I said at the end of last week’s post that I knew this would be a fairly light week work-wise, because my son has been up from London for a few days so obviously I wanted to spend time with him. However, that’s my excuse for the first part of the week – he went home on Thursday evening, so…
Tuesday 20th, Wednesday 21st, Thursday 22nd August
As above, not much work done on the novel during these three days, although I have been thinking about it a lot, particularly in terms of structure. At the moment, the story is told chronologically from two third person viewpoints, but with quite big jumps in time. I’m now wondering whether the time jumps might be better handled by a slightly different form of narrative, and I’m considering incorporating the diary of one character to cover part of the story. Obviously this would mean part of the narrative would be first person, which would allow me to get right into the character’s head. I can think of novels that have been written entirely in diary form, or in letter and diary form, but I couldn’t think of any in the form I’m thinking of.
When I’m considering a particular structure for the novel, the first thing I do is to try and find out if anyone else has tried it, how they did it and how well it works. So I got onto Twitter and asked the wonderfully supportive and generous network of writers (who regularly keep me from my writing because they’re all being so witty and interesting) if they could help.  I love twitter! My request was retweeted 30+ times and I ended up with a few suggestions, although many of them turned out to be straight first person narratives. There were one or two that might be helpful though, so I’ve ordered those. Interestingly, three other authors were in the process of writing their own novels in a similar form – all were finding it rather challenging! Anyway, no decisions yet.
Time spent on the novel over these three days: Not much, but I am going to allow myself to count some of the time I spent online in pursuit of helpful titles: two hours
Friday 23rd August
First proper day back at my desk since Monday. Got up early, raring to go, determined to get stuck in again. Failed. First, I dealt with emails. I always have this idea that I should get emails ‘out of the way’, but the reality is that my replies often generate yet more emails, so this ends up taking most of the morning. Why, I ask myself, do I do this first thing in the morning when I know full well what’ll happen? Does anyone else have a pathological need to sabotage their writing day like this? Honestly, I do my head in sometimes, I really do. Pause while I kick myself sharply on the shin. Anyway, then I opened up the document with the full intention of being pleasantly drawn into it again by rereading the most recent scene while eating cake and drinking coffee. During this cake-eating and coffee-drinking phase I came down with a terrible bout of procrastination so faffed about on Twitter and Facebook for most of the morning. While having lunch, I read a few blog posts, and that took me neatly up to the time I had to leave the house in order to meet a friend for tea and, um, more cake. Time spent: 0
Saturday 24th August
Late start today – heating engineer here this morning installing a bigger radiator in my study. This unseasonably chilly weather has reminded me how bone-achingly cold it can get up here in the winter, so I thought I’d sort that out now or, knowing me, come January I’ll be whinging about the cold and using it as an excuse for not writing. Up until now I’ve been using a little halogen heater, but the dog manages to soak up most of the heat from that.
Not sure I’ve moved forward today, but I spent some time reading parts of the novel to get myself back into it. Ended up doing a little editing, too, although I’m trying to avoid doing too much at this stage, because I don’t even know if those scenes will end up staying in the final version. Also divided up the two characters’ narratives and put them into separate documents then printed them out. This will be useful for me to look at in the context of a possible new structure. So, while I’m not exactly thrilled with my afternoon’s work, I’m not too unhappy.  Time spent: three hours.
Sunday 25th August
Okay, I’m not going to go into the excuses, but suffice to say the day ran away with me. Time spent: 0
Monday 26th August
Determined to make up for yesterday, so at my desk for 9.30. As someone on Twitter said, ‘Bank Holiday Monday, or, as we freelancers call it, Monday…’ I’m still very aware that I need to take apart what I’ve written so far and put it back together in a different order, and I’m also aware that I’m putting that off! Not indefinitely, you understand, but we’re going away for a week soon, and I’m planning to tackle it then. At the moment, with the distractions and responsibilities of domestic life, I’m finding it really had to dive into what could be a mammoth task. On holiday, away from the pressures of home, I might find myself actually enjoying the challenge! Anyway, used today to rewrite couple of scenes and I’m fairly happy with what I’ve got done. Time spent: 6.5 hours
Tuesday 27th of August

I don’t usually include Tuesday, but as I’m going on holiday on Friday, next week’s post is going to be at least three days late, so I’m extending this week a little. And it’s just as well, because today was a good day. I met a writing friend for coffee and wrote a complete new scene. What still isn’t clear to me, though, is why, when I’m sure we both spent an equal amount of time looking out of the window, he managed 4000 words in the time it took me to write 2000 words! Ah well. Maybe my words are better. (Fat chance!) Time spent: 3.5 hours
Just realised that having said last week I would set a modest target, I didn’t actually set one at all. It’s been a short working week, But even taking that into account, I still didn’t do very well with a grand total of 15 hours. Having said that, this is time, actually spent at my desk, whereas I’m thinking about the novel most of the time. In fact, as I write this, I’m nodding with tiredness having been awake half the night because the novel was buzzing around in my head.

Nice things this week
Lovely email from a reader who grew up in the same area as me and who said very nice things about both books.
The coming week
I’m going on holiday for a week on Friday to sunny Scarborough – it’s all glamour here, you know! Actually, sunny or otherwise, I don’t care as long as I can see the sea. Although it’s a holiday, I’ll be working on the novel most days and I hope to at least make a start on trying out a possible new structure. Because of the holiday, next week’s post will be three or four days late and will cover a longer period. It’ll be the final post in the series of 10 (in this particular form, anyway – I intend to continue charting this novel’s progress in shorter posts right up to publication) and will contain a summing up of the 10 weeks. I’m not going to set a target for the coming week, but I’ll report my progress faithfully when I post, either on Friday 5th or Monday 8th September.
New Amazon reviews:
The Secrets We Left Behind: Three new ones – one 5-star, two 4-star
The Things We Never Said: Only one new one this week – a 5-star

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Can I survive a month away from Twitter?

Like many others, I was sceptical about Twitter. Wasn’t it all about celebrity gossip and the finer points of what Stephen Fry had for breakfast? And given the amount of time Twitter was bound to gobble up, how could it possible be ‘good for writers’?
Well, it’s almost a year since I joined Twitter, and I haven’t once learned what Stephen Fry has for breakfast (mind you, I don’t follow him, so his breakfast would have to be spectacular enough to warrant a retweet if I were ever to hear about it.)

And I have to admit that I do now see why Twitter is good for writers. I have gained so much from Twitter in the past year that it’s now quite hard to imagine life without it.  Not only is Twitter a virtual water cooler/coffee shop in terms of giving us solitary authors access to the daily banter that enhances the working day of those with ‘proper jobs’, but it has also provided me with a number of book recommendations I might not otherwise have discovered, it has opened the doors to such a wealth of interesting newspaper articles, blog posts, quotes and YouTube videos about writing and the writing process that I can never hope to read even a tenth of what’s available; it has provided real-time updates in the form of Tweets from writers’ conferences and events that that I haven’t been able to attend, and, most valuable of all, it has given me new friends.

The friends I’ve made on Twitter are mostly, but not all, other authors, and this means they understand a lot about my life, and I understand a lot about theirs.  We empathise with the challenges we all face in our daily quest to ‘get some work done’; we sympathise with each other’s isolation; we commiserate over rejections and we celebrate successes.
But there is a downside. All this wonderful support comes from having a strong network of people that you frequently interact with, and interaction takes time.  Twitter is also the BEST vehicle for procrastination, and what’s more, when you confess to procrastinating, loads of other authors will jump to your defence, convincing you that it’s normal or even desirable to procrastinate. I’m guilty of this myself and even wrote a blog post encouraging others. *hangs head in shame* See 7-ways-to-justify-procrastination 
So, in the interests of the health of my second novel, and at the risk of returning to Twitter to find that no-one remembers me, I’ve decided to follow fellow author Isabel Ashdown’s  (@isabelashdown) example and have a month (ish) away from Twitter.  Gulp. I’m going away for a week in August anyway, and lots of other people will be away too, so I won’t miss much, right? Who am I kidding – I’ll miss loads.
But despite wondering how on earth I’m going to survive for a month without the support of my lovely Twitter mates, I’m going to take a deep breath, and I’m going to do it!  See you in September!
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7 ways to justify procrastination

Okay, we’ve all done it.  It may be that there’s a deadline looming; it may be that you’ve hit a problem with your work-in-progress, or it may simply be that you need to be getting on with your novel. You’ve spent days clearing outstanding work and emails and now you finally have some time. Do you go straight to your desk and make a start? No, you clean out the fridge, de-scale the kettle or de-flea the cat. In the spirit of understanding and support of my fellow writers, I’d like  to share my seven top displacement activities – in no particular order – and offer suggestions as to how you can turn them into justifiable writerly endeavor:
1.  Watching TV – the trick here is to be selective.  Watch things that can feed your storytelling skills or give you ideas for characters.  Watching films or TV dramas can not only give you ideas for stories, but can really help you learn how to show rather than tell.  Note how characters’ actions, dialogue, and facial expressions show the audience what the characters are feeling.  And some ‘reality’ shows –  the ones that show ‘real’ reality  rather than ‘Big Brother’ reality – are great for giving you character details.  I favour ‘come dine with me’ for this purpose.
2.  Looking on Rightmove – or is this just me?  I love looking at houses we might be able to afford, and some that we definitely can’t.  Or houses out in the country, or little tea shops, or B&Bs.  The way to make this a legitimate activity is to turn it into research.  Your characters live in houses, yes?  And now and again you need to put in a bit of description so the reader can picture your character at home.  Rightmove ( is great because not only can you see the outside of the house, you can have a virtual poke around inside too, so simply find a photograph of a suitable room or garden and describe what you see.  You can even describe the street your character lives in – simply click on ‘street view’.
3.  Looking round the shops – use this to decide what sort of clothes your characters wear, what sort of food they buy, and maybe even what furniture or carpets they choose.  Or you can try mooching around the charity shops – sometimes a used handbag or a worn pair of shoes can suggest things about a character that you’d never have thought of on your own.  The bric-a-brac and books can be interesting too.
4.  Going to your favourite coffee shop – well this is an obvious one, isn’t it?  Take a notebook with you and people-watch!  Notice what’s unusual about the people around you; there may be one tiny detail that snags your interest and forms the basis for a whole new character.  I once developed a short story around a woman who wore slightly old fashioned clothes for her age, and whose child had a rather loud voice.  The story became Day Tripper, which was broadcast on radio four.
5.  Phoning a friend – I don’t mean just phone any old mate to catch up on the gossip; I mean phone a writing friend and use the call to discuss your work-in-progress.  It’s a great way to resolve sticky problems in your writing.  Sometimes, your friend may come up with a solution you hadn’t thought of, but often it’s simply that talking it through and bouncing ideas off another writer does the trick. You can then offer to be a sounding board for your writing friend, and once you’ve both got ideas about where to go next, then, and only then, you can catch up on the gossip.
6.  Going for a walk  – there’s something about the action of putting one foot in front of the other that seems to stimulate ideas. I often find that the solution to a problem with my work will just jump into my head while I’m walking, usually when I’m thinking about something completely different.  I read about one writer who said that when she hits a problem, she goes walking and will not allow herself to return home until she’s solved that problem; she’s made it home before dark on all but one occasion! Even if you don’t have a problem to solve, a walk can still be productive. Try noticing things you don’t normally notice; look up at the tops of trees and the upper stories of buildings; look at the ground, notice the puddles, the weeds, the debris in the gutter. If you’ve ever taken a very young child for a walk, you’ll know how things we take utterly for granted – a snail, a dandelion clock, a broken umbrella shoved into a public bin – can be sources of wonder. Try to see things with a child’s eye for a change – it could bring a whole new dimension to your writing.
7.  Flicking through a magazine – firstly, they’re good for stories, especially the ‘real life’ mags. Some people’s lives are absolutely packed with drama. The only downside is that some of these true stories are so bizarre that if you tried to fictionalise them, you ‘d struggle to make them believable! There are also great stories to be found in the letters pages, and especially the ‘problem page’. The other thing I sometimes use magazines for is to help me picture a character or a setting.. Having a picture in front of you can really help you describe someone’s hairstyle, tattoo or facial expression. Again ‘real’ people, rather than models or celebs are better for this, and I find the Sunday supplements particularly useful.

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Daily, weekly, monthly? How often should you blog?

When I first started this blog back in September 2011, I planned to write three sections each week: the writing bit, the reading bit, and the food bit.  I was so enthusiastic and excited about the project that I could have written hundreds of words on each subject, every time.  But I soon realised that, given that I also have a number of teaching commitments, a house to clean, a dog to walk and a husband to talk to, not to mention a Difficult Second Novel to write,  I simply don’t have time to write what is essentially three posts a week. Most writers seem to blog anything from daily to occasionally.  Personally, I think weekly is good, although I have to admit that recently, I have failed dismally to even keep to that.
Sadly, I don’t even have time to read as many blogs as I’d like, but now and again I have a ‘blog fest’  where I spend a whole morning catching up. In doing this recently, I took note of how frequently the blogs appeared, and I discovered that many of the daily blogs are very short, and skim the surface of the subject, whereas the longer blogs were usually more in-depth with more to get your teeth into. 
Some frequent bloggers post on the same subject over several posts, e.g.  Plotting: part one, part two, part three.  And I think this works really well. But some short blogs promise more than they can really deliver, and it’s disappointing to find that something that suggestsan in-depth discussion about, say, point-of-view, character, or plotting, in reality only touches on the subject.
Could this be because the blogger has recognized how difficult it is to blog on a daily basis and still have time for writing a novel, short stories or whatever?  How anyone, especially a writer, finds time to blog every day is beyond me.  Fine, if you can come up with a riveting, pithy nugget of genius in 20 minutes flat, but the chances are that blogging every day means you’re likely to sacrifice quality in favour of brevity.  Unless you can give your blog the time and attention it deserves, your reader is likely to be disappointed.
Having said that, there are some daily – or almost daily – blogs that really do seem to do the trick, as in, they do actually deliver. So how come there are so many brilliant brief bloggers out there?  Shall I tell you my sneaking suspicion? –  and I only say this because I know I’ve done the same thing myself – I’m wondering if the good daily bloggers are using their blogs as a legitimate form of procrastination.  I mean, it’s writing isn’t it?  Its creative, you’re practicing your skills, honing your craft; it counts, right?
Well, it does, sort of.  It’s certainly better than not writing anything, and it helps to get you known, but unless you’re sure that you can deliver posts of a reasonable quality without seriously impinging on the writing time you have available, might it not be better to blog less frequently so that you can spend  time on each post and still have time left to devote to your work-in-progress?  The important thing, so I’m told, is that your readers know what to expect and when to expect it.  To that end, I have changed the heading on this blog to reflect the fact that it will appear less frequently than it did at the start.
I like to spend a fair bit of time on each post, writing a first draft one day, leaving it overnight, then  editing, tweaking and polishing the next day.  Having said that, I’m sure that many of my posts contain typos, repeated words or inelegant sentences, but if I were to blog several times a week, I fear the quality would be even poorer.
Or is this whole post a transparent attempt to justify my own low output?
How about you?  Do you now blog less frequently than you did at first?  Or have you become even more prolific because of the regular practice?
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