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Thursday, 8 February 2018

Advice for writers: How to fill that blank page! Sally Jenkins offers excellent advice! @rararesources @sallyjenkinsuk #psychological #thrillers #writingtip #writerslife #mustread #fiction

Conquer Writer’s Angst 

Sally Jenkins

Being a writer is a scary business. It starts with a blank page and the fear of failing to fill it. It finishes with publication or submission for critique and the accompanying terror that readers will hate what we have written. 
Apart from popping pills and downing alcohol, how can we get control of this constant literary angst? 
Tips for Blank Page Trauma 
·       Write quickly. Pretend every month is November and NaNoWriMo.
·       Write the scene that’s buzzing in your head. Scenes don’t have to be written in the order they appear in the book.
·       Don’t read any of it back until you’ve reached the end of the story.
·       Banish that self-confidence seeping gremlin who whispers in your ear about how rubbish the writing is. The gremlin knows nothing!
·       Have an external deadline to aim for. Competitions are good for this – you don’t want to miss the closing date and the potential for prize money!
·       Accept that it’s OK to hate your first draft. It’s easier to improve a bad first draft than write perfect prose from the start.
·       Write because you love that afterglow feeling of ‘having written’. It’s the same high as ‘having exercised’. 
Tips for Accepting Criticism 
·       Understand that the adverse comments apply to one particular manuscript or book only. They are not personal or necessarily applicable to all your work.
·       You are always in control. Analyse the criticism and then decide whether or not to act on it. 
·       Taking criticism on board and giving it serious consideration shows maturity as a writer.
·       The only way to avoid criticism completely is to never show anyone your work. If you do that, what was the point in writing it? 
The Case Study 
My second psychological thriller, The Promise, was published on 28th January 2018. I banished the blank page blues by aiming to finish the novel by the closing date of a competition with a prize of publication and £1000. I kept myself buoyant mentally by imagining how I would feel when the novel was published and the prize money mine.  
I entered but didn’t win the competition. However I did now have the complete manuscript of a novel – a prize in itself! 
The next step was obtaining feedback on the novel. I sent The Promise for a critique. Two big ‘failures’ in the novel were highlighted: 
·       A romantic subplot didn’t work because there was no chemistry between the two characters supposed to be in love. The reader said, “You are much better at conjuring up a scene of horror. The psychological thriller is your genre.”
·       The structure could be improved. An inciting moment in the novel takes place thirty years ago in prison. I’d written the novel chronologically from this moment. The reader suggested the novel would be better starting in the present day with flashbacks to the past.
·       This criticism hurt and taking it on board would mean a major rewrite. But if I didn’t take action the money spent on the critique and all the time spent writing the novel would be wasted.  
I rewrote the novel. Then I used a beta reader. She came back to me with some minor changes, for example, too many names beginning with the same letter. In her summing up she described The Promise as ‘a fast- paced psychological thriller with stark, dark elements at play. The characters struggle with the central dilemma.’ 
Armed with confidence from my beta reader’s comments, I directly approached The Book Guild, the publisher involved in the competition that I hadn’t won. After a wait of several weeks they offered me a publishing deal.  
I did a happy dance and some alcohol was downed (!) but this time in literary celebration rather than to fight fear. Someday soon I hope to raise a glass to you, your writing success and banishment of writer’s angst!       


The Promise

A man has been stabbed. A woman is bloodstained. The nightmares from her teenage years have begun again for Olivia Field – just as she is preparing to marry.
Ex-convict, Tina is terminally ill. Before she dies, the care of her younger, psychologically unwell brother, Wayne must be ensured. So Tina calls in a promise made to her thirty years ago in a prison cell. A promise that was written down and placed with crucial evidence illustrating a miscarriage of justice in a murder case.

Tina believes Olivia is perfectly placed to provide the care Wayne needs, but to do so, Olivia must be forced to cancel her own wedding and wreck the lives of those close to her. Tina’s terrible blackmail demands put Olivia’s entire future and, ultimately, her freedom under threat.

The Promise is a fast-paced psychological thriller told from several third person viewpoints. The novel explores the lengths to which people are prepared go in order to protect those they love and the impossibility of ever fully escaping our past actions.


Sally Jenkins lives in the West Midlands. She is a member of a Speakers’ Club, a volunteer library reading group coordinator and a church bell ringer.
Sally's first psychological thriller, Bedsit Three won the Ian Govan Award.


  1. 'Scenes don’t have to be written in the order they appear in the book.' - excellent advice! I always feel I have to write in order beginning from page one until the end.

    I have notes for future scenes but never write them fully until I'm 'there'.

  2. Thanks, Sally, for offering all that advice. Lots there to learn from you. Good luck with the book. It looks fab!