Sunday, 5 June 2016

GUEST POST: Sylvia Bishop's Tips on Finishing Your First Draft

In celebration of the release of Sylvia Bishop's novel Erica's Elephant, I have the lovely Sylvia on the blog today and I've asked her to share some advice for writer's on finishing a first draft! We all struggle with that now don't we...?

Take it away Sylvia!


For this guest post, I’ve been asked for advice on getting past your first draft. This is a mildly terrifying thing to write about, because my first thought is: I wish I knew.

I finished Erica’s Elephant when I was meant to be doing something else; perhaps that’s the magic secret. Since then, over the past year-and-a-bit, I have started eleven different stories. I have finished precisely one. (The secret for that one exception, in case you are wondering, is that my editor told me to finish it).

So, what have I learned about getting past first drafts, from my track record of 2 out of 12?

1. I lose ideas to self-induced boredom. I heard somewhere that you should avoid sharing the story with people out loud, because you spoil your urgent enthusiasm for telling it.* That seems to be true. (It doesn’t stop me doing it, because I vocalise all my thoughts always and at length, however unwise).

2. I lose ideas to wrong turns. If a section of plot doesn’t ring true, spend the morning in an armchair (or going for a walk, or baking a cake) re-thinking it. I’m always tempted to write it down anyway just to stick to a word-count target. I started last year implicitly believing that I could force a bad idea to become good through sheer brilliance of language. I can’t.

3. I lose ideas to existential angst, AKA teatime. A lot of my writing doesn’t get past the first draft because I DESPAIR, and decide that all of it is terrible. This is tricky to avoid, but I think there are two useful things to know about yourself that help: what time of day you work best, and how long you can work for. I write best in the mornings and evenings, and I have found I have around a 6 side limit per session – 2 sides if I’m not feeling very sharp. I’m sure that all my lost ideas perished because I tried to write them during the Long Afternoon of Dismay, which for me stretches from around 2pm until dinner.

4. I have rescued ideas by having a Good Filing System. Seriously, FILE EVERYTHING. All my substantive ideas get both an electronic and a physical folder. I am currently reviving one that I discarded a year ago. I re-read it (one morning, with tea, well before the Long Afternoon of Dismay) and discovered that it is – praise be – ok after all. So now that idea is getting a second chance to make it. Brave little soldier.

*I don’t remember where, unfortunately. I had a google, and found this elegant expression of the problem:


When Erica Perkins wakes up on the morning of her tenth birthday, the last thing she expects is to find a very confused elephant sitting on her doorstep. So begins an unlikely friendship. But can a small girl and a rather large elephant learn to live together in a tiny terraced house? And when the dastardly owner of the local zoo plots to steal the elephant, will Erica be able to outsmart him?

Title: Erica’s Elephant
Author: Sylvia Bishop
Release Date: 2nd June 2016
Age Range: 6-8 year olds
Genre: MG Magical Realism
Publisher: Scholastic
Format: Hardback

Author Information

Sylvia Bishop is 23 years old and has recently graduated from Oxford. She is one half of the brilliant improvised comedy duo Peablossom Cabaret ( ERICA’S ELEPHANT is her first book, and she intends it to be the first of many quirky stories for young readers.



Thank you so much Sylvia! I can relate to every single one of those points. Especially the part about sharing your story idea aloud with others...

Now onto the more... terrifying part of this post. For the first time I shall be publicly sharing a written piece/mini short story with the topic being: What would you do if you found an elephant on your doorstep?

So I slapped my hands together and got my brains working to mash up some words as to what one of my own character's would do if they found an elephant outside their house. (Warning: I am by no means, an expert in writing. This was a quick short story so expect mistakes in absolutely EVERYTHING.)

So without further ado - please welcome Silver.



There is an elephant on my doorstep.

Let me repeat that.
There is an elephant, on my doorstep.
At first, I assumed it was someone's twisted idea of a joke. It was funny, up until the point where I had verbal confirmation from the group of hoodrats I call friends, that none of them in their right mind would have ever conjured up such a 'magnificent prank'. In fact, they applauded the culprit who managed to pull it off with such subterfuge, and were rearing to come by the house and take pictures so they could post it all over social media. Leaving me to face the large volume of humiliation that would follow.
And they would do it too. For their own entertainment. Idiots. 

I guess going viral wouldn't hurt. If it even came to that.
So I'm sat here, behind my front door - which I have now slammed shut (not that it helps in any case to rid the problem that still remained outside) - at a total loss for words and trying to concoct a reasonable explanation as to why someone would leave the monstrous creature outside a random stranger's house then do a runner. And after a good ten minutes of chewing my nails and biting my thumbs, I realised just sitting here, doing nothing, would get me absolutely nowhere. The beast was still out there.
I peer through the peephole, expecting the mammal to have wandered off. But there it is. Swinging its trunk like it hasn't got a worry in the world. My stomach suddenly feels very hollow. I'm pretty sure that's my breakfast I can taste in the back of my mouth that seemed to be making its way back up.
I am not going to puke. So I do the one thing I never thought I'd do in all my years since conception.
I pull out the yellow book.
You know which yellow book I'm talking about.
The yellow book.
For the ignorant, it's basically a ginormous brick of a tome that stores various phone numbers for all types of emergencies. Maybe it's a nice shade of rainbow in your country. 
Leaky tap? No problem. There are a bazillion numbers listed in there for plumbers.
Rat infestation? Exterminators will be at your beck and call with just one phone call.
An elephant sitting on your doorstep? Little more tricky.
The yellow book in my house is a mess. Dog-eared pages, the front cover half torn and stains from the dead remains of insects still lingering on the brigtt card - leftover from the various times it was used as a weapon to rid the house of irritating creepy crawlies.

I call the zoo. Any zoo. 

A moment later, I slam the phone down on a table and curse.

"Figures no one would believe me." I exhale, running my fingers through my hair and tug at it in frustration. "What on earth am I going to do with an elephant?"

I'm talking to myself. I am going mad. I am officially mad. I pound a fist against my forehead before setting my sights back on the front door, wondering what was going through the animal's head. It had to be weird, being in such a different environment. It's probably feeling just as lost as I am.

It's times like this I wish I had the type of neighbours who would snoop every waking moment of the day. At least then I wouldn't have to be dealing with this alone.

With a deep sigh, I shrug, shaking my head slowly as I stride across the hallway and stop just an inch away from the door - the only thing separating me from the ridiculous elephant. This entire situation was ridiculous.

But when life gives you lemons...

I open the front door and suck in a sharp breath as I come face to face with the towering grey beast, chewing happily on what I'm guessing is my mother's roses because the colourful petals seemed to be missing from the potted plant sitting to my right. Crap.

Then its beady black eyes catch my gaze and lock on, refusing to move as it continues to chew absently. Bored. It actually looks bored.

Give me strength.

I sigh again, staring right back with just as much enthusiasm. "The parentals aren't going to like this..." Biggest understatement of the century.

The elephant continues to stare at me. Continues to chew. Waiting. I like it. I smile.

"I believe this is where I'm meant to say 'this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship'," I say with a stupid grin on my face. The elephant blinks before curling it's trunk around the stalks of the second batch of roses, tearing it off before shoving the mess of petals into its mouth. I'm so dead. But this will all be worth it.

"You and me? We're going to be the best of buds. Now, the real question is - what to name you?"

No comments:

Post a Comment