Writing: the Danby way

Every writer has their likes and dislikes, their absolute requirements and the things that would be nice, a treat during a hard day at the keyboard. This is how Sandra Danby writes.

□ Start the day vowing to take lots of screen breaks, aim to do exercises to ease neck and shoulder tension. Do none. Sandra Danby□ Have endless ideas, too many. Scribble them in notebooks, collect magazine and newspaper cuttings, take photographs, writes notes of things overheard. File them away in one of the boxes in a 4ft tall pile beside the desk. Type up the notes into Word and file under the appropriate novel or generally under ‘Ideas’. Forget them, then re-find them days/months/years later and pounce on them like treasure.

□ Keep a notebook in every conceivable size, set aside a cupboard for new untouched notebooks just waiting to be written in. Keep a small spiral-bound notebook and pen in your handbag, an A5 notepad and pen beside the bed, an A4 notepad ready for inspiration to strike while on an airplane or waiting in a departure lounge. Never leave the house without a notepad and pen: the journalist training never disappears. It’s also an admittance of fear, of thinking of something brilliant and then forgetting it.

□ Start to think about setting early on in the planning of a novel. Choose a place, for whatever obscure reason. Go there, drive around, sit and watch, listen. Walk, take photographs. Go to the library and look at local history books. Go home, put stuff into boxes.

□ Irritate your husband by waking in the middle of the night and sit up in bed, write urgently in notebook. In the dark. In the morning, stare with confusion at the illegible scribbles. Sandra Danby□ Write exercise after exercise, worming your way into a new character’s head. Use 1% of these in the novel.

□ Once a fortnight meet with patient writing friends, read their chapters, swap feedback, drink coffee, eat cake. Talk in positive terms: “When my book is published.”

□ Wear journalist’s hat while copy-editing to ensure mistakes leap off the page and are instantly corrected. Also to spot clichés, malapropisms and frankly inappropriate language that I wouldn’t want my parents to read. When I was a trainee journalist I was told I needed a dirty mind and hollow legs to survive: the hollow legs to copy with the alcohol consumption required, the dirty mind to see the filthy double-entendres in the headlines before they went into print.

□ Organise story by POV/action sections, rather than chapters. Number them. Less restrictive than chapters. It’s easier to splice and dice the narrative, move a section and give it a new number. Section 1 becomes 1.1, becomes 1.2 , 1.1a and 1.2a, you get the pattern…

□ Spend ages writing an Excel planner sheet, with one line per POV section. Take great delight in marking each line in green when that section is written.

□ Try not to get hung up on wordcount, but keep a running total on Excel sheet anyway.

□ Read, read, read.

□ Write, every day. Non-negotiable.

□ Research endlessly.

Sandra Danby


‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra Danby [UK: Beulah Press] Buy now

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Writing, the Danby way http://wp.me/p5gEM4-Xz #writingtips via @SandraDanby



  1. I can relate to some of this… too funny. And I’m only an amateur – I’ve made notes on the rest, so I can adopt fully. Hope the pre-sales are going well 🙂

  2. I was exhausted just reading about your day! But I recognise a lot of it. So much of writing is doing the other important stuff around it. Myself, I’m still struggling to find the balance. You need ideas, planning, research, reading etc. … but if I’m not careful, I don’t get enough actual writing done.

    • Ah, that’s the problem. Matt Haig, author of The Humans, tweeted this week to say he’s realised a writer’s job is now 25% writing! SD

  3. Quite familiar writer’s whims, Sandra. 😉
    “Irritate your husband…” My husband will be glad that he is not the only ‘victim’.