In Write Away, mystery novelist Elizabeth George writes about her “approach to fiction and the writing life”. I am always on the lookout for books about writing written by authors I know and love, and this is one of my favorites.
I am a big fan of George’s Inspector Lynley novels; I’ve read all of them with the exception of one (I couldn’t bear to read What Came Before He Shot Her because I’m still in grief over With No One As Witness, although I was able to jump right back in with Careless in Red), so it was also a lovely treat to read about how George came to write A Great Deliverance, her first book and the first in the Inspector Lynley series.
For those interested in the writing of the type of mystery/suspense novels that George writes, Write Away distills the author’s entire process. If you’ve read her works, you’ll not be surprised to learn that she is very disciplined with her writing; what I’ve taken away most from her process, though, are the ways she consciously makes the effort to tap into her right-brained self:
“I am strongly left-brained, as you can probably tell from my having such an intricate process in the first place, and I must do whatever I can to get the right side of my brain up and operational. Present-tense stream of consciousness does this for me. Writing in this fashion, I’m not worried about typographical errors, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, figurative language or anything else that might make me stop, consider, and thus get derailed. I just start firing away at the computer keys, writing down what I see happening in each scene on my step outline.”
Because I don’t work from an outline, I haven’t applied her stream-of-consciousness approach to what she calls a step outline. I have, however, used it to create character analyses, something I’d never done before reading this book, and I’ve been amazed at the amount of detail that flows onto the page about my characters – things that I would never have thought of, but which feel so right once I’ve set them down on paper. George has this to say about her character analyses:
“This may come as something of a surprise, especially if you tend to think of crime novels – or any novels, for that matter – as all about plot. I don’t see novels in that manner, however, and for that reason when I’m writing one, I hammer down the idea and the expanded idea and turn at once to character in order to learn more about my story.”
There are detailed examples throughout the book, both from George’s own writing (including her character analysis of Eve Bowen from Missing Joseph, warts and all, so to speak, which clearly illustrates how the stream of consciousness process works), as well as from the works of other authors. She also writes about outlines, structuring scenes, dialogue, voice and the importance of setting.
Just as valuable are her sections on persistence. I am in awe that she wrote the first rough draft of A Great Deliverance over three and a half weeks one summer, and had the finished draft completed not too long after:
“A Great Deliverance more than any of my novels serves as a shining example of what high-quality bum glue can do for a writer. When I began it upon returning from a trip to Yorkshire, England, I had only forty-two days before I had to go back to El Toro High School and teach English for another year. I wanted to get the novel done in that time, so I wrote from eight to sixteen hours a day in order to accomplish it.”
I first came across Write Away a year ago; it made an incredible impression on me the first time I read it, and I continue to take it off my shelf to dip into when I’m finding myself in need of motivation. It’s a book that talks about one writer’s approach to her craft, and whether you’re looking for an entire process to guide you step-by-step, or bits and pieces to fill in gaps in your own process, or simply motivation and inspiration, I highly recommend it.
Where to buy Write Away:
U.S. (Amazon.com) or IndieBound
Review copy details: published by HarperCollins, 2004, Hardcover, 257 pages