A Novel’s Writing


how to write a novel


This is the third in the series my novel-writing journey. You can read the first two posts here: On Inspiration and here: On Research.

As I writer, I am also a reader, and among the many many books I read, of course, are the books on writing, and of course there are many different methods of writing a novel, and the writing of a novel can change from one book to the next, even for the same author. Here’s my writing process, for this novel.

Working title: ‘On Demon’s Shores’, a play on words of the location ‘Van Dieman’s Land’, started 3 and a half years ago on a bushwalk with my now-husband. That was December 2012. A woman – Elspeth – standing over the grave of her infant son. I knew straight away it was a historical fiction, and, having a Masters in History, I thought I knew what areas I was familiar with, and what areas would need a bit more research. I planned to write my novel during Nanowrimo* the following year and spent the following eleven months reading in the areas I knew I needed to brush up on; like Scottish folk magic, and colonial history – especially the interactions (good and bad) between the Aborigines and the settlers.

By November 2013 I had a folder thick with notes, as well as the odd scene that came to me through the year: One from the point of view of Elspeth’s daughter, another from her dead husband. Scenes of Elspeth’s childhood had filled several pages, and it was from these scenes I started to write: born with a caul – a sign of one with the Sight – Elspeth followed her grandmother’s footsteps and became cunning-woman of her village. How she got to Van Dieman’s Land was easy – as a convict – but why? What did she do? And why did she do it if life was following a path it should?

That draft brought up many more questions than before, and really revealed how little I knew of the tiny details that would bring my story to life. 2014 was back into the research again, writing the odd scene here or there all the while researching those odd little points that would make my story ‘real’: like what period the colonial government offered land grants to former convicts, and when the Queen’s Orphanage first opened, and what happened to the children of convicts who were brought out with their parents.

Big changes were happening in life that year too – the birth of my third child, and the closure of my older children’s most wonderful little school.

When Nanowrimo 2014 began I was a Nano-rebel for the first time in my 5 years of taking part, almost completely re-writing that first draft, keeping only the few scenes I liked.

2015 was more a mixture. More research, several redrafts, and always reading – both fiction and non-fiction, anything to help me connect with my characters, experience life as they may have known it: Elemental by Amanda Curtain, Journey to the Stone Country by Alex Miller, Roving Party by Rohan Wilson, That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott.

Another re-draft over the 30 odd days of Nanowrimo, squashed into the gaps between homeschooling and caring for a now walking toddler (and achievable only with a supportive husband). But Nanowrimo that  year I had a different aim. By now I’d been over the story so many times, and removed the dull, unimportant bits, and clarified the story, and really felt I knew where it was going. Now I needed to polish it to the best of my ability, ready for the outside input. Late January 2016 I sent the story off to beta-readers, mid-March I received 3 different readers comments, and reworked the story yet again. Next step was to send it to a Manuscript Assessor [The Tasmanian Writer’s Centre offers affordable manuscript assessment]. The Manuscript Assessment was everything I needed. I reworked the story, changing some sections completely (sections which, incidentally, I knew weren’t right, but I thought I didn’t know how to fix, and so I was taking the lazy way out. But as I worked through the minor changes the way to fix the larger problem came clear. A re-read confirmed what I suspected at the end of that process – the story is as good as I can make it at this point in time. And so I sent it off.

So now I wait. But the waiting is not with twiddling fingers, no. Since I submitted my manuscript the idea for my next novel burst, fresh and exciting, onto the page, and now I’m pondering where this journey will lead me.




National Novel Writing Month, for those unfamiliar with the term. And if you are a writer – check it out, it really is an amazing resource for writers, and a great way to get a good start on a novel.



Another Nano Success…


Nanowrimo is done and dusted for another year… the actual event at least. For me the end of November marked 52,000 words through my 80,000 word manuscript- a success in terms of reaching Nanowrimo’s goal of 50,000 words in a month, and I have to admit that I’m feeling pretty good about my progress thus far. My manuscript is much improved, and I have deleted enough words now that I suspect my 80,000 words is actually closer to 65,000 (though there are still missing scenes that will need to be written before I’m done). Needless to say, I’ll be continuing with my edits –  I set myself a due date by which I want my manuscript ready to send out and that time is fast approaching, and I still need a few readers to go over it.

But I wasn’t the only one taking part in Nano in my household, with my two eldest children taking part in the Young Writer’s Program. After the end of the month, we got in and started editing stories, reading back over them and making suggestions for improvements. My 7 year old daughter’s characters had no names, for instance, so I suggested it might be helpful to name them.

Today she decided she wanted to help me edit my story. She read through the first two pages, and told me it was very good, and she really enjoyed it. She read a little further, to a point in the story which involved a group of unnamed men who appear only at this point in the story.
“Do they have names?” she asked.
“No,” I said.
“I think it would be good if they could have names.”
I told her I would keep that in mind, and she grabbed a pencil and jotted down a note in the margin – ‘names for men’.
“There,” she said. “So you remember.”

And there’s another writer in the making…

November = National Novel Writing Month!



The year draws to an end, and once again it’s time for the biggest event on the writer’s calendar (well, mine at least). This is the eighth year I’ve participated in Nanowrimo, though for the second time I’m rebelling, and working on my current historical novel. At 80,000 words, my aim it to have it edited ready to send out to beta readers by the end of the month  though the rate I’m going it will be lucky if it’s done before the end of the year! Editing has always been  a slower process for me, as I imagine it is for every writer (well – those who don’t edit as they go – I guess), and this time has been no different.

The month started out well. Despite the fact my opening scene was written only two months ago it seems to fit the story well, and needed little editing. The next few scenes were the same, and even when I found a few scenes that needed a little more work I still completed each one with the feeling of satisfaction – that maybe, just maybe, the words were finally forming the story they are meant to tell.

And then I hit Week 2. The scenes feel a little forced – I feel there is some important underlying thing that I’m missing, and no matter how much I edit and write and think and edit some more it’s not coming to me – this missing thing, this thing that will let the story flow, and not force it along…

So I’m tidying up those scenes – just a little – and moving on to the next scene, and the next. And hopefully by the end I will discover what it is those scenes need. And if I can’t find it – perhaps my beta readers will unlock the missing thing…

So I come to this mid-way point, having lost that feeling of satisfaction and achievement I felt at the beginning of the month, but plodding on none-the-less… always thinking about the story, about what it needs and where it’s going…

Nanowrimo 2014


This was my seventh year of NanoWrimo. It was a struggle this year. With a 4-month old baby, and the stress of the impending closure of my children’s most wonderful school, I wasn’t sure I would make it. In the last couple of weeks, I seemed to be constantly a day behind, and I kept finding myself wandering off track, and having to stop and regroup and remember exactly where this story needed to go.

Nano 2014 stats

I have some amazing scenes, and some incredibly dull scenes, and a lot of somewhere-in-between scenes. And writing a historical fiction has taught me there’s a hell of a lot of things I have absolutely no idea about, and the research I have done is far from sufficient. So it’s back to the books for a little while now. But with a bit of a luck, and a lot of effort, hopefully this NanoWrimo story will make it out of my own little world, and into the pages of a book.


Inspiration via Nanowrimo – and our final winner!!

One of the things I absolutely love about National Novel Writing Month, are the Pep Talks. Emails from published authors, encouraging all the writers out there to keep on writing.

Today’s Pep Talk was from Nick Hornby. His words of encouragement need to be shared with the wider writing world. All of us who worry that our work is not good enough, who judge our work based on the ideas/rules/perceptions of others (which, lets face, it probably everyone!), need to read his email, and print it out, and stick it somewhere so we can remember what he says.

I will try to paraphrase Nick’s words here – but if you’d like to get the full impact of what he has to say, click here to check out the pep talk!

(And for those who don’t know – Nick wrote the books “About a Boy”, “High Fidelity” and “Fever Pitch” all of which have been turned into films!)

Every writer questions whether they are good enough – whether there is a stick by which we can measure the validity or otherwise of our work. But as Nick points out – art is subjective. Not everyone agrees that Shakespeare was a great author (and lets not get into a debate about whether he really did the writing, or simply stole someone else’s work). Some people say that a good novel takes between 2 and 7 years to write – but P G Wodehouse wrote 98 books in his 75 year career (and that’s not counting his plays).

Nick says:

“It’s a mess, the arts. Critics don’t agree with each other, readers don’t agree with critics. And real writers—if I may become definitive for a moment—change their minds about their own worth and talent somewhere between two and seven hundred times a day.

I’m trying to tell you that your own opinion of your work is entirely irrelevant, and so is the opinion of others. You have a job to do, and that job is to write a novel.”

I love that line “your own opinion of your work is entirely irrelevant, and so is the opinion of others”. Of course, I would think that if the larger percentage of “others” tell you your work is bad, perhaps you should listen to them – but then again if your work reaches even one person who – to paraphrase Lemony Snickett (see this pep talk) – takes it to heart and feels an effect in their life from your words – surely you have still achieved something as a writer, and that one thing is not to be sneered at.

Being a writer is far from easy. I send my stories out to different people – they come back with different ideas on what needs fixing. If the majority come back and say the same thing needs fixing, I fix it. But what if only half say there’s a problem with x,y,z…? What if only a few say “such and such is lacking”? I guess that is the point where personal preference must shine through – what do I like best? It is my work after all, and if I am sending it out into the world, it is important it has my mark, not the mark of others.

Today is the day I draw the last copy of The Secret Keeper. And I was going to try and do something original to draw the winner, but instead I will just flip a coin, as the only commentors we have had (who haven’t previously won!) have been Bec, and Laura Kay, (and anonymous – but as I can’t confirm your identity you’ll have to miss out this time!! Feel free to post again though! 🙂

And the winner is! Bec!!

Yay!! I’ll send you an email shortly Congratulations!! 😀

Nanowrimo 2012

Ah Nano! I love it! This is my fifth year of taking part in NaNoWriMo, and I am pleased to say I have been successful each time, some more than others.

This year, I was excited to be writing a sequel for a novel I wrote during Camp Nano in June. To my memory, Red Sky flowed from my fingers onto the page with ease. And I guess it must have been fairly easy, for I finished it in 19 days. Dark Sea, however, was like pulling teeth. Or rather – as I explained to my partner the other day – it was like there was a blockage in the pipe. The inspiration was there, I mostly knew where I was going, but it just took so darn long to get anywhere! I’d sit for hours, and end up with a meagre 500 words, and then all of a sudden, bam! The blockage was gone and the words poured out, and I had an extra 1500 in 45 mins. But the next day, the pipe was blocked again, and I had to go through the painstaking effort of unblocking it before the words would flow again.

Looking back, now I’ve finished the first draft, I’m feeling pretty good about the story as a whole, though there were moments when I thought what I was writing was utter tripe! Mind you, I haven’t been back to reread it yet, that won’t happen for a month or two… probably January… so I have no doubt that there are moments of utter tripe, but I’m hoping that mixed in all the mess there are gems as well, just waiting to be polished.

And now I’ve used every cliche in the book, perhaps I should go do something a little more constructive with my day. 🙂




Favourite Nano Videos, Progress to Date, and a Winner!

I have been procrastinating. It’s particularly bad today, because I now had a clear outline of how to get this story to the end… I spent half an hour yesterday (or maybe it was the day before… it’s all blurred together at the moment),  working out how this story was going to end, and how I was going to get there. And yes, my writing has deviated slightly off the outline, but in a better way! Much much better. So I should be writing, and NOT procrastinating. But I couldn’t help myself.

Above is one of my favourite Nano Videos (or at least an attempt to embed(?) it, I really have no idea what I’m doing, so here’s hoping it works!!). I can’t remember what year it comes from but it was incredibly inspiring at the time, and I enjoy watching it again now.

But watching old Nano videos is not the only procrastination I’ve been doing today.

Pinterest has got me too and this morning I began to search for travel pictures – of Scotland in particular. I’ve been to Edinburgh once before, for two days! I loved it! It felt like home! I’ve got to go back, explore the rest of the country, pop across to Ireland and explore that too! I can trace several branches of my family tree to these two countries (Yes, I’m ignoring the fact that Scotland and England are now the UK – that’s ok, isn’t it?), and I would love the chance to see some of the places they lived, and to maybe do some genealogical research at the source.  I want to travel again!

But at the moment the funds are dry, and I have other things to do anyway… like finish this novel. Only 8 days of Nanowrimo to go. And less than 10,000 words to reach my goal! I know I can do it, if only I can drag myself away from the internet for a few hours. :/

DS’s Young Writer’s Program experience is not going so well… “I’ll catch up tomorrow,” he tells me. He is now several days behind. He needs to write 80 words a day to catch up. I’m sure he could make it, if he wanted to. He has, after all, had a day of over 100 words. But I’m not sure he does want to. We’ll wait and see I suppose…

But I did come to post for a purpose today, and that was to draw a winner from the ‘hat’. There have been a few more commentors this week, but finally, finally – Monica! You have won!! Yay!! Will send you an email right now for your details, and soon your book will be winging it’s way to you! Enjoy!! 😀

I have one more copy of Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper to give away. Comment on any post or page, and stay tuned for next weeks draw to see how you go!! 😀