Writing for a reader is how I finished my very first book. That probably sounds strange, after my heartfelt blog about writing for one’s own inner reader. But the truth is that, although I’d been writing all my life, the very first book I finished was written for a particular reader.
And the key word here is FINISHED.
My First Time Writing for a Reader
I was twenty-one. I was studying and sharing a cottage with a fellow student who was also a friend. I’m going to call her Patience.
Studying left me a lot of time alone in libraries. There I would find myself writing snippets of stories that had nothing to do with my thesis. Now, I loved my subject and I really enjoy research, the more off-the-wall the better. And I still do. But I began to realise, painfully and with great reluctance, that I loved writing more.
Patience may have known this. She wrote too, short intense pieces, mysterious and powerful. She hardly ever showed them to anyone. Neither of us was thinking about a reader.
At one point, she went into hospital and was prescribed electric shock treatment. Not a tragedy, by the way. She said she loved it. The only downside was it messed with her short-term memory. As a result, she kept re-reading the same chapter of her book. Patience read slowly and it was starting to annoy her.
So we agreed that I would write a serial and post it to her, an episode at a time. Then she would know that the pages in the unopened envelope were the next thing to read.
First Effects of Writing for a Reader
First, this was a story I planned. It didn’t come to me, like a half-understood spell, or a snippet of overheard conversation. I thought about it before I started.
Second, I knew the genre. Patience and I both loved Georgette Heyer. We would quote favourite bits at each other, especially the funny ones. I also knew that I wanted to make her laugh.
Third, I had a work plan. I didn’t plunge in, with the waters curling over my head until my invention gave out. I set aside time to write an episode and every two or three days I sent off the next package of pages.
Fourth, writing it didn’t wring me dry. It was like preparing a favourite meal for someone. You put thought and care into it, but if the cooking went a bit awry, well, too bad. The thought was there. I have never written in such a state of pure happiness in my life.
Fifth, I imagined her laughing when she read it. Can’t beat that for motivation.
And Finish with a Flourish
It was a Georgian romance, with minimal plot, a mad aunt, an accident-prone brother, a bossy heroine ( I suspect that was a self-portrait) and a hero to die for. By professional standards, it was all over the place, but it was exuberant and hopeful. We both enjoyed it.
Patience came out of hospital and demanded the end.
So I finished it. Phew. We broke out the champagne
It was called The Moving Toyshop, partly because we both liked Alexander Pope, partly because I didn’t take it seriously. That may have been why it was so much fun, of course. (Thinks: might try that again some time.) I carried on writing in my own way, but now I knew that it was possible to finish a novel. So I did. Several times.
And the final result was … years later, when time ran out on me and I really needed to sell a book, my Moving Toyshop netted me an agent.
A favourite Edmund Crispin title, too. As you haven’t mentioned it, I take it it wasn’t published? Shame!
No, not published, Lesley. I’m pretty sure it was unsalvageable. Might read it again and see what we laughed about so much, though. When I have time.
Yes, I found that the title had already been used almost immediately, and long before the agent saw it. Of course, Edmind Crispin’s toyshop really did move, or at least disappear, if I remember aright. For my part, I was playing with Pope’s take on women – “the moving toyshop of their heart”. Good fun, but a title lacking immediate allure on the library’s romance shelves, I suspect.
Fascinating story, Sophie. It’s interesting how the enjoyment (or otherwise) of writing changes when you have an editor sitting on your shoulder. One of the joys of self-publishing now is that I’ve recovered that early enjoyment of writing because it’s fun again. I don’t have to worry about selling it to a go-between and its my own head on the block if the readers hate it. Which somehow is far less of a worry than the thought of what an publishing editor is going to think of it.
I do know what you mean, Liz. It’s something to do with selling as the activity of pushing your book onto someone else. You want people to have fun with your story, not buy it to get you to go away. It’s the sort of emotional colour about the transaction, I suppose.
Having said that, I’ve had some editors who were loads of fun and a couple who were truly inspiring. But the one who would sit down opposite me and sigh… Yes, my soul curled up and hid under a rock, taking the book with it.
Someone sending me regular episodes of a Heyer-like book is my idea of heaven!
Oddly, you are not the only person to say that after this blog, Elizabeth. Don’t think I’m Heyer-like enough to market the service, sadly. She was so brilliant.
Wonderful story — and what a gorgeous thing to do for your friend. But now I so want to read The Moving Toyshop.
You are so clever at your quick fun “hommages” — I still remember the story you wrote in the style of PG Wodehouse for another reader.
Writing this has made me want to read the Moving Toyshop again, too, Anne. I know I’ve got a carbon copy somewhere. (Those were the days!) When I have a spare evening (hollow laughter) I’ll see if I can dig it out and report back.
Fascinating post – love the fact you wrote with a purpose and a plan!