Marie Cooper’s Portfolio: Updates on Her First Novel

Writing a First Novel

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This post is messy… It’s a work in progress. Just like my novel. But this is my progress to date…

Novel Writing Progress

I began plotting (see what I did there) my progress here… And it was pretty… The little ex-scientist in me adored watching my word count graph evolve and grow.

However, now I am editing and stitching things together, it is a little bit too disheartening to track. Especially as I recently managed to cut 2000 words in one month. I think it is time I stopped counting and started focusing solely on stitching all the sections together

Kevin, a friend from a Writer’s group, gave me the most awesome advice about joining my sections together. That, rather than write huge swathes of prose all I need to do is signpost in one chapter and pick up in the next. This was an epiphany moment for me. Yes, I know it seems obvious now. But I live in a constant state of not knowing what I don’t know.

Once it is all pieced together, that will be enough to enable me to see what is missing, whether what I currently have flows, and the plots makes sense. I will finally be able to officially say I have a first, complete and almost readable draft.

Then, I can read it through from start to finish and cry at the amount of work I am likely to still have to do. But, at least I will be able to see what I need to do to turn my messy first draft into the masterpiece I envision in my head… Hopefully. Or at least do my best.

Imperfect Storms. An Evening of Work by Members of The Writers’ Guild

On Thursday 28th April 2022 my short screenplay As the Crow Flies was performed at Norwich Theatre, Stage 2. The evening consisted of new works by East Anglian members of The Writers’ Guild.

The writing I submitted was a small taster of a much larger world I intended on building for my characters to inhabit.

Sketch of paper and pens overwritten with "Imperfect Storms. New work written by members of the East Anglian members of The Writers' Guild. Norwich Theatre. Stage 2. Thursday 28 April 2022

Marie Cooper rejected by Arts Council England

I decided that the best way to ensure that my story could be told and shared would be in the written word as a novel. I had never written a novel before. The arts council claimed to help support creative artists with grants for a step change in their creative practice.

The application process turned out to be an exhausting, anxiety-ridden soul-destroying waste of my time. People and organisations seem to apply to the arts council over and over again and get grants, yet I couldn’t even get one to help me fund my work. So, I am having to work super hard and rely on the generosity and kindness of good people and organisations to help me.

I felt upset, disappointed and let down to be rejected by the Arts Council funding application. I am persevering regardless. I have no intention of giving up or delaying and applying again and again and again and becoming one of those people who takes ten years just to get one project to completion. So, I began writing my book ahead of schedule, but alone, with no funding and no mentor. I am used to it. But it was still a punch in the gut to be excluded… again.


In June 2022, I received some feedback on the first 300 words of my novel, from author Ian Ayris on the Pen to Print Creative Writing course. All edits/suggestions were gratefully received and Incredibly useful. Although I now have the terror of just how much editing a full novel is going to need when I have completed it and how long that might take.

Submission Pack

I have written an initial synopsis. It still needs fleshing out but the beginning, middle and end are approximately there. It’s a start.

Day 1 – Tuesday 31st May 2022

Starting ahead of schedule thanks to Arts Council England’s premature rejection. Anyway, they are forgotten already, Arts who?

I started work today on Chapter One. I am beginning in medias res, which is just posh-speak for ‘in the midst of things’. Beginning in the action, at a point in the story where the story has already begun. It is actually feeling rather more tricky than I imagined it might be.

Maybe it’s just the clunky feeling of being less accustomed to writing in prose. I am used to the zippedyalongness of dialogue in a script. It is going to take some getting used to. I’m sure I will get the hang of it, by the time I reach 90,000 words or thereabouts.

It doesn’t feel too shabby a progress for day one. 831 words under my belt and a fair bit of background work on my antagonist. He has a name and, of course, he already seems to have more depth and is more interesting than everyone else in the story. I will look into sorting that out on Thursday. I have to call it a day for now because I still have to prep for work tomorrow.

Only day one and already my aim to look after my health and well-being by walking every day is out of the window. I’ll try to get a quick walk in tonight or tomorrow morning before work if I can.

Music of the day (other than Whitesnake’s Here I go Again stuck in my head for no reason – Arts who?), was listening to the collection ‘Most Epic Music Ever: “Light And Dark” by Audiomachine’ as I wrote.

And today, whilst looking at names for my antagonist and side characters I have been using Behind The Name.

Saturday 4th June

I am enjoying the structured chaos of the process. I thought, that working on such a huge project, I would feel overwhelmed and I would find it stressful. Especially as in this first week I did not get as much written in terms of word count as I had hoped.

On my prettyful Gannt chart, I had planned to have my first 2000 words written in the first three days. My first chapter would be complete by now. Even though I am not on track, I am feeling fine about everything so far. Even when I haven’t written prose or dialogue I have been gathering information in terms of research and learning more about the novel writing process, all of which is drip-feeding into my story and building my progress.

I am taking the Eating the Elephant approach, taking one small bite at a time, and I can feel that it will all slowly come together. A bit of dialogue here. A new character there. Some information about the setting. The weather, seasons. The culture. One thing pulling another idea to itself. Connections.

I mitigated the expected noisy neighbour issues by having an emergency writing bag ready to go. So when they were playing loud music on Thursday when I sat down to work, I just grabbed my bag, left the noisy, stressful situation and worked elsewhere.

I think I will put aside some time each week to make sure that if I have gathered any notes on paper, I get them in Scrivener into my outline. I thought that an outline was something that would be like a solid plan of how the book would be written before I even started to write. I think I am realising now that it is far more fluid and amorphous than that and that it will grow and change as I write.

I’ve had some real breakthroughs in these first few days in terms of the culture, magic, antagonist and landscape. There are still some major holes in my magic system that I need to work out.

I am not going to be too hard on myself. Having been rejected by the Arts Council for funding, I can’t pay for the mentor I had hoped to work with. So I have to learn everything about writing a novel alone. I will have no ongoing feedback and support. No second reader for my book when it is complete, no meeting with the agent and editor when it’s done so that I can pitch it. All the opportunities I could have had, I find locked behind the door of privilege once more. Not for the likes of me.

Thank goodness for all the wonderful people like Brandon Sanderson publishing all of his lectures, freely available, on his website and the Writing Excuses podcast.

Like Pen to Print running their amazing free classes and workshops in writing for the page, stage and screen.

Like Writers’ Hour – a free safe space for writers to meet and write together. No matter what they write, what stage in their writing they are at or where they are in the world.

Like Reedsy and all of their free videos, webinars and email courses on writing.

For every organisation willing to slam the door of opportunity in your face and pull up ladders, there is always someone holding a door open or reaching a hand back down the ladder to help you up. Thank goodness for good people.

NaNoWriMo 2022

I jumped in for NaNoWriMo to help me focus on getting a messy first draft out. I confess I didn’t keep a written diary of how I was doing past the first week. I was working and trying to fit writing around everything. I had to prioritise. I kept a record up until Day 8.

Day 1 – 7

I was super excited and focused for the first couple of days. Things just flowed. Mostly because I already knew a couple of scenes I was going to start working on. Things started to get a little painful from then onwards. Towards the end of the week though I did have the sense to stop trying to pants things and pull out my synopsis. Re-reading my initial plan helped clarify some of the must-haves I needed to start laying down the bones of the story.

Day 7:

The first in-person meetup was cancelled. Can’t lie. I was gutted. One of the reasons I signed up for NaNoWriMo, along with the accountability of a word count deadline every day, was the community. I was so looking forward to the meetup that my day was thrown when I found out the same morning that it was not going ahead.

Thank **** for Writers’ Hour.

Day 8:

Woo! and into the second week of NaNoWriMo. Although it is less woo and more zzzzz. I had to be up at 6 am this morning. I was on call for roleplay and had to be ready to go, just in case anyone could not make it.

I did Writers’ Hour at 8 am. When I wasn’t called for work, I walked into the city with the intention of writing in a coffee shop but realised I had totally forgotten to put my purse in my bag. Stress and tiredness are a terrible combo for me. Sonface was in the city and loaned me a tenner. I sat and drank tea and wrote my biggest chunk of word count for the day.

By the end of the day, and with another 91 words still to write, I was almost asleep over my keyboard. And definitely not in the mood for Scrivener to put its parts on and start doing the not recognising the license server thing again. That is no joke considering how long it takes Scrivener to load up in the first place. And I still had to type up all my handwritten notes. Had to fight off the urge to add my NaNoWriMo word count to my existing word count so far. Otherwise, there would be no early night and catch-up of sleep forthcoming. And I did not want another sleepy day. This challenge is quite challenging enough.

28 November 2022

I made it. So relieved. So emotional. So happy. 50,822 words closer to completing my novel.

Now to breathe and take a short break before I face down draft 0 for the first readthrough after Christmas.

Then I can start jiggling my scribbles around and ensuring everything is in the correct order.

Then I can start filling in any plot gaps and making sure it all makes sense. Adding descriptions and names where I left notes for myself.

NaNoWriMo 2022 winners banner

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