If you’ve just joined us, I’m counting down my Top 5 How To Write Books Books that I’ve whittled down after almost a decade of reading every book about writing books I could find but not actually writing anything.
On Monday we met No. 5, How Not To Write a Novel: 200 Common Mistakes to Avoid If You Ever Want to Get Published by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark, and yesterday I introduced you to No. 4, Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by the late great Blake Snyder which I (hopefully) convinced you could be used for plotting novels too.
Today, I give you No. 3: The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club.
Writing is hard. Not as hard as doing a job you hate for the rest of your life or, say, understanding string theory, but it does have its hurdles. As Gene Fowler once said, ‘Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood appear on your forehead.’
And so sometimes, you just want the writing instruction equivalent of bacon sandwiches.That is, you want to be comforted.
You want someone to make you feel better.
You want a bestselling author to tell you that she, too, sometimes finds blood on her forehead.
(The use of that quote may be getting a bit icky, but you know what I mean.)
The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club began as a course offered at the National College of Ireland which aimed to help budding writers start and finish a book. Each week Maeve would write them a letter on whatever that particular session’s topic was and those letters form the basis of this book, along with contributions from guest speakers including editor Alison Walsh and Marian Keyes. It covers everything from maintaining your motivation to write to the Writer’s Journey to visualizing success.
The whole idea is to move away from that awful place where you talk incessantly about writing a book but never actually do it, and closer to your desk, your laptop, your Dictaphone or your notebook and fancy pen, despite the constraints on your time. (I once read that Maeve wrote her first novel on weekends, punching out 10,000 words over every two-day session, and in Writers’ Club she describes getting up at 5 a.m. three times a week to write.)
A warning: its advice may seem simplistic or obvious to those of who have been at this game for a while – after all, it is aimed at beginners. But Maeve’s honesty about her own journey to publication – like, for example, visualizing herself at her book launch as a means of motivation or her admission that she still, today, gets pages of editorial notes on her manuscripts – is very reassuring.
The knowledge that sometime, somewhere, someone had been staring out the window for last forty-five minutes wondering why Jennifer and Brad really broke up instead of writing the 2,000 words they swore they would and that that person eventually became the kind of bestselling writer you’re desperately trying to be is very comforting, especially when you’re stuck on a plot point or can’t even get out of bed because you’re convinced you’re an embarrassingly failure who couldn’t even write a parking ticket, let alone a book.
And sometimes, that’s just what we need, isn’t it? A little comfort?
Well, that and some bacon sandwiches.
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Join me tomorrow for No. 2. It’s cheaper than a therapist.