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WRITING BOOKS: DOES IT EVER GET EASIER?

WRITING BOOKS:  DOES IT EVER GET EASIER?

 

By

Vicki Hinze

 

When you mentor or assist other writers, you often get clusters of questions that all center on the same subject.  A recent cluster on writing has been, “Does it ever get easier?”

If you’re pressed for time, I’ll give you the short answer:  No.

The reasons are many, but one I think that tops the list is this:  As our abilities and experiences grow, so deepens our creative well.  Meaning, knowing and experiencing more, we then have the ability to incorporate more into our stories in a real and authentic way that carries deeper insights that before our experiences escaped us.

In blunt terms, can you write about loss if you’ve never grieved a loss?  Yes, of course, you can.  You can research and review case studies and psychological impact reports and you can write about loss.  But can you write about it with the authenticity and insight of  person who has experienced it?  No.

You can intuit, perceive, project and imagine, but if you’ve lived through loss, there are dozens of things, large and small, that will be in your writer’s well that simply are not there for those who have not had the experience firsthand.

Can one be as good as the other—with or without experience?  Yes.  But the work where the author has not experienced loss climbs a steep hill to make the work so, and it requires greater skill and more effort.

SAME SUBJECT, DIFFERENT FACET

Another facet of this question focuses on authors writing through difficult times, through loss.  I did it.  I know how I did it and what enabled me to do it.  But I wondered if my situation fairly represented the process or if others’ would be different beyond the differences one would expect from different personality types.  As it happened, a friend, Hannah Alexander, had lost her mother recently enough that her memories and recollections would be fresh.  So I asked her to share her personal experience on this matter.  What follows is Hannah Alexander’s insights, in her own words:

 

HANNAH ALEXANDER’S PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

Of the 26 titles I’ve had released in the past fifteen years, Keeping Faith was the most difficult novel I’ve ever written. In fact, I had so much trouble with it that I had to ask my editor for an extension. [Deadline extension] When she discovered my situation, she took the title out of the line-up and told me to get to it when I could. I wish I had realized then how much the book would come to mean to me.

My typical writing style is contemporary romantic suspense with a touch of medical drama, as seen from a former wild-child who returned to the church in my twenties. That’s why I was surprised when my editor asked me to write a novel to help launch the publisher’s historical line of inspirational romances. It was so much fun going back in time to 1944 and imagining a somewhat simpler world, that for the next historical I went even further back, to 1901.

Keeping Faith, however, led me to 1855, when the wagon trains were still taking people west—something I’ve always thought I might have done if I’d lived before the Civil War. One of my mother’s favorite shows many years ago was Wagon Train. My strong, independent mother, too, would have been one of those people who traveled with a wagon train to explore the lands west, even doing a questionable job, such as my character, Victoria, did as a wagon train physician when women weren’t considered worthy to be doctors. Mom loved the idea, and so that’s what I chose to write next, though I had trouble getting the characters to work for me on the page.

While I was working on the story, however, my mother began to lose her memory, and her health went downhill. Being an independent woman and mother of an only child, she fought the care I tried to give her because she didn’t want to be a “burden.” I’d promised my mother years ago that I would never place her in a nursing home—though we have an excellent one nearby. In faith, she gave me power of attorney and trusted me to care for her when the time came.

Finally, one day two years ago, when I was working on the character of Joseph, the wagon train’s captain in Keeping Faith, I realized he was a man who never married because he couldn’t stop loving Victoria. Though she thought he’d left her, and she married a doctor and joined him in his work, Joseph remained faithful to his memory of her. While the story began to flow again, I moved my mother home with us, knowing she could no longer take care of herself. After all her years of mothering me, loving me, giving all she could to my writing and to my life, she had shown me the true spirit of unconditional love, and I intended to give back what she had given me. I was writing the character of Victoria’s young apprentice, who has lost her whole family to tragedy, when I was told Mom had six months to live, and that I should place her in a nursing home.

How well I identified with the orphaned teenager in my novel when I realized I was losing my mother. We placed Mom on Hospice care for the help they offered. Only once did I allow her to be cared for by others for five days to give me a rest. I was inconsolable as the ambulance loaded her and drove her away, recalling the promise I’d made never to place her in a nursing home. That was the last time she left our home.

As I struggled to get my story right, I also struggled to keep Mom from falling, from getting bedsores, tried to get her to eat, take her meds, tried to keep her comfortable, to remind her over and over who I was, and that I hadn’t taken her little girl away from her, but I was right there with her.  There were days I lived with her anger because I was a stranger to her. Because of the struggle, when I completed Keeping Faith, the book was a mess. Mom passed away one Saturday evening, quietly, gently, without a sound, and some of my life went with her. No longer able to bear to look at the story I’d developed while struggling with my mother, I turned it in though it desperately needed rewrites. I no longer cared.

PTSD controlled my life for many months, but my understanding editor gave me time, she gave me comfort, sent a beautiful floral arrangement to the funeral and encouraged me. She waited until I was stronger to send her edits for me to work on. It was then that I realized, without my mother’s presence, the struggles I went through with her, the pain of loss I felt as she drifted away from me, and her faithfulness for so many years of motherhood, I couldn’t have written deeply enough about the experiences my characters endured, or the deep, abiding love Joseph had for Victoria.

My mother had always shown me abundant love, and in her illness and death, she showed me what I needed to see to delve deeply into a story I hadn’t understood. The rewrites fell into place, and I was able to write some strong scenes as I embodied the orphan teen, the sense of community that surrounded my characters, and the faithfulness and earnestness needed to accomplish what my characters had to accomplish.

When you read the title on this book, Keeping Faith, you might think it’s simply a second chance at romance. But it really shows a love much deeper, everlasting, a faithfulness that will transcend time and follow us into eternity. I hope if you read the story, you’ll be able to see what I mean.

 

THOUGHTS ON HANNAH’S TAKE

From Hannah’s description of the impact of life on the work, it’s clear that the two intertwine.  The insight and wisdom gained from firsthand experience profoundly impacted the work, and the work profoundly impacted the author.

This is true for most writers and their works.  Experience feeds or enhances plot and character, motivations and conflicts.  We see more because we’ve felt more.  All work through the emotional impact, and it is that emotional impact that enables us to connect with readers.

So does the writing ever get easier?  No, it does not.

But our experiences do make the writing richer and more robust.  They add layers—some subtle, some blatant—that enable readers to get out of stories what more authors put into the stories as a result–both intentionally and unintentionally, knowingly and unknowingly.  All are powerful and have the ability to assist writers in touching lives.

And that is the reward for writing not getting easier.

_____________________________________

Duplicity, military thriller, vicki hinze, bestseller, award-winning novelsVicki Hinze is the award-winning bestselling author of nearly thirty novels in a variety of genres including, suspense, mystery, thriller, and romantic or faith-affirming thrillers. Her latest releases are: Duplicity (military romantic thriller,)Torn Loyalties (inspirational romantic suspense), Legend of the Mist (time-travel romantic suspense), One Way to Write a Novel (nonfiction). She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Theocentric Business and Ethics. Hinze’s online community: Facebook. Books. Twitter. Contact. www.vickihinze.com.

 

 

 


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