Monday, 12 June 2017

Finding Heart – by Ruth Hatfield

I met a relation by marriage recently at a family gathering – the prolific Mills and Boon author Kate Walker. She’s written over 65 books, which is the kind of number that makes me blink a few times and rub my eyes to be sure I’m typing right. In my mind, anyone who’s managed to even write 65 books, never mind have them all published and develop a cult following, probably has quite a lot to tell me that I’d really like to hear. We had a fascinating chat in which I learnt a lot, but it also had the effect of dropping something neatly into place for me – a pretty simple answer to a thorny issue that’s been troubling me for some time. 

When writing becomes a more long-term, practical endeavour, rather than just a passion or hobby for spare moments, it sometimes goes well and it sometimes doesn’t. At the moment, for me, it isn’t going all that well, for which there are many reasons – a young family, the shrieking demands of life in general, exhaustion, confusion, pessimism, lack of confidence – you name it, it’s probably swimming around there somewhere. But there is still a small amount of time available for me to write, so I can do it. The problem is that writing is very low on my internal priority list and continues to linger there, i.e. I really never particularly want to work on the book I’ve currently got in progress, although I do it, of course. I’m still hugely into making up stories and reading, but I just can’t raise any enthusiasm for my WIP, and I’m aware that’s not a good thing.

I asked Kate Walker how she kept it up – writing and writing, despite all the pressure. How did she remain enthusiastic and interested, book after book. Her answer was straightforward: she’s interested in character, and her books are all largely about a particular character/s (the romantic hero and heroine). They are vessels in which she can explore how she thinks a particular character might respond to a particular scenario. Even if the scenario is suggested to her by the demands of the genre, she still gets to explore the character’s journey within those confines, and so retains the element that is personally interesting to her.

It’s kind of an obvious point, I guess, but I’d completely forgotten to qualify it to myself recently. A readable book stems from an author’s interest in a particular aspect of that book, whether it be character, plot, setting or message (or a combination of these). And in terms of writing, the aspect you’re interested in is the fun part, and the rest is often hard work.

I’ve had to work so hard on plotting in recent years that it’s taken over the creative and constructive part of my brain, which used to begin with much more personal things – character and (if it doesn’t sound too pretentious) a desire to explore moral philosophy. I think that my lack of enthusiasm now derives from having written a story in which I leant too hard on the plot button before I’d had a chance to create those more personal elements. My characters don’t yet sit down with me as I write, and yet the ‘story’ is finished. They don’t talk to me, either – I have to invent words for them, which is blooming hard work. No wonder I never really want to face the great effort it takes to whip these shadowy figures into some sort of colourful, three-dimensional life. I didn’t stop to look at them properly in the first place, and I don’t know who they are.

It seems so silly to have forgotten what makes a story live and breathe, but I guess it’s all part of the great learning experience that is any creative art. There are no universal rules – you have to discover what the rules and parameters are for you, personally, as you go along, and you have to be prepared to learn that you’re doing the wrong thing, albeit with the best intentions.

So back I come to it, for definitely not the first time: I’m working in the wrong way. The right way for me is to actually focus on the things that are easy, first, and make something I’ve enjoyed. Then I can turn to the hard part, and it’s worth doing, because I’m working on something that does, occasionally, make me smile. A happier me, a better book. Which is, after all, the point of it all.

Inspirational chance encounters. Now there’s an interesting subject. Sounds like another good springboard for a story…


Heather Dyer said...

I hear you! I had exactly the same experience. Let go of the outcome, write fragments, dip in, work on more than one project at once, take a detour :) Good luck! x

Lynne Benton said...

Inspirational post, Ruth, so thank you! You're quite right, you really need to enjoy working or it's pointless - and you are an excellent writer, so don't forget it!

Helen Larder said...

Thanks so much for this interesting and helpful post, Ruth. There is so much I identify with here xx

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