s 6d on hand cream because ‘she does her own housework and must care for her hands.’

All fascinating stuff, and so much detail – it’s amazing how just including a few accurate period details can give your story authenticity.

So, that’s been my ‘writing life’ this time. Oh, and one other thing to tell you about – it’s always nice to get emails from readers saying they’ve enjoyed your books, but it’s particularly nice when it’s from someone who isn’t your typical reader. I had a lovely email this week from a man who said he usually reads police dramas and espionage thrillers, but he read the blurb on the back of The Things We Never Said and thought it sounded interesting so he bought it. He said, ‘I could barely put it down, and I will be ordering your second book as soon as I finished typing this.’ so that, as you can imagine, rather made my day!

If you’d like to know more about me and my work, or to sign up for one of the How to Write a Novel workshops, visit my website, like my Facebook page or follow me on twitter

THE WRITING LIFE – ARVON 16 NOVEMBER 2015

I realise I’ve been repeating myself a lot when I introduce each blog post, so from now on, I’m just going to suggest that if you’re new to this blog, you might like to take a quick peek at my last post, which explains where I’m up to with my novels and how I got to this point.

So, I last posted when I was just about to head off for a writing retreat at the Arvon foundation’s west Yorkshire writing house, Lumb Bank. I arrived in thick fog, which was wonderfully atmospheric and spooky. It boded well for a few days of intense writing, too, because walking in the surrounding woodland would have been quite dangerous when you could barely see your hand in front of your face.

First sight of Lumb Bank in the fog

I had a lovely room, which had two desks – didn’t know which one to write at! And here’s the view, such as it was in thick fog.

An Arvon ‘week’ is actually a five-night stay. You arrive on Monday afternoon and leave on Saturday morning, and the only domestic work you have to do while you’re there is help to cook one evening meal, and wash up after one evening meal and one lunch, so there’s plenty of time for writing.

Table set for dinner

Regular readers will know that I’ve recently finished the first round of edits on my third novel and am currently waiting for my editor’s feedback, so I thought I’d use my few days at Arvon to make a start on book four. Maybe it’s not quite accurate to say ‘make a start’ because I’m rewriting some material I wrote four years ago during that year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  I wrote 50,000 words that November, but by the end of the month I’d stopped actually ‘writing’ and started adding sentences in capital letters  with suggestions for where the plot might go next.

So after I sent the latest draft of book three back to my editor, I read over the 50,000 words again. When I wrote them, I thought they were absolute drivel, but I found myself becoming so engaged in the story when I read it again, that I was quite annoyed when it finished. Well, it didn’t ‘finish’, exactly, because I’d got lost and didn’t know how to end it, so let’s just say I was disappointed when it stopped.

Anyway, I’m still not sure where the story is going, but I was so engaged with it, particularly the part of it that’s set in the past, that I decided to start working on it again and see if I can make it work as my fourth novel. So I separated the past and present stories and, given that it’s the past narrative that excites me the most, I decided to work on that. I took about 25,000 words to Arvon with me and did some extensive rewriting as well as some new writing, and I now have just over 33,000 words. This is still very much first draft, obviously, and given that I still don’t know how it will end, I’m not entirely certain that this WILL be book four, but I feel it has something, so I’m going to keep going for the time being.

I met some great people at Lumb Bank, and was delighted to meet up with three lovely writers I’d met there on previous retreats. I find it so nourishing to spend a few days in the company of other writers, discussing the highs and lows of the process, as well as the ins and outs of our plots.

A frequent topic for discussion among writers is always, ‘are you a planner or pantster?’ In other words, do you plot things out first, or do you fly by the seat of your pants and make it up as you go along? Everyone works differently, and for many writers, myself included, it’s usually a bit of both. But this is the first time I’ve embarked on a novel without knowing roughly what’s going to happen at the end.

This could be dangerous! I would always say you need to have some idea of where you’re going (okay, I suppose I do have some idea) even if you’ve no idea how you’re going to get there or what will happen along the way. I suppose what I’m doing this time is just writing towards the next thing I want to happen (I know quite a lot about what I want to happen) and see where that takes the characters.

This one might be a bit of a rollercoaster ride, but I’m feeling almost confident at the moment, because I’m convinced that the next book can’t possibly be as difficult as the last! Book three, for those of you who are not familiar with this blog (and my constant moaning), has been a bit of a nightmare, even though it turned out to be worth it in the end.

When I wrote my first novel, I think I had the idea that the next one would be easier, the next easier still and so on. Ha! How wrong can you be? Every novel appears to have a life and character all of its own, and it seems to me that author and novel are two separate entities working together,talking to each other and growing together rather than it being as simple as one creating the other. Does that make sense or have I finally lost the plot? (Pun intended!)

Have you ever started a book without much idea of how it will end? Are you a ‘planner or a pantster’, or a bit of both?

To find out more about me and my work, or to sign up for one of the How to Write a Novel workshops, visit my website. Or you can like my Facebook page or follow me on twitter