There was a full page article on the June 16 issue of The Daily Telegraph about Penny Vincenzi. It was written by Byrony Gordon, who covers women’s issues for the Telegraph. She says that “Penny Vincenzi’s books are an epic saga containing family secrets, romance and seriously strong women. ” I’ve read one of Vincenzi’s novels (there are 17) and I would agree with this characterization.
One particular quote in the article caught my eye. After saying that it takes her about a year to write a book and she never plots anything out, Gordon quotes Vincenzi, “I haven’t the faintest idea what is going to happen, ever. I just get the kernel of the idea, which in this case was supposing a company was about to go under, and then the characters wander in. I never have any idea what is going to happen at the end. I truly don’t, which is why they are so long.”
Does she ever get writer’s block?
“Oh no,” she says with a shake of her head. “I have a friend who does books, too, and he was party to a rather intense conversation about writing. Someone asked, ‘What do you do when you get writer’s block?’ and he said, ‘I’m not clever enough to get writer’s block!’ I do think there’s an element of: ‘Oh, it’s my art, you can’t cut that bit out because that’s the core’ . I don’t agonise. I do have terrible days when I realise I have gone down a completely blind alley and I’ve got to come back. The only cure is to press the delete button, I’m afraid. I once deleted 20,000 words and I felt much better after that.”
One has to admire this about Vincenzi: she has an extraordinary talent to write in what sounds like a stream-of-consciousness mode while at the same time having a keen awareness of what her readers like. She is a successful writer and it works for her.
What caught my eye about this article was the contrast with my style. I, too, take about a year to write a book, but I do a lot of charity work and my books are shorter than hers. I write about 8 pages a week; she writes at least twice as much. Part of the difference is that I do agonise, and I do a lot of editing in multiple stages. For me, a novel has to be credible, and since I write ‘modern. real-world novels’, I spend plenty of time on research. For example, I’m currently writing a novel which is partly set in north west Africa, and I want it to be accurate. I also do quite a bit of planning: novel outline, chapter outlines, character portraits, and with my more recent novels: what’s the point of this novel? what’s its message? what would I like the reader to take away? This message is, for me, the central nervous system of the novel. The characters, the events all have to support this core sense. If there is no core sense, the novel is just entertainment, but, of course, it can be delicious entertainment.
As to writer’s block, I would call it a barrier, rather than a blockage. There are times, particularly in starting a new situation, when I’m unsure how to proceed. I’ve learned that what’s necessary for me is to sit here and think about it. An idea will present itself. I’ll reject it. Not good enough. How about this? I takes patience and perseverance, and sometimes – I agree with Vincenzi – it means starting over.
So, in a way, I envy the free-flowing style of Vincenzi, particularly when I’m trying to write something that engages our ideas, our emotions, our senses and our instincts all at once. But the free-flowing style would not be me.