THE WRITING LIFE

In my last post, I mentioned I was a bit stuck again. Well, two weeks on, I’m still a bit stuck, although I have made some progress. I’m sure this isn’t an insurmountable ‘stuck’, but there are so many distractions at the moment!
The last couple of weeks have been quite busy with teaching-related work. I’m supervising some MA students, so there’s been a lot of reading before tutorials as well as the usual preparation for my weekly class, and some extra work preparing for a one-day class, which I taught alongside my friend and fellow author James Russell. I’m really enjoying the co-tutoring, and it’s making life a little easier for me. The one-day class went off very well – we had lovely feedback from students and came away buzzing. 
A few days ago, I did an Off-The-Shelf event with four other authors, talking about our experience of writing MAs and what they can lead to. We were a bit worried about the turnout because, not only did the printed brochure list the wrong venue, but it was pouring with rain and there was other good stuff on the same night. At 7.30, there was just one audience member and the pub cat. As we filed into the room, the cat turned to look at us, then stalked off, tail flicking. I’m not sure what he was expecting! But then people began to drift in, having been redirected from the other venue, and by 7.45 most of the seats were full. It turned into a really good evening, with lots of questions from a lovely, lively audience.
To celebrate the success of the evening, we had a few drinks afterwards. Well, you do, don’t you? This resulted in me managing to leave a rucksack with five copies of The Secrets We Left Behind, and one of The Things We Never Said in the pub or the taxi home – not sure which. I was certain that when I phoned the pub and taxi firm, someone would have handed in the bag, after all, who’d want five copies of the same book? But no, five days on, and they still haven’t turned up. I’m just hoping I don’t see them chucked on a skip somewhere…
So, that’s a roundup of recent distractions (not including emails,domestic duties etc). The little progress I have made may be due to the discovery that my favourite coffee shop offers hot drinks for a pound before 10am on weekdays. So almost every morning, I’ve been heading over there as soon as I’ve walked the dog, and it makes me feel like I’m going to work. I usually manage a couple of hours most days, so even if I don’t write anything else for the rest the day, at least I’ve done something.
I often go walking when I’m trying to solve a problem with my novel, but everything is so gorgeous at the moment that even that is distracting. Sunny silvery mornings and golden afternoons; crunchy leaves and conkers underfoot; sycamore helicopters spinning through the air all around you; isn’t autumn the most beautiful season? Here’s one of my daily walks:
I met with my writer’s group this week and got some encouraging feedback on my work. The main criticism was that the scenes needed trimming. I’m not doing much editing until I get to the end of this draft, but given that I’m stuck at the moment, I really enjoyed spending some time trimming/editing these sections. I always overwrite, and it’s one of the things I often pick up on in the work of others. I think we all do it to a certain extent, and you really need fresh eyes to spot it.

I’ve not worked on the novel at all over the weekend, but I’ve done writerly things, including going to an event where three crime writers talked about their writing process, having lunch with a writer friend, and taking yesterday off to spend most of the day reading. 
Coming up
Tomorrow (Tuesday 21st Oct) is the launch of Watch and Wait, a short story anthology to which I’ve contributed.If you’re in Sheffield, do  pop along. Details here There will be readings, live music and general merriment – should be a great evening! Tickets available on the door, proceeds to the Lymphoma Association.

The next blog post will be on 3rd November, when I will have just returned from a three-day writing retreat here and will be about to set off on another one (this time for 4 days), here. So really, the next two blog posts should show considerable signs of progress!

New Amazon reviews:
The Secrets We Left Behind – two 5-star and one 2-star
The Things We Never Said – two 5-star, two 4-star and one 3-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
And my website is here

When’s the right time to share your novel?

The Writing Bit
So, you’ve finished the first draft of your novel; you have a story, a world, and a beginning, middle, and – oh joy of joys – end. You’re probably bursting to show it to someone. You’ve written a book and you know that at least some of it is really very good indeed, so why not?

Although it’s natural to want to show your nearest and dearest how clever you are, there are a number of reasons why it’s best to wait. 

First, I should perhaps make the distinction between showing your work to writing friends for feedback and/or constructive criticism, and showing it to your partner/mum for a well-deserved pat on the back.

Showing it to writing friends:
Writing friends are useful for spotting sections that don’t work so well, repetitions, overwriting, lack of pace, inconsistency of tense, etcetera, etcetera. You may have shared individual chapters or scenes already, and if you haven’t, now is perhaps a good time to identify the parts of your novel that you’re not so happy with and get some feedback from people who know what they’re talking about.

Having said that, I’d still caution against showing the whole of your first draft to too many people at this early stage. You’ll need to ‘save’ readers for future drafts. We all get to the end of a first draft with the hope that it’ll just need a bit of tweaking and it’ll be ready to go, but in reality, it’s likely to go through significant redrafting that may include structural changes, adding and deleting scenes, even getting rid of entire characters. The problem is that once someone’s read your novel a couple of times, they too become too close to it to view it objectively; they may also be thrown by the changes you’ve made, because they remember the first version.

If you have writing friends who are kind enough to commit to reading your entire draft, use them wisely! Don’t give it to anyone until you’ve re-read it after leaving it for at least six weeks to ‘ripen’.  Then, when there’s no more you can do, give it to a writing friend whose judgement you trust – but only one at a time. There’s no point in giving it to four people (assuming you’re lucky enough to have four willing readers) only to find that the first one to finish spots something big that you know you need to change. If you use one reader at a time, you’ll have fresh eyes on every draft – much more useful than a jaded reader who’s almost as close to it as you are.

Showing it to your loved ones and non-writing friends:
This group of people tends to fall into two categories – those who’ll tell you what you’ve written is sheer genius, and those who’ll try to give you what you’ve asked for – honest feedback. The first group is of limited critical value for obvious reasons.

The second group can be useful, but I’d say don’t use them until you’re at or near publishable standard. The reason is that people who’ve never written a novel have no idea just how difficult it is and how much revision and redrafting is perfectly normal. When you tell a non-writing friend that you’ve written a novel, they may be happy to read it and give you feedback, but remember, the only terms of reference they have are published novels, and that’s the standard they’ll be judging you against.

Most people accept that writing a novel is difficult, but they often think that’s because of the sheer volume of words. When I started my first novel I had this idea that I’d start at page one, write through to the end, then do a bit of editing – even a lot of editing – and then it would be finished. I didn’t understand that this is something that only happens rarely for some lucky writers, and it’s the exception rather than the rule.

So your non-writing readers  may unwittingly knock your confidence because their expectations are just too high. The best advice is, I think, to wait. Use readers sparingly, one at a time, draft by draft. I wish I’d had this advice before ‘using up’ all my readers in drafts one and two!

The Reading Bit
No book review this week, but I thought I’d just mention how useful I’ve found the ‘reading journal’ a friend bought me for Christmas last year. I don’t know about you, but I can read a book, love it, but totally forget the story within a few weeks, so when I recommend it to friends and they ask what it’s about, I look blank. The journal allows me to keep a record of what I’ve read, who wrote it and what I thought of it – anything from a few details to a full review. So at a glance, I can tell you everything I’ve read this year with details of plot, characters and how the story’s told. There are also pages to record books I’ve leant to others, and a space to list books I want to read next. If no-one buys you one of these for Christmas, treat yourself!t
The Food Bit
This is the easiest, bestest Chocolate Pot recipe ever – and its vegan!
Simply melt 100g dark chocolate in the microwave or in a bowl over a pan of hot water (some dark chocolate contains milk, so check the ingredients first.) Then stir in 150ml Alpro soya cream and a tablespoon of brandy. When thoroughly mixed, pour into shot glasses and put in fridge to set. Serve garnished with a couple of physalis (those little orange fruits with a papery husk) just pull back the husk and set the fruit on top of the chocolate pots. Yum yum, piggy’s bum.  It’s very rich, so small servings are good.

For more about me and my work, check out my website: http://www.susanelliotwright.co.uk