Sheila O'Kelly's Blog

Freelance journalist, sub-editor, and e-novelist

Archive for the ‘Novels – writing and reading’ Category

Phase by phase

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I just came across a writing technique that is new to me on Twitter, ‘Phase writing’. This involves writing numbered paragraphs that outline short phases in your novel. It’s kind of a short first draft and its purpose is to sort out the structure and plot.

Each numbered ‘phase’ is about 20-50 words long and will translate into 300-450 words. The idea is not to worry about your writing style too much, but to use the technique to work out the plot and structure.

I am currently working on a crime novel and have written just over 10,000 words. Already I have had to redraft a number of times when it has got confusing – even with Scrivener. Today I ‘phased’ what I have written so far and found that it has made things much clearer.

Because I was ‘phasing’ material I had already written, I came up with about twice as many phases as I would have done if I were starting from scratch. But since I tend to write too tightly, this has already shown  that I could considerably expand the existing material.

I think this can be an extremely useful technique. And for the next while, I plan to ‘phase’ the entire rest of the novel and then go back and write a full second draft.

This technique was brought to my attention by Johanna Harness on Twitter (@JohannaHarness) and the technique is oulined by Lazette Gilford in her article ‘It’s just a phase’ (

I’ll let you know how it goes.


Written by SOKNH

September 6, 2009 at 19:35

Decluttering the mind

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I just spent five days in Olhao, Portugal, an old fishing town in the eastern Algarve. We stayed in our small apartment which is simply furnished and clutter free. Unlike our house in Dublin, which while much loved, is old and always needs something done to it. And with two adult children flitting in and out at all times of the day and night always needs to be tidied up. When I want to write at home, I put on the blinkers so I don’t get agitated by the mess, but I know it’s there in the background.

In Olhao, the blank walls and clean white floors are liberating. This time, I took my laptop and every second day spent some time writing. For the first time I am writing a crime novel and the plot had become a bit unwieldy. In the calm space in Olhao, with no demands on me, I got it sorted in my head and wrote several thousand words. The characters are now more alive, which means that what they do next is much easier to figure out. In fact, some of them just get up from the background and start tagging along when I had imagined that they would stay quietly living their humdrum lives away from centre stage.

There is the added advantage in Olhao that there is no television or internet access in the apartment – and that’s the way I’m going to keep it. So often I go to the internet to do a bit of research and half an hour later remember, oh, yes I’m supposed to be writing. It has taught me that I can write the first draft without exact information – I will sort out the details of what rank policeman would be sent to a murder scene etc later on.

Now back in Dublin – better get out the blinkers.

Written by SOKNH

September 3, 2009 at 09:25

Posted in Writing

How to publish a book online

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This article first appeared in the Irish Times on August 5

An electronic shortcut in the race for readers

You don’t need a print publisher to get people reading your novel on the beach – you can make it available as an e-book which can be downloaded onto one of the many electronic readers on the market, writes SHEILA O’KELLY

It seems there are lots of us scribblers out there writing novels that never see the light of day because publishers aren’t prepared to take the risk on an unknown. It’s a huge risk for them to take on the marketing and printing costs. But in the last 12 months or so new technologies and websites have opened up a lot more ways to distribute fiction like: Amazon Kindle; Sony Reader; Smashwords (a website not a gadget); and Stanza, an iPhone book reading application.

My novel, Love Knot, begins in 1979 and charts the next few years of a young journalist who becomes pregnant and flees claustrophobic Dublin and heads to London to escape. It took me quite some time to write and I think people will enjoy it so am loathe to let it moulder there. So I decided to give this electronic publishing business a go by uploading the novel to Amazon Kindle and Smashwords.

The Amazon Kindle Store is an offshoot of (so far not available in Europe). It sells electronic books that are uploaded to its Kindles, which are small plastic devices, like a mini-mini laptop, with a 6-10 inch diagonal screen.

Smashwords describes itself as: “A publishing platform, online bookstore and ebook distributor for independent ebook authors, publishers and readers. We offer multi-format, DRM-free ebooks, ready for immediate sampling and purchase, and readable on any e-reading device.”

So there were two platforms ready and waiting. However, there is a glitch with In order to upload a book to Kindle you must have a US bank account so that they can you pay you a percentage for each copy of your book that they sell. So I phoned my sister-in-law in Philadelphia who kindly set up an account in her name, using her bank account, that I could use to publish my book. So officially she is my publisher on Amazon.

Next I read through all of Amazon’s detailed instructions about how to format the book. I tried several of their suggestions, but in the end found that what worked best was simply uploading the novel in Word. Even though on the forums this did not work well for others. For the record, I use a Mac and Word 2004 – perhaps this was just a lucky combination. I don’t know, you may need to experiment. It works best if you don’t use any fancy formatting – this will just confuse the technology.

I chose to sell my novel for $99 cent. For each copy sold, I get $35 cent.

Smashwords provides a very detailed style guide that you need to follow to successfully publish on their site.  Again it is crucial to avoid fancy formatting. Love Knot is also $99 cent on Smashwords and there I receive either $56 cent or $76 cent per copy – not sure why it varies. I chose to upload the novel in all the formats Smashword makes available and this means that they also make Love Knot available on iPhones via the Stanza application.

By the way. I think it’s worthwhile doing a very simple cover design, which you upload separately. It will make your book look a little more professional.

Then I had to start thinking about marketing. I got a kickstart when Smashwords offered authors the chance to make their novels available for free during the month of July. I used this to promote the novel using Twitter (sheilaokelly); Facebook; and Linkedin where I already had accounts.

So far the response has been very encouraging and I am hoping that when people have finished reading the novel they will leave ratings or reviews on either or

Meanwhile, I have just started the next novel!

Sheila O’Kelly is a freelance journalist who also gives training courses in how to write in plain English.

Written by SOKNH

August 24, 2009 at 19:41