THE WRITING LIFE – half a draft in eight weeks

Last time, I talked about the value of the visual stimulus in helping to get to the end of the first draft, or ‘zero’ draft as I prefer to call it – this is the draft where there are superfluous characters, scenes that simply tread water, plot holes as big as a house, and page upon page of tell-y back story which will eventually (hopefully) form the basis of some useful scenes.

The main visual aid that’s keeping me going is an idea I picked up from the Mslexia Facebook page. Their suggestion was that you print out a calendar and mark a cross in the box for every day you write some words, ‘no matter how many or how few’, with the aim that you never break the chain (cue Fleetwood Mac).

Now that ”no matter how few” could catch me out, because strictly speaking, that means ten words would count, or three! So I decided to set myself a target of 1000 words a day, but with an absolute minimum of 200 words. So if I write 195, no cross on the calendar! If I hit 200, I get a cross, and if I write 1000 words or more, I get across and a little dot. Here’s how I’m doing so far:

As you can see, things slowed down a little after the first few weeks, but in my defence, this summer has been quite busy with family visits, holidays and so on. Also, of course, the further on that you get with a story, the more complicated it becomes, because so many things have been established that there is more chance of problems arising. I’m resisting the temptation to deal with those at this stage, (unless of course the problem is so big it’s preventing me from moving forward) because that can all be dealt with in the next draft.

The other thing I’m using to coax myself to the end of this draft is partly visual, but part reward incentive. I’m assuming this draft will be around 90,000 words, So in the left-hand glass, I put 90 small coins – 1p & 5p. Every time I write another 1000 words, I take one of those small coins and put it back in my purse and I put a pound coin in the right-hand glass. so when I get to the end, I’ll have £90 with which to celebrate before I embark on a decent first draft. That should be a pretty good night out for myself and Mr EW!

Both these methods are working very well for me – I love seeing the level in that right-hand glass go up while the level in the left-hand glass goes down. And with the calendar, my desire to not break the chain has become so strong that I’m now finding myself getting twitchy each day until I’ve got at least 200 words down. The other night after a long and tiring day, it was gone 11.30 when I realised that I hadn’t ‘done my words’. I was so shattered that I almost just climbed into bed, but when I thought about that empty square on the calendar, I just couldn’t do it, so I picked up a pen (too tired to climb the stairs to my study) and managed to drag 230 words from somewhere.

As of today, I’m now at a total of 48,000 words, which, given my usual agonisingly slow pace, I feel is not too shabby.

In other news, What She Lost is progressing nicely and I will very soon be able to reveal the cover, so watch this space! In the meantime, I’m currently reading through the page proofs. This is a lovely stage to get to, because it’s the first time my words start to look like a real book. I’m still finding the odd error, even though the book has been read many, many times, thoroughly edited and copyedited. Still the odd thing creeps through.

That’s about it for this time. I’ll post again in a couple of weeks by which time I hope to be well on my way to 60,000 words. I’m also hoping to reveal the cover for What She Lost.

By the way, if you’re new to this blog, you might like to know that my writing doesn’t always go this smoothly. In fact, until now, it has NEVER gone smoothly. If you fancy trawling back through some of the old posts, you’ll see just what a struggle I had writing my third novel, What She Lost.  I mention this because if you’re struggling with a draft at the moment, it might help you to see how badly I went wrong, and how I managed to eventually turn it into something I’m quite proud of. I almost felt like giving up, but I knew I had a story to tell, so I kept at it. You can, too. No one said this writing lark was going to be easy…

If you’d like to know more about me and my work, or if you’d like to sign up for one of the 1-day Writing a Novel workshops (the next one, Planning and Plotting, is on 24th of September – £45 for the whole day, and it’s a cracking workshop, even though I say so myself information) visit my website You can also follow me on Twitter or Facebook

13 thoughts on “THE WRITING LIFE – half a draft in eight weeks

  1. Juana says:

    Looking forward to seeing the cover… and read the book next year of course!
    I had to re-read your “20 questions” section on your website right now, as I am stuck with my draft 0 after just 10k words… it happens again and again, but this time I won't put it aside to start something new and repeat the process all over again! From what you write in that page I see this is quite common, thus I will do my best and apply the “persistence and determination” rule!!

  2. Susan Elliot Wright says:

    This has happened to me with every book except this one. I think it's mainly because I put a lot more planning into this one before I started writing. The planning was incredibly difficult – I got stuck with that, too – but I persevered and got there in the end. I really believe the 'persistence and determination' rule, so do keep going. I hope you have a breakthrough soon – good luck!

  3. Juana says:

    Thanks Susan. That's what's missing with the story I am working on at the moment: planning. For once I wanted to try and go ahead without, but clearly it's not working.
    I shall start with that bit soon, let's see how it goes!!

  4. JO says:

    How hugely impressive. I'm delighted it works so well for you – I abandoned all projects like this as it feels like setting myself up to fail. So I stick to the hit-and-miss approach, which works best for me, but sadly lack wine.

  5. Susan Elliot Wright says:

    I've never planned before, but have always ended up in trouble, so am going to try to plan again, despite the fact that I found that almost as agonising as writing the first draft without a plan. It sounds as though that's what's happened with you, too – good luck, and let me know how you get on!

  6. Susan Elliot Wright says:

    Thanks, Jo. Yes, that's exactly what I've always done in the past, and it has worked eventually, but not without she used difficulties along the way. I didn't think I was actually capable of planning, but after three or four weeks of sweating over the outline, I managed to get something coherent to work to.

  7. Susan Elliot Wright says:

    I've never planned before, but have always ended up in trouble, so am going to try to plan again, despite the fact that I found that almost as agonising as writing the first draft without a plan. It sounds as though that's what's happened with you, too – good luck, and let me know how you get on!

  8. Jan Baynham says:

    Great to read about your progress, Susan. I love the idea of the two glasses so that you can see your progress visually. I'm about to plan novel 2 and find it so difficult. It's another dual narrative so here we go again! I shall be tuning into your blog for inspiration. 🙂

  9. Susan Elliot Wright says:

    I'm a sucker for a visual stimulus, and this has the added incentive of an actual reward at the end. (Well, end of one draft/beginning of another). I find planning terribly difficult, too, and planning this one took me about four weeks, but it seems to be making the writing easier, although it's early days. Good luck with yours, and good luck with the dual narrative! I don't know if it's any help, but I wrote a piece about writing a dual narrative. Don't know if the link will work, but if not, you can probably find it in the archives – April this year.

  10. Jan Baynham says:

    I re-read the post and noticed I'd commented about how hard I was finding the dual narrative structure. This time I'll copy out your post and keep it by the computer as I plan this novel. A big thank you!

Leave a Reply