Elene Spindleshaft is probably one of the finest and most poetic romantic novelists I have ever read. She could take two pages to describe the way the sunlight fell upon her heroine’s hair. Her delicate mastery of words could reduce poets to tears. The problem is that whilst she had an assured command of her genre, who reads poetic romance nowadays? Even more worrying who buys it? Even her erotic passages were so poetic that I’ve seen them read out to audiences who barely stopped gossiping to listen!
Elene faced a dilemma. Had she merely written romance, she would doubtless have earned a steady income. But of course she would have been forced to project herself as the lady her heroines were based on. Forty years before she could probably have done that but after a tough life and several children, she no longer boasted the lissom figure or waist-length auburn hair that she had all those years before.
There again, had she merely written poetry, she would have been condemned to penury, but at least it would be a penury shared with her peers. Nobody makes money out of poetry, or at least not honourably. (Yes, I am thinking of you, Bartal Vean.) Hence when Elene rubbed shoulders with her peers who wrote in the romantic genre they were genuine when they expressed their love of her work, but frankly they were about the only people who ever bought it.
Elene realised that if she was ever going to make money from her writing she would have to change her genre. After some thought and not a little research she decided to venture into writing what are commonly called ‘thrillers.’ She sat down and created a plot of fiendish complexity, featuring a villain who was both cunning and malevolent and a hero who as basically decent but had enough redeeming flaws to ensure readers liked him.
The book ran to four hundred thousand words and in it she would spend two pages describing how the moonlight ran along the blade of the hero’s sword. Of course I read it. So, apparently, did most other writers. I saw virtually the same plot, but with differently named characters, appear in half a dozen books over the next year. Each book was barely a quarter of the length of hers.
But she had learned her lesson, she realised she would have to change her style as well. This is easily said but less easily done. It was then she had her brainwave. She decided the next thriller would be a quarter of the length of her previous work. So she plotted it out and at regular intervals in the plot she set up what she called her wayposts. These were the points in the plot she could stop writing for the day.
Then she brewed an enormous quantity of tea and started writing. Her one rule was that she wasn’t allowed to leave her chair until she got to a waypost. Writing furiously, fortified by mugs full of tea, she would work away. Inevitably the tea started to play its part and with crossed legs and a bursting bladder she wrote on and on. Finally she would hit her waypost, abandon her pen and her manuscript and flee to the bucket privy at the bottom of the stairs.
Initially things were difficult. On one occasion, on reaching her waypost she realised that she wasn’t going to make the privy. So she used the window. Fortunately it was both dark and raining. Still with remarkably rapidity her writing style lost its prolixity. Instead with her thrillers she wrote in a very spare prose style, the story rushing along at a cracking pace carrying the readers with it. Not only that but now she was writing four or five books where previous she had been writing one. Whilst the money didn’t exactly roll in, she was at last making a comfortable living.
Now I dare not advocate this method of changing your writing style to everybody. But since I heard about Elene’s method I’ve heard of others who use it to their advantage. They aren’t trying to change their style, they’re trying to change their habits. Whereas previously they would sit all day, spending the time making sure their writing desk was perfectly arranged, suddenly the need to write becomes almost overwhelming. Whereas they might fritter away the time reading material only vaguely related to their work, and call it ‘research’, or break off from their writing to pen a note to a friend, now they are utterly focussed on getting the work done.
Tallis has other advice for writers which people may find useful. They are included with some moral tales of doubtful utility.
As a reviewer commented, “Another set of stories from Poet Tallis Steelyard. Amongst other short tales, he advises on selling your written word. The world, even the invented world of Tallis and friends, has much to say on this. As we know, people you’ve never heard of will offer you a book on how to sell your novel and get rich. Jim Webster has once again sorted the gold from the dross and presented it as stories. There’s a lot of truth in them!”