When I started writing Rise of the Shadow Dragons, it was a few months after the publication of Dragon Daughter, and I was starting to worry whether I’d ever write anything again. I was juggling a new job and a long commute with family responsibilities, and somehow I wasn’t finding any time to write.
Then I noticed on Twitter that award-winning novelist Jenn Ashworth was posting about her experience with a gentle writing challenge using the hashtag #100DaysofWriting. I found her photos and comments very reassuring and inspiring. Jenn’s pictures showed her finding spaces to write in her domestic and professional environments. She was honest and humble in a way I found very refreshing. The point was just to ‘show up’ to the project – with no word counts or output pressure – to try to fall back in love with the book you’re writing.
She did an interview with the writers’ coaching site Prolifiko, where you can read about this in more detail here.
'The point was just to ‘show up’ to the project – with no word counts or output pressure – to try to fall back in love with the book you’re writing'
I decided that I would take the plunge, with the vague hope that I might have most of a first draft at the end of a hundred days. I cajoled a writer friend, novelist Tara Guha, to embark on the challenge with me, so we could egg each other on and keep ourselves going together. The other way of staying accountable was to post a photo on social media every day of the hundred days.
Now, it has to be said that a few friends raised eyebrows and asked why I wasn’t writing every day anyway. I know that some writers have no problem with productivity or finding the time to write – and I wish them well! However, I’ve talked about this challenge with a lot of writers now, in many different settings, and when I raise the difficulty of combining creative work with paid work and family commitments, it’s often women who speak up with rueful recognition. (But that’s a whole other blog post right there!)
'At the end of a hundred days, I did in fact have a first draft, a very imperfect but promising first draft'
The point is, it worked for me. Even on the busiest days, I could find ten minutes to show up to my manuscript. I proved to myself that I could actually work anywhere – on trains, in hotel rooms, in noisy cafes after work. I could set my alarm twenty minutes early, even on my daughter’s birthday, and get the work done. Some days I only wrote two sentences. Others, I wrote ten pages.
My friend Tara, doing the challenge alongside me, said that counting the days really helped her young family cheer her on: ‘Go on, Mummy! Go and do your writing, it’s day thirty-two, you can’t stop now!’
The challenge also helped me accept the imperfections of a ‘dirty’ first draft, just ploughing on and knowing there would be time, later, to fix all the glitches and smooth all the storylines that were getting tangled. I remember certain mornings, yawning at the blank page, completely stumped, with no idea what would happen next. But if you keep showing up, some kind of progress happens.
And, at the end of a hundred days, I did in fact have a first draft, a very imperfect but promising first draft which I shared with my wonderful editor Rosie Fickling at David Fickling Books. Together, we worked on it through several more drafts, till it finally became the book that is published this week. It’s almost exactly two years from starting the #100DaysOfWriting to Rise of the Shadow Dragons being launched, which is definitely the fastest I’ve ever written anything.
And I’m doing it again! As I promised children during Book Week 2020, I was about to go and start writing the next book in the series. So by late June – all being well – I might have a very rough draft of another dragon book. Wish me luck!
Thank you so much for hosting this post on your wonderful blog!
A massive thank you to the wonderful Liz for writing this inspiring piece about the #100DaysOfWriting Challenge! Let us know in the comments if this is something you'd ever have a go at, and be sure to check out and follow the rest of this epic blog tour!
Check out my review of Rise of the Shadow Dragons here.