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

2 thoughts on “THE WRITING LIFE – ARVON 16 NOVEMBER 2015

  1. JO says:

    I confess I don't find the planner v panster discussions very useful – they always seem to go round the same circles.

    But you always find these retreats hugely productive – I'll be interested to see if this one has grown another book!

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