Monday Writing Motivation: Don’t be a worrywart

 In Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog

Writers of all stripes and levels of experience have something in common. It’s not necessarily a particular love of words. Some writers, after all, are moved more by a love of the rewards they might earn from their writing than they are by an abstract devotion to composition. Nor is it a dedication to excellence. Some writers want to tell stories in the most direct way eschewing literary ambitions of any sort.

But all writers have suffered from anxiety, of a variety of species.

There’s the anxiety we all feel from time to time about the quality of the idea that drives the story we’re working on. Is it enough to be working, let’s say, on a narrative that deals with post-partem depression? Is the idea strong enough to sustain an entire novel?

We agonise over our characters. Have we made them interesting? Will readers love them? Isn’t this one, our supposed hero – like Luke Skywalker – a trifle milquetoast? How do I give him a little spine?

There’s the anxiety many of us suffer when we base a fictional character on someone we know, or in non-fiction, enlist someone we know as a character in our narrative, and wonder whether they’ll take offence, raise a ruckus or, worse still, take legal action against us? Will it be enough to change their name? Will the fact that we’ve mentioned Cousin Jeremy’s undue partiality to Laguvulin lead to a schism in the family?

Or, as happened to me when I wrote a novel loosely based on my family and events in my childhood, I incurred the wrath of two of my sisters for not having included the third as a character in the book.

Another anxiety concerns difficulties we imagine – with good reason – we’ll encounter in seeking representation or finding a publisher.

And so on and so forth.

Do I have a panacea for this bouquet of anxieties?

I’m afraid not. The best I can offer is a small solution, and it’s one that arose in a discussion we had in Venice during our retreat. Someone commented on the fact that the thought of the seventy or eighty thousand words that lay before them was a mighty burden.

Monday Writing Motivation: Don’t be a worrywart

I said, in response, that at no point in a writing project are you writing the entire book. You are only ever writing just one scene – the scene, say, in which your protagonist, Mary, meets the man who, in due course, will try to inveigle his way into her bed. You can only focus on that scene, paying close attention to what she sees, hears and concludes about Walter.  She knows nothing about the future, although she might note things about Walter that become significant only in hindsight. The scene is three quarters of a page long. It might take you ten minutes to write – or an hour, or three. But that’s all you have to focus on. The rest of the book to come will take care of itself, scene by scene.

And if you truly do pay attention to this tiny canvas, then all those other insecurities (will people love the book? will a publisher love the book? will my character be compelling?) – all of those anxieties retreat to some dark corner backstage.  You’re the director sitting in the fourth row of the theatre directing your two actors on stage. What happens outside, the geopolitics of the world and everything in it, has vanished. It’s just you, Mary and Walter.

And what’s more, getting this scene right – which is doable, given its length, given its comparative simplicity – will give you confidence moving to the next, in which Mary talks to her friend Bianca about her impressions of Walter and in which Bianca suppresses her desire to express her hesitations about the man.

Happy writing,



The wide-ranging programme will include discussions, writing exercises and prompts, and tightly focused sessions on particular writing skills like:

* How to set a story in motion
* Creating characters that keep the story moving along
* Maintaining the highest stakes 
* Structuring your story to have the greatest impact
* How to come to a dramatic climax and a satisfying resolution 

Use the weekend as a way of recharging your creative batteries or to accelerate your current writing project.

And you’ll take away skills that’ll stand you in good stead whatever you’re writing.


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