Sheila O'Kelly's Blog

Freelance journalist, sub-editor, and e-novelist

Archive for the ‘Writing’ 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