THE WRITING LIFE – MORE REDRAFTING

Oh dear, I thought it was three weeks since my last confession – I mean blog post – but it appears to be four. Health issues have held me up a bit, including a bout of debilitating back pain from which I still haven’t fully recovered. Back pain is an issue for many writers, so it’s possibly worth talking about for a moment before I move on to my writing progress. We all know we’re supposed to get up and move around every 20 to 30 minutes, but how many of us do? It can take me an hour to get myself into ‘the zone’, so the last thing on my mind once I’m there is getting up and breaking the spell.

My son set up a clever little system on my PC where reminders to take a break flash up on my screen. It worked for the first day or two, then it got on my nerves and I turned it off. I always thought I was doing the right thing by ‘sitting up straight’, but my physiotherapist told me that was part of the problem – I was sitting up so straight all day that I was going to bed with my back locked. He recommended a good exercise for this: sit deliberately slumped, then with your right hand on your left shoulder and left hand on your right shoulder, rotate from the waist as far as you can go in each direction. Repeat a few times.

I do ‘core stability’ exercises too, but as soon as my back improves, I forget to do the exercises and it gets bad again. I clearly need to change the way I work. I’ve been looking into the idea of standing desks. At the moment, I’m improvising and have my laptop wedged on a high-ish, wide windowsill. I can’t to do much typing like this, because I have RSI in both arms, but I use voice recognition software so I can dictate and use the keyboard occasionally while standing rather than sitting. So far, so good. You forget you’re standing after a few minutes, and I certainly feel it’s better for my back.

And so to the novel. Regular readers will know I’m having terrible problems with this one, particularly in terms of structure. Over the last few weeks, I have spent many hours staring at the screen until my eyes hurt, trying to figure out a way to put the whole thing together.

Rearranging slips of paper always helps!

It’s one particular character’s story, that of the mother, that’s causing me the most problems. We need to see her past story from her viewpoint, but her present from the point of view of her daughter, who is the central character and whose own stories, both past and present, are told from her viewpoint.

In the end, I was feeling so despondent about finding a way to do this that I decided to temporarily abandon the mother’s story and just concentrate on how I was going to structure the daughters past/present stories. So I wrote a list of scenes, using a different colour for the scenes set in the past, then I cut them up and spent ages rearranging them into what I hoped would be a workable structure. Only then did I go back to the mother’s past story. I typed out the scenes I wanted to include – there are fewer of these than of the other two strands – changed them to a third colour, then cut them up and tried to intersperse them among the daughter’s past and present scenes.

I found I was feeling mildly less stressed simply by being able to see those scenes laid out roughly where I want them to be in terms of how I want the story to unfold. The problem I have now is finding a way of weaving them smoothly into the other narrative. I think I’ve come up with a way of doing that, but don’t really want to reveal it here. If it works, hopefully you’ll read it in the finished novel; if it doesn’t, I’ll be moaning on here and telling you all about it over the next few weeks!

I’m really struggling at the moment with lack of time, even though I’m virtually a full-time novelist. I  teach as well, but it’s very part-time – one evening class a week and some one-to-one sessions with MA students, so it shouldn’t dominate my time. Nevertheless, I seem to need a 36-hour day and a nine-day week, and I suspect my days would be quite full even without the teaching. Non-writers often imagine that authors sit at their desks for seven or eight hours a day just churning out words, but there are lots of other things we have to do. (I must blog specifically about this one day!)

Today, I’ve spent quite a while on emails, for example, and I often find answering an email will simply bring forth another email which will also need to be answered. Today, I’ve dealt with a query about an author event, questions on pronunciation from the American narrator of the audiobook version of The Secrets We Left Behind, an email from my accountant, and emails from three different writer friends (all on writing matters!) I regard Tweeting and Facebook-ing (can Facebook be a verb?) as part of my job, too, though I’ve been woefully inadequate in that area over the last few weeks.

Although it seems a rather bizarre thing to say, I’m looking forward to going on holiday for a week in May so that I can spend a bit more time on this novel!

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

THE WRITING LIFE – YORKSHIRE POST LITERARY LUNCH

I feel I should start this blog, ‘it has been three weeks since my last confession…’

You’ll see why. Anyway, a slightly late post this time, partly because if I’d kept to the fortnightly posts, the next one would fall on Easter Monday, when anyone with any sense will be eating chocolate, not sitting at a computer reading my blog. The other reason is that this time last week, I was at the point of despair with my current draft and I couldn’t quite bear to talk about it. I’m feeling a little more positive now, though, so here’s what’s been going on.

First, I was ill. Not properly, seriously ill, but a lingering head cold which then turned to sinusitis. With a painful, bunged up head, I couldn’t even think straight, never mind sort out the complex structural problems with my novel. Even worse, I spotted a major plot flaw, and not surprisingly, this induced an intense plummeting in confidence. This was all Not Very Nice. I racked my brains (my poor, thickening, stuffed up brains) but I couldn’t think of a solution. Then I had a good chat with an author friend who reassured me that it was a solvable problem, that I’d just got myself into a can’t see the wood for the trees state. She made a couple of suggestions, I wrote the scene I’d been so worried about, and hey presto, it works! At least, I think it does.

I still have structure/viewpoint problems, but I’m sure I’ll find a way through those eventually. So not much tangible progress since last time, I’m afraid. Time has been a bit of an issue, mainly because of my teaching work, which involves a lot of reading as well as the face-to-face meetings. But, as I always tell my students, you need to make time, so I’m ring-fencing some days over the next two weeks to really focus on the issues with this draft.

Last week, I was lucky enough to be a guest speaker at the Yorkshire Post Literary Lunch at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate. There were around 120 guests, which is the largest audience I’ve addressed so far, so I was a teeny bit nervous. However, I managed to get through it without making a tit of myself. I could see smiling faces, I got the odd laugh, and a few people came up afterwards and said they’d enjoyed my talk, so phew! I was made very welcome by the organisers, and had the pleasure of meeting my fellow speakers, the acclaimed crime writer David Mark, and the poet and novelist Wendy Bardsley.

As you can see from this is not very flattering (of me) press photo, David, who writes ‘gruesome’ thrillers and is charming and funny, was more the star turn, with Wendy and me as his backing group! It was a lovely event, though, and I enjoyed the day immensely.

Being at the Old Swan in Harrogate was tinged with sadness for me, because the last time I was there two years ago, was to attend a family gathering in memory of my dear grandma-in-law, Winifred, who’d died aged 96 the previous year. I first met Winifred when I was in my forties and she was approaching ninety. My husband hadn’t seen her for some years, and we prepared ourselves to ‘make conversation’. But Winifred turned out to be an attractive, fiercely intelligent, witty, wise woman with whom I hit it off immediately. We soon became close friends, despite a 40-odd year age difference.

It was nice to be able to mention this at the lunch in connection with The Secrets We Left Behind. One of the themes in the book is female friendships, and my central character has developed a close friendship with her much-older mother-in-law. Yes, that character, Estelle, is based on Winifred! One of the joys of being a writer is that you can play God to a certain extent. Ian Rankin said in a documentary recently that if someone annoys you, you can ‘bump them off’ in a book. I wrote Estelle partly as tribute to Winifred, and perhaps as a way of feeling I was spending a little time with her. My great sadness, as I told the Literary Lunch guests, is that she died a few months before I got my publishing deal. She would have floated up to the ceiling with pride.

On the subject of publishing, my first novel, The Things We Never Said, is published in Germany this week, under the title Ich Habe Dich Immer Geliebt, which translates as, I Have Always Loved You. It has a rather lovely cover, too.

That’s about it for this time. I hope to have moved forward much more decisively by next time. My novel group is meeting this week, so I’ll get some feedback on that tricky scene, and I’ll also run my structural problems past them to see if anyone has any bright ideas. I have a few appointments over the next two weeks, and I need to start preparing the short story course and teaching after Easter, but apart from that, I should be able to crack on.

I hope everyone has a good Easter break, and let’s hope the weather is a little more clement two weeks from now!

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

THE WRITING LIFE – RETHINKING, REDRAFTING

For no other reason than I love this picture and don’t want to publish this blog without including something pretty to look at, here’s a snap I took in November while on an Arvon writing retreat at Lumb Bank

By ‘eck, I’ve been working hard these last two weeks. Not that I don’t always work hard, you understand, but now I’m talking back-aching, neck and shoulder-aching, brain-hurting sort of hard. It’s structure, you see. I keep thinking I’ve got it nailed, then as I start to write, I realise, Oh, that can’t go there, because that hasn’t happened yet and it’ll give away that other thing … Or something along those lines. This has happened several times over the last couple of weeks, and I really feel as though I’m taking two steps forward and one and a half back; maybe one, if I’m being optimistic.

The main problem is, I think, that I have two viewpoint characters, one whose head we’re in both in the present and in the past, and the other who we only see from the first character’s viewpoint in the present, but into whose head we go in the past. So I’m basically juggling Character A present, Character A past (both from her viewpoint), Character B present (from character A’s viewpoint) and Character B past, from her own viewpoint. With me so far?  Thought not. If anyone knows any novels where something similar happens, pleeeeeease let me know!

Anyway, in my last post, I mentioned having cut more than half my original draft. It was scary, but necessary. I had lots of lovely supportive comments both on Twitter, and on the post itself. My thanks particularly to Rachael Dunlop who said that she’d had a similar experience, but rather than cutting, she put the original MS aside and started again from the beginning, because, she says, “at least this means the word count goes up and not down.” This is good psychology! I’ve now done the same thing, starting with 15,000 words (all completely new or significantly rewritten). I still have all the original scenes on my desktop for when I need to refer to them, but so much has changed that there’s very little, if anything, that I can simply paste into the new draft.

Because of the structural issues, there is a great deal of thinking to do, and while I’m normally in favour of taking a break now and again to let my subconscious do some of the work, I spent one day away from it last week and found that it set me back considerably because I lost the train of thought I’d been following with a particular problem. Having said that, it’s not good to have no breaks at all, so the best solution I can think of for now is to make sure I look at the work every day, just so that I stay familiar with it, and also to keep a large notepad beside me so I can write down every idea/possible solution as it comes to me. Then I just need to cross it out if I decide not to use it.

The current new word count is 23,760, so I’m not quite making my target of 5000 words a week, but then I know it’ll be much higher some weeks because it’ll simply be a question of rewriting, rather than completely rethinking. So, I’m plodding on, slowly but surely.

I’m trying to stay positive and optimistic, and it really helps that spring is on the way – here’s another lovely picture to prove it:

And just to round off, I’d like to share a couple of nice things that have happened since my last post: I’ve been invited to speak at the Yorkshire Post Literary Lunch on 26th March, which I’m looking forward to immensely, and also, I’ve had another one of those rather special reader emails. It’s always lovely to hear from readers (and I always reply), and I particularly like the emails where they include something about themselves, or why the book had particular resonance for them. Just after my last blogpost, I received an email from a reader who said that, due to family/work circumstances, she’d got out of the habit of reading and hadn’t read much at all for the last twelve years. My books, she said, had ‘reignited’ her love of reading. How lovely is that?

This is the second time a reader has told me that one or both of my books have started them reading again after a long break. I can’t think of many things you could say to an author that would be more pleasing than this. And as always, I’m immensely touched when a reader takes the time to write and let me know that they’ve enjoyed my books. In fact, even as I’m typing this, I’m smiling!

And on that note, I’ll sign off and see you in two weeks time with another update!

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

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 – A FEW STEPS FORWARD

As I write this, the sky outside my window is an unbroken blue and the sun is bouncing off rooftops and windowpanes. Snowdrops are out, and even daffodils are stretching their heads upwards. Everything is growing, everything is full of life. This is the perfect time to be ‘creating’, and I’m trying to harness all that wonderful creative energy so that I can pour it into my novel.

In last week’s post, I talked about the feedback I’d received and the massive amounts of work I now realise I have to do on novel number three. I said that undertaking a major re-draft is a bit like climbing a mountain. Last week, I was standing at the foot of that mountain looking up into the foggy distance and wondering where I would be now, a week later.

Well, the summit is still shrouded in mist, but I have taken a few steps up the mountainside. I’ve been working pretty hard this week, although it feels a bit frustrating, because I still haven’t done any actual rewriting. There’s been a great deal of thinking and planning, making new timelines, writing scene summaries and moving index cards around.

Finding a timeline that will work has been incredibly difficult. I thought I had it sorted until I realised that it made one of the characters much too young for what happens at the time. The timeline is a microcosm of the whole novel in that if you change one thing, everything else shifts as well. Anyway, I think I have a workable timeline now. I’ve written a list of the key scenes chronologically, including dates of birth and deaths, and now I just (ha! “just”!) have to work out the order in which these things are revealed to the reader. This is fairly complicated, because there are two viewpoints and the story happens both in real time, and over a number of years before the novel opens. One day, I’m going to make life easy (well, easier) for myself and write a novel that is set in real time and where the story happens as we go along!

The amount of work I have to do is daunting but I’m also feeling excited about it again now, because even though I can’t quite see the top of my writing mounting, I’ve started the trek, and that feels good.

If you’re at a similar stage with your work, it might help if I share this comforting advice from my lovely agent when we were discussing this recently. She told me to look after myself and be kind to myself, because this stage is the literary equivalent of the metaphorical ‘eating for two’ in pregnancy – not literally ‘eating’, of course, but nourishing and nurturing yourself in order to feed the baby (novel) you’re growing, and building up your strength in readiness for the massive output to come,

So I’ve been trying to do that. Yes, I’ve been working every day, but I’m also allowing myself time to read, time to think and the odd non-working trip to a coffee shop – maybe even featuring cake!

I’m going to leave it there for this week. I’ll post again in two weeks’ time when I come back from my retreat in the Forest of Dean. details here I’ll have four clear days where I don’t have to think about shopping, cooking, walking the dog or any other domestic responsibilities. I’m hoping I’ll have significant progress to report on 23rd of February.

Oh, and before I go, I should mention that I’m running a couple of one-day writing workshops in Sheffield soon, on 28th of February and 28th March. These days are always fun, always productive, and, people tell me, incredibly inspiring. If you know anyone who might be interested, the full details are here.

Happy ‘almost Spring’ everyone, and happy writing!

If you’d like to keep an eye on what I’m up to, please visit my website, ‘like’ my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter @sewelliot

MY WRITING WEEK – THE FINAL ANALYSIS…

Well, not really final, but still. When I started this blog 10 weeks ago, my word count was 36,594. I ended up dividing the 10 weeks into a block of six, during which I was writing new material and discovering the story, and a block of four, during which I was focusing more on rewriting and looking at structure. So for the first six weeks, I kept track of the word count, and for the last four, I focused more on the time spent at my desk. So here’s how it added up:
In the first six weeks, I wrote just over 41,000 ‘new’ words. This total doesn’t include words added while editing/rewriting. But I also cut around 16,000 words. Again, this total doesn’t include smaller cuts. The current word count is 68, 252.
Over the last four weeks, during which I’ve been measuring time spent working on the novel (that’s time spent actually at my desk, so not counting the hours I think about it while cooking meals, walking the dog, etc) I’ve spent at least 74 hours at my desk, working on my novel.
As every author knows, an important part of the working day is the point, usually before coffee but after checking emails, watching funny videos on Facebook and chatting on Twitter, when you look up your latest Amazon reviews. No? You mean it’s just me? Sorry, don’t believe you. Over the 10 weeks, The Things We Never Said received a total of 29 reviews, of which 17 were 5-star, seven were 4-star three were 3-star and two were 2-star. The Secrets We Left Behind received 32 reviews; 19 were 5-star, eight were 4-star, three were 3-star, and (gutted) one was 1-star and one was 2-star.
I also received 13 lovely reader emails (and four more that I haven’t included in this total because they’re from people I know)

I’ve just realised I have no pretty pictures for this post, so just to break it up a bit, here’s a photo of the new sofa in my study. Can’t think how I managed without one – it makes for a damn good sit down!


Has keeping this blog affected my work?

In order to write the blog post at the end of each week, I’ve kept a daily record of what I’ve been doing, so it’s been quite time-consuming. But it’s made me much more aware of how I spend my time. I wanted to write a completely honest account of my working week, so it’s felt a little bit like working in a goldfish bowl in that, if I’ve wasted a whole morning faffing about on Twitter, or bunking off to meet a friend for coffee, that’s fine, but I know I then have to confess it on the blog. I think this may have helped to keep me on the straight and narrow a little more than I might otherwise have been.
It’s also shown me just how much my teaching and domestic/family commitments impinge on my writing. One thing I discovered through the blog is that when I have a family commitment later in the day, it really affects my ability to get started on the novel. What I should do about this is to start on the novel first thing in the morning and leave emails/admin/social media, stuff until later. But I really struggle to do that. I have this feeling that I should ‘get things out of the way’ first. Anyone else have that problem?
The other thing that’s happened is that I now know what the novel is about. This may or may not have anything to do with writing the blog, but I suspect it’s helped because it’s made me think more closely about the decisions I’m making and why am making them.

Where I’m up to now

I’d say I’m virtually at the end of what I’ve been calling the ‘zero’ draft – I now know what the novel is about, I know the characters, I know how the novel ends, and I know most of the things that happen to the characters along the way, although I still have ideas for a couple more scenes I want to add in. I’ve also come to the conclusion, having tried various other options, that telling the story in a linear way, possibly in five parts, may be the best way option.
I’ve had lots of positive feedback on these posts, so as I said last week, I am going to continue posting about my progress with this book right up until publication. I’ll probably post every two weeks or so while I’m still working on the draft. Then there will be gaps while my agent and editor read the manuscript and give me their feedback, then I’ll post again while doing the rewrites, and eventually we’ll get to the point where there will be infrequent but hopefully exciting bits of news, such as a decision on the title, the unveiling of the cover, etc etc. By that stage, though, I’ll be starting to work on book four…

If you’ve missed any of the posts, you can find them through the archives. To find out more about me and my work, visit my website It would also be great if you would ‘like’ my Facebook author page and follow me on Twitter @sewelliot

MY WRITING WEEK – WEEK 10

Been on holiday so posting rather later than usual. This is the last post that will include a daily look at my writing life, but the blog series has been so popular that I’ve decided to keep it going (although in a shorter form) right up until this novel is published – that’s assuming I don’t make a complete and utter cock-up of it, obviously! So for the foreseeable future, I’ll be posting every two weeks or so, and as we get nearer to final draft and publication, the posts will probably be less frequent.
I was going to include a summary of the 10 weeks in this post, but that would make it rather long, so I’m going to do that in a separate post in a few days’ time – look out for it!
Wednesday 27th August
All I’ve done on the novel today is make some notes because I’m suffering from severe lack of sleep which, ironically, it’s the novel’s fault! As you’ll have seen from the last couple of posts, I’m at the point where I’m considering changing the linear structure to something a bit more interesting (and therefore more difficult). Went to bed thinking about this, slept for two hours then woke up with it all buzzing around in my head. Got up for an hour and read something else to take my mind off it, then went back and dozed for another hour, but that was my lot. Gave in and got up at 5am, made lots of notes, because another possibility has occurred to me, although after making the notes, I don’t think that will work. So although it doesn’t feel like I’ve achieved anything (too tired to do anything involving brain work for the rest of the day) the idea was something I had to explore and I had to go to the process of thinking it through on paper in order to discover the pitfalls and rule it out. Time spent: two hours.
Thursday 28th August
Wrote for an hour first thing, trying out another possible angle. Don’t know about it yet – will read later and think about it. Off on holiday for a week tomorrow, so spent most of the day doing laundry and packing for the week, and doing an online shop to be delivered to where we’re staying. What clothes to pack? If the weather here in the last few days have been anything to go by, I’ll need thick jumpers and wellie boots. Still hoping for an Indian summer. Time spent on novel: one hour
Friday 29th August
Long drive to Scarborough, but worth it. Cottage is gorgeous – tastefully decorated and more spacious than our house! Had a lovely walk along the cliff top under dark, brooding clouds with the constant hum of wind coming in off the North Sea, and the haunting cry of seagulls swirling just above us. Lovely. Time spent on novel: 0
Saturday 30th August
Started another scene this morning, writing by hand because the scene started to evolve by accident while doing my ‘morning pages’. I don’t do morning pages every day, but I’m always planning to. Writers who do this on a daily basis seem to find it very useful, as do I when I make the effort, so I really should do it more often. I find it much easier while on holiday, though, because I feel that any writing I do this week is a bonus, whereas at home I feel guilty for writing anything that isn’t the novel. Stupid, because I know just spending 20 or 30 minutes a day ‘warming up’ could really improve my main work. I’m keen to hear others’ views on warming up/morning pages – is this something you do regularly? Occasionally? How does it affect your writing? Time spent: two hours
 
Sunday 31st August
Feeling stuck again in terms of structure. When I look at the overall story, there are big gaps in time when nothing particularly interesting happens. The best way to get over that would normally be to start the story perhaps two thirds of the way through, and then flash back to the episodes that are relevant. But the point at which it would be logical to start doesn’t have enough tension, and I’m not sure my reader, not having seen the buildup to where the characters are now, would know them well enough to stick with them. Spent the morning scan-reading through again to see if any new ideas leap out at me. Already found another chapter that I suspect is a bit of a filler. It may need to go. I seem to be cutting as much as I’m writing at the moment! Time spent: 2.5 hours
Monday 1st September
Rainy day – good for writing! Having failed to come up with anything remotely clever in terms of structure,I’ve realised I need something in place just to help me move on, so I decided to try dividing the narrative up into a rough five-part structure. Having done this, I then made a list of things to do in order to make that work. The list includes writing new scenes, rewriting parts of existing scenes, and writing linking bits to explain time jumps. A paragraph of summary is often better than a whole chapter if the only purpose of that chapter is to  move you over a period of time. I realise I have two such chapters, and I’m afraid they’ve got to go, so today I cut another 3500 words. Started rewriting a scene that takes place a few years later with the aim of trying to give readers the information they need without boring the pants off them. Time spent: three hours
Tuesday 2nd September
Wrote a new scene 1200 words, and started rewriting an old scene. It’s now lunchtime and I’ve been working most of the morning, so feeling that I’ve achieved at least something, I’m going to knock off for the day and be properly ‘on holiday’. Especially as the sun has come out. Glass of wine, Lisa Jewell’s The Third Wife on my Kindle (wonderful!) Sorted! Time spent on novel: two hours 

Overall
Given that a good chunk of this week has been taken up with getting ready for, driving to and being on holiday, I’m fairly happy with having spent at least twelve and a half hours on the novel. I’ve done quite a bit of rewriting and editing, and lots of thinking! I’ve probably written about 2000 new words, but I’ve also cut 3500, which is why I’m focusing on clocking up hours rather than words at this stage. 
Horrible things this week
I know – this is a new one, a one-off, I hope. Horrible review for The Secrets We Left Behind, basically accusing me of ripping off the plot from another novel! I’ve read that novel and there definitely are similarities, but massive differences, too – apart from anything else, it’s a crime/psychological thriller! Wasted a lot of time searching back through my computer files to find Word documents dated 2009 (other novel published 2011) showing that my plot idea was already in place. Resisted the temptation to respond to the reviewer.
Nice things this week
Being on holiday near the sea, obviously! But in writing terms, a couple of days after the review mentioned above, I had a really lovely one which cheered me up enormously. I don’t usually quote my reviews, but can’t resist this time: “It’s a novel I will re-read and savour. Susan Elliot Wright’s storytelling and empathy for her characters is second to none. Her prose style is almost perfect. She has become one of my all-time favourite authors and I can’t wait for her next book.” Isn’t that lovely? Absolutely made my day. I know some authors don’t read their reviews, but when you get one like this it gives you such an enormous boost. Thank you, lovely reviewer!
New Amazon reviews
The Secrets We Left Behind: Four new ones: two 5-star, one 1-star and one 2-star
The Things We Never Said: Two new ones, both 5-star 

Coming soon
Look out for my next post in a few days time, summarising the ups and downs of the last 10 weeks. The next post will be in a couple of weeks from now, and will give an overview of progress. Ooh, And if you’re in or near Wakefield on 20th September, come along and see me at the Orangery. Details on my News and events page
To find out more about me and my work, visit my website Or you can ‘like’ my Facebook page Or follow me on Twitter @sewelliot

MAY WRITING WEEK – WEEK EIGHT OF 10

Tuesday 12th August
As usual, most of Tuesday morning is taken up with knocking this journal into shape and turning it into a reasonably coherent blog post. I must admit, I spent rather too long on Facebook and Twitter today, reading about the wonderful Robin Williams who, it seems, has taken his own life. Even though we didn’t know him, something about that man seemed to reach out to us all. He was proof that depression can hit anyone, no matter how much talent, fame, money, intelligence, luck, love, or adoration they have. I hate it when people say ‘what has he/she got to be depressed about?’  It’s a stupid question; depression is an illness, and it can be fatal. Anyway, I don’t usually use the blog for this sort of thing, but I feel quite sad. So, blog post, Facebook/Twitter, helped a friend who’s moving, and did some admin. Time spent on the novel: 0
Wed 13th August
Started rewriting a scene that is now set a couple of years later than originally intended. As my character is an adolescent at this point, this means a subtle change in her voice. Quite tricky to get right, but important to address because a 10-year-old and a 12-year-old will have different perspectives. Phone call from my accountant with some queries. I’m almost as afraid of numbers as I am of technology, and tax affairs are a mystery, so having an accountant is essential. Anyway, after some rummaging in the files, I think I’ve got it sorted. Back to the novel for a couple of hours, then off to perform Granny duties. Evening drink with a fellow writer, and while I can’t possibly count that as ‘time spent on the novel‘, we did talk quite a bit about our novels, and about writing in general. Time spent: 2.5 hours
Thurs 14th August
Spent another two hours on the scene I started rewriting yesterday, only to realise that it’s not relevant. This is SO annoying!  Partly because I’ve put in so much work and partly because there’s some good writing in there. But the bare fact is, it’s got to go. If in doubt about a scene, ask yourself: ‘what is this scene achieving in the novel? It is advancing the plot? Telling us something we need to know about the characters? Deepening our sense of the period or location? Ideally, a scene should do two or more of these things, must it must do at least one.I followed my own advice and asked myself what the scene I’d been struggling with was actually achieving. The truthful answer was, none of the above. It was filling, padding; there merely to allow time to pass. So it’s gone. 
Worked for a while on a new scene this morning, then off to London for a meeting with my lovely editor. This meeting was arranged when I was in dire straits – horribly stuck and with no idea of how to move on. I’ve since managed to move on from my stuck phase, but there are still ‘issues’ so I knew it would be helpful to talk things through. Some people don’t like discussing work in progress, but I usually find it incredibly useful, (especially when talking with an experienced editor!) It helps to get a different perspective, to think aloud and bounce ideas off the other person. Came away feeling that I know where I’m going with it, if not entirely sure just yet about exactly how it’s going to work. Sometimes, you just need to suck it and see! Time spent: (some at home, some while on the train) four hours
Friday 15th August
‘Bitty’ day – medical appointments, household stuff etc so didn’t achieve very much. Had a good long chat with a writer friend, though, and that’s always useful. Apart from that, I just tweaked and twiddled rather ineffectively. Rubbish day, so I tidied my desk. Time spent (not including desk tidying) 1.5 hours
No exciting pictures this week, so here’s my workspace…

Saturday 16th August
Intended to settle down for a full day of work today, but the dog’s been throwing up all night so had to take him to the vet. It was lunchtime before I got back, and, having had a couple of days away from my desk, it’s even harder to get settled today. I think it’s beginning to hit me just how much work I have to do on this novel before I can even look at it as an overall shape. I’ve been keeping a list of scenes as I go along – some are roughly drafted, some have been edited, and some are not yet written. I find this useful because it allows me to see the bigger picture. But looking at that list now, it occurs to me that, not only do I have several scenes that are completely irrelevant, but there are quite a few more scenes that I need to write. Started one of those this afternoon, so at least I’m making some progress. Time spent: 2.5 hours
Sunday 17th August
I’ve worked some more on the scene I started yesterday, and I’ve been thinking about the structure. It seems I might need to get rid of yet another large chunk (you may remember, I cut over 11,000 words in week five – I’d made quite a few cuts before, but this was the largest chunk in one go). I suspect more will have to go, but I’m trying to force myself to leave it as it is for now and just keep moving forward, rewriting existing scenes and adding new scenes where I need to. It’s difficult, though, because I know that those sections don’t seem to be working. On the other hand, I’m right in the middle of this draft and very close to it, so it’s difficult to be objective. Also, I’m still making decisions about what I need to show and what can just be referred back to. If I do make these cuts now, might it throw me off course and leave me floundering? I think I’m going to try and just grit my teeth and keep moving forward, safe in the knowledge that it can all be chopped out later if necessary. Ooh, it’s difficult….  Time spent: 4.5 hours
Monday 18th August
Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work I have to do. Kept looking at the scene I started on Saturday, and realised it has far too much exposition and not enough action or movement. Having made several attempts to do work out what to do with it, I gave up and did admin that I’ve been putting off. Also, I printed out a list of brief scene summaries, cut them out, stuck them on to post-it notes, and then stuck those onto a piece of card so that move them around if I need to. This may or may not be useful, but it made me feel as though I was doing something. On the other hand, it may just be that I find ‘cutting out and sticking’ a soothing thing to do. (Ahh, fond memories of Blue Peter…) Time spent: about four hours.
Overall
Oh dear. After doing so well last week, and setting myself a slightly more ambitious target for this week, I have only managed 19 hours. Ah well, onwards and upwards!
Nice things this week:
Three reader emails, one about The Things We Never Said, and two about The Secrets We Left Behind. Two of those emails were from the same person – she emailed me after finishing The Things We Never Said, then emailed me again the following evening to say that she’d read The Secrets We Left Behind in one sitting! Was hugely chuffed.
The coming week:
I’m going to set a modest target for the coming week, and you’ll have to believe me that this is not a cop-out because it’s been a bad week! It’s just that my son is up from London for a few days, and so I’m going to enjoy spending some time with him. (And probably bending his ear about my novel!)
New Amazon reviews:
The Secrets We Left Behind: Two new ones – both 5-star
The Things We Never Said: Three new ones – two 5-star, one 4-star

To find out more about me and my work, visit my website Or you can ‘like’ my Facebook page or you can follow me on Twitter, @sewelliot

MY WRITING WEEK: ONE OF 10

For me, writing the first draft of a novel is a difficult, sometimes tortuous process, and I find myself desperate to hear how other writers work. Do they find it as hard as I do? What are the bits they enjoy? How do they manage? I want to hoover up every morsel of advice and information I can find, leap on any little tip that’ll make things easier. I want to know what helps other writers keep their motivation, whether it’s little treats like a bar of chocolate or a glass of wine, or whether it’s a more visual, writing-focused reward, like a graph showing the word count going up.  I want to know what other writers do when they get stuck; do they go for a walk, read a book, visit an art gallery? Cry? Get drunk?

The point of all this is that most writers I know are fascinated by the working processes of other writers. So I thought I’d try a weekly blog about my own working life, with its ups and downs, for an initial period of ten weeks. The summer is a good time for me to write because I don’t have so many teaching commitments, so I have high hopes for the next ten weeks, and it’ll be interesting to see how I’ve progressed by then (or not…)

Where I am now:
I’m working on the first draft of my third novel, which is due to be published in 2015. The part of the story I’m working on at the moment is set in the past, and I’ve written about 35,000 words. I have another 10,000 words of a storyline set in the present day, but that part really isn’t working yet, so I’m discounting those 10,000 words for now.

Here’s an overview of the week up to 30th of June (I’ll write this blog on Mondays to post on Tuesdays)

Tuesday 24th Wrote nothing, here’s the excuse: babysitting 8.30am to 2pm, followed by lunch, then reading students’ work for evening class. Walked the dog (thought about novel while walking) then a quick cuppa before heading off to teach in the evening.

Wednesday 25th Faffed about doing emails and on Twitter all morning. Eventually managed to squeeze out 500 words before babysitting again at 3.30. Finished reading The Slaves of Solitude – brilliant. Love the way he zooms in close to the characters, then comes out again to give an overview. Wonder if I could use this more in my own writing?

Thursday 26th  A ‘bitty’ day. Needed to sort out car insurance and various boring household things. Lots of emails to answer and things to post. Should have started writing first, but wanted to get the boring stuff out of the way. Never works. Started writing, but quickly got stuck. A Twitter pal suggested I go for a walk. This does often work and so I should have taken the advice, but I felt too despondent. Not a good day.

Friday 27th  Woke up feeling determined to make up for rotten day yesterday. Straight to my desk in the morning and wrote 400 words of a new scene. Then did some admin stuff, then more work on the scene. Pleased with what I’d written by lunchtime, so, recalling the habit of one of the characters in The Slaves of Solitude, I poured myself a cheeky little sherry. (I am so suggestible!) Finished that scene and wrote the first line of the next scene. Happy enough with the day’s work – just over 1000 words. Why can’t I do this every day?



Sat 28th  Urban writing retreat http://sheffieldwriter.weebly.com/sheffield-writers-retreats.html Good day – inspiring to be working in the same room as other writers, candles flickering away down the centre of the table, coffee and biscuits arriving at regular intervals. Finished the scene I started on Thursday (just under 2000 words) and did some editing. Treats count bit high today – cheese panini, cake, wine…


Sun 29th I try to take one day a week off to read, chill out, spend time with the Other Half etc, so I didn’t think I’d write anything today, but thought I’d just open up the document and have a look. Ended up writing just over 500 words, so fairly happy with that.

Monday 30th Met a writer friend for lunch, so low expectations, but managed 300 words on the train there. Wrote 250 words on the train back, though this was after half a bottle of wine, so is probably rubbish. Spent most of the evening reading about the rituals of other writers and artists: 

Daily Rituals, by Mason Currey



Nice things this week:  
Two lovely emails, one about The Things We Never Said and one about The Secrets We Left Behind. Love receiving (and replying to) emails from readers – they really make my day!

New Amazon reviews this week:
The Secrets We Left Behind: two 5-star and one 4-star. And one 3-star, which says it was ‘good but full of typos and proofreading errors’! Am wondering if this was only on the Kindle version? (Though I did spot one in the print version – my fault!)
The Things We Never Said: three 5-star reviews with some really lovely comments. And one 3-star with a ‘hmm,’ Oh well…

So, at the end of week one of this blog, my word count for the week is approximately 4500 words. Total word count (though this includes a few notes) 36,594

The coming week:
I have a couple of babysitting commitments again, but have also planned two coffee shop writing sessions with a friend, so no excuse really. See you back here next Tuesday. I hope to have written at least another 4000 words by then. How about you?
For more about me and my work, visit my website or ‘like’ my Facebook page (and of course, you can follow me on twitter: @sewelliot )

Urban Writers’ Retreats

I’ve long been a fan of writing retreats and have been on several run by the Arvon Foundation. These usually take place in a rambling old house, nestling in the heart of glorious countryside. They run from Monday evening until Saturday morning, so there are four clear days in which to write, and five evenings in which you can write if you wish, but which are often spent chatting with other writers  over a glass of wine or three. It’s an incredibly supportive and encouraging environment, and the total immersion in what you’re doing, together with the creative energy created by a group of writers living and working together, is extremely productive.
But how would it work, I wondered, with an urban retreat, which usually lasts for just one day and takes place in a busy town or city?  When I heard that there was to be an urban retreat here in Sheffield, I signed up pretty quickly. I’m finishing the first draft of my second novel and I thought some focused time away from the distractions of home – the Internet, the dog, the laundry – could be just what I needed. But there would be no beautiful countryside in which to walk when I got stuck, no evening round the fire with a big glass of wine. Could it possibly be as conducive to work as the residential retreats have been?
Reader, it could. It was; it is! The day started at ten, and the first fifteen minutes or so were spent talking with the other writers. The words of a sceptical friend rang in my ear, “I don’t think you’ll get much done,” he said. “I think you’ll all just chat.” But then the organiser led a brief introductory session so that we all knew who was who and what we all hoped to achieve, and then we settled down to work at our laptops, and for the next few hours, nothing was heard but the soothing tap of fingers on keyboards.
Throughout the morning, cups of tea and coffee with an accompanying tin of biscuits magically appeared at my side. At lunchtime, there was a general clicking of necks and stretching of legs. We ate the light lunch provided, talked about how we were all getting on, and quickly got back to work. The afternoon progressed much the same as the morning, only perhaps with a renewed intensity as everyone seemed aware of the time running out.
The retreat was due to finish at five, and as the time approached the clattering of the keys got louder and faster as we all tried desperately to get just that little bit further before we had to leave.
By the end of the day, I had got more work done than on any other single day that I can remember. I finished a scene I’d been struggling with, wrote a new short scene, and did a significant amount of rewriting and editing.
I staggered home stiff and aching, jittery from the coffee, half-blind from staring at the keyboard, and slightly dazed from the sheer intensity of it all. But the overwhelming feeling was a sense of exhilaration at the amount of work I’d  achieved.
This particular urban retreat cost £30, including all refreshments. I couldn’t afford to do it very often, but in my opinion, it was £30 well-spent, and I’ll be booking another one in the very near future. For details of this one (Sheffield Writers) and others around the country, see links below:
In the West Country: Retreat West
To find out more about me and my work, including my debut novel which is being published in a few weeks by Simon & Schuster, have a look at my  website