Writing Diary: noodling on novelling

Writer's booksLast year I realised I needed to rewrite my novel from scratch again – all 140,000 words of it – before I’d be happy sending it to agents. I’m not a natural completer-finisher, so concluding a very long project is a journey through darkness into (hopefully) light. This is me noodling after each novelling session about how it went.

Week 3 to 9 October 2016

Monday 3 October 2016 (writing time 12.10-14.05, words edited: 256, words written: 598 )

Today I made the mistake of doing emails on my iPhone before starting to write. Living on a boat I have a mifi unit which is perfect as I can switch it on after I’m done, so doing my emails on 3G first thing in the morning was a sneaky way round. Answering my emails or doing admin first is like a draught of poison for my writing as the workaday world pours in with its problems, to do’s and bills, and I find it impossible to push it out again unless I have time for a long walk. Much better to write with a clean morning mind: tabula rasa.

Another mistake I made today was not finishing the current chapter yesterday when I’d finally got to grips with it and knew what I wanted to write. I was feeling very virtuous as had got up at 7.30am on a Sunday to write (a one-off) and had had a sunny early morning walk round the marina, which led to me holding a vision of the chapter in my head. But I broke off to visit relatives and play with their new blue kittens. Today I couldn’t recapture the vision so it was semi-guesswork and slog.

A strange thing happened. As I work my way through the climax / final fight chapters of the book, I’ve realised that the chapter where it’s revealed which side has won has gone AWOL. I searched and searched for it today – a semi-useful procrastinatory tactic – and wondered if the universe wanted me to write this chapter from scratch with no prompts – probably I should.

Good job I realised it really was missing rather than an oversight, as I thought I’d had an amnesiac moment in my plotting. I trawled back through the USB stick that has my back-ups on and found the chapter as far back as March 2013. It’s been missing right through 2015 and 2016. As for 2014, I didn’t check.


Tuesday 4 October 2016 (writing time 10.40-14.05, words edited: 723, words written: 523)

I planned to go over the chapter I did yesterday and start the next one, but it took me the whole time to redo yesterday’s chapter. I’m happy with it now: when reading it through I can see and feel it more clearly and the actual writing is more polished.

Today I had a greater facility with words than I did yesterday. My fingers felt oiled. In reality, I guess it’s the connection from brain to fingers that’s more oiled. Either way, the words were just there. But I had less stamina so needed little breaks during which time I put the kettle on (green tea is my writer’s drug of choice rather than coffee).

Bearing in mind that I only started this diary yesterday (it’s an extension and public version of the ‘before’ and ‘after’ a writing session notes I always do for myself in a table), I did find it distracted me horribly while I was writing. Writing creatively is about going within, but with this diary I kept thinking, ‘What will help them?’ Instead of focusing on turning my story into a story, my writer’s brain honed in on turning the writing process into an interesting story – ‘Perhaps I could tell them about meditating this morning or my villain or …’. The two ran in parallel competing in my head.

It’s early days but I must stay focused 150% inward in my own otherworldly zone when writing. Finishing the book must come first. So I might:

1. Write down these observations as I go along but only post once a week

2. Write this diary more inwardly (my brain wants to help people and keeps trying to turn it into a teaching tool, but I think that would be less interesting)


Wednesday 5 October 2016 (writing time 11.00-13.00, words written: 312)

Today I moved on to the next chapter and completed it. The old one was 1,373 words and the new one just 312 words. I love it when this happens. For me, the run up to this kind of chop involves a lot of mulling and re-reading former scenes, and in my case, nibbling oatcakes with cheese. When writers talk about how many words they do in a day or hour I always wonder why they don’t count the thinking time. A lot of writing is thinking and wondering ‘What if?’. Hence perhaps those naff posed shots when an actor portrays a great writer: he or she stares chin on hand off into the middle distance.

In my book, my overarching goodie and the overarching baddie mirror each other and speak in a sort of prose poetry. Today it was the overarching baddie’s turn to speak, and I chopped him to bits – not literally, just his word count. I’ve always enjoyed reading novels written in poetic or heightened prose, so no wonder I’ve turned to writing it sometimes. Poetry can fill the gaps and corners in a story that other prose doesn’t reach. It’s slightly experimental and I won’t know whether it works till I read the whole book through. (I have never read the whole book through, a fact which worries me now that it’s come up.)

That’s in for the novelling for this week. It’s the law of sod. Just as it’s going well, life intervenes. This afternoon I’m writing a newsletter for a client, plus 24.5 other things. Tomorrow and Friday I’m being whisked to Bronte country for my birthday. Saturday is a course in London. Sunday I’m on a panel at the Durham Book Festival about writing and climate change. Monday I’m interviewing academics at Durham University. Coming back to this Friday, it’s the start of A Moveable Feast starts, readings by emerging writers at the Birmingham Literature Festival, which I’ve been organising for four months. Off to check that the giant PDF for the promotional banner has snaked its way through email, and that the banner has happily gone to print.

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