Diary of a Work-in-Progress

With consent from Emma, who is mentoring me on my novel, I’m going to chronologue our discussions and decisions and ideas and edits as I move forward with this novel, from now until publication…(jeez, that’s a ballsy thing to say!)

I was reading The Writers Tale recently – by Russell T Davies (screenwriter and showrunner for Doctor Who during the Tennant era) and he did a diarised email exchange with the magazine editor for Dr Who, which they turned into a book.

It was an amazing read – to see the mechanisms and thoughts of a writer during the process, to see how their stories changed and how they responded to feedback and obstacles…anyway, this is what I’m going for with this.

But before we can go forward, let me fill you in today on how it’s been going so far.

I started the image of simply this:

A little girl in spacesuit, stands on Mars and pulls a sword from a stone.

That was it – the root from which my current story, Ghosts of Mars, sprung and has continued to germinate.

I bashed out a rough outline, filled with lots of cool science, and then got to work on my characters (something I can still spending lots of time on, 2 years later!).

I could have saved myself, well, 2 years if only I’d really nailed the characters back then – I was too keen to write a cool story and I forgot the most important thing – the story ISN’T FOR ME! It’s for a reader and I’ve got to give them a character (on the page) who they can root for.

In my head, I’ve got the character nailed, and the side-effect of that is forgetting to put it on the page for the reader to see. I need regular reminding of this.

Anyway, much of that hastily written first draft no longer exists – I hacked and I hacked, something in the region of 20-30k that I’d written is now gone, with another 5-7k to go this week!

In fact, the opening section that got onto the longlist for UV2020, and got a highly commended, no longer exists – that old opening has gone and we now start much later. The very definition of killing your darlings!

Anyway, I’ve got a patchy first draft right now (though in reality some parts are 2/3rd draft!) while other parts aren’t even written at all yet! It’s a mess. Here’s a wee snapshot of my current outline, which is likely to change loads in the next few weeks:

Emma is not an outliner, like this and baulked a little at it, but was also keen to say that we all have to work in the way that helps us.

One of the disadvantages of working in such detail is that, as I said to her yesterday, I feel like the book is written in my head, with little leeway to be creative (of course, that’s not actually true!) but just part of the reason I’ve been struggling to write it.

Anyway, that’s why I approached Emma to help – often she’s just reminding me to keep it simple, keep it about the characters and how they feel and respond and what they want, and make sure that’s at the forefront of the story, something I do forget in my excitement at causing chaos and anguish for my characters! I forget that while I know how they are feeling/responding, I am not showing this to the reader effectively enough.

This is the massive advantage of having someone else read your work – I think it’s the most important thing to do for a writer – find someone who will read your work and not be afraid to tell you when something isn’t working.

Anyway, here’s a little insight into how our mentoring started – some emails back and forth:



Shared with kind permission from Emma.

You can see just from a pitch and an outline, which we discussed back in May, that I was already getting some good, honest feedback on the bigger story elements (at this stage, Emma hasn’t read any of the manuscript!).

Anyway, I’ll keep sharing these insights as I move forward with the blog.

Until next time, May the Force be with you! And I’ll leave you with my chief procrastination habit – a trailer video for the above book!

3 thoughts on “Diary of a Work-in-Progress

  1. Thanks for sharing this Stuart, it was fascinating to read! And it’s so easy to tell you and Emma have a great working relationship. The outline made me laugh as I have something that looks almost the same for my next story, which became so helpful in ensuring all the threads tie up and I can see where I’m going, otherwise I always get stuck. Good luck with the drafting, I have no doubt this is a bestseller in waiting!

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