Saturday, March 20, 2010

Writing can be fun!

Jo Beverley (Guest Blogger)

This is a round-about Canada Calling. Jo lived in Canada for a time, and we still claim her as one of us.

Jo Beverley is an author who loves to blend real history with romance, but for as many readers as possible.

Her history degree comes in useful, but above all, she's fascinated by the human mating dance and finds it endlessly entertaining. The only problem is when she wonders if her characters could be real, visiting from another dimension. It sometimes feels that way. In that case, her husband says, she doesn't want to meet any of her heroes in a dark alley after all she inflicts on them!

Anyone else remember the “can be fun” books? Arithmetic can be fun. Reading can be fun. Well, writing can too.

When we start out, we do it for fun, don’t we? We have stories dancing in our heads and the thrill of putting them into words, of giving them new life in external form, is a huge high. That thrill continues, but it is so easy to drift away from the play aspect of writing, especially when we’re published, have deadlines, feel pressure and all the rest of it.

Yes, it can be a good idea to be practical, disciplined, focused, and all that good stuff, but I believe it’s dangerous to forget that writing can – and should – be fun. At least some of the time.

Now I enjoy writing. There are better days and worse days, and times when the book is driving me crazy, but I still do get a lot of those highs, and I hope you do, wherever you are in your career. However, with 34 books published, and always with a contract book to write, it can be too easy to forget to let my creativity out to play. My thesis here is that we have to give our creativity variety and freedom if it’s to give us the best in return.

What do I mean by play writing? At its purest, it’s writing with no boundaries and no business pressure. My play writing is nearly always Science Fiction and Fantasy. There are three reasons for that.

One, it’s one of my favorite forms of writing, along with romance.

Two, I’m only slightly published in the genres so there’s not the same business pressure.

Three, by their nature, Science Fiction and Fantasy are highly expandable forms, open to, and even encouraging the wilder parts of my imagination. I wrote one story about six foot dandelions wielding Uzis.

Ideally, play should be in a genre that isn’t our main practical or business one. I’d say all fiction writers should now and then write in a different form and discipline. It’s not a waste of time. It stretches us. It reveals to us new strengths and weaknesses. It sparks new ideas, and sends us back to our regular writing refreshed and enhanced.

In case it’s not clear, this writing is not with money in mind. To start out that way impedes the process. If it ends up being saleable, then great, but to have half an eye on the market is not what it’s about.

One of my play projects was a fairyland medieval. I’m sad that the medieval setting has become unpopular with many readers, that many see it as grim, so I played with a medieval setting from the fairy stories. The castle with the turrets. The knights in shining armor. The Princess in the pointy hat with the long veil…. I had lot of fun. And then the dragon turned up. I was off on a twist of the princess who’s sacrificed to the dragon.

That did end up selling, because some friends and I decided to do an anthology of dragon stories, Dragon Lovers. I only had a couple of chapters of my play story, but I enjoyed expanding it. We got together to do another anthology, and that’s an example of a different sort of play project.

Chalice of Roses came out in January, and all the stories are woven around the Grail. I didn’t have an idea and had to come up with one, and very much with publication in mind. It’s only play in so far as it is
• One, medieval, which I enjoy but haven’t done recently, and
• Two, a fantasy romance, which means I could stretch reality in many interesting ways.

Play can simply mean variety. There was a time when I cycled between three historical periods – medieval, Georgian, and Regency, but that’s become impractical. It works better for me and for the publisher if I write a few books in one period before switching. Since medieval is less popular and truly doesn’t sell nearly as many books, I’ve put that aside for now. Except for play projects.

So a play project can be really flying wild, or writing something quite different for us at that time, or simply switching between types of writing. The latter is a weak variety, however. I recommend flying wild every now and then.

Variety doesn’t always work in a completely positive way. It’s hard to call The Stanforth Secrets a play project as it was my second sale and I was very intent on getting it right and establishing a career. However, it is my only true romantic suspense. This was my editor’s suggestion, and I was keen to please and to try something different. It was an interesting project, but it showed me that a mystery plot didn’t mesh well with my fly-into-the-mist style of romance writing.

It’s very useful to learn that there are thing we can write and things that are a struggle.

The Stanforth Secrets has just been reissued, and I’m pleased that I still find it a good book.

At the moment I’m writing a new Georgian romance and playing with a contemporary parallel world story that’s been an on and off play area for over a decade. I doubt it will ever sell, but it’s fun. I have a few of them tucked away, and you never know when one will suddenly blossom into something special and/or be a fit for a new market.

There’s yet another type of play – with a sado-masochistic twist. I call it being mugged by my muse. An idea just comes to me. Not so much an idea as an opening scene, rolling in my head like a video. I can’t ignore it. Even if I’m on deadline with a contract book, I have to write down what I see. It’s exhilarating and exciting, but infuriating at the same time. All the same, I get it down.

And then, in a month, many months, a year, I’ll be drawn back to it and find something growing out of it. Something I never expected or planned, but which is alive and once again demanding my attention.

The first book of my Secrets trilogy was like that. A Regency man at an inn encountering a quiet, even dull, woman who was swearing. The story morphed. The man became a Georgian rake, the quiet woman became a spirited Italian nun, but it wouldn’t have happened at all if I’d fought off the muse back when she mugged me.

A Lady’s Secret flowed on to The Secret Wedding, which also begins with a muse-mugging scene of a young officer interrupting a rape. It wasn’t until half way through A Lady’s Secret that I realized that the young officer was Christian Hill, the hero’s friend. Those books flowed into The Secret Duke, which will be out in April, including elements of a vignette I wrote down a while ago about a young woman cast out of society and taking refuge with some very odd, rebellious women.

So embrace the fun side of creativity, and make sure your mind has plenty of room to play. And if your muse comes a-mugging, don’t fight it. Enjoy.

Writing can be, should be, fun.

For more about Jo and her books, visit her web site.


Deadly Letters GTA said...

I'm with you on "play" writing - outside of one's usual genre. It gives your brain a workout (mental gymnastics) and flexes some writing muscles you may not have been awar of.

Jo B said...

Hi, everyone.

I'm in a cafe in Oswestry, Shropshire(supposed to be he birthplace of Guinevere) snatching some time on the internet because the friends we're staying with over the border into Wales are in a magical valley, but without internet!

I may not be back in touch until later tomorrow (Sunday) but at least with the time diff between here and even the east coast, I'll have a fair bit of Sunday with connection.

Lovely places, cute lambs, including one that tried to get under the wheels of our care on a narrow -- very narrow -- road.

Mommy sheep came hurrying to scold baby back into the field.



Ann Godridge said...

Hi Jo,

Lovely to read about your writing

As well as very much enjoying your novels, I also remember you from the Dunnetwork email list ages ago :)

I love the idea of play writing, but having only recently taken up writing and still not published, it's all still play to me. Soemtimes teh amount of learning I am doing is very hard work though - so good to be reminded that it's also supposed to be fun.

Julia Buckley said...

It's great to hear you talk about your writing process, Jo, and to know that you can take such joy from it.

Jo B said...

Hi, everyone.

Typing this on the road home from Wales, using my Vodaphone mobile broadband dongle. A most useful gadget. Shame I couldn't get a connection down in the valley, but we had a lovely time there.

I went out this morning at sunrise and enjoyed the birdsong.

Hi, Anne. Are you going to be at the Dunnet event in Paris this year?

Julia, I truly believe that if we can't have fun writing, it's very hard to make the books fun.

More later!


Claudia said...

IHello, I am living in Ireland and sometimes think I am reading an Irish author when he/she is really an American so I understand your confusion with Donna Leon.