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.