Tell Me The Useful Stuff

I read a lot of writer biographies, and whilst they are very interesting, I have noticed some vital details are always missing.

The biographies always go into great details about family background, and lovers, and houses, for some reason. (Seriously, biographers seem fascinated by writer’s houses and how they got them and how much they paid for them).

But, when it comes to the actual writing, the biographies aren’t much help. They usually say things like;

‘In the summer of 1849, Malory Blobbington wrote her best-selling book, Virtues Sing In Descant’.

That’s it? Nothing about how she wrote it? How did she research turkey farming in Southern France when she never left her small Lancashire village? Did she discuss it with anyone? Where do the characters come from? Did she write all day, or just a few hours, and think the rest of time? Did she have many rewrites? Did the publishers ask her to rewrite anything? Was it a struggle, or did it flow easily?

I was fascinated to hear lately, for example, that Dickens often spent his writing time just sitting and thinking, or pulling faces in a mirror, trying to bring his characters to life – but that was in a documentary about the writing of one particular book, and not in a biography.

Anything technical about the writing is often missing from biographies – I suppose because it’s not considered interesting for non-writers to read. But personally, I’d love to know about the technical stuff. I’d love to know how other writers wrote, whether they write like me or not, whether I can learn lessons from them.

Believe me, it’s far more interesting than their battles to get a mortgage.

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