NaNoWriMo: are you lost?


It’s day ten of NaNoWriMo, and if you are keeping to the ideal daily word count of 50,000/30=1670, you will be approaching the 20k mark. If so, congratulations!

I started my first two novels with NaNo, and have sped each of the others on in November. Sadly, I’m not doing it this year – I’ve just handed in the second draft of my next one and really need to have a bit of a brain defrag before I embark on the next project. But can I please offer some advice to those of you who are on it this year?

You need to gird your loins, because you are just about to embark on the difficult middle section. You have burned into the initial enthusiasm for your idea, you have laid down your parameters, got your story engines fired up, found your setting, established your characters, what they want and, most likely, what is stopping them getting what they want. And that’s great!

But now you have to keep all that going, and grow it and nurture it all the way through to the ending. If you find this prospect daunting, you are not alone. If you are tempted to throw it on the fire and take the car down town because you think it’s all a pile of unmitigated bollocks and what ever possessed you to write anything at all, not to mention this story and all its unpromising premises – take a breath – then you are in very good company.

It may come as a bit of a blow if you like being unique, but this angst has been felt by almost every single person who ever wrote a novel, and it generally tends to strike around this mid section.

And it’s not just the pantsers who get into this state. You may have drawn up a detailed outline and now, with what you have discovered in your beginning pages, you may be looking at it and wondering what on earth possessed you to put together such a rubbish, sterile, unpromising story. (If you still think it is brilliant and marvellous and the best idea anyone came up with ever, can I have some of what you’re having?).

So how do you overcome this?

If you are a full time, professional writer, working to deadline, that very deadline, plus the knowledge that you have been here before, ridden the awfulness and beaten it down, are the main motivators through the novel doldrums. But the tactics you employ will be very much the same as those useful for a first timer on NaNoWriMo.

  1. If your story is growing in a different direction to how you had envisaged either in your outline or your pantsing dreams, this is invariably a good sign. It has started breathing for itself. Let it go for a while, let it canter off in the direction your characters and situations are pointing it. Go back to look at your outline if you must, but be prepared to be flexible. There are no rules, least of all those you wrote for yourself a couple of weeks ago.
  2. If your story is stagnating, introduce some tension. Make things harder for your characters. Then make them harder again.
  3. Keep writing, even if your heart is sinking. You have the world of possibility at your fingertips. Any marks you make will be a carving out of something from nothing. Think of Michelangelo’s Captives and how many hammer blows it took him/his assistants to release those forms from the blocks of stone.
  4. A mistake/wrong turning is a good thing – it teaches/shows you what not to do.
  5. Go into a long description of a setting or a character, just to keep writing. It may well loosen something up, help you discover what’s lacking. If it amounts to a page of meandering tosh, it can hit the cutting room floor in the second draft.
  6. Believe you can get to the end, because you can. Anne Lamott in her inspirational book Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life speaks of ‘shitty first drafts’, one of the most helpful of all writing advice I have considered over the past ten years. Give yourself permission to get it out there and not worry too much about the quality, or consistency.
  7. No one will see this draft unless you choose to show it to them. And my advice is DON’T DO THAT.
  8. Call it draft zero. It’s incredibly liberating.
  9. You can go back and fix it all later. Make a note in the margin if you are not sure about something. Make your first draft a conversation with yourself, your characters, your story.

But the main thing to remember is that EVERY SINGLE NOVELIST has been at this stuck, heart sinking, what-the-hell-am-I-doing? phase.

And if they say they haven’t? Well, they are just making stuff up.




I’m very pleased and proud to have been asked to curate the book events for this year’s SICK! Festival.

SICK! is a multi-artform festival dedicated to revealing and debating our most urgent physical, mental and social challenges.

This year it is running simultaneously in Brighton and Manchester, and each weekend there will be a themed book . . . → Read More

Edinburgh Here I Come


During the Festival Fringe we have regularly rented a house or flat in some cheaper part of Edinburgh to accommodate family, friends and company members while my husband Tim puts on a show at the Traverse.

This means a part of my August has often been spent in a mad rush of shows, . . . → Read More

Blog Review Round Up

Some of the quotes. Click on the image to enlarge it

Tonight is the launch party for The Long Fall. I’m too excited to write today, so instead here’s a round up of all the lovely bloggers’ reviews so far. I have been completely knocked out by the support of the blogging community – not . . . → Read More

Blog Tour Day Seven: Extract

Well, we’re exhausted after the geographically challenging but enormously exciting Long Fall Blog Tour. It’s going to take weeks to recover!

The final stop off is in rural Herefordshire at  Chocolate Chunky Munkie, blog of Jenny, 34. Her favourite genres are Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Dystopian, Vampires and Shape Shifters, but luckily she . . . → Read More

Blog Tour Day Six: Dos and Don’ts

Sorry, this should have been posted yesterday. I was in York, though, doing a panel for the Festival of Ideas, ten days of over 120 mostly free events,with talks from world-class speakers, performances, exhibitions and interactive experiences for people of all ages.

I was talking about fly fishing.

Not really. I was talking about crime . . . → Read More

Blog Tour Day Five: Extract

My friend Ms Emma Kilbey finds a particularly shocking passage…

After a serene, heatwave-smoothed passage back home across the Irish sea, today’s Blog Tour stopoff is Erin’s Choice.

Erin is 23, and loves books. Her favourite genre is chick lit, but thankfully she can sometimes be persuaded to read the odd bit of crime fiction, . . . → Read More

Blog Tour Day 4: My Top Five


So, to celebrate publication day, the blog tour stops off today at The Madwoman in the Attic, A great blog by Lisa D in Ireland. Lisa is a book obsessive, and writes for websites, print and radio. History is her passion and she’s currently working on a novel set, like The Long Fall, in . . . → Read More

Blog Tour Day 3: GIVEAWAY!

This is not a watercolour! It’s my photograph of the actual view from a beach in Ikaria.

Today, the Long Fall Blog Tour van stops off at The Book Trail, with a great article about the travelling aspect in the book and a giveaway.

Born out of a love of books and travel, The . . . → Read More

Blog Tour Day 2: About the cover

Today’s blog tour stops off at From First Page to Last. This fantastic blog is the brainchild of Janet, who says of herself:

I’m…a 36 year old, wife to one, mum to two. I work in legal publishing, so I spend all day reading legislation.  I have a thing for reading and so I . . . → Read More