The Process Of Writing Novels, by Anthony Riches
Love being a writer… but hate writing?
It’s a phrase that bemused me the first time I heard it a few years ago, when the novelty of having work published and put on book shelves was yet to wear off, and yet that initial reaction of surprise quickly became a knowing smile as I considered what it was that my colleague was really saying. My friend Ben Kane, a man every bit as cynical as I am, was reflecting, over beer of course, on the routine grind that goes into turning out a work of fiction. His words were a neat summation of that strange combination of imagination and discipline needed to write a work of fiction, conjuring up a story that will grab the reader while retaining the focus to deliver a daily word count that will meet the expectations of the people buying the as yet incomplete book – the publisher. And trust me when I tell you this reader, there is no more important balance to be managed in a fiction writer’s daily life than achieving that balance between routine graft and carefree creativity.
For me – and this is of course highly personal to each writer, as all of us approach it in a different way – this delicate balance is made all the more important by my writing process. To explain, I have colleagues who plot their books with infinite care, working out in advance every twist and turn before they ever put finger to keyboard. They approach their work with the confidence of a builder who knows exactly where every brick must be placed, carefully raking the pristine gravel of their mental garden to present its landscape as crisply and cleanly as possible. But such careful preparation is not for me. I could never emulate these master architects of fiction, my style being more like that of a potter who simply throws a lump of clay onto the wheel and allows the shape of whatever it is he’s making to emerge beneath his hands. No, I simply turn up at my desk and write, using whatever story line I’ve been thinking about since the last session, and the musings that cross my mind as I start the day’s work. Oh I know the big stuff, of course, where each book in the Empire series will start and end, the historical context and what major long term plot strands will be brought into play (although even this usually turns out to be wrong in some major way as my subconscious gets to work), that much is safely established. But beyond those strategic thoughts most of my writing days start with a furrowed brow and a lot of chin scratching. Fifteen hundred to two thousand words are typical of my output, written in two or three hours, and by the end of that time I feel empty, as if the cistern of my imagination has run dry.
It’s different when the end of the story draws near, mind you, I can rattle off four or five thousand words in as many hours as the finish line comes into view, but in the dog days of chapters four to eight – I typically write eleven thousand words per chapter – the hours can go awfully slowly, and the view from the Hen House’s window (I write in a converted chicken coop on a farm not far from home in order to escape from the internet) can suddenly seem extremely interesting.
So, can one love being a writer and yet hate writing? I think the word ‘hate’ puts it a little strongly, but it’s clear to me that there is indeed a love/hate relationship of some sort involved, and to illustrate, let’s consider book seven in the Empire series for a moment. I have recently started writing The Emperor’s Knives and, surprisingly for me, I know quite a lot as to what’s going to happen in the course of Marcus going after the men who killed his father. I have a nice little prologue, major characters mapped out, and even the twist at the end is forming nicely in my imagination. And yet… (the writer pauses to smile knowingly to himself). I know full well that by the time I’m done wrestling the story to a fitting conclusion it’ll be as good as or even better than the ones that precede it, but that doesn’t prevent me from staring at that first blank page with just a hint of fear and loathing before shrugging and throwing myself into the task.
So, dear reader, there you have it. I certainly do love being a writer, and I equally surely do play host to the uncertainties and prevarication that characterise most of my peers. Which is strange, isn’t it, given that what we do is supposed to be the most yearned for career a person can choose to spend their life fulfilling, according to the surveys? If only they knew…
Anthony Riches’s author website: www.anthonyriches.com
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