editing · Favourite writers · rereading · work-in-progress

Writing Breakthroughs

What are your most satisfying writing moments? Is it putting pen to paper for the first time and setting down the words ‘Chapter One’? Or is it finally releasing that last sentence you may have had rolling round inside your head for a year?

Or maybe it’s the breakthroughs that happen along the way: the moments of liberation following months in a writing fog, unable to make progress.

Sometimes, it’s switching from a third-person narration to a first. Adding flashbacks helps avoid a clumsy fumbling with the ‘had had’s of the past tense. Maybe changing the name of a character helps the rhythm of your sentences. Or the gender …

‘I wanted to write a novel about how difficult it can be, for those women for whom mothering has been more of a chore than a pleasure, to shake off their grown-up children. The novel took months to get started. My first two characters, Mrs Collett’s son and his wife, stayed flat on the page while I tried to kick them to life. Then suddenly I realised, “But they’re both men!”’

That’s Anne Fine, talking about her brilliant adult novel In Cold Domain.


I had a structural bottleneck to get through on Ready to Love.

Remember the post about the influence of other writers? On reflection, I don’t think my problem  was that any more than the restrictions of stationery was. I was too concerned about being published. I was thinking in terms of chapters, because you submit three chapters – 1-3; otherwise, people assume your book is slow to start, which might just be the beginning of its deficiencies. Was the structure of the chapters inhibiting the story?

So I took them out, and was left with a continuous narrative. I cut a lot, but gave my main character, Minna, a clear run for 20,000 words up to the point which was a mini-climax in the overall story. It felt right.

Then I thought: I want a novel of about 80,000 words. So there would be four parts, each of 20,000 words. Because I was reworking material I had, I skipped straight to part three next, which was the rest of Minna’s chronicle of events.

Then I came to Jeff’s story and realised the solution was to interleave the two narratives. I reworked scenes from his perspective, I altered Minna’s timeline. It isn’t really a groundbreaking solution – but it felt like one. And I could achieve it only after 18 months of writing. The decision to self-publish unlocked me, but it might have happened differently.

How has it happened for you? Have you ever had an idea for a story and got bogged down in the middle? How did you clear your own bottleneck?

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