Earlier last (!) year I filmed a tv doc for BBC4 about Mills and Boon, it’s repeated again tonight (New Year’s Day), ten thirty ish. The basic premise is that a non-romance writer (me) has a go at writing an M&B.
Even though we had to cram masses into just a couple of weeks filming and it was fairly frenetic at times (trying to actually write the M&B as well as travel as well as interview people etc), I had a brilliant time making the doc, largely I think, due to how much I enjoyed working with Claire and Andy and the other lovely people of the tiny crew who made it, partly because making a documentary was all new for me (though not that different as I discovered, from much of the storytelling impro work I’ve done), but primarily because we proved – to me and hopefully to the viewer – what I have always believed anyway, that you really have to WANT to write what you’re writing. That to try to second guess the market, or write purely for money, in fact to do it for any reason other than because you have a STORY you want to tell, is mad. And going to make you unhappy.
Of course, no one may want to read/see the story you really want to tell! That’s an entirely different matter. Then you need to find a way to make them want it. Or make it anyway, and put up with the fact that it will only ever have a very small audience, if that.
Had some funny responses to the previous screening of the doc though – I think, because it is a documentary, people took things very much at face value. So when we went to a romance writing course in Tuscany, people assumed I was also there for a week like the other students. Nope, two very very long filming days then a midnight flight home.
Some people also assumed that how I went about plotting the M&B book was how I’d always plot something, rather than simply me talking aloud (for the camera!) about something that usually happens very organically. Like most writers I know, I don’t really ‘plot’ as such at all. I sit with it, walk with it, write it and re-write it and re-write it again, the book or the story comes into form much more like a theatre rehearsal process than something worked out in detail beforehand. It’s exciting precisely because of the surprises and the mistakes that lead to magic and the dull bit of getting from A to B so that C can finally happen. That’s why I believe my real work is in the re-writing and editing. Once I have most of a first draft, then I start to see what it is I am (or the story is) trying to say. Or maybe I just have a short attention span – the one time I did try to plot a book, I was so bored with it once I’d worked it all out, I wasn’t interested in actually WRITING the thing. (Sometimes I teach workshops where people say they’ve got three different novels all plotted out but they’re not actually WRITING any of them. Seems to me the plotting might be a tool of procrastination in that case!)
And quite a few people have asked if I finished the M&B book I started writing for the doc. No. But I do have a very well worked out plot, three chapters and a synopsis for it! I think it could make a nice little romcom movie. Besides, in a truly truly brilliant day’s work, I might MIGHT write 2000 words (2000 keep-able words that I don’t cut 1800 of the next day) so even if every day was one of those amazing days, I’d still have had to take at least another 22 and a half days to finish the M&B. And that would be 22.5 days away from the book I’m already writing. 22.5 days away from the story I really want to tell – too long.