Tuesday 22nd July
Came home from the writing retreat feeling excited and enthused about my novel, more so than I have done in a very long time. I’ve written just over 1500 words today. About 800 words before I left the retreat this morning, the rest on the train on the way back. Now I’m sitting at my desk, I feel slightly worried about the length of my ‘to do’ list, but I’m desperate to keep the momentum. I won’t be able to match last week’s word count (over 15,000) but I’m sure as hell going to meet the target I set myself, which is 7000, so around 1000 words a day. Teaching has finished for the summer, so no lesson preparation today, but it took me a while to edit and publish week four of this series. Too tired to do any more now, but still feel raring to go!
Word count: 1543
Wednesday 23rd July
First day of waking up at home after the retreat. Wrote 200 words before breakfast, just to get the story into my head. I am determined not to lose momentum. Walked the dog without a book or my Kindle in my hand (I know, I know – one of these days I’m going to trip over a tree root, but I can usually read around 30 pages during the average dog walk). Turned out to be a good thing because yet more ideas started popping up. Got back, did emails, coffee and cake with the other half, then out in the afternoon to write with a friend in another coffee shop. Total word count today: 1450

Thursday 24th July
Again, wrote 200 words before breakfast, purely on the basis that it starts me thinking about my characters. Walked the dog and did some Twitter, Facebook and emails, then domestic stuff until lunchtime. I mentioned in a previous post that I’d spent some time summarising the scenes I’d written, and those I knew I wanted to write. I’ve updated that list of scene summaries today, added some, deleted some, and tweaked others. I’m finding this very useful particularly in terms of knowing what I’m going to write next time I sit down at the keyboard. Even if I get stuck at a particular point, I can skip ahead to another scene and come back to the tricky one later. Obviously, these scenes can change as I write them, and some of them may not end up in the novel at all, but it’s all helping me to move forward. I’ve just started using Scrivener (being technically challenged, I can only use it in a very basic way) But I’m finding the ‘virtual corkboard’ very useful in terms of moving things around. Word count: 1256

How Scrivener’s ‘corkboard’ appears on the screen –

Friday 25th July

You may remember that in week one of this series, I mentioned that I had 10,000 words that I wasn’t really counting because that character wasn’t working. Well, I’ve decided I definitely want to lose that character, so here goes ‘cut’! That’s it! She’s gone; Finito; Kaput! It may sound scary to get rid of that many words, but it can be quite liberating. I had a fairly long ‘stuck’ period with The Secrets We Left Behind, and was only able to move on when I identified a problem which meant cutting 20,000 words. Never be afraid to cut! (But always keep what you’ve cut, just in case ….) By lunchtime, I had done the word-cutting but no new words, so headed off to Costa and started a new scene. So, today’s tally: Words cut: 11,203 – but I know that’s a good thing. It’s Friday, I’m feeling good – a glass of fizz, methinks!  Word count: 1257
Saturday 26th July
Lots of thinking, planning and note-making today. I decided to shift the whole thing forward a few years – I can’t for the life of me remember why at the moment, but I know there was a good reason! Anyway, this means changes all the way through. I’m not going to go back and rewrite those sections yet because I want to keep moving forward while I’m on a roll. However, I have gone back and highlighted the sections that need changing.  Did some new writing, though. Word Count: 1094

Sunday 27th July
Wrote before breakfast, walked the dog, spent a couple of hours researching things I can’t tell you about without giving away the plot, then lunch, then more writing. I’m still feeling very excited about this novel and amazed at my output of words. I’m sure many of you fellow writers reading this will think this is no great achievement, but for me, it really is! I’m usually a very slow and steady kind of writer who plods away and have the occasional burst when things are going well. However, that burst never usually lasts for more than a day or two, so this is something special for me. Fingers crossed it lasts! 1804
Monday 28th July
Pretty good writing day again – and so much more productive when I don’t have other commitments. Only non-writing things today were dog walking (which is useful thinking time anyway) and the usual emails, cooking and housey stuff. Making a start before breakfast is definitely helpful for getting into the zone, so I’m going to try and keep that up. Total words today: 1959
 Total for the week: my target for this week was 7000, so I’m pretty pleased with 10,363
Nice things that have happened: Three reader emails this week, two about The Things We Never Said, and one about The Secrets We Left Behind. So lovely to receive these!
Still feeling really ethused about this novel. I can’t wait to get up and get started every morning. There is of course the fear that what I’m writing may be a steaming pile of dung, but we’ll see….
The coming week
I have a few commitments this week, some babysitting, some friends coming for lunch at the weekend, A meeting with some writer friends, and my book club, so pretty busy. But I’m going to set the same target again: 7000 words

New Amazon reviews
The Things We Never Said only got two reviews this week, one 5 star and one 2 star (bummer) but the total number of reviews hit 200!

The Secrets We Left Behind – Five reviews this week – all 5-star! Bingo!

For more about me and my work, visit my website

Or catch up with me on Facebook on my writer’s page or on Twitter @sewelliot


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 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 )

Does colour make a difference to your creative space?

So, new house, new study – hurrah! For the last six years, my study has been a box room, approximately eight-foot square. In the new house, I get to have a bigger room, right at the top of the house where I can shut myself away and write my novels.
We’re moving in a couple of weeks, but are lucky enough to have the luxury of being able to decorate before we move in. So, this little cubby hole is at one end of my study, and it’s where my desk is going to go. Thing is, what colour shall I paint it?
Usually, I choose cream or white, but maybe this time I should be a little more adventurous.  Maybe go for red, or purple. Will the colour of my walls have any effect on my creativity, I wonder? I’ve been looking into the issue of colour and how it affects us, and I found some interesting  stuff!
Apparently, there has been significant research on the effects of the colour red, which has been found to enhance sexual attractiveness, but also to cause teachers to give harsher grades, According to research published in 2010 teachers using red ink gave lower marks than those using blue ink. Psychologists suggest a number of possible reasons for this, for example, red may make us more likely to focus on the concept of failure, or, being associated with aggression, it may even increase testosterone levels, making us more assertive and critical. Who’d have thought it?
I didn’t find much in the way of scientific research on the colour purple, but in popular psychology terms, it seems to be associated with creativity. And I do have a purple notebook. But would I want purple on the walls? Not sure. The most interesting thing I discovered was that, according to research carried out in Munich, brief exposure to the colour green is particularly effective in enhancing creativity. In four separate experiments, participants consistently demonstrated higher levels of creativity after being shown a flash of the colour green than those who were shown red or blue. read the article here
So maybe it doesn’t matter what colour I paint my study as long as I have a quick look at something green before I start work. It certainly explains why we might feel more inspired after a brief walk in the park or over a field. Perhaps I should buy a green notebook? Better still, perhaps I should take to a daily gin and tonic with a big wedge of lime in it? I don’t suppose that’s tax-deductible.
Anyway, we’re moving in a couple of weeks, so I need to decide what colour to paint the walls quite soon. What colour is your writing space? Have you painted it an interesting colour, or do you go for neutrals, with flashes of colour here and there to inspire you? I’d love to know what other writers think!
To find out more about me and my work, visit my website

The best laid plans…

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. I just looked at my New Year blog post last year in which I resolved to:
  1. Write for at least two hours every morning
  2. Resume ‘morning pages’
  3. Do all my teaching admin in the afternoons
  4. Restrict time spent on twitter to 2 half-hour sessions a day
  5. Take one or two days a week off
  6. Write a blog post about writing, reading or food once a week
Reader, I failed. Miserably. In fact, the level of failure is so great that I’m surprised I’ve got the nerve to admit it to myself, never mind confessing it to you lot.  So before I make a new list of ‘intentions’ as Isabel Ashdown has so wisely called them in her New Year blog post, Good Intentions for 2013, I want to look at what went wrong: 
I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I’ve come to the conclusion that if I fail at the first one, I’m doomed to fail at the rest. The problem is that if I’m not progressing on my novel, I feel guilty about doing any other sort of writing – bang goes number two and number six. Naturally, if I’ve not worked on my novel, I can’t possibly take a day off – bang goes number five. Number four was just unrealistic. I should have realised that Twitter just doesn’t work like that. Some days, Twitter is packed with interesting links, blog posts etc which I know I won’t get around to reading if I don’t read them immediately. And sometimes, I just need the virtual banter that Twitter provides. That leaves number three, and I almost managed this one, but if I wasn’t working on my novel and if I was spending too much time on Twitter, the guilt would creep in again and so I’d do a bit of teaching admin just so I could feel I’d done some work.
So this year I’m going to concentrate on my novel, and I’m going to change my aim slightly. Instead of  ‘write for at least  two hours every morning’,  I’m changing it to ‘work on the novel for at least two hours every morning’. This will hopefully stop me from beating myself up if I’m not actually writing. I’m struggling with RSI in both arms at the moment, so typing is a huge problem anyway and my time could be just as valuably spent doing some planning and thinking about where it’s all going.
Hopefully, if I can stick to this one ‘intention’ some of the others will follow naturally, but I’m not going to set myself any other firm targets this year. There will be blogging and there will be Tweeting, but maybe not so frequently. Finishing this novel is the most important thing, so if the other things happen, that’s great, but if they don’t happen, then they don’t and that’s that.
The coming year is going to be busy but also very exciting.  Not only will I be finishing my second book, but my debut novel is coming out in May, and I may well die of excitement! Also, we’re moving house. We’re not going far, only a mile or so up the road, and the house we’re buying is only slightly bigger than the tiny one we’re in now, but it’s near to some nice little cafes and some lovely dog-walking areas, and the most important thing is that it feels right; it feels like a house I can be creative in.  What’s more, I get the bigger study this time!
So for me, it’s a new year, a new house, a new routine, and a new approach to work. I intend to have a productive and guilt-free 2013.
Here’s to a happy, creative and fulfilling year for all of us!
For more about me and my work, visit my website

Notebook, diary, journal – one book? Three? More?

Just a few of my notebooks…
I really need to sort this out. It occurs to me that I usually have at least, I mean at least three different books-that-I-write-in  on the go at any one time: an all-round notebook, a diary, and a journal. According to the Oxford English dictionary, a diary and a journal are one and the same thing, but I tend to use it differently, as I’ll explain below. So here’s what I’m using at the moment: 

The all-round notebook:  I like to have this with me all the time, therefore there are currently four (yes, four)  versions: a hardcover A5 one that sits on my desk,  another A5 one that stays beside my bed, a cheap exercise book that I carry in my handbag, and a small notebook that fits in my jeans pocket when I walk the dog.  These are where I record ideas, snatches of dialogue or description, and character sketches that are often but not always relevant to the novel I’m currently writing. It may be one line about a character, it may be a particular word that a character might use, or it may be an entire plotline. The all-round notebook is also where, if I’m on a train or if I find myself waiting for an appointment, I occasionally do a bit of ‘freewriting’, or even start writing a scene or a snippet of dialogue.  The notebooks I keep in my handbag are now almost always very basic exercise books, because then I don’t feel any pressure to write beautifully – I can make it beautiful when and if I choose to type it up later.

The diary:  I’m currently using a beautiful little book that was a gift from a friend. The first entry in this one is dated 2003. I’ve kept a diary on and off since I was nine – sadly, the childhood diaries are lost, but I remember my first ever entry: ‘Today, I put my sister’s hair in rollers. They got stuck’. Riveting, eh? Despite my early introduction to diary writing, I’ve never managed to get into the habit on a daily or even weekly basis. This is something I am constantly resolving to change. My diary tends to be fairly personal, containing thoughts and feelings as well as observations. I aim to record important events in my life too, although flicking back, I see that there have been major events in recent years that I haven’t written about, some happy, such as my daughter’s wedding – I was too busy with food, outfits and  relatives, and some not so happy, like my daughter’s life-threatening experience of childbirth earlier this year – I was too immersed in shock, worry and fear. (Thanks to the skilled surgeons, she got through it, and she and the baby are now fine.) I sometimes record trivial things like the weather, or what I ate for dinner, and when I remember, I note what things cost, or what is happening in the world and how people feel about it. How I wish I had done this regularly in the past – it would be such a useful resource!
The journal – a writing companion
The Journal: my journal is a sort of planner and companion to my work-in-progress. It’s where I talk to myself about how it’s all going, which directions the plot might take, possible structures for the finished novel and but how I’m feeling about the characters. This is also where I write character sketches, lists of possible scenes, things I need to research, revisions I need to make and so on. I might also record discussions I’ve had about the novel, whether it’s with my agent or editor, or whether it’s with other writers. The current journal is a nice A4 size, and it has dividers so that I can (theoretically) organise my notes.  I write in this fairly regularly, especially when I get stuck.
What seems obvious now but clearly hasn’t been in the past is just how difficult it is to separate these aspects of my writing life. I may record an interesting dream in the all-round notebook, but I see that dreams often feature in my diary as well; if I’m struggling with my WIP, I usually write about it in the journal, but if I’m feeling down about my work, it’s emotional and personal and impacts upon my life, so that entry’s just as likely to end up in my diary. And if I’m downstairs writing in my journal when something that should go in the diary (which is upstairs) occurs to me, I’ll bung it in the journal.

So you see, it’s all a bit shambolic, really.  And of course with so many different books, it’s hard to get round to reading them all, and there’s not a lot of point in making notes and observations about life if you never read them. Maybe I should just keep one book at a time and put everything in it. Or would that be a bad idea? What do you think? What are your notebook habits?

Should you read fiction while you’re writing?

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

So, I did it ! A month without Twitter and I survived – just!  As many of my Twitter and blog followers will know, in July I made the momentous decision to stay off of Twitter for a month.  I’d been spending so much time interacting with other writers, reading interesting blog posts etc that I was struggling to find enough time to keep up with my own writing and reading.   
I recently met the lovely @isabelashdown at a book launch (Rook, by Jane Rusbridge – review coming soon) and Isabel told me that she always takes the whole of August away from Twitter. The sky didn’t fall in, she assured me, and what’s more, she got lots of reading and writing done.
I took the plunge and said TTFN to all my Twitter pals on July 31st. It was only when I woke up the following morning that I realised how ridiculously  hooked I’d become; I woke mentally composing a tweet about how odd it was going to be to not be able to share my thoughts on being off the Twitter scene for a while! Composing a tweet about it – you see where I was going wrong!
So, I reminded myself that it was possible to go about one’s daily business and not share every thought and observation with the Twitter community, and I started to use the extra time to get on with my second novel, and to catch up with my reading. I was lucky in that we had a week’s holiday in August, too, so that was even more lovely reading time.
I am happy to report that I have made some progress on my novel. Contrary to my own advice in Writing a First Draft  I didn’t actually get to the end of the first draft before starting to rewrite, because I decided that as I’d made so many changes, I couldn’t realistically write the final sections until I’d strengthened some of the earlier stuff. I have also done a lot of reading – see mini-blog post to come later.
In other news, halfway through August I managed to break my ankle while running up some stairs. I know, I know – the teachers were right when they told us to walk-don’t-run.  It was pretty hard to stay off Twitter at that point, I can tell you! I wanted to get straight on there and tell everyone how much it hurt, how I’d got a flashy purple cast, how frustrating it was not to be able to carry a cup of tea from the worktop to the kitchen table, and most of all, how sitting about with your feet up sounds quite nice, but is spoiled by the fact that it’s a killer for your back. And you get a numb bum, too. 
I’m still on crutches (which aggravates the RSI in my arms)but I’m getting about a little more easily now. I still have to keep my foot elevated much of the time, but at least I can sit at my desk for a few hours each day. I miss walking the dog, though, and dread to think what the lack of exercise will do to my figure!
Anyway, back to the main topic.  I’m really glad I took a month away from Twitter; I’ve definitely got more done, and it’s really made me think about  using social media a bit more sensibly in future. I’ve decided that from now on, I’m going to take a week off each month, just to catch up with work and keep things in perspective. I’m wondering about a daily time limit, too. Or is that too hard to measure?
Having said all that, I’m absolutely delighted to be back, because I’ve really missed my daily chats with this wonderfully supportive and endlessly interesting and entertaining community.  
Could you survive a month away from Twitter? Have you ever tried restricting your use of social media? How did it go? Did you just have some time off or have you made permanent changes? 
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How much should you talk about your work in progress?

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

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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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A room of one’s own – where do you write?

Jilly Cooper writes in a gazebo in the grounds of her Cotswolds home; Jeanette Winterstone uses  an outbuilding that she describes as a cross between a shed and an office – she  calls it her ‘shoffice’; and Roald Dahl famously wrote in a shed at the bottom of his garden.
When the children were small and I was an occasional, dabbling writer, I wrote at the kitchen table so I could keep an eye on what they were up to; I’ve also been known to write in the car, in bed, or even in the bathroom – there was a time when that was the only way I could get a little time to myself!
These days, I’m lucky enough to have my own study. I have all I need: desk, office chair, bookshelves, books, a couple of comfy chairs and even a halogen heater for those days when the central heating just can’t warm someone who is sitting still for hours at a time. The dog lies at my feet and photos of my loved ones look down on me from the walls, which are also adorned by pictures that I like, plus framed certificates, awards etc. There’s also a corkboard with ‘interesting things’ pinned onto it.  It’s a great room. I love it.


Why then, do I really struggle to write in it?  I can write this blog, I can write letters, I can write student reports and I can do all my lesson planning. But when it comes to the novel, I seem to dry up.
Recently, a friend offered me the use of a desk in her office for a few weeks until her new employee started, and I was amazed at how much I achieved.  So I tried to analyse why. What was different? First, the desk was clear and tidy – nothing on it but the pc and keyboard. At home, even though I try to clear my desk every night, there are always a few things that it doesn’t seem worth putting away.  Second, my friend was sitting opposite me and working – if someone else is working, I feel guilty if I’m not working too! Third, no home telephone – at home, you’re at the mercy of people who know you’re there and think it’s ok to call you for a chat in a way that they wouldn’t dream of doing if you were ‘at the office’.  And fourth, I didn’t use the internet. There was a connection, of course, but because my friend was working away in the same room, I felt far less inclined to spend time on Twitter, following interesting links or just chatting.
So now I no longer have use of the office, I need to find a way of working that’s just as effective. At the moment, I’m using cafes.  I love the little independent tea and coffee shops, but these can be almost too friendly and intimate, and anyway, I’d feel guilty sitting there for ages with one drink. But the big, impersonal places like Starbucks and Costa are perfect, because as long as you buy something, they don’t seem to mind you taking up a table. So for an outlay of roughly £2 for a coffee, I can stay comfortably for two hours and get quite a lot done. 
When I thought about it, I realised that it’s probably because these places have all the elements I’d identified before: the table is clear – just a laptop and a coffee cup; there are plenty of other people around working away on their laptops; there’s no landline telephone, and you can put your mobile on silent;  and finally, there is an internet connection if you want it, but with everyone else around working or chatting, you’re less likely to use it.
So, at a ‘rent’ of about £4 a day for two 2-hour sessions, it’s way cheaper that renting an office. If I do two sessions, I’ll come home at lunchtime to deal with emails etc. If I’m only doing one, I’ll use it for fiction, then I’ll do the other stuff at home.
If I had a big garden, I think I could make a ‘shoffice’ work, maybe in the form of an old camper van that doesn’t go any more, but in the meantime my ‘office’ will be Starbucks or Costas, because I’m finally making some progress. I wonder how many novels are currently being penned in Starbucks and Costas? 
What about you? Where do you write? Where would you write if you could choose an ideal place?

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