Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Asked to write about this for eHarlequin recently, I have to say that my first, slightly cynical response, was that it’s the same thing that drives everyone to the office each morning. The need to eat. And that’s true, of course, but only up to a point.

It can’t be the need the eat that makes Stephen King sit at his desk each morning. Or John Grisham. Or Nora Roberts. For the writer, the artist, the actor – anyone who produces a “performance” out of their head, their heart, there has to be something more that drives them on when, by most standards, they have the kind of financial security that would have most of us switching off and heading for some luscious beach.

When I was a newly published author, a journalist asked me if I’d ever give up writing. It’s a pretty weird question now I think about it. Would she have asked a banker if he’d ever give up banking? Anyway, on a bit of a high I replied that even if I won the lottery (not likely since I don’t play!) I would still write.

Fifteen years and fifty-plus books later I sat down and asked myself if that was still true. I have to be honest and tell you that there are days when I never want to see a computer again. Writing is tough. It’s tough on your back, on your eyes. It makes your brain ache (it makes my brain ache, anyway). And unlike other jobs it doesn’t get easier with practise. On the contrary. The more you write, the harder it gets to find a brilliant new way to tell what is, basically, the same story. I actually read somewhere yesterday that there are only two stories – Romeo and Juliet and … I forget.

So, if I was asked the same question today, would the answer be the same? I guess it would, because writing isn’t just a job, writing is who you are.

I’ve always written. Always seen writing a book, being published as my personal goal in life. But if it was simply that, surely I would have been happy, content, once AN IMAGE OF YOU was published back in 1992? Picture in paper. “Mum, 40, Writes Book” headline. (Did Stephen King’s first headline read “Dad, XX, Writes Book”? No, I didn’t think so.) A book with my name on it in the local branch of W H Smith. Mission accomplished.

But one of the things that drives me, drives every writer I suspect, is the impossibility of a book, any book, ever matching the soaring vision in your head, in your heart. I once said to an editor, after A STRANGER'S KISS (my fourth, I think) had been accepted for publication, that I wished I done something more with a particular scene.

“Next time,” she said. “Do it in the next book.”

We both knew she wasn’t talking about that particular scene. She was telling me that next time I’d get closer. And that’s what keeps me writing. The goal of the perfect book. A book that, when I it take out of the box and read it through to check that all my corrections have made it through the final copy edit stage, doesn’t leave me thinking that I could have done something more in any one of a dozen places. That nagging little feeling that I could have done better.

It’s never going to happen of course. No writer is ever completely satisfied with the finished result and, since I get more critical with experience, not less so, I’ll always have to keep writing, always seeking an illusive perfection.

And as if that isn’t enough to keep me going, there are the characters I left behind. A handful of difficult teenagers who are clamouring for their own stories. Men and women who play a role above and beyond the call of a “minor character”, who have stories of their own that demand to be told, some more urgent than others.

At the moment I’m writing a follow up to my August, Harlequin Romance, REUNITED: MARRIAGE IN A MILLION. The hero’s sister was not, as first glance, heroine material and yet she came through when the pressure was on and I wanted her to break free of her past and find happiness. And how would that happen if I didn’t write her story? Being an author is a lot like being a mother. You never stop feeling responsible for your offspring.

But on the days when the writing is going so badly that I’m tempted to buy a lottery ticket, or just cut down on food and head for a quiet beach, what keeps me turning up at my computer at seven o’clock each morning are the letters from readers, the encouragement and camaraderie of colleagues, the faith of my editor – and a publisher who has paid me in advance to deliver this book, on time. And the memory of how it feels when the postman brings a box containing my latest book. The sheer pleasure of the moment when you open it, take one out and hold it for the first time. The new book smell. Checking the cover. The blurb.

It’s those moments that make this the best job in the world. Bankers are welcome to retire to whatever dream takes their fancy. Romance writers write out their dreams, their fantasies. Lying on a beach, just watching the world go by would be a kind of agony. About two weeks would be all it took before I had to go and write about the couple who are clearly having a very bad time. The lonely guy sitting throwing pebbles into the sea. The scarred woman… Fixing in my head the world that I see because that’s what I do. That’s who I am.

A writer.


Kate Walker said...

And I'm just so glad the you do keep writing - I can't imagine a world without any new Liz Fielding books in it - it would be . . . No, I just don't want to go there!

Besides - what would you do with the voices in your head?


Donna Alward said...

See Kate she'd start talking to them and there'd be real cause to

I mentioned last night that I hope my book 4 doesn't get the big R. Dh said, "but you've published 3 and there's nothing to be ashamed of". Of course not. But I want to get better, and keep writing books, and keep selling books. I don't want this to end. And an R would mean that I need to step back and see what went wrong and try to fix it for the next time.

Because at some point - it does become ALL ABOUT THE NEXT BOOK.

And I'm with Kate....just glad you keep on with it Liz! Your books are so memorable!

Anne McAllister said...

Absolutely, Liz. And whether you believe it or not, you just keep getting better and better. The first books were great; these are superb. Don't stop now -- you might get that perfect one, yet. Of course you won't know it, so you'll just have to keep writing.

Also, thanks for expressing it so well. I'll be quoting you!