I was thrilled to be invited to take part in Karen Swan's blog tour for her latest book The Summer Without You, Karen has written a fab piece about how she overcame the dreaded 'Writer's Block' whilst writing this novel.
Before writing this book, ‘Writer’s block’ was something that happened to other authors, not me. When people asked me if I’d ever ‘had’ it, my response was always very bluff: ‘I don’t have time’ or ‘It’s a luxury I can’t afford.’ To me, writing is a business, not a hobby or a higher calling. I love it but I also have a real and enforceable responsibility to deliver on time to my publishers – there’s a big team of people involved backstage in producing every book – as well as to my readers who want reliability and regularity from me; I suppose I saw the famed ‘writer’s block’ as a bit of melodrama, a self-indulgence that furthered the mystery of the creative process.
Then came the day when I spent eight hours watching my cursor flash and didn’t write a single word. Not one. Usually when I’m in full flight, I feel more like a film director than a writer; when I close my eyes I can ‘see’ the scene like a camera on a set; it’s as clear to me as a real memory. If a character is in a kitchen, say, I know not only what the character is doing / wearing / saying but also where the colander’s kept and what food is in the fridge. I go way beyond furnishing a scene with just what’s going to be used; I build it up in my head as a complete entity so that that kitchen is as real as my own. That way, I can close my eyes and move through it easily and quickly.
But not this time. I had my character profiles, my plot points potted and I knew I was setting the book in the Hamptons on America’s East Coast, which I had visited several times before. The engine was running - and yet I couldn’t get out of park. It had been a long time since I’d visited and I had no working knowledge of the place. I had gone way beyond the glossy stereotype of the Hamptons, spending six weeks researching local issues through online blogs and papers, but it was all useless when I couldn’t remember what the streets looked like or the layout of the town; I didn’t know which beaches had sand dunes or how long it took to get from Amagansett to Montauk. In short, when I closed my eyes, I saw nothing at all. I knew I had to have a scene with my heroine driving the car but I didn’t know where her house was on the street, much less what it looked like or which town it was in - East Hampton? Southampton? Bridgehampton? Sag Harbor? Amagansett? Montauk? Water Mill? And how were the towns different from each other in tone and style….? As the questions kept coming, my panic grew and by the time my husband rang me, mid-afternoon, I was in tears and looking at flight times to JFK.
I flew out the next morning and stayed for four days, learning to drive on the right and in a car five times the size of my car at home; in fact, the car was the size of my home! I saw dead raccoons instead of dead squirrels on the roads, I learnt what a flagel was, I remembered how friendly everyone is when you walk into a shop and I did a yoga class, even though I’m a pilates girl.
I photographed the local birds and trees and found somewhere that sold PG Tips tea. I drove round the back streets, writing down the elements that I liked best of the different houses so that I could blend them into a composite for my characters’ home, and I acquired an addiction for LuluLemon. By the time I flew back home on the Saturday – just in time for a dinner party and before the jetlag kicked in – my immersion therapy was complete! I may not have been a Hamptonite myself (I let my 7-year old daughter paint my nails and my hair, like Ro’s, is too wild) but I knew now how to spot one. More importantly, I knew how to write about one too.
Check back on the blog later as I'll be reviewing this fab book by Karen.