Saturday, January 21, 2017

So You Want to Write a Book by Victoria Chatham

It's January already and this month we're taking a look at the premise that 
everybody wants to write a book, but most do not. Writing is hard work. What got you started, and what helps you get through a complete story? 

I would love to have a dollar for every time this topic has cropped up. Over the years I’ve met people who, when you tell them you are a writer, respond with quips like, “I’m writing a book”, or “I could write a book if I wanted to”, or the one that bugs me the most, “Anyone can write a book”. Probably that’s true, but the quality of the finished work by ‘anyone’ would be seriously suspect.

People who don’t write have absolutely no concept of what is involved, which is why it is so important for writers to have writer friends. Only they understand those “Aha” moments writers have, usually at the most inopportune moments. You know, the ones that wake you at night or strike like lightning when you are waiting in line for a teller at the bank. You search your purse or pockets for paper and pen and find one or the other. Leaving the line to search for the missing items would mean losing your place. What to do, what to do! Only another writer understands the agony of rejection, the angst that comes from knowing you have missed a plot point and what to do about it.

I can’t really remember why I started writing. I think the urge stemmed initially from simply having an over-active imagination. I was always dreaming up stories and entertaining my family, especially my cousins. One of my favorite classes at school was English. I liked the order of it and, as a teenager, enjoyed both English Literature and Grammar which were taught as separate subjects at the school I attended.

The ideas never stopped but I enjoyed being out and about too much to settle down to the serious subject of writing. Horses, boyfriends, having a social life were all of much more importance to me then. It was the 60s, after all, with bee-hive hairdos, peace, love, and rock 'n roll. Once I was married and had children, the stories started surfacing again as I entertained them. One of their favorite story-telling methods was drawing a story on the dining room wall. When it was full, we simply whitewashed it and started again. On a rainy day (loads of them in England) it was nothing to have upwards of half a dozen kids, all contributing to the story and the stick-figure illustrations.

It wasn’t until my daughter was coming up to her thirteenth birthday that I seriously considered writing a book. It was called If Wishes Were Horses and was the perfect story for, as I had been, a horse-mad teenager. I wrote that book on Sundays, shutting myself in my bedroom with a stack of sandwiches and a flask of coffee, leaving strict instructions to the family that on no account was I to be disturbed unless there was a lot of blood or a fire.

I quickly discovered that the storylines I had in my head did not always transfer that well to paper. Yes, I wrote it in longhand and a work colleague typed my pages for me during the following week. Progress was slow as I came to the stunning realization that this was not going to be as easy as I had imagined it to be. I learnt a lot, especially the fact that a good book generally takes time. What had been intended for my daughter's thirteenth birthday was actually delivered for her fifteenth birthday.

Life events happened and I put writing on the back-burner, so much so that I didn’t write for years. Since I’ve retired I’ve written almost full time. I've attended workshops and conferences, read craft books and joined writing groups. I’ve invested myself in the lives of my characters, learnt about developing plots and sub-plots, using sub-text in dialogue and using that dialogue to drop clues or move the story forward.

My compunction now is to get the characters who wander through the landscape of my mind out of my head and onto the page. When I stall, which I sometimes do, I’ll write something silly and innocuous. These scribblings rarely see the light of day but serve their purpose. When I have a story in full flow I write for four hours a day, sometimes more but never less.

I finished my last book in December and on January 1st was looking forward to something of a break from the daily grind of writing. In fact, I was so tired I said I would probably give up writing. Ha. My next book is already in the works but I’m taking it slowly and won’t start the actual writing until March or April. In the meantime, I’ll flesh out my characters, plot their lives, add in a villain or two and work out the happy ever after ending which is what I aim for with every book I write.

Take a look at what these fine authors have to say: