What I learned from Sarah Pinborough – Novel Writing


Yesterday evening I took part in an ‘In Conversation’ event at Waterstones, Milton Keynes with Sarah Pinborough. I love events such as these, not only because it’s a chance to shed my pyjamas, put on some adult clothes and leave the house, but because it’s a chance for me to learn from other authors and last night I did exactly that.

Sarah is a writer I have much admired – if you haven’t yet read her books you really should , ‘Behind Her Eyes’ was one of my favourite reads last year and I was keen to know EVERYTHING about her writing process.

One thing I often struggle with when crafting my novels is my inability to plan. I’ve bought SO many books on the subject, signed up for online courses, but still find the concept quite bewildering. With experience in scriptwriting and twenty novels behind her (20!!) I couldn’t wait to hear how Sarah approaches a first draft.

She plans.

‘I’ve tried to do that with my last three books,’ I told her. ‘It’s failed each time. I don’t think my mind works that way.’

‘How long did you try for?’ She asked.

‘A morning.’

‘It takes me six weeks to plan a novel.’ She said.

SIX weeks!

Instantly, I broke out into a sweat. The thought of six weeks not actually writing the book induced an ‘I’m going to fall too far behind my schedule’ anxiety.

Sarah told me that was where I was going wrong. ‘Thinking about the story, the twists, the reveals is valuable time spent. It matters just as much as hitting that word count.’ She went on to say that once she has spent her six weeks planning, she writes the book in roughly five months.

We differed greatly in our approaches to work. I am structured, at my desk for eight hours a day. Sarah prefers to write in the mornings and then step away from her laptop. This is when she finds the ideas flow best.

I realised, on the journey home, that each time I open social media and read another ‘I’ve written XX words today!!’ post by an author that I was feeling inadequate about my own daily word count (approximately 1500 words) and I haven’t been allowing myself time away from my manuscript to think properly about where it should go.

Since ‘The Family’ was released two weeks ago I’ve had so many lovely reviews about how tightly plotted the story, featuring a Mother & Daughter who find themselves lured into a creepy commune and find themselves unable to leave, is, and how many unexpected twists there are, but the truth was I became completely stuck writing my fifth psychological thriller.

I needed a dead body for the story (this is in the blurb so not a spoiler) and I didn’t know who the body should be. I wrote several chapters with one character but then realised I needed them later on. I deleted those and rewrote with a different character dying but that didn’t feel right. For weeks I rewrote the same chunk of story with virtually every character being the body until I settled on the right person. Reader reaction to the reveal has been how clever it is that the body ties up all of the strands of the subplots but it wasn’t an easy write.

Thanks to Sarah, I feel a certain sense of freedom now in knowing that even if I don’t write for a period of time it will allow me to think creatively and it won’t be wasted time. Each writer approaches the process differently, there really is no right or wrong, but I’m very open to trying something new.

I’m going to be chatting to Sarah more about how she actually plans so watch this space…

The Family’ is currently in a Kindle Monthly deal and you can buy the Ebook for just 99p on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo or Google Books.

You can find Sarah’s novels, which I highly recommend, here.




17 thoughts on “What I learned from Sarah Pinborough – Novel Writing

  1. Thank you, Louise. As I read ‘six weeks’ I nearly didnt carry on but am so glad I did. I sit between the both of you. I like structure but my writing ability leaks away after midday. My ‘what if’s’ arrive in the middle of the night so I email myself from the warmth of my bed and pray it will make sense in the cold light of day. 50/50 so far. Have just bought The Family on Kindle and will look out for Sarah’s book in the library.
    In the style of Tess and Claudia – Keep writing!

  2. I love hearing about other author’s writing process. Everyone works so differently. I’m currently writing a sequel which I’ve found so challenging as I’m bringing old characters back and trying to keep the same tone as the first book, eek! I hope it works. But even though I know how this book is going to go and what the ending is, I can only plan sections at a time. I write quick notes about each chapter and then get to it, but I can’t do more than that as I find ideas changing as I write. An idea comes to mind halfway through a chapter that I have to include lol

  3. Fascinating hearing what you went through with your body! I try and try to plan but sometimes it isn’t until I’ve finished the book that I realise something’s missing… wish I could be more organised but six weeks of structure would drive me nuts 🙂

  4. It just goes to show there’s no one right way. I plan general outlines (OK, sometimes I just do this in my head, but it still counts, right?) but the detail comes once I start to write.

  5. I too have started planning but thought it was a waste of time because I just want to get on with writing the words down. I find I can write short stories without planning but struggle with anything over 10k. I think I’m going to become a planner for longer pieces of work but keep my pantser profile for short stories and flash fiction. It is great to be told that there is no right or wrong way. to write.

  6. I enjoyed both Behind her eyes and Cross her heart and I also loved your novels the date, the sister and the gift. I haven’t read the family, yet.
    In my case, I thought I’d plot less as I wrote more novels, and yet, I find I’m plotting more, i.e. thinking about my plot and characters and planning beforehand. I wasn’t sure if it was a good thing, but reading about Sarah’s writing process, I’m feeling more confident about my increasing need to plot and plan more, hoping it will make the novel writing itself smoother.

  7. Glad you got something out of talking to Sarah, I went back planned my novel after it was written. I am so in your ball court and don’t like planning i’d rather just let it happen… But after everything I had to change after it was written… Not that worked out very well in the end, but I think I am in the plotting club now kinda….. X

Thanks so much for reading!

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