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Posted on 07 May 2020 09:44

I finished the second draft of my second novel this week, which feels significant, if only in my head.


The novel is still way too short (currently at 55,000 words, so needs at least 25,000 more added to it), but I know what I’m going to do to sort that out.


I think it’s good. I know it can be better, and I’m keen to improve it as much as I can, but I think it’s good.


And it feels like a confirmation that I can really do this, that the first one wasn’t just a ten-year one-off fluke. I’m not quite there yet but, before too long, I will have written two whole novels!


I’ve got seven or eight great people (and quite a range) who are going to read what I have and give me feedback in a few weeks, which will hopefully give me more motivation and ideas for the expansion.


So, hopefully I’ll then be able to do a big push to get it in shape and send it to my publisher for them to consider.


I have a publisher! I have a second novel!


And I’m actually really excited to get started on number three. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do some groundwork on that later this year and be in a position to take advantage of the structure and support of the Six Month Novel Programme in 2021.


It suddenly feels like I can make a real go of this novelist thing - how crazy is that?


Anyway, there’s still a long way to go before the first one actually comes out, and an even longer way to go before the second one might get published. And maybe my current beta readers will come up with some terrible problems with the novel that I won’t know how to fix.


But, right now, it feels like I have a story I love, and that I’m actually impressed by, and that I don’t think will materially change in plot or structure between now and when it’s finally finished.


And that seems significant to me. Regardless of how sensible it is, I’m going to revel in my achievement, feel very pleased with myself, and take a break from thinking about the second novel for a while, until my readers come back to me with their feedback and I have to dive back in.




Posted on 09 July 2019 13:06

My friend Charlie, who co-runs the Six Month Novel Programme, has a mantra for the writers she helps. When writing a first draft, give yourself permission to be "gloriously craptastic". The most important thing is to get the words down on the page. You can edit later. Because, if you get caught up in doubts, or a desire for unattainable perfection, you’ll never get through it. It’s better to have a flawed thing that exists than a shining masterpiece that only lives in your head.


She’s right, of course. But sometimes, taking this approach is easier said than done. At the moment, I’m struggling a bit with the first draft of my second novel. I have a publisher interested in the first one, which is very exciting, and I’ve just sent the latest version of that back to them for a final decision.


In the meantime, I’m aiming to complete the first draft of the next one by the end of July, as per the Six Month Novel Programme schedule. But it’s dragging. It’s going to be way too short to be called a novel. The middle section is very saggy. The characters have no idea what they’re doing and I have no idea how to get them to the end. And the ending I have planned feels like a cop-out. I’m treading water, putting down words I don’t think are very good, just to be able to tick a few more scenes off on my checklist.


I have so many other things I’d rather be working on. And I’m using the (vital) need for self-care as an excuse not to write.


But, while I may not want to write this novel at the moment, I do want it to be written. And the only way that’s going to happen is if I grit my teeth and get the hell on with it. Once the first draft is done, there will be a month of editing boot camp, and I’ll send the first 3000 words off to Amie (Charlie’s partner in crime) for an editorial review. I have a concrete plan for what happens after that. I’ll take a break from the novel, work on other things and then come back to it towards the end of the year. I’ll apply the editing guidance and Amie’s feedback to the rest of the manuscript, and then ask Amie to do a developmental edit of the whole thing. Then I’ll take another break, and schedule coming back to it to apply the further feedback early next year.


So, the path is clear. The steps are known. Once I get over the hump and finish the first draft, I can employ external help to figure out what to do with this story. But I have to get the first draft done first. And the only person who can do that is me. So I’d better stop writing blog entries and reviews and get back to it!


But what if it’s no good? It’s a first draft - it’s not going to be good. But at least it’ll be there, and I can make it better.


Posted on 26 February 2019 10:49

I’m gearing up to take part in the Six Month Novel Programme, which starts next week. One of the first tasks you have to undertake is to select what is called a ‘companion novel’ to read. You’re supposed to choose something that contains an aspect of writing you want to work on in your own novel, not for the purpose of stealing ideas from other writers (instructions are to avoid anything that has a very similar plot, for example), but to learn skills and approaches from them that can aid you in your own writing.


I think the idea is to choose a book you love and that you know well, but I went in a different direction and selected one I had been intending to read but hadn’t got round to yet. It’s similar to mine in that it involves a small group of people responding to an alien presence and the protagonist is a woman of colour, but otherwise it goes in a completely different direction.


What I didn’t realise before reading the book is that it also has other similarities to mine. The chapters are very short, the backgrounds to the main characters are revealed in flashback and the action builds up from fragmented pieces into a whole gradually.


I also didn’t like my chosen book very much, which made me wonder if I had made a mistake and should go back and select something else for the programme. But, I decided there is just as much value to learning from books you don’t like as from books you love, and I’ve gained some good insight into potential pitfalls for my own novel.


I recently got some feedback from a professional editor on the opening sections of my novel and one of the things she criticised was me telling the same events from several different perspectives, without adding any new information. This was the thing that annoyed me most about my companion novel because it felt like the same scene was happening over and over again and the plot wasn’t moving forwards at all. So, it was very useful to experience that as a reader, because I can now apply that lesson to my own writing with a much better understanding of the problem.


The extreme shortness of the chapters was also an issue for me, because it felt like I didn’t get to spend enough time with the characters to get invested in their fate. So, this is something else I’m going to be wary of in my novel, working to ensure the action isn’t too fragmented and that the reader has time to immerse themselves in the story before it moves on.


So, while I didn’t particularly enjoy the experience of reading the novel I selected, I think it’s going to prove extremely useful to have done so. I’ve made a lot of notes and feel more aware of the possible problems that could be created by the style and structure I’ve chosen for my own novel. I feel better prepared to continue with my first draft and that, after all, was the purpose of the exercise.


Posted on 18 June 2018 13:14

Winchester Writers’ Festival is an amazing opportunity.

Hundreds of writers of all types to meet and talk to. Workshops, talks, panels and presentations on all aspects of the craft and the industry. And, most importantly, submitting your work to agents and getting face-to-face feedback.

I did not get an agent at Winchester, but then I wasn’t expecting to. One agent told me he gets 2000 submissions a year and signs maybe four new authors.

What Winchester did for me was to teach me important things about myself and what I want from my writing, which made it an extremely valuable experience.

I saw four agents over two days, and they all gave me detailed and constructive feedback, for which I’m very grateful. But it was also wildly contradictory, which made the whole thing quite baffling.

Still, the opening to my first workshop of the weekend was:

There are no absolutes in publishing.

And most of publishing is wholly subjective.

I learned from sending my first draft out to about fifteen readers that people respond very differently to fiction. If they all highlight the same issue, then you’ve got a problem you need to fix. But if they violently disagree on whether or not particular things work, you’ve got something that at least some people are going to love.

The same thing, of course, applies to agent feedback. Contradictory advice on what ‘needs’ changing or improving suggests that there are some agents out there that will love my novel just as it is, and it’s simply a case of finding the right one.

My last workshop of the weekend reinforced that principle, by repeating the age-old advice - the only way to get published is to persevere. Keep sending your work out until you find that one person who’s going to believe in your novel as much as you do.

But it’s not that simple. Sure, there was one writer at that workshop who said she’d sent her novel out to 300+ agents over the course of five years, and eventually landed a two-book deal from a publisher a couple of weeks ago. I’m amazingly impressed with her staying power, and I’m delighted for her that it eventually paid off. But there was a another writer I met, who got an agent at Winchester last year, but whose book still hadn’t sold to a publisher a year on, so she was back with a different book to try and find a different agent.

Finding an agent is only the first (very difficult) step in a long and complicated process that involves a huge amount of work, revision, patience, self-marketing and conviction. And, even with a publishing deal, there are certainly no guarantees of success.

For those who are prepared to go through that, and put the work in - I salute you and wish you all the luck in the world.

But I have decided that the traditional publishing route is not for me. At least not right now.

I don’t know yet what I’m going to do with my novel. In a few months’ time, I may come back to it, do another pass, maybe send it out to some small independent presses, or bite the bullet and self-publish, just to get it out there in the world. Time will tell.

In the meantime, I’m going to focus on my short fiction, which I love writing, and which I know I can sell. The defining moment of my weekend at Winchester came during Friday’s dinner, when I got an email from a print magazine, saying they want to publish my favourite short story I’ve written in the last couple of years - for more than twice what I’ve been paid for my short fiction before. It made me so happy, and it showed me where my passion and my writing future lies - at least for now. I’m not out to be famous or make lots of money from my writing. I just want to enjoy the process and see my work in print every now and then. And that’s okay.

So, thank you to the Winchester Writers’ Festival for helping me figure out what I want.


Posted on 07 May 2018 10:37

There’s a very definite line in my mental calendar at the moment, that runs through 15-16 June. That is when I’m going to Winchester Writers’ Festival and getting feedback on my first novel from agents.


In terms of activities that need to be completed before that date, I’m very much on track. The first three chapters are polished and ready for submission, as is the synopsis. I have a draft of a covering letter, which I’ll be getting feedback on at a London Writers’ Cafe event tomorrow night. So, by the weekend, my submissions will be printed and ready to go to the post office, in plenty of time for the receipt deadline of 24 May.


I’m also on track to complete the major revisions to the end of the novel by Sunday. Then the whole thing is going to my wonderful parents for a continuity pass and feedback on glaring problems, while I start copy-editing from chapter four. I should then have plenty of time on retreat during the last weekend in May to fix any major issues and finish off the editing before arriving in Winchester on 14 June.


But then I have absolutely no idea what will happen.


Though, I suppose it will likely be one of three things.


I’m getting feedback from four different agents at the festival, based on my cover letter, synopsis, and varying amounts of the actual manuscript.


Option One - they all say it’s no good and I shouldn’t pursue it. And, in that case, I will consign it to a drawer as having achieved its purpose of showing me I can write a novel, I will take what I’ve learned and move on.


Option Two - at least one of them suggests it’s worth pursuing and gives me pointers on how to improve it. In that case, I will gladly take the feedback and use it to direct further revision, after which I will research other agents to submit to, and keep trying.


Option Three - one of them loves it, reads the rest and offers to represent me. And, in that case, I will panic, lose my mind, and probably never write another word in my life.


Because, in a lot of ways, I’m actually hoping for Option One. That’s the easiest way out of the situation I find myself in. I really like my novel, and I’m really proud of myself for the work I’ve put into it and what I’ve produced. But it’s been hard, and not always fun, and I’m not sure I’m prepared to put in the effort it will need to get it to a point where it will sell. And that’s not even taking into account all the complexities of contracts, marketing, self-promotion, sales figures, and of course expectations for another book.


Clearly, part of me wants that - otherwise, I wouldn’t be submitting to agents at Winchester. But the realities of being an author are also very scary, and part of me also wonders if it’s really all it’s cracked up to be.


I love writing, and I know I’ll keep doing it, regardless of what happens at Winchester. But, if I’m honest, writing short stories for competitions, anthologies and magazines is probably where I’m most comfortable. I am working on a second novel, which I love and think is probably better than my first, and I will continue with that regardless of my Winchester fate. But, at least I know, going in, that the ‘worst case scenario’ actually leaves me in a place where I’m very happy.


So, I guess I will just have to see what happens, and be grateful that I’m at stage where, whatever the outcome, I can view it as positive.




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Posted on 06 December 2017 18:41

The plan was all there. I spent a month brainstorming, outlining and cogitating. I felt excited about the story, and confident that I could make it good. I booked a writing retreat in the middle of nowhere for the first weekend in December, ready to crack on with the first draft of the new novel.


And then it hit. That awful, sinking, nauseous feeling that flows over me whenever I contemplate actually starting. I imagined being holed up in the cottage, with all the time in the world over three days, to write and write and write. And I couldn’t see myself doing it.


So, I got my trusty tablet out of my bag and made myself start writing on the train. I managed a scene, knew where I was going next with it, and felt more confident about making progress over the course of the weekend. But it was hard and it was painful.


The weekend unfolded in much the same vein. I made myself write two scenes at a time, then gave myself a bit of time off to read or watch TV and knit. But even though the scenes followed one after the other, and the writing flowed pretty well - I had to make myself do it. At any given moment during the weekend, I would rather have not had to do it.


And, when it comes right down to it, I didn’t have to do it. The only one creating this schedule and forcing myself to get words down on the page is me. So why do I do it to myself?


Of course, it’s not always as hard as it was this weekend - though I do generally find it tough to do more than a thousand words of new material in a day, even if I have the whole day free to do it. And I was incredibly pleased with my amassed count of 10,164 words overall for the weekend. And I love the story I’m writing. So maybe that’s why I do it. The product is worth the pain of producing it.


I did have about half an hour, a couple of months ago, when I contemplated giving the whole thing up. Just not writing any more. Kaput. Nothing. Ever again.


It had a certain appeal. I could do whatever I wanted with my free time, without that voice always nagging at me that I ought to be writing. Maybe I wouldn’t resent my day job so much. I’d probably be more relaxed. I might get more sleep.


But it didn’t happen. I don’t think I even took a whole week off. Because the ideas were still there, and they weren’t going to go away. And the excitement was still there, bubbling up through the fatigue and the uncertainty to take hold of my brain.


For example, today I had a mental health blip. I went back to my desk after lunch, and it felt like I was hauling myself uphill through hip-deep sludge. I really struggled to achieve anything all afternoon, and had to force myself to do the smallest tasks, in a much more aggressive way than I had with the writing at the weekend. All I wanted to do was crawl home, curl up in front of the TV and eat chocolate.


Then, just before I left work, my subconscious crew came through like heroes, right on schedule, with the next two scenes of the new novel. I had been thinking most of the day that I had no idea where I was going next with it, and suddenly the path was clear. I can’t say I exactly skipped out of the office to meet my friend for our writing date in the cafe round the corner. But I went. And I sat down and I wrote my two scenes. And I already know what the next two are.


So, it doesn’t look like I’ll be quitting any time soon. But, wow, have I picked a tough hobby!




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Posted on 31 July 2017 14:17

Yesterday, I experienced a profound sense of accomplishment.


The four-month writing period of the Six Month Novel Programme is coming to an end, and I actually finished writing the last scene of my current draft about three weeks ago.  That felt pretty great, not least because it happened on a writing date with a friend who was also there when I finished my first draft of the novel nearly two years ago.


My task for yesterday was to put the whole thing into one document and then go through it to indent all the paragraphs, separate all the individual scenes, and add in the chapter breaks.  I thought it would just be a tedious exercise in formatting, and it did indeed take many hours.  However, along the way, I spotted a few easily correctable errors, expanded the climax scene, and added in a few lines that significantly improved the thematic pay-off in the epilogue.  All those felt like important changes, and I was glad to have made them.


What prompted my surge of satisfaction with the novel, though, was just the act of seeing it as a cohesive whole.  Even though I wasn’t actually reading it, I still scanned through the whole thing, discovered where the natural chapter breaks fell, and got a real sense of it as a proper story.  It’s 93,000 words long, and it tells a complete tale with characters who change and develop, and a world I have created, which faces challenges and comes out the other side.


Much more so than typing THE END at the bottom a scene that was just one of many I wrote and edited over the last four months, this act of creating one file with all the words in one place has made me feel as if I’ve really written a novel.  And it feels really, really good.


There’s still a long way to go, of course.  Editing boot camp starts next week, and only really focuses on the first 3000 words.  After that, I need to go through the other 90,000 words myself, ask some good friends for more feedback, spend several months rewriting, and then hopefully submit it for agent responses at Winchester Writers’ Conference next June.  That’s a lot of work to get done, for an uncertain outcome nearly a year in the future.


But I have a novel.  And I have a plan.  And it suddenly all feels very possible…





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Posted on 05 June 2017 17:09

I didn’t write anything all last week.  Then, I had a tiring, somewhat stressful but ultimately enjoyable weekend away at a gaming event, getting home later last night than planned.  And I’d completely forgotten about my dentist appointment this morning.  All I wanted to do with the rest of today was sit on the sofa and watch TV.  But I had a writing date scheduled with a writer friend this afternoon, so I duly made my way to Brick Lane to meet her.

On my journey, I thought about how fried my brain was, how tired my body was, and how much I didn’t want to spend the afternoon writing.  I was feeling demoralised about the intensive novel drafting programme I’m in the middle of, and the short story with the looming deadline felt like a millstone around my neck.  I was sure I wouldn’t be able to focus, that I’d get nothing done, and all I would get for my trip out would be more despair.

Then, I arrived at the cafe, got myself some tea, chatted for a while with my friend, and settled in to write.

Three hours later, I had edited two chapters of my novel, written an entirely new (and very exciting) scene, completed 1,200 words of the short story (only 2000 to go), and pruned another short story to fit the word limit of an upcoming competition.  I had also found multiple new submission opportunities in the back of Writing Magazine, my go-to place for where to send my completed work.

So, after failing to schedule writing time last week, and feeling as if I would never write another word again because it was just too hard, I had a tremendously productive afternoon and now feel very pleased with myself.  I’m also enthused about getting to the wholly new section of my novel, rather than being terrified of it, and I am confident I can complete the short story in plenty of time before the deadline.

An assigned slot of two to three hours, outside the flat, with another writer to keep me focused and provide companionship *always* produces good results, no matter how I feel on the day.  But this is a lesson I have to keep re-learning, as my brain is so very good at persuading me I have to be in the “right frame of mind” to write, and that today is not it.

At least the lesson was very fresh in my mind when my friend suggested we meet again on Sunday for more of the same.  I said a very enthusiastic yes, and now it’s in my calendar so I’ll have to go!



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Posted on 17 April 2017 16:46

After two writing weeks on the Six Month Novel Programme, I am six chapters and over 30,000 words into the new draft, which is way more than I anticipated.

The outline has changed multiple times, I’ve discovered major issues with the order of events, my favourite character has disappeared from the story altogether, and I’ve tied myself up in knots over making sure all the most important plot points are covered early on.

But, overall, I feel pretty good about what I’ve got so far, even though my plan for how to go about it went out the window after the first scene.

My original intention was to do a blank page re-write, without referring to the original draft.  Now, the reason for doing this was because I have a lot of new material to incorporate and I had no idea how to insert this into what I already had, without getting in a mess and potentially screwing it up completely.

However, by putting together a detailed outline over the last month, I can easily see how existing scenes fit into the new structure, where the new information needs to be added, and what of the original can potentially be kept in the new draft.  So, instead of opening a new document and just writing the whole thing again, I’ve actually been cutting and pasting bits of the old draft into what I’m doing now, and then editing them as required.

It sort of feels like cheating, but then why duplicate effort unnecessarily?  I’m not simply shoving them in wholesale, with no thought as to how it all fits together.  I’ve had to do quite a lot of revision to meet the new POV structure, and I’ve been editing as I go, to address some of the stylistic issues that came up from previous feedback.

I was worried that just re-writing everything might be boring, and that it might lead to be skipping over important scenes, or missing out vital moments altogether, so I’m avoiding that, and making more progress more quickly than I thought possible.  However I approach this draft, I’m going to need to go through it all multiple more times in the revision stages, so I don’t think it’s too much of a problem using old material at this point.  I have good writer friends lined up as fresh eyes to give me feedback once I complete this new draft, and that’s when I can really work on the stylistic stuff.

I hope I’m not just finding arguments to justify being lazy.  I don’t think I am.  The purpose of this new draft is to get all the exciting new action into the existing story, and it feels like I’m succeeding with that so far.  Things will inevitably get tougher as I get further through the story, as I’ll need to create more and more new material, so my method in these early days feels like a good way to get back into the novel and comfortable with working to an ambitious schedule.

Regardless, I have over 30,000 words, and they feel like good words.  So, why question it?



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Posted on 02 April 2017 14:40

When I wrote the first draft of my novel, it took five years, a lot of teeth-pulling, and a gradual progression from the original 1,500 word story to the eventual 90,000 word novel.  There was a lot of mystery and excitement along the way, coupled with periods of staring into the void, wondering what on earth was going to happen next.

Now, I’ve signed up for the Six Month Novel programme, and I’m in a whole new world of plotting and outlining.

This process is entirely new to me.  Oddly, considering how much I plan and schedule every other part of my life, I’ve never been a planner when it comes to my writing.  But, if you’re intending to complete a whole new draft of a novel in six month, you really need to know where you’re going with it!

So, I’ve created bullet lists, identified four point-of-view characters, categorised the main arc plot and a couple of sub-plots, and done character studies for the most important people who populate the story.  And, today, I completed a proper outline chart, with scene and chapters and outcomes, and everything!

Somehow, along the way, though, my favourite character seems to have disappeared from the story altogether, and I’m really not sure how that happened.  I got halfway through the outline chart, and discovered I hadn’t mentioned him yet, and I proceeded to the end of the plan without needing him to appear at all.  That was quite a shock, I can tell you!

This time around, the novel starts in a slightly different time and place, so the introductory scene for that character has been cut.  Meanwhile, a character of a similar personality and background has come more to the foreground, with his own point of view scenes, and it turns out I don’t need both of them.  The point-of-view character can do everything the now-defunct character previously did, and this will likely make their sub-plot tighter and more impactful.

Apparently, outlining can be brutal!  But, I’m hopeful that the exercise will result in a leaner, more focused, and more interesting novel.  And that can only be a good thing.  I believe it’s called ‘killing your darlings’ and you don’t even have to be intentionally armed with a pruning implement to do it.

Now, it’s on to the actual writing, which starts tomorrow, and will continue apace until I have 100,000 words by the end of July!  I wonder if any more characters will have disappeared by then…



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Posted on 13 March 2017 20:04

Whilst on the retreat in Devon last month, I got to talking to my lovely host, Charlie of Urban Writers’ Retreats, and she mentioned she was taking applications for her annual Six Month Novel Programme.

Since I had just reached the conclusion that the next step for my novel was a blank page rewrite, I went upstairs to my room and submitted my application that afternoon.  It was only after I had been accepted onto the programme that I really thought about what it would mean.  And that was an intensive four-week plotting bootcamp, four months of writing 5000-6000 words per week, and a four-week editing bootcamp to round things off.

Considering I’m currently working four days a week in a department that is chronically short-staffed, and I have a very full social calendars of exciting trips and events to look forward to, perhaps committing to writing a novel in six months was not the most sensible thing for me to do…

I started out terrified and very anxious about the whole thing.  However, we just started week two, and the amount of thinking, planning, discussing and brainstorming I have done is phenomenal!  After months of languishing in notebooks and on my PC, my novel is now firmly back in my head and the second draft is rapidly taking shape, and in really interesting ways.

The Six Month Novel community is warm, welcoming and active.  Our fearless leaders, Charlie and Amie have provided a brilliant structure and lots of encouragement and advice, and the whole thing suddenly feels quite doable, and really rather exciting.

I was having lunch with some friends today, and telling them all about it.  One of them pointed out that, by the time we go on holiday together in September, my draft and initial editing will be done, and (considering I haven’t actually started writing it yet) that was a really weird thought.  But a good one.

I’ve already decided who my four POV characters are, drawn a rough flow chart of the main events, planned a brainstorming session with some good friends to hash out some of the world-building and, crucially, decided on the opening scene.

So, here’s to a crazy few months of creativity - and a new version of the novel at the other end.

Check back here for updates, and let’s hope they continue to be as positive as this one!




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Posted on 11 February 2017 09:16

I'm part of a collaborative writing project this year, called Narrathon.  It's being organised by NAWG and involves 19 writers completing a chapter each to produce a children's novel for publication in the second half of the year.  The project is now open for donations, and all the money will go towards the upkeep of NAWG itself.

Mine is chapter three - and it was tremendous fun writing it in January.  I can't wait to see the book in print and get to read the whole thing!


Posted on 22 January 2017 17:52

The very day I pretty much decided to abandon my novel as a 'useful first experiment', I got an email telling me I've been long-listed in the UK Novel Writing Competition!

Out of 3,112, mine has been selected along with 249 others to go forwards to the next stage of the competition.

So, yay!  I'll find out if it makes the short-list in March.  In the meantime, perhaps I should put the novel back on my list of projects for later in the year...


Posted on 09 January 2017 16:35

I’ve been thinking about my writing goals for the year, in conjunction with my renewed pledge to write 150,000 words for Get Your Words Out in 2017.  And, interestingly, my main goals for this year are actually about writing less, rather than more.


1) Put the novel in a drawer and forget about it for at least six months. Then, take it out again and decide if it's worth saving. If it's not, let it go and be happy about it.

This came about because I got a very interesting report from Cornerstones, analysing the strengths and weaknesses of my novel.  I was aware of most of the weaknesses already, but the report suggests there is more work to be done on it than I feel willing or able to do at the moment.

This is not a bad thing.  The purpose of writing the novel was to see if I could.  And, regardless of its actual quality, it exists as a 95,000 word piece of fiction that tells a coherent story.  So, yes, it turns out I can write a novel!  Whether or not I can write a good novel remains to be seen, and is a challenge for the future.  I may come back to work on the one I’ve got, or I may start something new with the lessons I’ve learned.  I don’t know yet, and that’s okay.


2) For every short story submitted somewhere, get at least some feedback and do at least some proper revision before submitting it. (This will mean I submit a lot less, but hopefully what I do submit will be better.)

I had some success with publications in 2016, and have already had some more in 2017.  But, I know I have a tendency to dash off a first draft and just submit without taking the time to let it sit for a while, and then revise it.  So, my plan is to attempt fewer submissions, and schedule in more time for revision, which has never been a strong point.

I’d also like to take the stories that have been rejected multiple times and see if I can re-work and improve them before I send them out to more places.  Outside feedback is going to be essential for this task, as I find it difficult to see how to improve my own writing, even when I know it has flaws.


3) For every entry submitted to Hour of Writes or Fandom Weekly, leave at least a day after completing a first draft and read it through again before posting.

As above, even for the short and fairly frivolous things I write, I want to spend more time on them, and particularly ensure I have enough time to leave them and come back to re-read them before I post.


4) Spend more time on my reviews and make them proper analyses and recordings of my reactions - to offset the reduction in word count I'm anticipating on other stuff, I've decided to count my reviews in my tracking this year (I didn't last year), so I need to make sure they are worthy of being counted.

This feels a bit like cheating, since it’s a large number of words I left out of my tracking last year, which is going to boost this year’s word count significantly.  However, now that I’m advertising my reviews a bit more, I want to put more time and effort into them.  And, if I do that, I think it’s fair for me to include them in the tracking.


So, everything this year is going to be focused towards honing my skills, revising on a more regular basis, and hopefully producing a smaller, but higher quality, output as a result.




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Posted on 21 November 2016 08:22

I’m supposed to be finishing a final polish of the novel, ready to send it to Cornerstones for a professional edit report.  My deadline for doing that, set by my wonderful husband who is paying for report as my birthday present, was 2 November.  But it’s now nearly three weeks later and I’m only halfway through.

This is because I’m constantly being distracted by other projects, that are quicker to finish, have more concrete deadlines, and add more words to my target for the year.  This blog post is one of them…

One of the things I’ve focused on this year, though, is getting more of my work out in the world, and this is starting, slowly and agonisingly, to pay dividends.  I went to a London Writers’ Cafe meetup yesterday - a Q&A session with Sean Preston, editor-in-chief at Open Pen, talking about short story publishing.  What I mostly got from it is that everything I’m already doing is exactly right for aiming to get my stories published.

My submission routine follows a regular monthly process, which starts with the arrival of Writing Magazine in the post.  The first section I always turn to is Writers’ News near the back, where they list many, many upcoming competitions and publication opportunities.  I read through each entry, circling all the ones I may be interested in, and then I add the details of each to my rolling submission spreadsheet.  Here, I keep a record of everything I might be interested in submitting to, with the word count, theme, submission link and deadline included.  I highlight anything that closes within the next month in yellow, and that’s where I go for inspiration when I’m looking for the next project to work on.

This provides me with motivation, focus, and often inspiration for my shorter writing projects.  It also gives me ideas of where to send pieces that have been rejected and are ready to be reworked and sent back out to try their luck elsewhere.

And it’s working!  So far this year, I’ve sent out 82 submissions, and have had at least some level of success 17 of them, and a 20% success rate feels pretty good to me.  At the meetup yesterday, Sean said success in short story publishing is 50% good writing and 50% effective targeting of submissions, and I would totally agree.

However, it’s also important not to lose sight of my larger overall ambitions, so I’d better crack on with polishing the novel.


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Posted on 09 October 2016 08:44

In this month’s Writing Magazine, author James McCreet analysed the first 300 words of my novel, doing a line-by-line commentary and providing a summary overview of his thoughts, as well as a suggested re-write.

When I first heard that this was going to happen (so many months after submitting that I’d forgotten all about it), I was pretty terrified.  McCreet’s analyses don’t pull punches - but I also generally agree with what he says about other people’s writing, so it felt like a great opportunity to get some really good advice about the most important part of the novel.

So, when the magazine finally arrived this week, I checked the competition winners first (no luck for me this month) and the letters page (but they did print my letter about NAWG Fest), before turning to page 48 to see my novel go Under The Microscope.

And it was fine.  Better than fine, in fact - and mostly, I think, because I’ve spent a long time cultivating the ability to take criticism, and I approached the whole thing with the attitude of wanting ideas on how to improve my work, rather than being precious about it.  Admittedly, a lot of what McCreet had to say was quite positive, which made me very happy indeed.  But, it was also telling that the things he picked out for improvement generally had me nodding my head in agreement (whilst also despairing just a little bit inside) because they were all things I already knew about.

I definitely have some work to do, to make the opening paragraphs of my novel more engaging and pacier (pace is something I’ve always struggled with) and I’ve known that for a long time.  But, now I have a step-by-step guide to show me exactly what to work on, and potentially help me improve the rest of the novel as well.  So, I’m really glad to have had this opportunity to receive some constructive criticism from a source completely unconnected with me.

Of course, it’s not as simple as just following all the advice, since I’ve already had wildly conflicting reactions from family members who’ve read the article.  One very much prefers McCreet’s rewritten version, while another says they prefer my version (and has enough points to back this up that I believe they’re not just saying that).  And someone else disagrees with McCreet’s take on cliches, saying that filling the writing with unusual descriptive language will just throw the reader out of the flow and cause a distraction.

I went to a London Writers’ Cafe Meetup recently, which was a Q&A session with a literary agent, and the most important thing she stressed is that fiction is a very subjective thing.  One person will hate what another person will love, and there’s no one formula for creating a bestselling novel.  Now, I’m certainly not expecting wild success with my novel, but I would like to make it as good as it can be, in the hopes of maybe one day getting an agent who could sell it to a publisher.  And this analysis from James McCreet will certainly help me on that road.

But, at the end of the day, it’s my novel, and I’ll ultimately have to make the decisions about what to change and what to keep the same.  Since, it seems clear that one man’s glaring cliche is another man’s comfort zone - and, no matter how much advice I get on my writing, I still want it to sound like me.

Posted on 18 September 2016 16:37

Writing is a tricky business.  It’s the thing I most want to do with my time, and it’s the thing I least want to do with my time.  This seems to be true of all the writers I know.  We desperately want to create amazing things - and in fact can’t imagine life without writing - but we find it so difficult to actually sit down and get on with it.

This is what makes organisations like Urban Writers’ Retreat so valuable.  Why would I pay £45 to spend the whole day writing when I could just easily do that at home for free, you might ask?  Because I know I won’t do it if I’m at home, and I’m prepared to pay good money for the opportunity for some forced focus.

Charlie, from Urban Writers' Retreat, provides a bright, airy, comfortable space for the day, where up to about 12 writers gather to work on whatever projects they want.  Phones must be switched off, there’s no talking allowed - only the gentle tap of fingers on keyboards punctuates the silence.  And it’s glorious.  Charlie sends out a goal-setting worksheet a couple of days beforehand, where you can plan out your writing day in slots of about an hour, but the day itself is largely unstructured.  Lunch is provided, along with a welcome (albeit brief) break from the intensity of concentrating in an unfamiliar way, and then we all go back to work again.

It’s such a simple concept, but every session I’ve been to has been full, so it’s clear other writers benefit from the external motivation just as much as I do.  Having an appointment in my calendar, which prompts me to plan various writing activities, and involves travelling to a specific location in central London, creates a productive mindset that would never be possible otherwise.  It’s also lovely to feel part of a community, while taking part in such a solitary activity, and it’s even better to have a whole day set aside with the sole purpose of getting on with some writing.

Today, I started a read-through of the first section of my novel.  This is with a view to getting it professionally edited later in the year, and it was really fun to go back to the beginning again and remember how much I love the world and the characters I’ve created.  I’m terrified by the prospect of getting feedback from a professional, but I believe I have something of merit, and I want the push and the guidance to get it into publishable shape.

In between times, I wrote a couple of articles for an online magazine and worked on a theatre review for a print magazine.  The combination of quick wins, interspersed with editing sections of the novel, worked really well to keep me motivated and energised all day.

Hurrah for days like this!


Posted on 12 September 2016 12:55

Way back in October 2010, I signed up for an Open University creative writing course, with a good friend of mine, who is also a writer.  The very first assignment was to write a 1500 word short story, on any theme.  The idea for my story came from a conversation I had with my husband about magical tech support for wizards in Harry Potter.  The course tutor wasn’t wildly impressed, but my friend’s response was, “You could develop this into a novel.  I’d want to read it - write me a novel, based in this world!”

So I did.  And, oh, how easy those three little words make it sound.  In actual fact, I didn’t finish the first draft until September 2015, during a glorious week on an Arvon novel-writing retreat at Lumb Bank in Hebden Bridge.  Five years of adding a bit more to the original story, gradually developing the world, adding a bit more, working out the overall arc plot, adding a bit more, bringing in new characters and a couple of sub-plots, adding a bit more, and so on.

I can’t say I approached writing my novel in a very systematic way.  I didn’t plot it all out beforehand (I find if I do that, I get bored with the story and don’t want to write it), I didn’t set aside specific times to write (though I have learned since that this is a very good idea), and I didn’t have any idea how long it would be when I’d finished (I’m still not sure about that).  I just forged ahead from that little story, and let it take me where it would.

Along the way, the characters did some very unexpected things (I love it when they take control), the plot expanded out to include some quite serious themes (though the story itself is still pretty light overall), and the possibility of a sequel reared its terrifying head (just don’t ask me how that’s going).

On this blog, I intend to talk about the process of writing my novel - both what I’ve already achieved, and what comes next.  I’ll post news about my other writing projects, and hopefully soon details of some publications that actually contain my writing!

My focus in 2015 was on finishing the first draft of my novel (which I did), and my focus in 2016 is on getting my writing out into the world.  My little corner of the writing universe has recently become quite an exciting place, with lots of little successes that I hope will eventually lead to bigger things.  But getting distracted by the shiny opportunities of short story writing is a dangerous thing, and I don’t want to lose sight of the novel in the process.  I believe in the novel, and I think it deserves more care and attention than I have given it of late, so this regular update of my progress on it is designed to give me the motivation to have something positive to say each time I post!

I invite you to join me on my literary journey - I very much hope it will be fun!