James Holden: Sarah Waters and keeping track of progress

Sarah Waters is one of my favourite authors, not only for the trilogy of Victorian novels with which she made her name, but her most recent wartime and post-war novels The Night Watch and The Little Friend.

So I was delighted when I spotted a piece in The Guardian about how she wrote her most recent novel. The thing that for me really stood out was the fact that for each of her novels, she writes a journal chronicling her progress.

At first I thought, well this means that I’m on the write sort of track. I keep a spreadsheet of the progress I’ve made with my stories, not just word count and when last edited, but also whether I’ve submitted it anywhere and what the outcome was. I also keep a writing schedule that I try to keep to, which allows me to keep track of submission deadlines I might be interested in, meeting dates for the Clerkenwell Writers Asylum. This in turn allows me to loosely sketch out what I should be working on month-by-month.

But I was shocked by the scale with which Water records what she does. The journal that she maintains contains “a record of each day’s advances, along with plans, thoughts and queries about my current novel-in-progress”. For The Paying Guest, herlatest novel, the journal ran to 170,000 words – nearly as long as the final novel itself.

At first I felt a bit depressed. I know I carry a lot of stuff in my head, and should write more stuff down, but even so – was I so far behind in what might be considered best practice?

But then I realised that in my own small way I am essentially doing the same. Choosing to keep track of my progress is one of the best things I’ve chosen to do. It allows me to stand back and look back at what I’ve achieved, and monitor the progress I’ve made towards meeting my goals. Having a schedule has also helped me to be a bit more disciplined, focusing my attention better on the best ideas I have, making sure that if I want to try and submit something it’s not left until the last possible minute, and helping me to take forward the best of my ideas.

Now, if only I could learn to write like Waters…

You can find the full interview on-line here


About James Holden

Brought up in Yorkshire, James has washed up on the shores of London. He spends his days working as a political geek. His short stories have previously been read by the Liars League.
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