This is my last Hints & Tips (obviously a lot of us have time pressures and other commitments at the moment) so I’d like to start off by thanking the RNA for letting me write this column over the past couple of years. I hope it’s helped a few people. I admit, it seems a little strange to be talking about writing at a time like this, but in an attempt to keep life as normal as possible, I thought I’d finish by sharing the advice I’ve personally found most useful.
1. Don’t feel that your book needs to have some HUGE message. As a student, I once asked a novelist whether this was necessary and he said, yes, yes it was. And I was crushed. It took me a few more years to realise that love stories have a huge message already. Love is good, HEAs are hopeful. You don’t need to say anything more than that. Love and hope exist and the world needs to hear that more than ever right now.
2. I forget where I read this, but someone once said that at the start of a romance novel, the hero and heroine have to want something else more than they want each other and by the end that’s reversed. That made a lot of sense to me. Characters can’t be blank pages. They have to have ideas and ambitions and those have to change. That journey is the real plot.
3. I say this a lot (sorry) but write at the time of day that suits you best. For me, that’s the morning so now I’m home-schooling, I’ve come up with a plan of action with my children. I get to write between 6-9am in the morning. They can play with Lego, read, draw or whatever they like, but until 9am, I’m oblivious to questions, requests or comments. After that, I can pay attention to their schooling without getting anxious about the fact that I’m not writing. That’s the plan anyway and right now it makes me feel just a little bit more in control.
4. Don’t worry about word counts (unless you genuinely find them motivating). I have a calendar to show roughly where I need to be by the end of each month, but I find a daily schedule oppressive. On a bad day I just end up writing rubbish so I can reach it. So let yourself have bad days and don’t force yourself to write when you feel low. That only increases stress levels, which is bad for your immune system. Be kind to yourself and take a break.
5. Rephrase ‘show, don’t tell’. Honestly, I hate this advice with a passion I can neither show nor tell sufficiently enough. Because what does it mean? I mean, I know what it means, but really WHAT DOES IT MEAN??? It just sounds suspiciously pithy to me, as if the meaning ought to be so obvious that there’s no need to explain. And maybe it is obvious to other people, but I’ve always found it counter-intuitive. Because if you’re writing a book then you’re telling a story, aren’t you? And don’t all words tell something? And don’t you have to tell sometimes? The semantics drive me crazy so I think we should all feel free to change ‘show don’t tell’ to whatever phrase makes the most sense to us. For me, that word is ‘interpret’ so ‘show, don’t interpret.’ Or go back to Chekhov because he explains the whole concept much better.
6. The best way to break writers’ block is to read. I don’t know why, but it works for me.
And that’s it. I’ll probably remember something mind-spinningly profound ten minutes after I post this, but in the end, it’s all just advice anyway. Take it or leave it and figure the rest out by yourselves because if you really want to, you will. Only don’t pressure yourselves right now. Take care and stay safe.
Jenni Fletcher writes historical romances for Mills & Boon and teaches creative writing at BGU.