Sunday, 30 December 2012

Sentenced to a Lifetime's Writing

Sometimes as I sneak down to the kitchen at 5 a.m. so I can get my shot at writing in before the family wake up and start whining for more food, I wonder if writing is an addiction.  But I think it's more like being sentenced to hard labour.  

(from Wikipedia)
Sure, it sounds like an easy job:  sit at home all day dreaming and scribbling on pieces of paper.  Many writers do take the easy route:  quickly spinning stories which might become gold out of straw.  In these days of easy e publishing, there are 50 ways to sell a blockbuster.  
However some writers have a much more devoted approach to what I like to think of as a craft rather than an art.  While you do need to have a flair for stories, you can work hard at your writing skills to produce something more perfectly beautiful than the first rough draft which drops from your pen.  
(Not that I mind a bit of rough!)  
Get Georgette Heyer's story
featuring a toothbrush from Amazon.  
One of the tasks involved in the hard work of real writing which I greatly admire in other writers is research.  When I first started writing I was very lazy! I just wanted to twirl round my characters and tell their stories and I balked at the idea of reading up the historical background and making sure toothbrushes had been invented at that time before writing that my heroine had run off without one.  I just made up a world of duels and tossing lace cuffs.  
In the end it wasn't quite such a shortcut as I'd hoped.  I had to do a lot of work to make sure the stories were consistent and people who came from the same region as other people used the same accent (I made a real blooper with the invented regional accent thing! but I don't think anyone-else has noticed - yet).  I kept my fantasy world because in the tradition of utopia writers, it allowed me to present a world with a different ethos.  For example, I wanted race and sexuality to be irrelevant in the society I was writing about.  I wanted to offer a vision of a world where it might not matter what colour your skin is or whether you like to pinch men's or women's buttocks surreptitiously.  But I never had to work as hard as writers of proper historical romances.  
This picture is from Erin O'Quinn's blog Erinsromance.  She's a writer whose attention to background detail makes me gasp with awe.  I just want to worship at the shrine of her dedication and hard work (as well as practice saying Kiss My Ass in Gaelic).  There are pages teaching you the Gaelic for Kiss and for Ass and pages explaining how she researched the design of a chariot for one of her heroes.  The attention to detail is breathtaking.  Even if you're not an avid fan of her fiction, the blogposts are fascinating.  
Writing is just fun, when the story is spilling out of your pen on  the page and the characters are shoving at your hand to get themselves out in the world, it's exhilarating.  However then comes the hard labour of editing.  The long hours reading and re-reading to make sure the plot is flowing smoothly.  Is this sudden rough cut from a reflective piece of writing into action a mechanism that jolts the reader in the same way as it does the character who was startled?  Or is it just irritating and distracting for the reader?  Should this scene be cut down or cut out?  Or expanded?  The impatience!  For the Goddess's sake! (that would be Erin, the Goddess of the hard work of writing), can't I just post it up online already?  
Available from
One of the hardest parts of editing is letting go some finely crafted piece of writing which you personally adore but which a little voice inside you is saying:  This contributes absolutely nothing to the movement of the story and anyone other than you is going to bored rigid by it.  There must have been a terrible temptation to include all kinds of details about the design and building of the chariot in Captive Heart.  Putting those details up on a blog instead is a great idea, allowing you to put all that hard background writing out for your readership if they want it but not where it will clog up the flow of your story.  
I also think this makes Erin's blog much more exciting and interesting than those ones called  These tend to be a long list of the person's books with as sexy an extract as they can find (which still has a couple of typos in it) and the link to the book on Amazon Kindle.  
From Tim's Move Mission Blog
In terms of letting go bits of your fiction rather than some of the factual background you've worked so hard to develop, I find that pretending you are going to use it elsewhere helps.  If you keep a copy of the long version marked 'For My Eyes Only' which you say you will read while you put up a copy of the book you have edited down hard for the philistine unappreciative readers, you are much more willing to chop whole chapters.  (Sadly, you often find you too prefer reading the edited snappier version.)  Once I even put two copies of a novel up for sale:  one edited down hard and retaining mostly sex scenes and the other the long languid leisurely version.  (Although I ought to admit that neither of them sold.)  
I also find that secondary characters tend to ambush bits of the story and insist on having part of their lives written in.  This is a major distraction from the main action so I started stripping them out and writing them their own novellas.  As these are often detailed accounts of the sex lives of these secondary characters and I'm willing to publish them free because I see them as a by-product of the novels, they've been much more successful than my novels.  Curses! foiled again.  At least they're taking some of the feminist utopian messages out there in the world with them.  So writing:  addiction or hard labour?  Well, OK, maybe it's more of an addiction.  I love writing so much I sometimes even resort to writing blogposts.  
Thanks to for smiley.  


  1. Dear Naoko, of course I'm thunderstruck that you chose to put the spotlight on my blogl I'm indebted to you. I'm also most definitely none of those superlatives you use to describe my little Gaelic essays.

    I recommend to all novel writers that they take all that research that sits buried in those little desktop folders and make of them a blog. The blog then serves, as you point out, as a vehicle for showcasing your fiction without shouting "buy me" to the world at large.

    At the end you make light of your blog. Do not ever, ever do that! This is one of the most informative and outright enjoyable spots I've found. As soon as I remember how to do it, I'm going to add it to my blogroll.

    Thanks for the limelight. *curtseys and exits with a grin*

    1. No no! I love my blog. I really hope it helps us all think about our writing and realise how hard we work to create things of beauty and joy forever. Of course it's fun but why shouldn't hard work be fun? xxx