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´╗┐Title: How I write my novels
Author: Duchess, 1855?-1897
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Transcriber's note: Mrs. Hungerford (Margaret Wolfe Hamilton)
(1855?-1897) "How I write my novels" (from Mrs Hungerford's
_An anxious moment_ pp. 275-282)]



To sit down in cold blood and deliberately set to cudgel one's brains
with a view to dragging from them a plot wherewith to make a book is (I
have been told) the habit of some writers, and those of no small
reputation. Happy people! What powers of concentration must be theirs!
What a belief in themselves--that most desirable of all beliefs, that
sweet propeller toward the temple of fame. Have faith in yourself, and
all me, will have faith in you.

But as for me, I have to lie awake o'nights longing and hoping for
inspirations that oft-times are slow to come. But when they do come,
what a delight! All at once, in a flash, as it were, the whole story
lies open before me--a delicate diorama, vague here and there, but
with a beginning and an end--clear as crystal. I can never tell when
these inspirations may be coming; sometimes in the dark watches of the
night; sometimes when driving through the crisp, sweet air; sometimes a
word in a crowded drawing-room, a thought rising from the book in hand,
sends them with a rush to the surface, where they are seized and
brought to land, and carried home in triumph. After that the 'dressing'
of them is simple enough.

But just in the beginning it was not so simple. Alas! for that first
story of mine--the raven I sent you of my ark and never saw again.
Unlike the proverbial curse, it did not come home to roost; it stayed
where I had sent it. The only thing I ever heard of it again was a
polite letter from the editor in whose office it lay, telling me I
could have it back if I enclosed stamps to the amount of twopence
halfpenny, otherwise he should feel it his unpleasant duty to 'consign
it to the waste-paper basket'. I was only sixteen then, and it is a
very long time ago; but I have always hated the words 'waste paper'
ever since. I don't remember that I was either angry or indignant, but
I _do_ remember that I was both sad and sorry. At all events, I never
sent that miserable twopence halfpenny, so I conclude my first
manuscript went to light the fire of that heartless editor.

So much comfort I may have bestowed on him, but he left me comfortless;
and yet who can say what good he may not have done me? Paths made too
smooth leave the feet unprepared for rougher roads. To step always in
the primrose way is death to the higher desires. Yet oh, for the hours
I spent over that poor rejected story, beautifying it (as I fondly, if
erroneously, believed), adding a word here, a sentiment there! So
conscientiously minded was I, that even the headings of the chapters
were scraps of poetry (so called) done all by myself. Well, never mind.
I was very young then, and, as they say upon the stage, I 'meant well'.

For a long twelvemonth after that I never dreamed of putting pen to
paper. I had given myself up, as it were. I was the most modest of
children, and fully decided within myself that a man so clever as a
real live editor must needs be could not have been mistaken. He had
seen and judged, and practically told me that writing was not my forte.

Yet the inevitable hour came round once more. Once again an idea caught
me, held me, _persuaded_ me that I could put it into words. I struggled
with it this time, but it was too strong for me; and that early
exhilarating certainty that there was 'something in me', as people say,
was once more mine, and seizing my pen, I sat down and wrote, wrote,
wrote, until the idea was an object formed.

With closed doors I wrote at stolen moments. I had not forgotten the
quips and cranks uttered at my expense by my brother and sister on the
refusal of that last-first manuscript. To them it had been a fund of
joy. In fear and trembling I wrote this second effusion, finished it,
wept over it (it was the most lachrymose of tales), and finally, under
cover of night, induced the housemaid to carry it to the post. To that
first unsympathetic editor I sent it (which argues a distant lack of
malice in my disposition), and oh, joy! it was actually accepted. I
have written many a thing since, but I doubt if I have ever known again
the unadulterated delight that was mine when my first insignificant
cheque was held within my hands.

As for my characters: you ask how I conceive them. Once the plot is
rescued from the misty depths of the mind, the characters come and
range themselves readily enough. A scene, we will say, suggests
itself--a garden, a flower-show, a ball-room, what you will--and two
people in it. A young man and woman for choice. They are always young
with me, for that matter, for what under the heaven we are promised is
so altogether perfect as youth! Oh, that we could all be young for ever
and for ever; that Time,

'That treads more soft than e'er did midnight thief',

could be abruptly slain by some great conqueror, and we poor human
beings let loose, defiant of its thralls! But no such conqueror comes,
and Time flies swiftly as of yore, and drags us headlong, whether we
will or not, to the unattractive grave.

If any one of you, dear readers, is as bad a sleeper as I am, you will
understand how thoughts swarm at midnight. Busy, bustling, stinging
bees, they forbid the needed rest, and, thronging the idle brain,
compel attention. Here in the silent hours the ghosts called characters
walk slowly, smiling, bowing, nodding, pirouetting, going like
marionettes through all their paces. At night, I have had my gayest
thoughts; at night, my saddest. All things seem open then to that
giant, Imagination.

Here, lying in the dark, with as yet no glimmer of the coming dawn, no
faintest light to show where the closed curtains join, too indolent to
rise and light the lamp, too sleepy to put one's foot out of the
well-warmed bed, praying fruitlessly for that sleep that will not
come--it is at such moments as these that my mind lays hold of the
novel now in hand, and works away at it with a vigour, against which
the natural desire for sleep hopelessly makes battle.

Just born this novel may be, or half completed; however it is, off goes
one's brain at a tangent. Scene follows scene, one touching the other;
the characters unconsciously fall into shape; the villain takes a ruddy
hue; the hero dons a white robe; as for the heroine, who shall say what
dyes from Olympia are not hers? A conversation suggests itself, an act
thrusts itself into notice. Lightest of skeletons all these must
necessarily be, yet they make up eventually the big whole, and from the
brain wanderings of one wakeful night three of four chapters are
created for the next morning's work.

As for the work itself, mine is, perhaps, strangely done, for often I
have written the last chapter first, and founded my whole story on the
one episode that it contained.

As a rule, too, I never give more time to my writing than two hours out
of every day. But I write quickly, and have my notes before me, and I
can do a great deal in a short time. Not that I give these two hours
systematically; when the idle vein is in full flow I fling aside the
pen and rush gladly into the open air, seeking high and low for the
children, who (delightful thought) will be sure to help me toward that
state of frivolity to which the sunshine outside has tempted me to
aspire.

To _force_ the mind is, in my opinion, bad business. What comes
spontaneously is of untold value. It is always fresh, always the best
of which the writer may be capable. These unsolicited outbursts of the
mind are as the wild sprays sent heavenward at times by a calm and
slumbering ocean--a promise of the power that reigns in the now quiet
breast. Thus dreams are of value; and to dreams (those most spontaneous
and unsought of all things) I owe much."





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