THE WRITING LIFE

So, another two weeks of working on my novel in a really focused way, often for quite long hours. I feel like a real, proper author, rather than someone who’s masquerading as a real author and is likely to get found out at any moment!

I mentioned in my last post that I had one more decision to make about one of the characters before I could really move on and I’ve made that decision now, and written the necessary scene. I now have three more scenes to re-write, and out of an original 65 things on my novel ‘to do ‘list, there are 14 remaining, although of course, more will emerge as I continue to edit. Some of these are simply a question of going back and adding in references to something. For example, I realised that a character who smokes heavily at the start hasn’t had a fag for about five chapters! I also need to fill in some location details, but that’s going to require another research trip, so may have to wait until the second draft.

I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to cross things off the ‘to do’ list. I find that making such a list really helps me to organise my thoughts, but even if you don’t need to do that, it’s worth making a list if just for the pleasure of crossing things off it!

So satisfying!

One of the reasons I enjoy setting part of my novels in a different time period is that I love researching a particular decade. There’s a scene in this book where one of the characters is reading a copy of Woman’s Realm in 1967. What better way to research that than to read a copy of Woman’s Realm from 1967? I have to say, I found some of the advice on the problem page to be, well, shall we just say less than supportive of married women! These magazines make fascinating reading.

Woman’s Realm, 1967

I’ve been slightly better at scribbling notes in my journal over this last two weeks, but still haven’t got back into the habit of morning pages, something I fully intend to resume in the New Year. But I have kept some notes, and a quick flick through tells me that other writerly activities since my last post include a feedback session with a fellow writer, a coffee shop writing session with a (different) fellow writer, a boozy Christmas lunch with two (different again) fellow writers, and a signing session at WH Smith’s – not for my own book, but for the Watch and Wait anthology, which I’ve mentioned in this blog several times. Here’s a review.

As well as these more obvious writerly pursuits, I’ve prepared and taught my evening class, had tutorials with my MA students and read the opening chunk of a psychological thriller in readiness for preparing a critique. I love my job!

In addition to all that, I think I’ve made a fair dent in the Christmas shopping, and I’ve managed to knock up a few mince pies and nibbly things which are now in the freezer ready to be heated up later in the week when I’ll have some friends round for festive drinkies. So, all in all, I’m feeling reasonably productive and pleased with myself – and it’s not often you hear me say that!

I think I’m going to leave it there this time, because I’m itching to get back to my novel, which I plan to deliver on 5th of January. I’ve no doubt there will still be quite a lot of work to do, but although I could tweak and twiddle until the cows come home, I’m now at the stage where I need the insightful and experienced opinions of my agent and editor, who both seem to understand what I am trying to do and are able to point out how I could do it more effectively. I’m so looking forward to receiving their feedback – although it’ll be a nailbiting time while I wait to hear what they think!

I usually post fortnightly, but as that takes us to just after Christmas, I’ll be extending it to three weeks this time, so my next post will be on 5th January – the day I submit this draft!!

In the meantime, check out Simon & Schuster’s books and the city page, where you can read features entitled My Perfect Christmas Morning by the following authors: myself, Jane Costello, Rachel Hore, Isabel Broom, Kate Long, Patricia Scanlan, and Andy Jones.

I hope you all have a fabulous time over the festive period, and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

By the way, Merry Christmas or Happy Christmas? Discuss! (My vote is for Merry!)

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 @sewelliot

Should you read fiction while you’re writing?

    We all know we mustn’t drink and drive, but is reading fiction while writing as risky for the well-being of our novels as drinking while driving is for the well-being of our fellow man?
    Some writers think so.  Some writers claim that they never pick up a novel while they’re writing for fear of being influenced by whoever it is they’re reading. What do they mean by ‘being influenced’? Does it mean there is a danger that we might start writing like those authors? If so, quick! Bring me a pile of books by authors I admire and respect and would give my eye teeth to emulate. I’ll give anything a go. Would that it were that easy!
    Or do they mean that reading novels might cause the words of other authors to somehow seep through into their own writing and sully the masterpiece they’re currently creating? Again, I’ll risk it.
    I have mixed feelings about reading while writing. On the one hand, reading something within my genre can give me a kick-start when I’m floundering. When it’s a writer I admire, the rhythm of the prose and cadence of the dialogue can really inspire me and make me itch to get back to my own work.
    But on the other hand, becoming engaged with a wonderfully written novel can be counter-productive in that I often find myself reading when really I should be writing. Also, I can end up losing myself in the novel I’m reading to the extent that I find I’m spending my spare time thinking about those characters and that author’s fictional world rather than thinking about my characters and my own fictional world.
    If I’m honest, I know that I’m better able to throw myself into my own novel when I’m not reading somebody else’s. The absolute best thing that can happen to me is when I’m trying to read a novel but find I can’t concentrate because my own characters are dominating my thoughts.
    Having said all that, how can we not read? The idea of living life without a novel ‘on the go’ is completely alien to me. So somehow, I’m just going to have to find the right balance.
    What about you? Do you find reading fiction while you’re writing is a help or a hindrance? 
    For more about me and my work, visit www.susanelliotwright.co.uk

    And to access a list of recipes and book reviews on this blog, go to: recipes and book reviews and scroll down the page (past the writing bits)

How much should you talk about your work in progress?

In a recent piece for The Author (the Society of Author’s quarterly magazine) Terence Blacker asked ‘what makes an author?’ and then listed what he sees as the criteria for ‘authorliness’. While I agree  with a great deal of what he said  (it’s a great piece – read it here: Terenceblacker.com ) I wasn’t sure how I felt about this item in the list:
– You never, if you write fiction, talk about your work in progress. You learn quite early that, once the steam is let out of a story through talk, it can never be recovered. When a would-be writer tells you every turn of the novel they are planning, you know they will never write it.
Is this absolutely true, I wonder? Over the years, I have found talking about my work to be quite useful. In fact, I encourage my students to talk about their work, too, and one of the most popular sessions, both with undergrads and with community evening class students, is the one where everyone outlines their plot (it may be a short story or a novel) to the group and we brainstorm the possibilities for development.  This works particularly well with short stories where the student may have come up with a striking image or an interesting character but is unsure where to go next. The very act of talking through the ideas with other writers often sparks possibilities that person may not have thought of if s/he had been all alone with a blank screen or notebook.   
I have one friend in particular who I thrash out ideas with. She and I use each other as sounding boards and we both find it helps enormously to discuss any problems we encounter in our novels.  It’s not necessarily that either of us will come up with a solution – although that does sometimes happen – it’s more that by discussing the work in detail, we’re often able to help each other to pin down and develop the ghost of an idea that’s been swirling around in our heads along with hundreds of others.
We authors are often so close to our own work that we may not see a solution that’s staring us in the face, whereas another writer can spot it instantly.  Also, someone who is used to the exploring the world of fiction themselves may be able to help us to see aspects of our own stories that we’re too close to notice, and this can help us to see the whole thing in a different light. 
My friend and I recently said that instead of just phoning each other to talk through difficulties with our work as they arise, perhaps we should plan a regular fortnightly session where we can chat about our novels on a regular basis, a sort of therapy session in which we can pour out our frustrations as well as possibly finding new directions for our work.
What I’m not sure about, is whether it’s a good idea to discuss your work-in-progress with non-writing friends. This is not because I’m worried that by outlining the story I’m going to somehow ‘let the steam out’, but because non-writers are less likely to understand what you’re trying to do with a particular piece and may come up with suggestions that are so far removed from what you had in mind that you end up saying, ‘no, I don’t think that’ll work’ so many times that your friend gets upset and stalks off in a huff.
On further reflection, I suppose Terence Blacker’s comment: ‘When a would-be writer tells you every turn of the novel they are planning, you know they will never write it.’ May carry some weight. First, he’s talking about a ‘would-be writer’ rather than a writer, and as we all know, there are many would-be writers who never get around to actually writing anything at all. Also, maybe talking about ‘every turn’ of a novel is not such a good idea – maybe that wouldmake it lose its steam. Although I’m not sure it’s even possible to discuss ‘every turn’ of a novel.
So for me, discussing my work-in-progress is not a problem – I’ve never had that experience of losing steam, of having ‘talked it out’.  Showing it to anyone else when it’s still at an early stage can be a problem, but that’s a whole different blog post!
So I’m really interested to know what you think. Has it ever happened to you that you’ve talked about your story in such depth that you no longer felt able to write it? Or do you find discussing your work in progress a useful part of your writing life? 
 For more about me and my work, visit www.susanelliotwright.co.uk

And to access a list of recipes and book reviews on this blog, go to: recipes and book reviews and scroll down the page (past the writing bits)