THE WRITING LIFE – NaNoWriMo V #100daysofwriting

I thought I’d give NaNoWriMo ( National Novel Writing Month. ) If you’ve not heard of this, it’s where you write 50,000 words during November – 1667 a day, which is quite a challenge. You can sign up to the website, track your progress, get little prompts and pep talks, and join the NaNo community for moral support. It’s a great thing to do, and I highly recommend it. But sometimes life gets in the way, big time. I started enthusiastically on 1st November, aiming to generate 50,000 words of material towards my new novel. I hoped that by simply pushing on to get the words down, I’d start to understand more about my characters and their story, and hopefully, some scenes would suggest themselves – material I could work on later.

Early days of NaNo, and it was going well…

But then my  daughter got a date for the operation she’s been waiting for. She’ll be out of action for a few weeks, So I’m on extended granny duties, plus extra cooking and driving. Oh well, I thought, it’ll be tough, but possibly still doable. Then some other family stuff happened,  and suffice it to say I found myself feeling too physically and emotionally drained to be able to produce that challenging number of words every day for a month.

I’d kept up  for the first eight days  but as I sat at my desk on the ninth, I could feel the pressure mounting, and as I thought about everything I had to do that day, I started to feel sick with dread. Then, scrolling through my Twitter feed, I stumbled on a tweet from author Clare King @ckingwriter  about writing challenges. Claire suggested that if NaNoWriMo  proved too much, a gentler option might be #100daysofwriting   The hashtag was started by  Jenn Ashworth who’d become mired in a horrible period of writers block following a bereavement. The commitment to #100daysofwriting was her way of gently easing herself back into her novel, and ‘falling in love’ with it again.  I worked out that if I made that day ‘day one’, then ‘day 100’ would be three days before The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood is published. I took that as a sign!

By the way, Cornelia Blackwood is now coming out in hardback in February – paperback will be out towards the end of the year. Check out this gorgeous hardback jacket!

Out on 21 February 2019 in hardback

The only commitment you make to #100daysofwriting Is to ‘turn up’ to the novel every day. Whether you write a thousand words or 50 words, whether you edit a chapter or tinker with a paragraph, or whether it’s just doing some planning or making a note. What counts is that it’s contributing to the novel. I’m now on day 27 and I’ve turned up every day, writing at home, in the library, in coffee shops, even on the train. It’s mostly rubbish, but maybe it’ll slowly lead me to the Good Stuff. I’m doing what I’d hoped to do through NaNoWriMo – I’m generating material. And if all I do one day is tinker, I’m not beating myself up over it.

I love writing in coffee shops with friends

One revelation has been that I have started writing by hand again. Initially, this was because I had to make a train journey and couldn’t carry my laptop, but I’ve discovered that I can write faster by hand, because it actually looks like crap (my handwriting is appalling and there are loads of crossings out) so I don’t agonise over It and get tempted to edit along the way. I just allow myself to write crap because it looks like crap, whereas I sort of expect nice, neatly typed stuff to be better.

Writing by hand on a train – a notebook is so much lighter than a laptop!

So, I’m definitely recommending #100daysofwriting as a way of generating material, and/or keeping your characters, setting, and story in your head from day-to-day. It means you don’t have that long break and have to spend the first half of the next writing session reminding yourself where you are. Give it a go!

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THE WRITING LIFE – why do writers find it so hard to take a break?

A five-minute walk to the beach

I love writing, and I feel privileged to be a full-time author, but it’s still a job. This year, for the first time in 12 years, I went on holiday and didn’t take my laptop! And do you know what? The sky didn’t fall in!

holiday selfie

Odd, isn’t it, that we complain about writers not being taken seriously, about people thinking it’s easy, it’s self-indulgent, it’s not ‘real work’, and then we find ourselves not treating it as real work, not taking a break from our working lives like any normal person would.  This may of course be different for writers who also have a day job, but I now have a working life that is entirely focused on writing, whether it’s my own work, or whether it’s through teaching or mentoring.

And I love it, and I know I’m lucky to be doing a job that I love. But it’s only just dawning on me that I still need to occasionally take a complete break. I think I’ve been so immersed in writing for so long, that I am forgetting to look around at the world and see the things I want to write about.

blue sea, blue skies

So myself and himself went to Aberystwyth for a week (our holidays are always fairly modest – being a full-time writer means cutting back on stuff like holidays, new clothes, meals out etc). We usually go out of season, but this time, we went at the end of June, which happened to be the hottest week of the year! And oh my, but it was gorgeous – blue skies, blue sea, and a quiet, unspoiled beach.  We could see the sea from our apartment, and the sunsets each evening were stunning.

I spent a good part of the week either just watching the sun go down, or staring at the sea. Apart from that, it was just eating nice food, drinking nice wine (or prosecco) and reading. Every now and again, I kept getting a little twitch of guilt  – I should be writing! But then I reminded myself that I’m in the midst of attempting to fill the creative well again. if you follow this blog, you’ll know that I’ve just come through a rather horrible period of writers’ block, so in a way, I’ve had an enforced break, but it’s really made me think about my own creativity and how it works.  As writers of fiction, we should be observing the world around us and the people in it, but it’s also important to relax sometimes, and observe in perhaps a more passive way, so that we’re watching the setting of the sun and the changing of the tides without necessarily thinking about the words we’d use to describe these things.

…and another one

Anyway, we had a fabulous week, and at the end of it, I really did feel relaxed and refreshed – I can’t remember the last time that happened! We both felt genuinely sad to be coming home.

last night of the holiday

So now we’re back, and I’ve got over my sulking that we’re not still on holiday. I won’t say the creative well is bubbling to the brim with ideas, but I do feel in more of a relaxed state about the whole thing, and at least I’m now thinking about new ideas without getting my knickers in a twist. I’m not saying I’ll never take my laptop on holiday with me again, but I am definitely going to make sure I occasionally take a complete break from writing, even if it’s just for a couple of days.

Enjoy this gorgeous weather while it lasts!  If you’d like to be notified when I post in this blog, click the subscribe button to the right of the screen, and if you’d like to sign up for occasional updates on my books, events, and workshops, you can do that via the contact page. In the meantime, I hope you’ll catch up with me on Twitter or Facebook 

THE WRITING LIFE – a room of one’s own

Virginia Wolfe famously told us, ‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.’ Well, the money bit is tricky – most of us have other jobs or at least rely on teaching and critiquing to keep the lights on. And I know that for many writers, men as well as women, having a room that’s exclusively for writing is a luxury they can only dream of. I know that I’m extremely lucky to have a lovely study-cum- office at the top of the house.

I have an ergonomically designed desk and chair, two monitors, a comfy sofa, a coffee table, lots of books around me – it should be the perfect environment for writing a novel. But what do I do at that desk? I do admin, then I faff around on Facebook. Then perhaps a bit more admin, before taking to Twitter. Next I’ll probably check my Amazon sales ratings and see if there are any new reviews. Then I’ll check my email again and if there’s nothing that needs answering, perhaps it’s time for a quick look on eBay. I probably need more ink, or a lightbulb, or something.  Then I’ll just have one more look on Twitter before I make a start. Chances are I’ll find a link to some fascinating  blog post and that’ll be another 15 minutes gone. You know how it goes.

A designated place for fiction
One of the articles I read recently was one of those ‘top tips for writing your book’ pieces. Now, I know as well as any other writer that the top tip for writing your book is just sit down and bloody well write it. But one of the tips was, don’t write your novel in the same place as you do your admin and social media – have a space that’s exclusively for writing. This made  sense. I can see how having a special  ‘writing place‘ and going to that place regularly to write helps to automatically switch your brain into writing mode. It’s probably one of the reasons so many of us like writing in coffee shops, as well as the fact that we can’t be distracted by domestic chores and we’re less likely to be distracted by admin and social media.

I love writing in coffee shops – I wrote most of The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood in the coffee shop across the road – and as long as they ‘re not busy, many places don’t mind you sitting there with one drink all morning. But even one coffee a day has become unaffordable for me at the moment, though I still try to  go once a week. So I needed an alternative. After spending last Saturday doing a tour of the secondhand furniture shops, I found this little fold-away table for a fiver.

I’ve tried writing at the kitchen table, or in the sitting room, but there’s always something The House wants me to do. Fortunately my ‘room at the top’ is divided into two with a plasterboard wall so that guests can stay overnight without feeling as though they’re sleeping in an office. It’s a small space, not big enough for a proper desk, but perfect for this little fold-up.

Trick your brain into focusing on fiction
So I can still be tucked away at the top of the house, but I can close the door to my study (when the dog isn’t demanding it be left open so he can be near the radiator and see me at the same time!) and I can focus entirely on the novel instead of being constantly tempted to check Facebook or Twitter.  It was also a conscious decision to work facing a blank wall – an attempt to trick my brain into thinking the most interesting things are happening on the screen.

As for whether that’s true, I can’t say at the moment because I’m in the very early stages of a new novel. That point where the confidence I had about it at first has disappeared, and The Fear has arrived. A quote from Iris Murdoch springs to mind – “Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea.” Ain’t that the truth!

Ah well, for me this is a normal state of affairs. I just need to put myself in that chair every day, switch on my laptop and step into my fictional world. It may work, it may not, but one thing’s for sure, nothing’s going to happen if I don’t try, and I’m pretty sure that reducing the distractions will help.

What do you think? Should we write fiction at the same desk where we pay the bills?


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THE WRITING LIFE – attempting a detailed outline

In my last post, I talked about the huge decision to put the novel I was working on aside. I’ve recovered from the trauma now, although I’m still missing my lovely character whose company I’d been enjoying. I’ll go back to her, though, and in the meantime, I’m hoping the deepest parts of my subconscious will be playing around with ideas for her story.

In the meantime, I have a book to write. As I said last time, my agent has long been trying to persuade me to become more of a planner than a pantster. She suggested I write a detailed synopsis – not the one or two page selling synopsis you’d send to an agent, but a much longer document, possibly as much as six pages, showing how the plot develops, what the characters’ motivations are, where the dramatic events occur, and quite importantly, how it ends. I have tried several times to do this in the past and failed. But I promised I’d give it a go and so I settled down to the painful task of trying to wrench an entire story from somewhere deep within the creative part of my brain.

I won’t give away too much about the new book, but suffice to say there will be mention of crows, and this picture  really chimes with me in terms of the atmosphere, at least in the past strand of the novel

The first day yielded but a paragraph or two. It was vague, I didn’t know much about the characters, and nothing much was happening. By the time I forced myself to open the document again a few days later, I had a little more to go on. I’d started to feel pleased with myself when I’d written a whole page, until it dawned on me that everything I’d written up to that point was back story. Which is all well and good, because I do need to know the back story, but I was supposed to be writing about what happens in the book. I tried again over several days, adding little bits here and there, trying to work out what it was that motivated my two female characters.

What was nagging at me was that I was far more interested in one of these women than the other. And then I thought, so why am I not just telling her story from her point of view? Her story is so much stronger, and if I try to force a story on to the other character, it’ll show. Almost at the same point as I made the decision to stick to one viewpoint, I realised that Leah, in whom I’m the most interested, was in fact a character from a short story I wrote some years ago, but she had appeared to me in disguise and so I hadn’t recognised her. The moment I realised who she was and I remembered her tragic and rather frightening back story, everything seemed to fall into place.

I started to look forward to opening the document entitled Synopsis, book 4B, And within a couple of days I had written a 3000 word synopsis with all the major points in place and a possible ending  I read it, I liked it, it seemed to make sense. This has NEVER happened to me before, and so I naturally assumed that I was missing something. But then the OH read it, and he liked it. But he’s not a writer. So then I gave it to a couple of writing mates and they liked it too. And then, oh joy of joy, I sne it to my agent, and she liked it. My editor has yet to see it, but I’m feeling confident, and I’ve made a start, and given that I have the story mapped out, I’ve set myself a target of 1000 words a day which, so far, I’ve stuck to.

I’m so excited about this that I feel I have more to say, but I’ll leave it for another post.

Other things going on in my Writing Life at the moment:

  • Just finished the copy edits for What She Lost, which will be out in January, so that feels a step nearer. 
  • This coming Saturday, 23rd of July, is the last in the current series of How to Write a novel workshops. This one is called Steps to Publication – we’ll be looking at traditional, digital, and self-publishing, we’ll show you how to write a query letter and offer some one-to-one feedback, and we’ll also advise you on writing a synopsis. All for £40 for the day – it really is a bargain! Full details are on the workshops page of My website

That’s about it, I think, but please do follow me on Facebook or say hello on Twitter

The Writing Life – working hard but …

I have to start with a newsflash because both my books are on a special e-book promotion for the whole of June. The Things We Never Said Amazon UK  is just 99p, and
The Secrets We Left Behind Amazon UK is just 1.99. They’ll be back to full whack on 1st of July.

Right, that’s that out of the way. Now, I see that it’s over six weeks since I last blogged. This is because I’ve been thinking of the blog as being about my progress on the current novel (number four, as yet untitled), and as there has been no progress – none, zilch, nada – there has been no blog. But when I thought about it properly, the blog is called The Writing Life, and sometimes, part of the writing life is having to accept that you’re not making any progress, despite still putting in the hours.

So how can I be working hard and not making progress? This novel started well, in that I love my 1960s protagonist and her story and I couldn’t wait to explore her life and its difficulties. The problem came when I tried to write the contemporary strand that I’d originally planned. Every time I tried to explain it – to my agent, to my editor, or to writing friends – they got confused. And yes, I had worried that it was a little complicated. Ultimately, I realised that not only was that strand too complicated, but it didn’t really fit with the 1960s story in a satisfying enough way, so I was going to have to rethink the whole thing.

And that’s where the hard work comes in. My agent impressed upon me the value of planning – something I find very difficult, if not impossible. Usually, I plan a little, write a little, plan a little more, write a little more, and that’s how I discover the story. But this time, I seem to have written myself down a blind alley. I have spent several weeks now trying to plot a second strand that will fit with the first and offer a satisfying conclusion. But I seem to be getting nowhere fast.

My agent has been an amazing and spent almost two hours with me on the phone a couple of weeks ago, trying to get to the heart of it all. With her usual insight, she has, I think, identified the main problem, which is that I’ve been trying to mix two genres – the 1960s story, which is an exploration of an unconventional relationship and the traumas and joys that accompany it, and the contemporary strand, which I was trying to make a bit more ‘plotty’. I’m pleased with the 60s story and think it is perhaps some of my best writing, but then my agent asked the killer question: ‘what is going to make the reader turn the pages?’

And that made me realise that while I hoped that a sheer love of the character and interest in her life would be enough, given that my first three novels (the third, What She Lost, is out in January) have all had some buried secret driving the narrative, a ‘quieter’ book might not go down so well. And yes, I’d love to write a book that does both things – explores the relationship in depth and also has a mystery at its heart, which is why I was going for the dual narrative again. But the secret I’d been relying on turned out to be too complicated, so I’m almost back to square one, and I’ve been thinking and thinking and thinking until my brain hurts, but I keep hitting dead ends.

In the worst case scenario, I put this novel aside for another time and I start something new. The idea terrifies me – I’ve written almost 70,000 words, although 25,000 of those were the contemporary strand that I now know doesn’t work. I have around 45,000 words that I like so it seems a lot to give up on. But having said that, I abandoned my very first novel at around 40k words and went on instead to write The Things We Never Said. And regular readers might remember the struggle I had with What She Lost – I ended up rewriting almost 80 per cent. So it’s not something I’m ruling out entirely. (although it really will be ‘putting aside for another time’ rather than dumping altogether.)

So, I’m still in that horrible phase of uncertainty, still trying to find a way through with what I’ve already written while vaguely sketching out other ideas should I have no alternative but to start again. My agent has kindly agreed to read the 1960s strand so that we can discuss it again, and while I hate revealing what I’ve written at this early stage, I don’t want to carry on blindly if it’s clear that it’s just not going to work. We shall see.

Have you ever put a novel aside and written a new one? What do you do when you find you’ve written yourself to a dead end? (Apart from drink gin, obvs)

Ooh, by the way – if you’re in or near Sheffield, there are still a few spaces on the two redrafting workshops coming up on Saturday 11th & Saturday 18th of June. If you book for one, is £40, if you book for both, it’s £70. Have a look at the workshops page of my website for details.


I’m a little behind with blogging at the moment. There’s no good reason, no excuses, I just haven’t made myself sit down and get on with it. It’s certainly not that I don’t have anything to say, and when I leave it this long I end up having too much to say, so I’ll try not to waffle…

My ‘Writing Life’ since my last post has been quite good fun. I’ve given a talk to the Creative Writing MA students at Leeds Trinity, I ran a Planning and Plotting workshop with fellow writer Russell Thomas which, if the evaluation sheets are anything to go by, was a huge success, and I’ve had some very productive coffee shop writing days as well. I’m working on my fourth novel and really enjoying it, despite the fact that there are huge chunks of the story that I haven’t worked out yet. The current word count is 37,000. This hasn’t changed much since I last blogged, but that’s because I’ve done a lot of rethinking and cutting as well as new writing. I’m pushing on now, though, and hope to boast a more impressive word count in a couple of weeks.

As for book 3, which is due for publication in January 2017, I’m waiting for my editor’s final (I hope!) comments. I’m fairly sure there’s not much to do now, just some tweaking here and there. I hope to be able to announce the title very soon!

I focus exclusively on fiction now, but was previously a magazine journalist and in that capacity I wrote a number of books on health-related matters. I’m delighted to announce that new, updated editions of two of those books – the two that I’m most proud of for reasons I’ll come to in a moment – are being published today by Sheldon Press. These are  Overcoming Emotional Abuse and When Someone You Love Has Dementia

Overcoming Emotional Abuse has particular significance for me because I was in an emotionally abusive marriage for 12 years. I should make the point here (as I do in the book) that it’s not only women who suffer this type of abuse. It does seem to affect more women than men, though – or at least, more women have begun to recognise it.Writing the book was cathartic for me. I included some details of my own experience but was quite shocked at the level of response to my request for case studies. So many women who’d experienced this type of abuse came forward that I couldn’t include every story.

Anyone who is following the current Archers storyline will have some idea of what I mean by emotional abuse. Physical abuse is obvious to those being abused, if not to those around them. But emotional and psychological abuse is harder to acknowledge. The abuser wears down the victim by eroding confidence and self-esteem, isolating them from friends and family and controlling every aspect of their lives from where they go to who they see, how they spend their money, what they wear, what they eat and even when they sleep. People suffering this type of abuse will have become convinced that it’s their own fault, that if only they weren’t so stupid, clumsy, lazy, ugly, paranoid, tarty, sexually promiscuous/inhibited, everything would be all right.

When I escaped my abusive marriage in 1990, there was no law against stalking (my ex stalked me for three years after I left). It was good to see anti-stalking legislation introduced in 1997. When the first edition of the book was published in 2007, there was no law against emotional or psychological abuse. You had to wait for physical violence before the perpetrator could be prosecuted. (This type of abuse often progresses to physical violence, and all physical domestic abuse begins with emotional or psychological abuse.) I heartily welcome the new law against controlling and coercive behaviour which came into effect at the end of last year. It’s a shame it was too late for me.

When the book first came out, I received a handful of letters from women who had found it helpful. I hope it will continue to help anyone suffering this type of abuse, and I’m so glad that the new law and the Archers storyline are both helping to raise awareness of this subject.

I don’t have quite such a personal connection with When Someone You Love Has Dementia, although I’m proud of it because it was well reviewed and because it won a ‘highly commended’ in the BMA medical book awards 2010. In 2015, it was also chosen as part of the Reading Well Books on Prescription scheme.

So far, I’m happy to say that none of my loved ones has suffered from dementia, but I have a number of friends whose parents have this devastating disease. When writing the book, I interviewed people with dementia and their family members, and I was so affected by what I heard that I decided I wanted to further explore the subject in fiction. My third novel includes a dementia storyline.

Until quite recently, dementia was little talked-about and the research was massively underfunded. There is still a long way to go on both counts, but funding is improving, and we’re certainly talking about the subject more these days, thanks to high profile sufferers like the late Sir Terry Pratchett, and to some fantastic novels, such as Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey, Still Alice, by Lisa Genova, and The Memory Book, by Rowan Coleman.

Told you this might be long…

Final word: I’m running a series of 1-day How to Write a Novel workshops with Russ Thomas in Sheffield. The second one is this Saturday, 20th February – now full. But the others may be of interest! Only £40 for the day – bargain! Full details here

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


Oh dear, I thought it was three weeks since my last confession – I mean blog post – but it appears to be four. Health issues have held me up a bit, including a bout of debilitating back pain from which I still haven’t fully recovered. Back pain is an issue for many writers, so it’s possibly worth talking about for a moment before I move on to my writing progress. We all know we’re supposed to get up and move around every 20 to 30 minutes, but how many of us do? It can take me an hour to get myself into ‘the zone’, so the last thing on my mind once I’m there is getting up and breaking the spell.

My son set up a clever little system on my PC where reminders to take a break flash up on my screen. It worked for the first day or two, then it got on my nerves and I turned it off. I always thought I was doing the right thing by ‘sitting up straight’, but my physiotherapist told me that was part of the problem – I was sitting up so straight all day that I was going to bed with my back locked. He recommended a good exercise for this: sit deliberately slumped, then with your right hand on your left shoulder and left hand on your right shoulder, rotate from the waist as far as you can go in each direction. Repeat a few times.

I do ‘core stability’ exercises too, but as soon as my back improves, I forget to do the exercises and it gets bad again. I clearly need to change the way I work. I’ve been looking into the idea of standing desks. At the moment, I’m improvising and have my laptop wedged on a high-ish, wide windowsill. I can’t to do much typing like this, because I have RSI in both arms, but I use voice recognition software so I can dictate and use the keyboard occasionally while standing rather than sitting. So far, so good. You forget you’re standing after a few minutes, and I certainly feel it’s better for my back.

And so to the novel. Regular readers will know I’m having terrible problems with this one, particularly in terms of structure. Over the last few weeks, I have spent many hours staring at the screen until my eyes hurt, trying to figure out a way to put the whole thing together.

Rearranging slips of paper always helps!

It’s one particular character’s story, that of the mother, that’s causing me the most problems. We need to see her past story from her viewpoint, but her present from the point of view of her daughter, who is the central character and whose own stories, both past and present, are told from her viewpoint.

In the end, I was feeling so despondent about finding a way to do this that I decided to temporarily abandon the mother’s story and just concentrate on how I was going to structure the daughters past/present stories. So I wrote a list of scenes, using a different colour for the scenes set in the past, then I cut them up and spent ages rearranging them into what I hoped would be a workable structure. Only then did I go back to the mother’s past story. I typed out the scenes I wanted to include – there are fewer of these than of the other two strands – changed them to a third colour, then cut them up and tried to intersperse them among the daughter’s past and present scenes.

I found I was feeling mildly less stressed simply by being able to see those scenes laid out roughly where I want them to be in terms of how I want the story to unfold. The problem I have now is finding a way of weaving them smoothly into the other narrative. I think I’ve come up with a way of doing that, but don’t really want to reveal it here. If it works, hopefully you’ll read it in the finished novel; if it doesn’t, I’ll be moaning on here and telling you all about it over the next few weeks!

I’m really struggling at the moment with lack of time, even though I’m virtually a full-time novelist. I  teach as well, but it’s very part-time – one evening class a week and some one-to-one sessions with MA students, so it shouldn’t dominate my time. Nevertheless, I seem to need a 36-hour day and a nine-day week, and I suspect my days would be quite full even without the teaching. Non-writers often imagine that authors sit at their desks for seven or eight hours a day just churning out words, but there are lots of other things we have to do. (I must blog specifically about this one day!)

Today, I’ve spent quite a while on emails, for example, and I often find answering an email will simply bring forth another email which will also need to be answered. Today, I’ve dealt with a query about an author event, questions on pronunciation from the American narrator of the audiobook version of The Secrets We Left Behind, an email from my accountant, and emails from three different writer friends (all on writing matters!) I regard Tweeting and Facebook-ing (can Facebook be a verb?) as part of my job, too, though I’ve been woefully inadequate in that area over the last few weeks.

Although it seems a rather bizarre thing to say, I’m looking forward to going on holiday for a week in May so that I can spend a bit more time on this novel!

To find out more about me or my work, visit my website, like my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter @sewelliot


I said at the end of last week’s post that I knew this would be a fairly light week work-wise, because my son has been up from London for a few days so obviously I wanted to spend time with him. However, that’s my excuse for the first part of the week – he went home on Thursday evening, so…
Tuesday 20th, Wednesday 21st, Thursday 22nd August
As above, not much work done on the novel during these three days, although I have been thinking about it a lot, particularly in terms of structure. At the moment, the story is told chronologically from two third person viewpoints, but with quite big jumps in time. I’m now wondering whether the time jumps might be better handled by a slightly different form of narrative, and I’m considering incorporating the diary of one character to cover part of the story. Obviously this would mean part of the narrative would be first person, which would allow me to get right into the character’s head. I can think of novels that have been written entirely in diary form, or in letter and diary form, but I couldn’t think of any in the form I’m thinking of.
When I’m considering a particular structure for the novel, the first thing I do is to try and find out if anyone else has tried it, how they did it and how well it works. So I got onto Twitter and asked the wonderfully supportive and generous network of writers (who regularly keep me from my writing because they’re all being so witty and interesting) if they could help.  I love twitter! My request was retweeted 30+ times and I ended up with a few suggestions, although many of them turned out to be straight first person narratives. There were one or two that might be helpful though, so I’ve ordered those. Interestingly, three other authors were in the process of writing their own novels in a similar form – all were finding it rather challenging! Anyway, no decisions yet.
Time spent on the novel over these three days: Not much, but I am going to allow myself to count some of the time I spent online in pursuit of helpful titles: two hours
Friday 23rd August
First proper day back at my desk since Monday. Got up early, raring to go, determined to get stuck in again. Failed. First, I dealt with emails. I always have this idea that I should get emails ‘out of the way’, but the reality is that my replies often generate yet more emails, so this ends up taking most of the morning. Why, I ask myself, do I do this first thing in the morning when I know full well what’ll happen? Does anyone else have a pathological need to sabotage their writing day like this? Honestly, I do my head in sometimes, I really do. Pause while I kick myself sharply on the shin. Anyway, then I opened up the document with the full intention of being pleasantly drawn into it again by rereading the most recent scene while eating cake and drinking coffee. During this cake-eating and coffee-drinking phase I came down with a terrible bout of procrastination so faffed about on Twitter and Facebook for most of the morning. While having lunch, I read a few blog posts, and that took me neatly up to the time I had to leave the house in order to meet a friend for tea and, um, more cake. Time spent: 0
Saturday 24th August
Late start today – heating engineer here this morning installing a bigger radiator in my study. This unseasonably chilly weather has reminded me how bone-achingly cold it can get up here in the winter, so I thought I’d sort that out now or, knowing me, come January I’ll be whinging about the cold and using it as an excuse for not writing. Up until now I’ve been using a little halogen heater, but the dog manages to soak up most of the heat from that.
Not sure I’ve moved forward today, but I spent some time reading parts of the novel to get myself back into it. Ended up doing a little editing, too, although I’m trying to avoid doing too much at this stage, because I don’t even know if those scenes will end up staying in the final version. Also divided up the two characters’ narratives and put them into separate documents then printed them out. This will be useful for me to look at in the context of a possible new structure. So, while I’m not exactly thrilled with my afternoon’s work, I’m not too unhappy.  Time spent: three hours.
Sunday 25th August
Okay, I’m not going to go into the excuses, but suffice to say the day ran away with me. Time spent: 0
Monday 26th August
Determined to make up for yesterday, so at my desk for 9.30. As someone on Twitter said, ‘Bank Holiday Monday, or, as we freelancers call it, Monday…’ I’m still very aware that I need to take apart what I’ve written so far and put it back together in a different order, and I’m also aware that I’m putting that off! Not indefinitely, you understand, but we’re going away for a week soon, and I’m planning to tackle it then. At the moment, with the distractions and responsibilities of domestic life, I’m finding it really had to dive into what could be a mammoth task. On holiday, away from the pressures of home, I might find myself actually enjoying the challenge! Anyway, used today to rewrite couple of scenes and I’m fairly happy with what I’ve got done. Time spent: 6.5 hours
Tuesday 27th of August

I don’t usually include Tuesday, but as I’m going on holiday on Friday, next week’s post is going to be at least three days late, so I’m extending this week a little. And it’s just as well, because today was a good day. I met a writing friend for coffee and wrote a complete new scene. What still isn’t clear to me, though, is why, when I’m sure we both spent an equal amount of time looking out of the window, he managed 4000 words in the time it took me to write 2000 words! Ah well. Maybe my words are better. (Fat chance!) Time spent: 3.5 hours
Just realised that having said last week I would set a modest target, I didn’t actually set one at all. It’s been a short working week, But even taking that into account, I still didn’t do very well with a grand total of 15 hours. Having said that, this is time, actually spent at my desk, whereas I’m thinking about the novel most of the time. In fact, as I write this, I’m nodding with tiredness having been awake half the night because the novel was buzzing around in my head.

Nice things this week
Lovely email from a reader who grew up in the same area as me and who said very nice things about both books.
The coming week
I’m going on holiday for a week on Friday to sunny Scarborough – it’s all glamour here, you know! Actually, sunny or otherwise, I don’t care as long as I can see the sea. Although it’s a holiday, I’ll be working on the novel most days and I hope to at least make a start on trying out a possible new structure. Because of the holiday, next week’s post will be three or four days late and will cover a longer period. It’ll be the final post in the series of 10 (in this particular form, anyway – I intend to continue charting this novel’s progress in shorter posts right up to publication) and will contain a summing up of the 10 weeks. I’m not going to set a target for the coming week, but I’ll report my progress faithfully when I post, either on Friday 5th or Monday 8th September.
New Amazon reviews:
The Secrets We Left Behind: Three new ones – one 5-star, two 4-star
The Things We Never Said: Only one new one this week – a 5-star

To find out more about me and my work, visit my website Or you can ‘like’ my Facebook page  or you can follow me on Twitter, @sewelliot


Tuesday 22nd July
Came home from the writing retreat feeling excited and enthused about my novel, more so than I have done in a very long time. I’ve written just over 1500 words today. About 800 words before I left the retreat this morning, the rest on the train on the way back. Now I’m sitting at my desk, I feel slightly worried about the length of my ‘to do’ list, but I’m desperate to keep the momentum. I won’t be able to match last week’s word count (over 15,000) but I’m sure as hell going to meet the target I set myself, which is 7000, so around 1000 words a day. Teaching has finished for the summer, so no lesson preparation today, but it took me a while to edit and publish week four of this series. Too tired to do any more now, but still feel raring to go!
Word count: 1543
Wednesday 23rd July
First day of waking up at home after the retreat. Wrote 200 words before breakfast, just to get the story into my head. I am determined not to lose momentum. Walked the dog without a book or my Kindle in my hand (I know, I know – one of these days I’m going to trip over a tree root, but I can usually read around 30 pages during the average dog walk). Turned out to be a good thing because yet more ideas started popping up. Got back, did emails, coffee and cake with the other half, then out in the afternoon to write with a friend in another coffee shop. Total word count today: 1450

Thursday 24th July
Again, wrote 200 words before breakfast, purely on the basis that it starts me thinking about my characters. Walked the dog and did some Twitter, Facebook and emails, then domestic stuff until lunchtime. I mentioned in a previous post that I’d spent some time summarising the scenes I’d written, and those I knew I wanted to write. I’ve updated that list of scene summaries today, added some, deleted some, and tweaked others. I’m finding this very useful particularly in terms of knowing what I’m going to write next time I sit down at the keyboard. Even if I get stuck at a particular point, I can skip ahead to another scene and come back to the tricky one later. Obviously, these scenes can change as I write them, and some of them may not end up in the novel at all, but it’s all helping me to move forward. I’ve just started using Scrivener (being technically challenged, I can only use it in a very basic way) But I’m finding the ‘virtual corkboard’ very useful in terms of moving things around. Word count: 1256

How Scrivener’s ‘corkboard’ appears on the screen –

Friday 25th July

You may remember that in week one of this series, I mentioned that I had 10,000 words that I wasn’t really counting because that character wasn’t working. Well, I’ve decided I definitely want to lose that character, so here goes ‘cut’! That’s it! She’s gone; Finito; Kaput! It may sound scary to get rid of that many words, but it can be quite liberating. I had a fairly long ‘stuck’ period with The Secrets We Left Behind, and was only able to move on when I identified a problem which meant cutting 20,000 words. Never be afraid to cut! (But always keep what you’ve cut, just in case ….) By lunchtime, I had done the word-cutting but no new words, so headed off to Costa and started a new scene. So, today’s tally: Words cut: 11,203 – but I know that’s a good thing. It’s Friday, I’m feeling good – a glass of fizz, methinks!  Word count: 1257
Saturday 26th July
Lots of thinking, planning and note-making today. I decided to shift the whole thing forward a few years – I can’t for the life of me remember why at the moment, but I know there was a good reason! Anyway, this means changes all the way through. I’m not going to go back and rewrite those sections yet because I want to keep moving forward while I’m on a roll. However, I have gone back and highlighted the sections that need changing.  Did some new writing, though. Word Count: 1094

Sunday 27th July
Wrote before breakfast, walked the dog, spent a couple of hours researching things I can’t tell you about without giving away the plot, then lunch, then more writing. I’m still feeling very excited about this novel and amazed at my output of words. I’m sure many of you fellow writers reading this will think this is no great achievement, but for me, it really is! I’m usually a very slow and steady kind of writer who plods away and have the occasional burst when things are going well. However, that burst never usually lasts for more than a day or two, so this is something special for me. Fingers crossed it lasts! 1804
Monday 28th July
Pretty good writing day again – and so much more productive when I don’t have other commitments. Only non-writing things today were dog walking (which is useful thinking time anyway) and the usual emails, cooking and housey stuff. Making a start before breakfast is definitely helpful for getting into the zone, so I’m going to try and keep that up. Total words today: 1959
 Total for the week: my target for this week was 7000, so I’m pretty pleased with 10,363
Nice things that have happened: Three reader emails this week, two about The Things We Never Said, and one about The Secrets We Left Behind. So lovely to receive these!
Still feeling really ethused about this novel. I can’t wait to get up and get started every morning. There is of course the fear that what I’m writing may be a steaming pile of dung, but we’ll see….
The coming week
I have a few commitments this week, some babysitting, some friends coming for lunch at the weekend, A meeting with some writer friends, and my book club, so pretty busy. But I’m going to set the same target again: 7000 words

New Amazon reviews
The Things We Never Said only got two reviews this week, one 5 star and one 2 star (bummer) but the total number of reviews hit 200!

The Secrets We Left Behind – Five reviews this week – all 5-star! Bingo!

For more about me and my work, visit my website

Or catch up with me on Facebook on my writer’s page or on Twitter @sewelliot


For me, writing the first draft of a novel is a difficult, sometimes tortuous process, and I find myself desperate to hear how other writers work. Do they find it as hard as I do? What are the bits they enjoy? How do they manage? I want to hoover up every morsel of advice and information I can find, leap on any little tip that’ll make things easier. I want to know what helps other writers keep their motivation, whether it’s little treats like a bar of chocolate or a glass of wine, or whether it’s a more visual, writing-focused reward, like a graph showing the word count going up.  I want to know what other writers do when they get stuck; do they go for a walk, read a book, visit an art gallery? Cry? Get drunk?

The point of all this is that most writers I know are fascinated by the working processes of other writers. So I thought I’d try a weekly blog about my own working life, with its ups and downs, for an initial period of ten weeks. The summer is a good time for me to write because I don’t have so many teaching commitments, so I have high hopes for the next ten weeks, and it’ll be interesting to see how I’ve progressed by then (or not…)

Where I am now:
I’m working on the first draft of my third novel, which is due to be published in 2015. The part of the story I’m working on at the moment is set in the past, and I’ve written about 35,000 words. I have another 10,000 words of a storyline set in the present day, but that part really isn’t working yet, so I’m discounting those 10,000 words for now.

Here’s an overview of the week up to 30th of June (I’ll write this blog on Mondays to post on Tuesdays)

Tuesday 24th Wrote nothing, here’s the excuse: babysitting 8.30am to 2pm, followed by lunch, then reading students’ work for evening class. Walked the dog (thought about novel while walking) then a quick cuppa before heading off to teach in the evening.

Wednesday 25th Faffed about doing emails and on Twitter all morning. Eventually managed to squeeze out 500 words before babysitting again at 3.30. Finished reading The Slaves of Solitude – brilliant. Love the way he zooms in close to the characters, then comes out again to give an overview. Wonder if I could use this more in my own writing?

Thursday 26th  A ‘bitty’ day. Needed to sort out car insurance and various boring household things. Lots of emails to answer and things to post. Should have started writing first, but wanted to get the boring stuff out of the way. Never works. Started writing, but quickly got stuck. A Twitter pal suggested I go for a walk. This does often work and so I should have taken the advice, but I felt too despondent. Not a good day.

Friday 27th  Woke up feeling determined to make up for rotten day yesterday. Straight to my desk in the morning and wrote 400 words of a new scene. Then did some admin stuff, then more work on the scene. Pleased with what I’d written by lunchtime, so, recalling the habit of one of the characters in The Slaves of Solitude, I poured myself a cheeky little sherry. (I am so suggestible!) Finished that scene and wrote the first line of the next scene. Happy enough with the day’s work – just over 1000 words. Why can’t I do this every day?

Sat 28th  Urban writing retreat Good day – inspiring to be working in the same room as other writers, candles flickering away down the centre of the table, coffee and biscuits arriving at regular intervals. Finished the scene I started on Thursday (just under 2000 words) and did some editing. Treats count bit high today – cheese panini, cake, wine…

Sun 29th I try to take one day a week off to read, chill out, spend time with the Other Half etc, so I didn’t think I’d write anything today, but thought I’d just open up the document and have a look. Ended up writing just over 500 words, so fairly happy with that.

Monday 30th Met a writer friend for lunch, so low expectations, but managed 300 words on the train there. Wrote 250 words on the train back, though this was after half a bottle of wine, so is probably rubbish. Spent most of the evening reading about the rituals of other writers and artists: 

Daily Rituals, by Mason Currey

Nice things this week:  
Two lovely emails, one about The Things We Never Said and one about The Secrets We Left Behind. Love receiving (and replying to) emails from readers – they really make my day!

New Amazon reviews this week:
The Secrets We Left Behind: two 5-star and one 4-star. And one 3-star, which says it was ‘good but full of typos and proofreading errors’! Am wondering if this was only on the Kindle version? (Though I did spot one in the print version – my fault!)
The Things We Never Said: three 5-star reviews with some really lovely comments. And one 3-star with a ‘hmm,’ Oh well…

So, at the end of week one of this blog, my word count for the week is approximately 4500 words. Total word count (though this includes a few notes) 36,594

The coming week:
I have a couple of babysitting commitments again, but have also planned two coffee shop writing sessions with a friend, so no excuse really. See you back here next Tuesday. I hope to have written at least another 4000 words by then. How about you?
For more about me and my work, visit my website or ‘like’ my Facebook page (and of course, you can follow me on twitter: @sewelliot )