Familiar blunders when writing a novel

There’s something about the first 10,000 words of a novel. I like them because (usually), nothing has gone wrong …

It’s after that the problems begin. And I’ve noticed that they’re the same problems in every book I write, so here they are:

  1. I’ve begun the book in the wrong place. I get a MUCH better idea for Chapter 1. And probably Chapters 2-4, also. There’s no point carrying on with the angle I’d first thought of so I rewrite what I’d written from the new angle. Much better.
  2. I haven’t been assiduous in keeping a cast list and I’m beginning to forget the names of minor characters. I update my cast list and find I have four characters whose names begin with J or two characters called Peter. I make the necessary adjustments to my castlist and to my manuscript.
  3. DSCF9002While I’m at it, I update my timeline (a long strip of paper created by stapling together A4 sheets from my scrap paper drawer). I find I’ve messed up my timeline and have to go back and sort it out. I make the necessary adjustments to my manuscript.
  4. I get involved with promo for the last book and return to my WIP in short bursts. I lose continuity and realise I have far too many ideas for one book. It will end up about 300,000 words long.
  5. I feel like one of those people who keep fifty plates spinning on thin sticks. I’m worried I’m not keeping them all going and I go back and read and edit what I have so far.
  6. Getting ready for our Heroine's Abroad workshop, which was good fun and well supported. Evonne Wareham (back to cam) in Welsh national dress, Lynne Connolly, helpful lady called Carolyn, Christina Courtenay.

    Getting ready for our Heroine’s Abroad workshop, which was good fun and well supported. Evonne Wareham (back to cam) in Welsh national dress, Lynne Connolly, helpful lady called Carolyn, Christina Courtenay.

    I go away to teach or attend a convention and swear to work every day on my book so I don’t lose momentum. I work on it on the plane there. On the plane back I stare at it and wonder whether this is actually my book at all. Once home, I go back and read and edit what I have so far. (If I’m really organised, I manage to make 5 and 6 one step, which saves a lot of time.)

  7. I realise that the dynamics between certain characters are not coming out as I thought they were. I make the necessary adjustments to my manuscript.
  8. At the bar in the Grand Union Station.

    I realise that I do NOT have too many ideas for one book. I have too few. I panic and feel sick and begin scribbling new plot ideas on post-its. I may turn to drink.

  9. I find a hole in my plot. For some reason, the knowledge comes to me when I’m either on a train or in the shower. I worry a lot. Sigh. Scribble on post-its. Make the necessary adjustments to my manuscript.
  • photo 1-1I stare at the 63,449 words of my manuscript and know that I’m going to sweat over unknotting my plot lines and bringing the book to a satisfying ending … so I write a blog entitled Familiar Blunders When Writing a Novel.


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38 responses to “Familiar blunders when writing a novel

  1. Yes. Yes. Ditto! Oh my goodness – it feels so reassuring to read this post Sue – thank you!


  2. Sue, I so enjoyed this. Talk about empathising! Many thanks.


  3. This really made me smile, Sue! And if you’re the expert, what chance do newcomers like me have. Groans!


  4. All that sounds familiar (apart from the flying to places thing). I’d add, ‘realise it’s November and I still haven’t any idea how the book ends’ to my list.


  5. Oh, I love it, Sue. Soooo familiar! I obsessively reread and rework, to the point where I think I’ll never progress. But I do. Eventually. So reassuring to see that a great writer like you suffers the same doubts. x


  6. I do 8 massively – I tend to write short anyway, and around 40k I always decide that there’s nowhere near enough story to fill a whole book. Then I have to remind myself to make it deeper not wider, which totally makes sense to me, even if not to anyone else…


  7. This made me laugh out loud. I showed it to dh who laughed as well. All too familiar, sadly. Liked Alison’s comment – ‘make it deeper, not wider’. So true. Thanks for sharing, Sue.


  8. I’m with you and Alison on number 8! Really enjoyed reading the list – thanks! 🙂


  9. Couldn’t read this without smiling and nodding in agreement. Great blog Sue, and thanks for the reassurance that it isn’t just me!


  10. Great post! And to think, most of this whirligig goes on *inside*, the head. Amazing, really. Notes are wonderful, of course, but pictures, drawings, sketches, diagrams, maps, corkboards, whiteboards (plus in my case the inside of cereal packets…) all most useful.
    Time for calm reflection essential, too. A bit like when not able to think of a crossword answer, then returning to the page six hours later and seeing The Light!


  11. Sadly I am familiar with this unsettling landscape. I have built up a decent reputation for forgetting the names of minor characters, and many other problems you outline here are ones I am currently wrestling with. Oh dear


  12. Zana

    Very entertaining, Sue, and all too familiar – alas!


  13. Great post…and oh so familiar!


  14. Enjoyed immensely and really laughed at the end. Also enjoyed your talk at Guildford Book Festival the other week


    • Thanks, Kay! You were at the short story workshop? That went really well. Very relaxed but interested participants. 🙂


      • Yes, I took loads of notes but didn’t pipe up with any questions because I am on the shy side in groups of people where I don’t know people. But having said that, there wer six of us from Ruth Brandts various courses that I have met before! Anita Chapman, for one, who I think you know? I didn’t know she was going, but I sat on her table at the back.


  15. juleswake

    Definitely, definitely. Agree with it all. But the results are all fantastic, so it obviously works.


  16. Pingback: Familiar Blunders When Writing a Novel – revisited | Sue Moorcroft writes

  17. brilliant post, thanks so much, Sue. I’m in a major crisis of confidence with lots of ideas and lots of partials. Should I chnage POV? or tense? or start from a new angle? or start somewhere else? Or start another book? Thanks for being reassuring.,


    • Thanks, Phillipa! Been there, done that. And we are not alone – lots of people have said on Twitter or FB that they feel exactly the same, too. Writing a book is sometimes hard. 🙂 Good luck. You’ll get it sorted. x


  18. Liv

    Wonderful post, Sue – am bookmarking.


  19. Oh, the joy of recognition! I’ve had to write down a list of my ‘cast’ and check that the initial letters vary. My current book spans several decades with a timeline so entangled and unworkable (and written on dozens of pieces of paper) that I’ve resorted to an Exel spreadsheet – always been terrified of Exel but it’s simply brilliant and I can keep track of everyone!
    As for plot holes, I thought I’d solved one last week until I woke in the night realising that I’d killed the character I needed to sort it, many chapters previously…
    Thanks so much for making me smile and for the comfort in knowing that I’m not alone!

    Liked by 1 person

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