Archive for the 'Writing a novel' Category

Going nowhere fast – the frustrations of writing

My writing is going nowhere fast.

So fast, my current WIP (work in progress) has come to a standstill. Sigh.

I’ve had some frustrating times lately with family and community responsibilities interrupting my writing time. It happens every now and then and I know I should just accept these times and not get too frustrated with them.

Going nowhere fast

Trouble is, I’ve allowed the recent events to grind my WIP  to a complete halt. It’s going nowhere fast. I haven’t looked at it for nearly a fortnight. One thing I’ve found in recent years is that momentum can often be a very great friend. Once I get on a roll with a particular writing project – be it a novel, short story, article, whatever – the momentum created tends to be self generating. Momentum creates more momentum and I get to the point where it is like an unstoppable train, steaming along seemingly under its own power, carrying me along for one exhilarating ride. When that happens I can be very productive, sometimes writing 3000+ words in a day. About 700 words is  my normal average.

Slow and steady wins the race

Sadly, the opposite is also true. When  I don’t have any momentum because of illness, distractions, family or other responsibilities etc, getting up a head of steam to get moving again takes so much effort. Starting all over almost seems too hard and I can easily give up. The secret is to not stop. It is easier to keep a train moving slowly than to start from a stopped position. It is easier to keep going with a story every day – even if it is only a few words or for twenty minutes or so – than to leave it completely for weeks and then have to start all over again.

I should stop this now and get back to that novel.

It’s not going to finish itself.

Good writing.

Review: Searching for the Secret River

Cover - Searching for the secret river

I have recently read Kate Grenville‘s historical novel The Secret River. You can read my review here.

Straight after finishing the novel I went on to read her follow up book Searching for the Secret River.

In this second book she goes into great detail about how she researched the novel. The story is based upon the life of her great-great-great grandfather, but she took the facts gleaned from family history and extensive research both in London and in Sydney over a five year period and transformed it into fiction. She has used fact as a broad brush in the hands of her imagination and the finished novel is brilliant. It gives the reader a much clearer view of life in the early years of settlement in the young Australian colony.

Searching for the Secret River is a fascinating expose on the thinking processes of one of our leading authors. Grenville takes us on a journey from the first inklings of an idea for a book through to the finished product. At first she was planning a non fiction book but she struck so many obstacles along the way that she changed tack completely, fictionalising it and letting her imagination run. I’m pleased she did.

While she does address some of the issues faced by all writers of fiction, this is not a handbook on writing. Sure, she does explain why she changed from first to third person, but generally it was the research that so intrigued her that she recounts in the first part of the book. Throughout she grapples with her attitudes, and those of the settlers, towards the Aboriginal people who would have lived in the Sydney area during the time in which she sets her novel. She was confronted by some very unsavoury discoveries. The reader of the novel is likewise confronted by some of the events of those days. Australian history is not always the clean, lovely accounts I read as a student many years ago.

While she has drawn from actual  historical records, her novel is not another version of history. ‘I was shameless in rifling through research for anything I could use,’ she writes, ‘wrenching it out of its place and adapting it for my own purposes… What I was writing wasn’t real, but it was as true as I could make it.‘ (Grenville p. 210)  She has been criticised for her (alleged)  misuse of history. I think she has achieved what most other writers struggle with – she has made history come alive for the reader.


  • Grenville, K, 2007, Searching for the Secret River. WF Howes, Leicester.

What point of view should I use?

An important aspect of writing a story that the writer needs to consider is point of view.

In my current project, a novel for children aged 10 – 12, this has been one of the difficult issues I’ve had to face. I started using the first person point of view. It didn’t work, so I changed the whole story to limited third person POV. That worked much better, but during reworking the novel I’ve found a number of places where I’d slipped up. My critiquing group was also tough on me and pointed out even the most subtle of changes in POV.

Aaaark! I though I had mastered it, but in practice it is very challenging.

I’ve written previously about this important topic:

Good writing.

Confessions of a sick writer

I wrote a few days ago that I was near the final editing stages of my novel for children.

Now I have another hurdle has come my way: illness. Sure, it’s only a head cold with lots of sneezing, a dry throat and the beginnings of a nose like a tap that cannot be turned off. It is the season for colds and flu here in Australia, and we’ve had some bitterly cold weather of late but that doesn’t bring much comfort in the midst of the discomfort.

I am trying to edit my novel for children, now in its 7th draft. Concentrating on the editing process is challenging enough; having a head that feels like it’s stuffed full of wool doesn’t help the process. I guess I should sit back, relax and get better as quickly as I can. Then I’ll be able to fully concentrate on the task in hand.

Can’t help wishing for someone to take over for a few days so I can relax and recover. In another life – when I was a classroom teacher – I wouldn’t hesitate to get a relief teacher in to take my place, knowing that would not only hasten my recovery but also be fairer to the children in my class. They deserved to have a teacher who was least willing to be there, be reasonably competent and certainly not sneezing all over them. Where are the relief writers? Never mind.

One thing about blogging is that you can write posts ahead of time, scheduling them to appear over a period of days or even weeks. I often write blogs in blocks of time, writing 5 – 10 in one day and scheduling them to appear at set intervals. During that time I can then go on with other writing tasks. This time however, I don’t have any scheduled to appear here. Sigh. (I do have some on my other blogs – see sidebar for links to them.)

I’d better get back to that editing.

Good writing – and good health.

I’m back: Editing my novel

I’m back!

It has been a while since my last entry here.

Sorry about that.

I’ve been a little overwhelmed with life for a while now, but things seem to be getting back on track again, one step at a time. I have several large projects on the go which are taking – no – demanding my attention. I’m starting to chip away at them but the task sometimes looms far too large.

Having one of the coldest periods on record here in South Australia is not helping either. It is very tempting to linger in bed on these crisp, frosty mornings… and then linger some more. And my good wife spoils me by bringing me a hot cup of tea in bed some mornings. Bless her.

One of my major projects at present is finishing off my novel for children (I’ve written extensively about the process here.) I am currently working on the 7th draft and it is getting near to the final shape and form.

The editing and rewriting I am doing in the 7th draft comes from the comments made on my manuscript by my supervising lecturers. Both are experienced writers and editors and their help has been invaluable in shaping the novel into its present form. One thing I have found interesting is that their comments and suggestions are remarkably similar, even though they read the manuscript independently. They have been very picky, very critical of every word, sentence and even the whole structure of the story. This is good because it is helping me to produce the very best writing I can achieve.

Find a good critiquing friend

I would recommend that every writer find a trustworthy friend who knows about writing and how to do it well. Then get this person to critique your work. It could be a fellow writer, a neighbour, a member of a writers’ group or even someone who does this for a living. Paying someone to do this can be money well spent. I haven’t had to do that yet, but I have received much help from my lecturers (who get paid to do this) and from my writers’ groups (They do it because they like me! And I “pay” them by commenting on their writing).

Find a good editor

Along with finding someone to critique your writing I would suggest that your writing will benefit from good editing. You need to find a good editor. It can be the same person who critiques your work doesn’t have to be. I’m not talking about editors who work for publishers here. That stage comes later, after you’ve submitted the very best work you can do, and the publisher has accepted your piece for publication. I’m talking about someone with a good eye for picking up typos, spelling errors, punctuation boo-boos, grammatical blunders and structural flaws. Such a person can help you polish your work until it is perfect – or as near to that as you can. Publishers are more willing to accept your work if you make the effort to get it near perfect – so their editor has as little to do as possible.

Further reading:

  • Writing a novel – the process I went through to write a novel for children as my thesis paper for my Master of Arts.
  • Editing – more articles from my archives about the editing process.

Good writing.