Susan E. Kaberry and Beth Cox

Susan E. Kaberry

Writing Journal Update, September 2023

As Autumn approaches and the gardening slows down, with just some bulb planting to do when my order arrives, I shall be turning to writing more often. I haven’t stopped writing altogether in the summer, whenever I have a few hours to spare I’ve been plodding on with my new book.

I am probably about a third of the way through, 15 chapters in, and I’m at the point where I’m writing without a clear plan of which way the story will pan out. I have an idea of where I’m going with it, but the details aren’t yet clear to me. I knew how to begin but now I’m feeling my way with it.

Sunderland Point, Lancashire. Pic: David Catherall, via Wikimedia Commons

I did a lot of research earlier in the year which involved reading, visits to museums and a visit to Sunderland Point, a place near Lancaster which features in the novel. All these experiences are in my mind and contribute to the creative process.

It’s quite a scary place to be, but if I can hold my nerve and trust to the creative process, I know I will find my way through it. It’s also an exciting place to be in as I’m not sure what will happen next, will a character appear on the page as I write? Will something terrible happen to one of my characters? And what role will the landscape play in the novel?

It’s a difficult process, writing a novel. I know, I know, being a Doctor in A & E is a hard job, compared to that, surely writing is not difficult? In fact, it’s different kind of difficult. No one’s life depends on me finishing the book, no one will die if I write a bad book, nevertheless the process can feel tortuous at times. There are highs and lows. I quite regularly read what I have written and think – that’s complete rubbish – it’s rare that I think that’s great. In fact, I don’t think I ever think that. I might think, that’s not bad and that’s enough to keep me going. If I find I’m pleased with it, I question myself remembering something that a famous writer once said. It might have been Hemingway who said, ‘Kill your darlings!” So, I’m wary if I feel a twinge of pride in a metaphor or a sentence, it could be rubbish! It’s hard to kill your darlings, but it’s certainly advice worth thinking about.

You need to develop a tough skin as a writer as you send your darlings or half-decent darlings out into the world. Receiving feedback is terrifying. Writers’ groups can be a minefield. Group dynamics, such as competitiveness, if not attended to (and they usually aren’t in my experience), can mean someone gets badly bruised by undeserved or unthought-through, careless and damning feedback. Somehow finding yourself in the position of scapegoat in the group can be enough to send you running for the hills. There can also be a certain intellectual snobbery at play. What is regarded as ‘literary’ can be obscure and difficult to get along with. Book club or popular novels can be held in disdain by the literati. Of course, a book may be well-written and literary as well as enjoyable. I think we should be less judgemental and read and write what we enjoy.

If you need someone to give helpful feedback, finding a mentor who is on your wavelength, someone whose views you trust, and who you think has your best writing interests at heart can be invaluable. Sometimes it can be a reciprocal relationship, so you become their mentor in turn. You need to admire each other’s work and be able to give helpful criticism. Reading and writing is such a personal thing. I’m always amazed at the difference in taste of the people I’ve met in book groups. A book you love may be hated by another book group member, and vice versa.

By the way I’ve no idea what category my current book falls into, apart from historical, which genre Hilary Mantel dragged up from being regarded as ‘popular’ to ‘literary.’

I’ve meandered off the point, but I hope it’s of interest. I will try to post updates more often as I think it’s good for me and I hope it’s of interest to you.