The Plodding, Bumbling Writer by Deborah Abela

Mindful writer
Children's Author | Learning to write
Self editing

‘Writing is an act of faith not a trick of grammar.’ EB White.

I’m a plodding, bumbling writer. Even though recently a friend looked at me sternly and said, ‘You’re methodical’. A methodical plodder, perhaps?

I recently finished the third book in the Grimsdon trilogy, Final Storm and writing it felt hard, wonderful and brilliantly intoxicating, in almost equal measure. At times it felt like a complete mess but I stayed with it, rewrite after rewrite, and it slowly found its way.

At the Creative Kids Tales Festival this year, Jackie French suggested writing your first draft then trashing it, rewriting it and trashing it again. Even though I find novels have their own personality, some easier, others very stubborn, this was exactly what this novel was like. I trashed and trashed again before I began to find the story.

Peter Carey has described the writing process as muddy, confused and dark. He warns novice writers not to expect the self-doubt and uncertainty to go away. “I say to them, this is what you’re choosing for your life. You think you feel bad now, you wait. Because that’s the nature of writing.”

Thomas Keneally said, “I have an image of the novel as a vortex of turbulent forces, and of myself at the material’s mercy. I learn to swim by about the second or third draft.”

How to Keep Going

On the days it feels really hard, when I feel like I can’t write even one sentence, the best thing I’ve found is to focus on why I fell in love with the story and the characters in the first place. To remember the joy I felt when I first had the idea and ignore any nagging voices in my head telling me otherwise.

I also LOVE this book, The Mindful Writer by Dinty W Moore. It has wise wonderful words of advice by writers, which I found lifted me when I needed…but also wanted to know others feel the way I do when I write.

My Writing Process

Draft one for me is about lego blocks….building the foundation of the story that has to be strong enough to hold up all that other good stuff….like characters and emotion and plot and tension and believability.

The second draft is about making it tighter….making connections stronger and throwing stuff away I don’t need….I threw away whole chapters during the edit of Final Storm and wrote new ones I hadn’t thought I needed before. I rewrote chapter 5 (grrrrr) 5 times…yes 5! Every time I thought that was it, I knew it wasn’t good enough. So I started again, until I was finally happy to move onto chapter 6.

It’s during these rewrites that the novel becomes more solid, hopefully more exciting and, the most wonderful part for me, it’s when the characters truly come to life….especially in those smaller moments that are so precious to building character, drama and relationships. They take over and talk and act in ways that are somehow apart from me and all their own.

Editing for me has to be about cutting back and getting to the core of the plot more quickly. Making the story simpler, clearer, and getting rid of anything that gets in the way.

A book I loved for common sense editorial advice is, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. It is practical, clear and it has fun activities at the end of each chapter.

Final Tips to Keep Going

Be your own coach, cheer squad and impartial judge. Don’t be too hard on yourself but don’t give yourself a free pass. If you know it’s not good enough, change it.

And Lastly…

Back yourself, work hard, remember the joy.

For more information about Deborah Abela, visit her website:


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