As someone who is fortunate enough to make a living from writing (historical fiction and a weekly newspaper and advice column), I often get asked what my writing process is like and what inspires me.
I wish I could say something really clever or divulge some kind of shared magic. Better still, I’d love to be able to say I sit in front of my computer in a dreamy haze, mounds of chocolate biscuits to one side, dressed in pyjamas, and let my fingers glide over the keyboard as stories pour forth in an unstoppable rush. I wish. The truth is, sadly, really dull. Writing, whether fiction or fact, is a hard grind for me. Not “hard” in the way other people’s jobs are (and ones I’ve had in the past), but in a sense, I take writing very seriously; treat it as a business (after all, I’ve deadlines, contracts, other people who rely on me). I work at it for set hours every day, and rewrite, edit, cut and delete in order to try and create the best stories and columns I possibly can. It doesn’t always come easy and certainly needs a lot of refining.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let me tell you how I approach novel writing…
Which is far more interesting than admitting how, akin to a (boring) sponge, I absorb as many newspapers and TV bulletins daily in order to write topical columns that contribute to social debate and prick the conscience – and generally make myself miserable about the state of the world in the process (but that’s another story).
When I start a new book, I tend to read a great deal of relevant historical non-fiction and fiction and completely immerse myself in the era. I spend months before I commence ordering books, journals, and documents; everything from court transcripts to academic treatises, maps, Ph.D.’s, to wonderful novels by talented writers set in the same period. I spend one-two years researching, usually while I’m in the editing and final stages of the previous book.
I take copious notes, re-read books, pour over maps and any paintings or photographs, and watch documentaries pertinent to the time as well. Then, when I feel I’m ready, I write. (I usually know because I can’t NOT write.)
I already know how the book will start and end.
But, how the book unfolds and where the characters take me is a complete mystery. In that sense, I am more a pantster (writing by the seat of my pants) than a plotter.
Listening to music composed in the era is really motivating, as is burning scented candles to evoke moods. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to the places I write about (if not the time – where’s Dr. Who and the Tardis when you need her?), so my photos and recollections while in situ are so helpful.
As for my inspiration…
Apart from history, and everything else mentioned, especially other people’s wonderful words and music, and my wonderful dogs, it’s people who are my main inspiration. The dead and the living. All the crazy, terrible, unjust and cruel as well as loving, heroic, brave and foolish things we do – to each other and ourselves – in the past and now.
It constantly depresses, challenges, emboldens and inspires me, to write, to ponder and to think about how we can all be better. I think about how I can write stories that capture what makes us who we are and where we can be and which fire the imagination. Then, I just hope like hell people like reading them as much as I love writing them.
I don’t know any author who sets out to write a book (or journalist a column or story) that doesn’t excite and move people. I’m no different. I just wish I was better at it too.
Dr. Karen Brooks: is an Author, columnist, social commentator and academic. Karen is also a part of a gorgeous brewery in Tasmania with her partner. The brewery and the authory keep her busy!
Associate Professor and Honorary Senior Research Fellow IASH, Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Queensland.
Advice columnist for U On Sunday
Join Karen for great conversations and sharing on FaceBook: Karen Brooks Author – love to have you!
Director: Sara Douglass Enterprises