Category Archives: Research

More about getting into a writing frame of mind

I’m still having a rest from writing the novel – and still feeling vaguely guilty about it. It’s made me think a lot more about the writing process: why I want to write, and also why sometimes I find it so hard.

Being ‘in the mood’ for writing is definitely a key thing for me – but as writing is a large part of my work as well as something I do for myself, I don’t always have the luxury of waiting until the mood hits me.

So how come I can churn out press releases and brochures to order, but not the next few chapters of my novel? They key is preparation or warming up. At work there are things I always do as preparation – but because they are things that I do at work, I haven’t been applying them to myself at home when I feel as if I should just be able to leap straight in. Here are a couple of techniques that I’m going to try to transfer from work to home:

The friendly Martian

At work, I often have to spend time explaining what it is that I’m going to write about to other people, usually to elicit information from them. But often the act of explaining is just as useful to me as the information that I get out of it because it makes me think it through carefully and maybe look at the project from other angles.

Of course, to apply it to my novel, I’ll either have to find a willing victim or perhaps write questions and answers.

Word association or clustering

This is like mental doodling – letting your mind wander and think through the problem. (It makes you look more efficient than staring aimlessly out of the window when at work, too.)


Clustering (a technique I picked up from Gabrielle Rico’s book Writing the Natural Way) also helps to organise ideas. It’s similar to mind mapping, but I enjoy the action of circling words and phrases, then joining them up to form a huge web of ideas.

It helps me to organise ideas as well as find new connections; I’ve already been clustering to help me organise the sections of the novel. But I’ve also noticed that my writing comes easier after clustering so I’m going to work through some of the exercises in Rico’s book, especially those on modelling and re-creating.

Know the subject

When I get stuck writing something at work, it’s usually because I don’t know what I’m really writing about. Some people can work their way round that and make the best of what they do know – I’m not like that. My writing is like an iceberg: what appears on the page is only part of what goes on to create it.

One of the hang-ups of the book at the moment is the uncertainty of what is going to happen next. The characters are moving towards a pivotal point in the book, and none of us know what is going to happen next. And I’m getting twitchy about not knowing enough about the court system in early medieval England. It’s in danger of becoming too much of an episode of The Bill or Inspector Morse because that’s more or less the sum total of my knowledge of criminal law…

Obviously research and asking questions is going to be the answer for this – but I’m also going to explore visualisation techniques too. The passages of writing that have been easiest and turned out best were where I had a very clear picture in my mind of what was going on. All I had to do was describe what I saw in my head, and so it follows that if I can train my mind to rehearse parts of the novel in my head, writing it will be easier.




Filed under Anxiety, copywriting, Middle ages, Motivation, Research, Writing

I hate typing up!

I’m still typing up my handwritten sections but I’m determined that I’m going to get it finished by the end of the week. In some ways it’s good: it doesn’t matter if I’m a bit tired or if Josh is awake until late and keeps coming in to speak to me because typing up is fairly easy-going on the mind. You can start and stop every five minutes and it doesn’t take too long to get back into the swing of it.

And very boring. I wish that I’d just typed it straight in and got it over with! I’ll know for next time.

I’m going on holiday next week, so I won’t be getting any writing done then. I’m going to be doing some research (I hope): CWRD Moseley’s Reach – a brief history; Trevor Bevis – Water, water everywhere: The draining of the fens and Joan Lennon – The Wicket Chronicles. The last one is worrying me slightly as it’s a children’s novel set in the fens during the middle ages, which sounds horribly familiar. I mean, that’s my idea! Ho hum.

Oh – and I’m back to the old Harry Potter series (number 5, The Order of the Phoenix). I came into the living room and found Josh sitting in the middle of a pile of the Harry Potter books. ‘What you up to?’ I asked. ‘I’m reading them to myself,’ he said, and sat studiously looking at the pages for ages while I washed up. Then he said, ‘Can you read me the next Harry Potter book?’

‘But I thought you’d had enough for a while?’

‘I had, but now I really miss Harry.’ And how could I refuse that? I’m sure a lot of these later books will go over his head, but he seems to be enjoying them.

If only the chapters weren’t so long!

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Filed under Children, Fenland, Harry Potter, Middle ages, Research, Writing


I went to do a bit of research today. Part of the trouble with writing the novel is I don’t know what the fens looked like in 1141. I’ve got a reasonable idea, of course: flat, wet, smelly etc; but that’s not enough for a description.

Wicken Fen is a nature reserve in Cambridgeshire and not too far from where I live. It’s a piece of fenland that’s been left to go back to a more natural state, so I went to take some photos, hoping that I’d get a better idea of what the landscape would have looked like 866 years ago.

Despite forgetting to take suncream and insect repellant, I survived the experience: although it was very hot and I should have not worn jeans and a black t-shirt…

FenlandWind pumpWoodlandWater and sedge

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Filed under Fenland, Middle ages, Nature, Research