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

THE WRITING LIFE – how a visual stimulus can spur you on

My last post was about how I had finally managed to write a detailed outline for my fourth novel. Planning doesn’t come easily to me, in fact, I’ve tried several times in the past to plan my story and failed miserably. This time however, I promised my agent ,who’d been gently nagging me about the advantages of a detailed outline, that I’d try really, really hard. 

At first, I was convinced I couldn’t do it, then I had something of a breakthrough when I realised I should only be telling the story from one point of view, not two. My agent and editor both liked the outline, so I made a start, setting myself a target of 1000 words a day. I started this novel on 7th of July and For the first few days, I hit my target fairly easily.  Of course, many of these words will be shit words that will be cut or changed later, but my aim is to get a ‘zero’ draft down as quickly as possible.

A few days in, I stumbled on a post on the Mslexia Facebook page, suggesting you print out a calendar and put a big cross in the box for every day you get some words down, no matter how many or how few, the aim being that you don’t break the  chain.   here’s the page – the post is July 12 if you like to have a look.

This seemed like a great idea, but I know myself, and I know that the ‘no matter how few’ could get me into trouble – would 20 words count? Ten? Two? So I set myself a daily minimum of 200, while keeping my personal target of 1000.  This is working brilliantly for me so far. Of the 39 days that I’ve been doing this, I’ve achieved at least 1000 words day on 26 days, and I haven’t broken the chain. Here’s the photographic evidence: 





Every cross represents a minimum of 200 words, and where there is also a dot in the box, it means I hit my target of 1000 words.  It’s become such a point of honour now, that I get twitchy every morning until I’ve done my 200 words. Some days, I know that life will get in the way and that’ll be the only writing I do that day, but at least I will have engaged with the novel, kept the momentum.  

It’s all too easy to avoid work, especially when you hit a tricky point. It’s true that sometimes a few days away from it can be beneficial, but it can also make it even harder to get back into, so I’d definitely recommend setting yourself a low, achievable target. To be honest, even if you don’t actually write anything, just opening the document and thinking about your novel means you’re progressing.

I first realised how helpful a visual stimulus can be when I did  NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) a few years ago. If you’ve ever signed up for this, you’ll know that when you enter each day’s word count, you see a lovely blue bar getting longer and longer as you move towards the target 50,000 words.  I wanted to do something similar when I started my next book, so I came up with the idea of having two glasses, one of which contained 90 glass pebbles. For each thousand words written, I transferred a pebble from one glass to the other, so at a glance, I could see how much I’d done, and how much I still had to do. I blogged about it here

Anyway, now I’ve come up with an even better idea – you’ll like this one! It’s in a similar vein to the pebbles, but I’m using coins instead.  I’m aiming for around 90,000 words again. So, one glass contains 90 small coins – 5p and 1p. When I’ve written 1000 words, one of those small coins goes back in my purse and a pound goes into the other glass.  At the end of the zero draft, I’ll have £90 with which to celebrate before I embark on a decent first draft.



So far, I’ve written 34,000 words, and sticking a pound a day in the glass hasn’t bankrupted me, especially as it’s not every day. It’s no accident that I’ve used champagne glasses, because I reckon one of the first things I’ll buy out of that hundred quid is a bottle of champagne, then the OH and I will have a good night out on the rest.

So, next time I blog, I’m hoping the glass on the right will be a little fuller, and glass on the left a little emptier. I’ll keep you posted!

If you’d like to know more about me and my work, or if you’d like to sign up for a workshop or a ‘Space to Write’ day, please visit my website And it would be great if you would follow me  on Twitter and like my Facebook page

The Writing Life – working hard but …

I have to start with a newsflash because both my books are on a special e-book promotion for the whole of June. The Things We Never Said Amazon UK  is just 99p, and
The Secrets We Left Behind Amazon UK is just 1.99. They’ll be back to full whack on 1st of July.

Right, that’s that out of the way. Now, I see that it’s over six weeks since I last blogged. This is because I’ve been thinking of the blog as being about my progress on the current novel (number four, as yet untitled), and as there has been no progress – none, zilch, nada – there has been no blog. But when I thought about it properly, the blog is called The Writing Life, and sometimes, part of the writing life is having to accept that you’re not making any progress, despite still putting in the hours.

So how can I be working hard and not making progress? This novel started well, in that I love my 1960s protagonist and her story and I couldn’t wait to explore her life and its difficulties. The problem came when I tried to write the contemporary strand that I’d originally planned. Every time I tried to explain it – to my agent, to my editor, or to writing friends – they got confused. And yes, I had worried that it was a little complicated. Ultimately, I realised that not only was that strand too complicated, but it didn’t really fit with the 1960s story in a satisfying enough way, so I was going to have to rethink the whole thing.

And that’s where the hard work comes in. My agent impressed upon me the value of planning – something I find very difficult, if not impossible. Usually, I plan a little, write a little, plan a little more, write a little more, and that’s how I discover the story. But this time, I seem to have written myself down a blind alley. I have spent several weeks now trying to plot a second strand that will fit with the first and offer a satisfying conclusion. But I seem to be getting nowhere fast.

My agent has been an amazing and spent almost two hours with me on the phone a couple of weeks ago, trying to get to the heart of it all. With her usual insight, she has, I think, identified the main problem, which is that I’ve been trying to mix two genres – the 1960s story, which is an exploration of an unconventional relationship and the traumas and joys that accompany it, and the contemporary strand, which I was trying to make a bit more ‘plotty’. I’m pleased with the 60s story and think it is perhaps some of my best writing, but then my agent asked the killer question: ‘what is going to make the reader turn the pages?’

And that made me realise that while I hoped that a sheer love of the character and interest in her life would be enough, given that my first three novels (the third, What She Lost, is out in January) have all had some buried secret driving the narrative, a ‘quieter’ book might not go down so well. And yes, I’d love to write a book that does both things – explores the relationship in depth and also has a mystery at its heart, which is why I was going for the dual narrative again. But the secret I’d been relying on turned out to be too complicated, so I’m almost back to square one, and I’ve been thinking and thinking and thinking until my brain hurts, but I keep hitting dead ends.

In the worst case scenario, I put this novel aside for another time and I start something new. The idea terrifies me – I’ve written almost 70,000 words, although 25,000 of those were the contemporary strand that I now know doesn’t work. I have around 45,000 words that I like so it seems a lot to give up on. But having said that, I abandoned my very first novel at around 40k words and went on instead to write The Things We Never Said. And regular readers might remember the struggle I had with What She Lost – I ended up rewriting almost 80 per cent. So it’s not something I’m ruling out entirely. (although it really will be ‘putting aside for another time’ rather than dumping altogether.)

So, I’m still in that horrible phase of uncertainty, still trying to find a way through with what I’ve already written while vaguely sketching out other ideas should I have no alternative but to start again. My agent has kindly agreed to read the 1960s strand so that we can discuss it again, and while I hate revealing what I’ve written at this early stage, I don’t want to carry on blindly if it’s clear that it’s just not going to work. We shall see.

Have you ever put a novel aside and written a new one? What do you do when you find you’ve written yourself to a dead end? (Apart from drink gin, obvs)

Ooh, by the way – if you’re in or near Sheffield, there are still a few spaces on the two redrafting workshops coming up on Saturday 11th & Saturday 18th of June. If you book for one, is £40, if you book for both, it’s £70. Have a look at the workshops page of my website for details.

THE WRITING LIFE – WRITING RETREAT – TWO WEEKS TO DEADLINE

Countdown to deadline – two weeks to go!

The blog’s a bit late this week because I only got back from my latest writing retreat (more below) yesterday evening. If you’re new to this blog, I’m sharing the experience of writing my third novel. It’s been a challenge! I submitted a crappy first draft in January – I’m calling that a ‘zero draft’, or draft 1.A so I’m referring to this one as draft 1.B. It’s now two weeks to my deadline…

Anyway, it’s been a brilliantly productive week. This is what I said at the end of last week’s post:

So, my goal for next week: edit seven chapters, draft final two (or three) chapters. 

How did I do? Mission accomplished! I ended up doing more editing than planned, because I ticked off those seven chapters, and then went back and did more tweaking and twiddling on a few others. Writing the final two chapters led to some changes I needed to make earlier in the novel, and there are still things I need to add in. I wasn’t sure if it would be two or three chapters, but now I think it’ll just be two, although I’ve also started drafting a short epilogue. Nothing detailed, just a brief sort of ‘this is where they all are six months later‘.

The other thing I’ve done this week is to move from working in Scrivener to working on a Word document. I compiled the draft in Scrivener, saved it in Word, and from now on, will be working entirely on that document. Spent ages this week checking the indentations, making sure the chapters are numbered and spaced correctly etc etc – boring stuff, but it has to be done.

One of the reasons I’ve managed to achieve and exceed my goal this week is that I spent a few days on a writing retreat. I’ve been here several times before and can highly recommend it. http://www.anniemckie.co.uk/

The wonderful host, Annie, who is also a writer so understands writers’ needs perfectly, brings delicious, home-cooked meals to your room at agreed times so you don’t have to think about anything but your writing. You get your own room with shower and loo and your own back door so you can come and go as you please (though I didn’t even leave the room this time!) There’s also a lovely balcony overlooking the Forest of Dean, so in fine weather, you can even sit outside and work.

So, I got loads of work done, even though I lost half a day’s work due to some ongoing stomach problems. Actually, I should warn you, next week’s post may contain a bit of moaning and shameless requests for sympathy, because on Monday, which is my usual blog-writing day, I’m having a gastroscopy (camera down the throat and into the stomach). Had these twice before, and it’s NOT my idea of a fun day out!

Anyway, let’s not think about that (oh shit, now I’m thinking about that…)

Time to set a goal for next week: Edit my final two chapters, finish drafting the epilogue, and add in two little incidents I’ve come up with for earlier in the book. That’s probably enough, given that I only have five days before I’ll be posting again. Then I’ll have a full week to read the manuscript and make any final alterations and corrections before submitting this draft.

Finally, I came back from the retreat to find my author copies of the Polish version of The Things We Never Said. The title is Przemilczenia, which Google translates as Silence, though there might be more nuance than that. I have three copies to give away if you read Polish, or have Polish friends who might fancy it. There are also three German copies going spare. The German version is called Ich Habe Dich Immer Geliebt, which translates as, I Have Always Loved You.

If you’re in the UK and you’d like one of these, get in touch through the contact page of my website (the ‘comments’ facility on blogger isn’t always reliable) with your name and address, and I’ll post you a copy. First-come, first-served, obviously.

See you next week, when it’s one week to deadline!

If you’d like to know more about me and my work, visit my website, like my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter

THE WRITING LIFE – THREE WEEKS TO DEADLINE

Countdown to deadline – three weeks to go!

Very quick post this week. If you’re not familiar with this blog, I’m sharing the experience of writing my third novel. It’s been a challenge! I submitted a dreadful first draft in January, so bad it barely counted as a first draft – more a zero draft. I’m much happier with what I’m doing now, although with just three weeks to go, I’m too close to it to really be objective, so we’ll see!

I’m setting myself targets each week, so looking back at last week’s post, this is the goal I set myself:

My goal for next week is to have sorted out the order of the chapters and to have a draft, even if it’s rough, of the penultimate chapter. 

So how did I do? Well, I did sort out the chapter order so that we now dip into the past a little sooner. Also, I’ve split some of the longer chapters into two and done a great deal of cutting and trimming, which is gradually tightening things up. I’ve started drafting that penultimate chapter, but haven’t completed the draft yet.

I’ve done most of the bigger changes now and am well under way with the line by line editing – the tweaking and twiddling. I use Scrivener, and the corkboard has a wonderful feature which allows you to label each little ‘card’ to show what stage it’s at. As of this morning, 33 of my 42 cards are labelled ‘revised draft’, seven are still ‘first draft’, and two are still labelled ‘to do’ (as in, they’ve not yet been drafted).

So, all in all, progress is good. I do still have those last two (maybe even three) chapters to write, though. The ending is important to get right (obviously!) So I want to give it a bit more thought. I’m going to carry on with editing the remaining seven chapters now, and I’m hoping I can get that done in the next couple of days, because on Thursday, I’m off on a writing retreat details here  and I really want to spend that time working on the ending. I’ll have four clear days to focus entirely on the novel, so although the blog post will be a day late next week – I intend to publish on Tuesday – by that time I should be almost there.

So, my goal for next week: edit seven chapters, draft final two (or three) chapters.

After that, when I have two weeks ago, I’ll need to read through the whole thing again, and then revise those last few chapters.

See you next week!

If you’d like to know more about me and my writing, or if you’re interested in attending my workshops, please visit my website, like my Facebook page or follow me on twitter

THE WRITING LIFE – THE VALUE OF WASTING TIME

I was feeling a bit fed up the other day and absentmindedly picked these a few bits and pieces (some are weeds, I think!) from my teeny garden. Just looking at their prettiness cheers me up enormously.

Things are generally going much better with the novel now, and I’m up to 82,000 words of the new draft, and there are probably another 8,000-10,000 to write. Technically it’s a second draft, but if I’m honest, the rewriting has been so extensive that it’s more like a first draft. In fact, I worked out the other day that there are only about 15,000 words of the original version remaining, if that. Maybe we’ll call this one “Draft 1B”.

I’m struggling to get back into it at the moment having had an enforced few days away from my desk. One of the reasons for this was that I decided to change my workstation arrangement to make it easier for me to stand for part of the time while I’m working. I’ve read a great deal about ‘standing desks’ and thought I’d give it a go in an attempt to reduce my back pain.I wanted to set things up so I had the option to stand or sit. Re-arranging the monitors and keyboard meant unplugging and moving things around, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to sort out the electrics, which up until now have been a horribly jumbled mess of cables and extension leads.

So I arranged a couple of quotes, and now have proper office-type trunking and sockets along the wall at desk height. It looks much neater and tidier, and I can stand and type using the big monitor, or I can sit down, lower the keyboard and use the smaller screen. So far so good!

All this means I’ve lost some work time though, because apart from all the time spent disconnecting things, clearing space for the electrician, then rearranging everything and plugging it all in again, it seems my headset took exception to being unplugged and has decided to give up the ghost. As regular readers will know, I have severe RSI in both hands/arms, and if I type or am using the mouse for more than twenty or thirty minutes I suffer debilitating pain. Fortunately, I have a spare USB mike but then that decided to play silly buggers, too, so I had to wait until my son, who’s a technical whizz and without whom I would be tearing my hair out, had time to dial in to my computer and sort it out for me. He’s done that today – thank you James!

I’m writing this at 4.30 in the afternoon, so technically I could still get a couple of hours in on the novel, but you know what it’s like when you’ve slipped out of the ‘zone’. Instead of knuckling down, I’ve been faffing about, tidying my study and leafing through old notebooks. Interestingly, I found quite a few notes I made for the current novel that I’d completely forgotten about. Only scraps – a little bit of back story, perhaps, a character or location detail. These aren’t important plot points, but things that will hopefully add depth and texture.

To make sure I don’t forget about them again, I’ve copied them onto little pieces of card or scraps of paper and tossed them into a shoebox along with notes I’ve made more recently. When I embark on the Big Edit before submitting this draft, I’ll go through those scraps, discarding what’s no longer relevant, and working in the things I think will enrich the story. After my first novel was published, and to a lesser degree, after the second one, too, I kept coming across similar notes and thinking, ‘Ooh, that’ll be good for…’ And then I’d remember that it was too late!

So, it’s not been a complete waste of a day, and I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the novel again tomorrow. I have three, possibly four more chapters to write, then an extensive edit. Now the end is in sight (well, not the actual end, but you know what I mean) I’m really excited about getting those chapters drafted. One of the things I’m enjoying is changing the label on the Scrivener corkboard from ‘to do’ to ‘first draft’. I suppose I could just make a list and cross them off, which would undoubtedly be satisfying, but not quite as satisfying as this.

I plan to post it again in two weeks, by which time I hope to be working on the final chapter. Wish me luck!

To find out more about me and my work, visit my website, like my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter

THE WRITING LIFE – RETREAT, RETHINK, REDRAFT

When I last posted two weeks ago, I’d done lots of thinking and planning for this gargantuan re-draft. I hadn’t started the actual rewriting at that point, but was hopeful about the progress I’d make while on a writing retreat in the Forest of Dean. Here’s a picture of the balcony outside my room, bathed in golden afternoon sunlight.

Part of my revision process has involved getting rid of a character who’d had quite a substantial part in the novel. What I’d realised, though, was that while he did have some important work to do, the storyline that sprang from him was complicating matters, and wasn’t really relevant, so he had to go. Here’s the fun post in which I gave him the sack! The home for redundant characters

But as I say, he did have an important role, so I then went through every chapter that featured him and identified what was essential to the storyline, the things I just couldn’t afford to lose. I decided that most of those areas could be covered by another character, so her role has now become much more important. I’ve essentially combined two (possibly three) characters.

I marked the bits from the original character that  I wanted to keep and the rest, even the good stuff, had to go. Before I left for the retreat, I’d cut 36,000 words from the draft, and I did it (almost) without flinching.

I then printed out the remaining 59,000 words. First, I identified chapters that I thought (in my foolish naivete) could be kept with minimal rewriting. I went through the rest with a highlighter pen, marking out what to keep rather than what to cut. I didn’t start deleting at this point, though – I’m brave, but not that brave! I knew there would be a lot more to go, but I didn’t think I could take seeing the word count plummet much lower until I had some new words to replace them.
Off I went on my retreat with the chapters I’d decided to keep – about 30 of the original 50. I wrote a new opening chapter, then rewrote what I’d decided should be chapter 2, and that was the point at which I realised that, because of the changes in character, location, the year in which it’s set, and the order in which I’m telling the story, I need to rewrite virtually everything. Yep, everything. Because even the events that are staying, even the conversations, even the characters’ thoughts – will all be at least slightly different because of the other changes.
At this point – understandably, I’d argue – I muttered a few choice expletives. Then to calm myself, I opened the doors to the balcony, took a few deep breaths and feasted my eyes on the lovely morning sunshine before returning to my laptop.

It was good that this realisation hit me on the first morning of a four-day retreat; if I’d have been at home, I think I might have gone back to bed or hit the gin or something. But I cracked on. If I’m going to make this novel as good as I think it can be, then twiddling about with paragraphs I’ve grown fond of is only going to cause me more problems in the long run. So I wrote new chapters, I rewrote existing ones to the extent that often only a tiny part of the scene remained.

I’m still struggling with the structure, because although, like my first two novels, this story is about how the past can affect the present, it’s a more complicated timespan showing two characters’ lives over a number of years. I’ve started in the present, and need to gradually reveal the past. I tried planning the whole thing, but found that impossible, especially as so much has changed, but I’ve planned the order of the first few chapters and will continue to write a bit, plan a bit, write a bit etc. By the end of my four days, I’d ditched more than half of the original draft, and had written just over 15,000 words, about half of which were completely new.

Now I’m back home, I’ve printed out the ‘to keep’ chapters – these are chapters with an important message or emotion, but which may still be set in the wrong place and time, and may still contain redundant characters. I’ve written a couple of lines at the top of each one explaining why the chapter is important, and this is helping me to rewrite as I go along.

Despite the huge changes, the heart of this novel remains the same, and despite the mammoth amount of work I have to do, I’m feeling passionate about it. Please tune in in two weeks to see where I’m up to!

In the meantime, if you fancy coming to a one-day writing workshop in Sheffield, there are two coming up – check out the workshops page of my website

To keep an eye on what I’m up to, you can like my facebook page or follow me on Twitter  @sewelliot

THE WRITING LIFE – FACING THE DIFFICULT TRUTH

Following on from my fun post The Home for Redundant Characters last week, I thought I’d tell you a bit about what I’ve been thinking/doing since the wonderfully useful editorial meeting with my editor and agent.

Many of you will know that this novel, my third, has been a struggle from day one. I know there’s something really good in here, but I’m struggling to pin it down and I’d got myself in a bit of a mess. After discussing it in detail at the meeting, I have a clearer idea of what needs to be done. The downside is, it ain’t gonna be easy!

Before I talk about that, it’s worth mentioning an interesting point that was made in the comments on my post on 19th Jan: If I didn’t already have a publishing contract and submitted this draft to an agent,would I be taken on? The honest answer is, I doubt it. The draft shows I can write, but as Ernest Hemingway said, ‘the first draft of anything is shit’. One of the many joys of having an agent and an editor is that I have their support and expert editorial advice on hand to help me make it less shit.

The thing is, I have a track record, so they both know I can do it. If you’re a new author seeking an agent, you may be a far better writer than me, but if you submitted something like this, which really is a first draft, the agent has no evidence that you’ll be able to make a decent novel out of it. Also, of course, you wouldn’t actually send a first draft out to agents (though some people do).

So what does a new author do at this stage? I’d suggest doing what I did with my first novel – pay for professional editorial advice. It wasn’t easy for me to find the money – I was on a low income – but the feedback I received was excellent and I’d say it was money very well-spent. Make sure you check the credentials of any organisation or individual offering this service, though.

On to my writing life: as I’ve said, the editorial meeting was incredibly useful and productive. The biggest problem by far (which I knew) is the structure and timeline, and with three of us discussing it, it became clear just how complicated it’s going to be to sort this out, especially as re-jigging the order in which things happen causes all sorts of other problems to rise to the surface. It also became clear that there were a couple of scenes that weren’t really convincing, and one or two characters that just weren’t pulling their weight.

So, how do I approach this? First, I listed summaries of every single scene in the existing draft. Then I went through with a pen and made notes on which scenes I know will be cut, which need significant changes, and which can stay – with some rewriting.

Next, I moved all the ‘to cut’ scenes to a different list. They need to be cut from this novel, but there might be little character details, little bits of description or something else that will come in useful at some point. Tip: never discard anything completely!

I printed the list of scenes that I’m keeping for the moment. Of course, more may go, and I need quite a few new ones, too, but I’ll worry about that later. Then I gathered the essential equipment: index cards, glue, paper cutter, ready for a ‘sticking’ session.

And then I settled down to stick the scene summaries onto the cards, ready to shuffle into some sort of coherent order. Two things occurred to me: the first is that ‘sticking’ is not as much fun as it sounds, (and it takes a fecking long time). The second is that finding a coherent – that being the operative word – order is going to be, shall we say, challenging.

Still, there’s always coffee, and there’s always cake. (And wine, but I’d better not start on that until later!) I have absolutely no idea how long this is going to take me, and as I write this post, I’m wondering where I’ll be up to when I post again. I’ve booked a few days away at a writing retreat in a couple of weeks, so I’ll do a brief update post next Monday 9th Feb and I’ll post again after the retreat.

Doing a major redraft on a novel is, I imagine, a bit like climbing a mountain in that it’s hard work and it looks insurmountable, but it’s worth it in the end. On that note, I don’t usually talk much about reviews, but I was delighted to see this in an Amazon review of The Secrets We Left Behind: “I fell in love with the character ‘Eve’ – I will miss her now I’ve finished the book.” How lovely. That’s the sort of thing that makes it all worthwhile!

And 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

THE WRITING LIFE – FIRST DRAFT SENT!

A big milestone for me today – I have submitted the draft of novel number three, the progress of which many years of you have been following on this blog. It’s a strange feeling, because on the one hand, it’s immensely satisfying to have juggled and plotted the lives of a number of characters and reached a point where I have a completed story. But on the other, I know that this is only a milestone; it’s by no means the end of the journey.

I’m looking forward to receiving feedback from my agent and editor, both of whom have immense skill and insight when it comes to the finer points of storytelling. I am of course very nervous, too. I want them to love it – I want everyone to love it! I don’t mean I want them to say it’s perfect, because it won’t be – beginner writers take note: by the time you take a novel off the shelves in a bookshop, it will have been redrafted more times than you can begin to imagine. But I’m just hoping that they’ll share my passion for these characters and what happens to them, even if I have to rewrite, rethink and re-order whole chunks of the text.

So, what has the process of getting this manuscript ready for submission involved in the last couple of weeks? Well, it’s amazing how you can think you’ve done all you can and then find SOOOO much more to do! You may remember I made myself a novel “to do” list, which initially had about 65 things on it. It was wonderful to cross off several of those items each day, but I think the number probably doubled. They varied from bigger things like, ‘write an epilogue’ to smaller technical things, such as: ‘show character getting dressed’ (I noticed that the character was naked in one paragraph, and then he was opening the door and stepping outside – he wasn’t meant to still be in the buff!)

Then, when I thought I’d done all the ‘story’ things, I read it through again looking for typos, punctuation errors, extra spaces etc – it seemed like there were millions. Then I read it through again, and found a million more.

I’d written most of this draft in Scrivener, so I then had to compile it as a word document, which was really easy, except that Scrivener refused to accept that my prologue wasn’t chapter 1 (even though I put it in a separate folder. Anyone??) Anyway, I ended up having to manually change the chapter numbers – all 50-odd of them! And then I realised I still hadn’t written the sodding epilogue. It may be that the epilogue isn’t needed, but I thought I needed to know what happened to the characters after the ‘ending’, so I sat in my favourite coffee shop and bashed out an epilogue of sorts. That will be the most first-draft-y bit of the whole thing!

It’s been a lot of hard work, and I know there will be a lot more hard work to come, but I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to hit ‘send’ earlier this afternoon (despite sitting here looking at the screen for a few minutes before plucking up the courage to actually make that click!)

And so now I’m going to have a break for a few days, catch up on some reading, and maybe even let my thoughts roam over a few ideas for novel number four. The immediate plan, though, is to sit and drink a glass of bubbly in celebration. There’s still a long way to go, but at least I’ve reached this significant point in the process. Hubby is having a glass, too – after listening for hours on end to me moaning about how difficult it all is, he deserves it!

Things may go a little quiet on the blog now for a while, but I’ll still be blogging about the writing life at least every three or four weeks. In the meantime, cheers!

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

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