Barbara Cartland wrote 723 romance novels. Her usual writing method was to lay on a sofa for several hours each day and tell the story aloud while a secretary sat behind her and wrote it down in shorthand. The secretary would later type up each day’s dictation. Using this method, she was able to write a book every two weeks.
Hilarious? Weird? Unique? Apocryphal? Her method has been reported in enough places to show that it’s true. She was able to visualize the entire novel in her head and tell the story aloud. How did she do it?
Did she share the secret to her prolific writing? Not explicitly, but we can get some idea from what others have said.
Stick to the Plan
Cartland’s novels were criticized for being formulaic. She used the same basic outline for almost every novel. After completing a novel, she would go to bed that night and think about her plan for the next novel. She began that novel the next day. By using the same basic outline over and over, she never had to spend a lot of time on it. The characters and story of each novel were fit into that same plan.
While you may not want to use the same story structure forever, it’s a good idea not to re-invent the wheel for every book.
In 1950, author Georgette Heyer accused Cartland of plagiarism when it was noticed that many of her early novels used the same character names, character traits, dialogue and plot points as Heyer’s published novels. The case never went to court, but it gives some insight into her inspiration.
One of the tips for improving your writing craft is reading great writers to learn their writing methods. The idea is not to read a pile of Stephen King books and then write a Stephen King novel. It’s to read many authors and pick up ideas and methods that you use in your own unique writing style.
Cartland must have enjoyed Heyer’s books so much that they stuck in her mind and she inadvertently wrote a few close imitations. I’m sure you won’t do that.
Cartland was not the first or last author to closely imitate other writers. In 1977, Terry Brooks’ novel “The Sword of Shannara” imitated J. R. R. Tolkein’s “The Lord of the Rings”. Maybe imitated is too strong a word. The wikipedia article calls it “heavily derived”. I had already read “The Lord of the Rings” three times when I sat down to read “The Sword of Shannara”. I kept feeling it was “The Lord of the Rings” re-written. As the characters approached an inn, I decided that if they met a mysterious figure in the bar I would be done with the book and the author. And that’s what happened. The lesson? Don’t imitate other books too closely. You will lose readers.
Write Every Day
Barbara Cortland dictated her books for two or three hours a day, every day. That is one of the not so secret secrets of prolific writing. Keep writing every day. For Cartland, it only took two or three hours to dictate 10,000 words. If you can write just 1000 words a day, you will write three novels a year.
What are the take aways here? Use writing formulas. Imitate the best without plagiarizing. Write every day.
We can all do that.
Article by Ivan Izo.