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

9 thoughts on “THE WRITING LIFE

  1. Susan Elliot Wright says:

    Hi Claire. It's a useful term, isn't it? The first draft is usually something that represents lots and lots (and lots) of editing/rewriting. I think zero draft is brilliant. Unfortunately, I can't take credit for coming up with it myself. I can't remember who I first heard use it, but whoever you are, thank you – it's so appropriate!

  2. JO says:

    Oh that wonderful moment when you know, at last, what's going to happen! It's all downhill from now … well, sort of … but at least you can go back to Arvon when the going gets bumpy.

  3. Susan Elliot Wright says:

    I'm hoping it will be downhill in a 'freewheeling' sort of way now! I enjoy the editing part SO much more. Won't be able to afford another Arvon for a while, but I can cope much better at home now I've got to this stage!

  4. Lucy Kelly says:

    Love the visual of warming up and training for a marathon! I just got back from a choral retreat and with our new conductor, we warmed up before each of the five rehearsals. It only took about 5 minutes each time but it made a world of difference. And now here are you nudging me to think about how I can apply that concept to things other than singing! Thank you!

  5. Susan Elliot Wright says:

    Interesting to hear that you're warming up before singing as well.It makes perfect sense, really, doesn't it? Orchestras always warms up before they play, too. I suppose it's just about allowing our minds and bodies to adjust to what we are about to do. Hope you enjoyed the choral retreat! Aren't retreats great for helping us to focus?

  6. Lucy Kelly says:

    Yes, life feels strange with only one rehearsal a week now! Individual practice is always that little bit harder to work in in the midst of life, I so admire how organized you are in making the writing happen.

  7. Jo says:

    It's wonderful to hear that you've made such good progress with the novel and you have now completed that zero draft. Hebden Bridge looks wonderful. How envious I am of your writing retreats! If only I could afford one. I keep vowing to do morning pages again or something similar, but I keep forgetting!

  8. Susan Elliot Wright says:

    Thanks, Jo! Yes, Hebden Bridge gorgeous! Do have a look at the Arvon foundation website – they offer grants of up to the full amount. I had grants to attend a few years ago – couldn't have afforded it otherwise.Hope you make it fair one day – changed my life!

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