There was a time in the distant past when Irish novelist Maeve Binchy, 69, was not an internationally famous best-selling author. She remembers it vividly.
Before she started writing the books that set her up for life and made her a household name, she was a hardworking London-based journalist struggling to keep a roof over her head and her marriage together.
What she discovered early on in her career was that there was no magic formula for success as a writer, no more than there was a formula for success as a career woman or wife. You have to learn by doing, she discovered, which means making mistakes too, inevitably.
But with a little willpower and a good deal of perseverance you will be able to one day write the book you’ve always meant to, she counsels in her inspirational new book The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club (Knopf Doubleday).
With contributions by other noted Irish novelists and publishers like Marian Keyes, Carol Baron and Norah Casey, Binchy has written a clear eyed and unpretentious guide to the three essential steps -- getting your own story started, getting it finished and then getting it to the market.
If you are the sort of person who scribbles story ideas on the back of your Bed, Bath and Beyond receipts, or if you often file away snippets of conversation you’ve overheard on the subway, then this is the book for you. There’s enough encouragement between these covers to provide your Con-Ed needs for a year, so it may be the only guidebook you’ll ever need as an aspiring writer.
Binchy is as famous for her personal warmth and good humor as she is for her best-selling books, probably because she understands the struggles that we all face while looking for the silver lining in things.
Not that she overlooks the darkness there can be in life, far from it, but she retains her sense of humor and her hope at all times. So the very same principles that made her famous are also to be found in this book.
The important thing to realize, she says, is that everyone is capable of telling a story. It doesn’t really matter where you were born or how you grew up.
What you will need is some sort of discipline and plan. Like getting up at 5 a.m. three times a week, for example. You may hate it -- she assumes you’ll hate it -- but if you’re like most people you’ll be too busy any other time.
What helps most, Binchy suggests, is the idea that you’re not alone. You’re not the only person staring at a blank page or screen and asking yourself if you’re mad to even attempt this. You’re not the only one who gets eaten by self-doubt before, during and after the process is complete.
But there are things you can do to stave off the worst and focus on what you set out to do in the first place. In this regard, Binchy, who has produced book after book for decades, really knows what’s she’s talking about and comes into her own.
Binchy lives in Dalkey, a lively little suburb of Dublin, where she grew up in a local family that read books constantly but thought it was a bit fancy to write one of your own. She had to combat her own sense of inferiority, she says, to even pick up her pen.
Who, she wondered, would be interested in her stories? The answer was that any place is interesting if you know where to look.
The book really comes to life when Binchy acknowledges it’s so much easier to give wise advice than to follow it. But -- and this is a big but -- she also has this notion of herself as a reliable person, and that’s one of the tricks she’s learned to force herself back to the desk to knock out the pages she promised herself she would write. Sure, it’s hackneyed, but it works or works well enough to force her into doing something.
Other tricks involve making promises to yourself about what you will and will not do on the road to your book’s completion. Motivational promises like having a huge glass of Chardonnay or watching your favorite soap compete with punishing actions like skipping dinner with friends and passing up hot theater tickets until you have fulfilled your original promises to yourself.
Remember, this is where the losers always give up, but if you stick to it, Binchy’s new book assures, you will not be among them.
Moving to Ireland
After living in Ireland for almost one year, this is what I’ve learned