Friday, December 4, 2009

I Didn’t Mean to Start a New Book… aka No Piece of Writing is Wasted

My guest today, is a favorite Romance writer, Annie West. I'm thrilled to have her visit with us Over Coffee.

  • Annie, as you may or may not know, hails from Australia. Her books are first released in Australia and then North America and England. I love her topic today and I can relate, as I've done the same thing. My mind catches and idea and before you know it, I'm at the computer writing.

When I was an unpublished writer I had all sorts of ideas swirling in my head. I’d grab onto one, wrestle it into some sort of order and start writing. Because I was serious about being published I’d try to finish the whole story but it didn’t matter too much if I didn’t because there was always another brilliant idea around the corner.

Now I write to deadlines, editor’s requirements and reader expectations as well as my own imagination. I have to fit in time for editorial approval of the concept, revisions and checking the proof edits, sometimes while working on a different story altogether. That doesn’t mean there are less stories in my head but it can be harder to pay attention and hook onto that fabulous idea before it disappears into the ether. Getting the inspiration for a whole book is a marvellous, precious thing. I trust myself enough to know that the ideas will keep coming, but it’s not simply a matter of sitting down in front of a blank screen or piece of paper and creating that idea there and then because it’s time to start a new story. Which leads me to the fact that NO PIECE OF WRITING IS WASTED.

Yes, I’ve had to cut words, scenes, pages, even chapters (sigh, I just ripped the whole of chapter two out of my current WIP and it’s better for it). But sometimes I have to write dross before I find gold. Sometimes I have to write around an issue or a character’s motivation before it becomes clear. Plus of course, there’s the school of thought that by writing regularly we exercise our writing ‘muscles’ and it becomes easier to write the next time. Sometimes I have to write things other than the book that my editor is waiting for, but often that process of writing something different and letting your mind stray into other avenues is just what you need to unlock a spark of creativity.

For instance, some time ago I’d promised to write an article for a writers’ magazine here in Australia. I came up with a topic I wanted to explore: how we can use our senses in our writing to make a scene more vivid. I soon discovered the topic was too big for the word count and settled on using the power of scent. (If anyone’s interested that short piece is at the ‘articles and links’ page of my

I looked for an example of a scene where the sense of smell could be used by a romance writer and, not surprisingly, thought of a wedding. So many scents to choose from there and we could learn so much about the bride or groom’s perspective by how they responded to what they smelled. I got quite excited as I began to explore the possibilities. It wasn’t long before I was imagining a scenario where the bride, far from being thrilled by the scent of orange blossom or her fiance’s cologne as she walked down the aisle, was nervous. More than nervous, sick with fear.

Instantly my curiosity was roused. I had to stop work on the article while I pondered why this heroine was so distressed by the idea of her impending marriage. I couldn’t resist the eternal writer’s question of ‘why?’ that goes so well with ‘what if?’. From there it was a simple step to realise this poor woman was entering into marriage, not for love, but to help someone she cares for (her sister, I decided). To make things worse (don’t we writers love to do that?) she has an inbuilt fear of marriage because of something in her past (the abusive grandfather who brought her up and taught her how dangerous a violent, manipulative man could be). Terrific!

I was thrilled to have a character and a strong emotion poised for a scene that promised lots of interest. Poor Alissa (she had a name by this stage – I couldn’t leave her anonymous) was forcing herself to go through with this marriage. She’d convinced herself she could do it and survive. After all, she knew the man she was marrying. She didn’t want to marry him but she felt safe with him. So, naturally, my evil writer’s mind then thought, but what if she gets to the wedding and her groom isn’t there? What if instead she finds the one man who represents everything she fears most? What if she discovers she has to marry him instead or fail in her bid to protect her sister?

It probably won’t surprise you to know that, despite the need to overcome some technical details (like what had happened to the original fiancé, and how much notice people have to give before they can legally marry) I was hooked. I finished my article in a surge of enthusiasm while my mind grappled with all sorts of exciting possibilities.

When I finished the article I wrote a chapter of that story. I couldn’t resist. I hadn’t intended to – I was working on something else at the time, but I wanted to get it down while the idea was so vibrantly alive and alluring. In the end the final version of that first chapter was quite different, but the characters’ emotions were just the same as I’d first imagined them.

The moral of my ramblings? No writing is wasted. Whether it’s searching for the perfect phrase for your manuscript or writing something completely different, like a non-fiction craft piece or a book review. The act of writing exercises your brain. It makes you think about writing and plots and wonderful descriptions and juicy situations. It’s a catalyst for creativity. I have non-author friends who write daily just as a means of ordering their thoughts, clearing their minds and making them feel positive about starting a new day.

How about you?

  • Writers: Have you found unexpected benefits when you put pen to paper?
  • Is it an outlet in times of stress? A way of sparking creativity?
  • Readers: Or if you’re not a writer, what creative outlets have you found?

    To prove your writing isn’t wasted, I’ll give away a copy of one of my backlist books to someone who writes a comment!

Annie’s current North American release is BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INEXPERIENCED WIFE (Harlequin Presents Extra mid December). You guessed it - This is Alissa and Dario’s story, the book she didn’t mean to start but which she couldn’t let slip by. If you want to find out more about it, visit either Harlequin or Annie’s site to read an excerpt. Also out this month and available from Mills and Boon in the UK is FORGOTTEN MISTRESS, SECRET LOVE-CHILD.