Dear Writer Girl - Season 2: Writing Novel 4, Week 1


New writing space. Goats cheese omelette.

Less talk, more action.

Will report later, in case anyone is listening. 😊



My writing retreat last month to the most wonderful River Mill in Northern Ireland was fabulous for food & company, less for writing. I think I know why. The last 2 retreats in 2018-19 were stupendously productive for one reason: I was editing & that success is easier to measure. You can count the words & chapters that you’ve edited; that’s also true for drafting. You can say I wrote 3000 words today and 50 y’day, & conclude the 50 words are beautiful or apt, or the 3000 words are brave or just getting the shit down. But in the conception stage, where I still am, which I hate, it’s harder to measure success. “Oh, I had 16 thoughts today, & maybe one of them might get through, & then I looked at the sky, and my feelings about the little stream at the bottom of the garden were less intense than usual.”


But. I did work out a THING while I was away. While I read *The Colony by Audrey Magee & *Elizabeth Strout by Olive Kitteridge & re-read *The Famished Road by Ben Okri, sitting by the river for 9 days. I worked out one of those damn central things that happens despite yourself &you’re not even sure you want it to be that way, but before you know it, x fits cos it might get you to y. And so I did come back from retreat with what I think is the VESSEL of number 4. By which I mean one of the primary limits is fixed. I know more about the space &how it works & I have the main players. I think it’s a threesome 😊

Limits are really important at this juncture, not least because I do not want to spend the next 15 years writing this damn novel.

And today?

Now that I have a place, a time, a social context, some clear themes running all of it& quite a lot of research done into the subject at hand, the next thing to do is to bring all my notes together, to clarify this made-up world in my own mind. I need it razor sharp. And clarifying means beginning to answer my own list of questions. Because that’s all the notes are, really: What if? Maybe? Shall I? Why? Who? What happens if?

So that’s July’s plan.

Let me know if you want these check-ins to continue, in the comments ♥️

And I am so proud I was at that desk at 9.30 today 😊



Checking in. Mi deh pon di werk. It’ll be a 10.30 start; rainy cafe; kumina drums on via headphones. What do they say? Fear and bravery live in the same place? Yup. Something like that.

At the moment I feel like a person who went on a shopping spree for several months, planning a party, with nothing but a vague theme. And now I have a living room of half opened boxes, trying to decide what’s actually of any use. Will further explore this metaphor later.



Today’s writing metaphor is a human who got excited about hosting a party, ordered SHIT LOADS of stuff off the internet - colours, themes, textures, wedding garters - and is now standing in the middle of a room stuffed full of packages.

Yes indeed, I spent 3 months amassing research, free writing, transcribing interviews, reading books, doing writing exercises & generally being frenzied (because scared). And that is all fine, because apparently this is how I do the novel thing.

After a break, mostly for freelancing, I’m now going through those notes, deciding what’s useful. Opening metaphorical boxes, thinking ‘what the fuck’, and ‘oooh!’ and ‘pretty!’, making one list of what I’m keeping, one of maybes and one of stuff to be chucked. The Rubbish includes: undead ancestors that never let go; three kinds of monsters; ‘the great change,’ a fictional time in history where all the Black people get up and leave; a random character called Noah; another who’s a speed eater; capybaras and mongoose - yep, gone; a carousel obsession; the sentence “got to have a mermaid!!!” because hello, Monique Roffey's The Mermaid of the Black Conch got that wrapped up 🥰; several journalist characters and a crushed peach.

To even start all this, I pretty much typed up the contents of two large notebooks, accepting and rejecting and maybe-ing ideas as I went, simultaneously refreshing my memory and throwing shit away. The yes/maybe lists have sub-headings (natch). Things like: plot & theme & character & WTF 😳

It’s also increasing that pile of questions. Good God, the questions. There are thousands of them, beginning ‘how does..?’ and ‘is there a way?’ and ‘do I want?’ and ‘would it be interesting if?’ and ‘I’m thinking that maybe,’ and ‘perhaps’, and ‘the idea of,’ and ‘how will I?’ and ‘how will I?’ and ‘how will I?’ and ‘I need to remember’ and ‘I need to tell this’ and ‘I don’t want the reader to think’ and on and on.

But today I am more excited than afraid. I even sent a paragraph to my agent because by the day’s end I was feeling high (that’s all the kumina and 80s dance hall I’ve been playing…)

And breathe.



All the things this writer needs: laptop, water, smoothie, coffee, headphones, diary, process journal, notebooks, gel pens...

9.30 check in at the cafe; after two days if exhaustion and unsuccessful attempts at home, I’m hoping today will be a good one! (At the moment, fibro means I can’t manage two days out on the trot, but I haven’t worked out how best to work at home on a low-energy day). Next week will allow for more experimentation…


(The pic is a very rudimentary map, working out the spatial possibilities for my new world.)

It’s interesting that I started the day sharing some basic necessities for a happy writing session: coffee, laptop, 3 notebooks etc. This may seem boring, but a writing schedule is all about showing up over & over, and showing up is all about organising yourself so that can be as easy as possible - & eventually automated. Rise. Wash. Bag. Cafe. Same seat. Work. Stretch while working. Work more. Repeat.

Besides specific objects, I need other things too: to not let myself get too distracted by interesting people - & accessible, nice food. I’ve deserted perfectly decent writing spots in the past because I simply got too chummy with the regulars. And now I remember why I abandoned this present cafe the last time: I don’t like enough of the food, a fact I was reminded of today. 😔But all this is just a process of fine-tuning a space for the long haul: it means cafe breakfast & beverages only, and bringing snacks in. Means practicing my death stare to keep people at bay, however nice.

Given that I didn’t have everything I needed today, I’m pleased I carried on. I can be a bit of a hothouse flower about it all if I don’t have exactly what I need 😆

These are the things I did today:

– I finished emptying my last metaphorical “box” of research i.e. typed in my last notebook of handwritten scribbles

– I spent some time researching beauty and ugliness and the making of observational documentaries, particularly Interviews with Frederik Wiseman about his process. Wiseman’s unflinching look at institutions includes hospitals, high schools, police departments, the UK’s National Gallery and I am now obsessed.

Bonus Settling-In Thought: On those days when I’m too tired to go to the cafe & must work in bed or at home, I’ll watch documentaries and make voice notes. So much watching is going to be necessary for this novel, including a very close look at fashion and dance. 😊

I am delighted that a serious schedule is coming to me, and look forward to finding more ways to make it work.

Today’s theme: adapt.


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square