Starting that novel

Today I was surfing the ‘net, looking for inspirational writing on writing and came across several books and articles with the title, more or less, of ‘how to start your novel’. Now, believe me, I think these are useful – I’ve read enough of them – and they’re full of helpful information on structure, voice, plot, narrative arc and all that stuff. My problem is I want a book on finishing my novel. Actually, I don’t. What I want is for someone to come and take my heavily edited ‘script, and say ‘there, there, I’ll finish that off for you’.

But it ain’t going to happen. I thought writing it was hard enough – but finishing it, wow.

On writers’ groups

One night every week I go to a writers’ group, my literary therapy. There’s eight or nine usually attend and it’s a mix of chat about the small world that is South West Donegal, books, TV, and anything else that takes our fancy plus we share our writing. Everyone is very supportive and encouraging but willing to offer constructive criticism. They are all accomplished writers and writing in different genres – horror, crime, thriller, memoir, etc – which brings a delightful variety to both the readings and their perspective on the work we each present.

The discipline of needing to write something for discussion each week keeps the nose to the grindstone but also provides the platform to float ideas. It also forces me to consider my own piece with a more critical eye than might otherwise be the case and occasionally gives me an insight or idea which would never have come to me working alone at my computer. Last night, for example, I was reading a draft scene which started well enough with setting a location, a lake side. Members of the group liked the description but pointed out I hadn’t mentioned the location again in the scene – this was probably because I could see it in my head so subconsciously assumed my reader could as well. I resolved to write a couple of lines further, expanding the setting. On scribbling down notes when I returned home I suddenly had the inspiration on how to deal with an issue much later in the book, but where I could lay the groundwork in this scene. Magic! It may, or may not work, but at least the writers’ group got me there.


Revisions again today. I can only do so much at a time without having to lie down in a darkened room.

It’s all very well deciding to move a scene from one place to another, but then any subsequent and consequent action needs to be changed. Keeping track of this is killing me. I don’t know if it’s just detective novels which suffer particularly from this though I suspect it isn’t. The problem becomes worse with each new draft because it’s hard to remember what has been changed. It is possible, of course, to track changes using Word but constantly flicking back and forth through 80,000 words is a nightmare.

One of my readers asked me how we knew a particular fact which a character had just mentioned. I knew I’d written the background but discovered it now came in a later scene. My how we laughed.

Then this morning I decided I needed to move a couple of sentences into a scene where they fitted better, due to other changes, but when I looked for the sentences, which I also knew I’d written, they were no longer in the current draft at all. Thankfully I’ve kept virtually all the previous drafts so I can retrieve the missing stuff. This aids the process but not my state of mind.

I’m seeing lots of posts on NaNo about writing a 50,000 word novel in a month. Hats off to you guys – maybe I’ll try it next year.

Edit, and aids to editing

This morning, which brought the first frost, is to be spent like most mornings for what seems like the last year, revising. No, not revising for exams but revising the structure and content of a novel I thought I’d finished last Christmas. A jolly tale of three deaths in the Warwickshire countryside before the outbreak of the Second World War. I thought I’d got it right. Several re-readings, plus the sterling work of an excellent adviser in the form of a publisher who’s cautiously interested, have highlighted major inconsistencies and storylines that simply don’t work.

There’s an excellent free program called Pro-Writing Aid which helped with all the repeat words and phrases, redundancies, date inconsistencies and so on, but that was only really proof reading. It didn’t find the really serious structural problems, where the plot stalled, petered out altogether or sprung newly formed somewhere in the middle of the novel. It didn’t find the repeat action, where a character tells the same story twice (don’t laugh, it happens), nor did it help when I described a character as not too bright then give her the vocabulary of an Oxford don.

So here I sit, or at least will be shortly, going through the script again, marking even more passages to be moved, removed or rewritten. Wish me luck.

Why mytime4writing?

Several years ago I attended a writing workshop and received the best piece of advice ever. We were told to write just 100 words a day. To sit down at whatever time suited us (mine’s usually about 6.30am) and to just begin writing. Some days it would be little more than a ‘to-do’ list, others it would be a short story but, as Mao is reported to have said, every journey starts with a single step.

I’ve now written dozens of short stories, a radio play and a crime novel, all waiting to be published, but the workshop advice has taken me there. This blog has been set up for times when I’m stuck, on days when I should be writing and don’t know what to put on the page. Perhaps someone will read it? With luck someone might even enjoy it. But most of all it’s for me.

UPDATE: The first crime story, A Shadowed Livery, was published in 2015, a second and third in the series are to be published in 2019.