What New Writers can learn from Maeve Binchy

What new writers can learn from Maeve Binchy
There is a lot to learn from looking at Maeve Binchy’s writing career.

Maeve Binchy was a successful novelist that wrote the way she spoke. Several of her books had film deals and she was always happy to give advice to other people about writing. 

One of the reasons I wanted to do a profile on Maeve Binchy is because she kept her social life and admitted to not enjoying having to get up early to write. But because she wanted to write badly enough she did it. She has always been honest about her writing process and how she felt about it.

Her first writing

The first time Maeve Binchy was published was because of the letters she wrote letters home to her parents when she was travelling. They enjoyed them so much that they sent them to the newspaper. The Irish Times  published them and paid her. This was her first paid writing and also where she started working on her voice. 

She also admits to editing her letters so that her parents would not be worried about her. So, even at this early stage she was already thinking of her audience and what they would like to hear.

Maeve Binchy started as a teacher in Dublin and then became a journalist in London. These were the jobs that supported her until her books became successful enough to pay the bills.

One of the benefits of having a job that pays the bills is that you have time to discover who you are as a writer. You are not under pressure to perform quicker than your natural writing speed. There are some writers that can produce 12 books a year. But, many of these writers say that it took them a few years to build up to that speed. They were not writing that fast when they started. 

Starting out

When she started writing she was getting up early before work to try and get 5 hours of writing done a week. She admits to hating it which is refreshing to hear. Too many succesful writers make the discipline needed to write sound easy.

 But she does insist on needing to write 10 pages a week ‘otherwise you are just playing around’.

She wrote 16 novels over 30 years (1982 – 2012). Which takes discipline and hard work. But she knew she enjoyed socialising at the weekend. She didn’t stop seeing her firends. She picked the time she had available without compromising the parts of her life that she enjoyed.

Writing the way she spoke

Maeve Binchy wrote about the everyday life of the people that were around her. She chose Dublin and Ireland as the setting for the majority of her books because it was what she knew so she could include the nuances. Particularly in the dialect of her characters. She did not change or adapt her vision to suit the market. She definitely found a lot of inspiration in writing what you know.

Maeve never worried that she would run out of ideas because she was inspired by the stories of the people around her. She eavesdropped on peoples conversation on buses, london underground and cafes. She even learned to lip read!

The theme of Maeve Binchy’s writing

The message that Maeve Binchy wanted to tell women through the characters in her books is that inner happiness is what we create for ourselves. The female characters in her books don’t need to be rescued, they rescue themselves.

Even though it is a simple theme it carried through her many books and short stories. It is also possibly one of the reasons why her books translated to screen so well.

Successful but still has critics.

Maeve Binchy is one of Irelands best selling writers. She has written 17 novels , 3 plays, many short stories and also her many, many articles in the Irish Times.

Her books were made into films which she loved. She was impressed by how one line in a film replaced pages of inner monologuing. There are 19 adaptations of her books and short stories into film and radio dramas.

Another measure of her success is that her books are studied for the Leaving Cert. This is the final exam Irish students take at the end of secondary school.

Even though she was a successful novelists and journalist her 1980 play, The Half Promised Land was badly received by the critics. But their negative reviews did not affect box office sales. Which goes to show that the critics do not speak for everyone. Maeve never let the negative reviews stop her. She always just moved on to her next book.

Her novel Tara Road was chosen for Oprah’s Book Club and she also appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1999. She also wrote an article for O, the Oprah Magazine in 2008. She didn’t change her writing style for this either. While many of us won’t be able to aim for a spot on the stage beside Oprah (because she does not do the Oprah Winfrey show anymore), I am including it as one of Maeve’s successes. It shows how universal her appeal was. Even though she focused on the place she knew best.

Followed her interests

Even though Samuel Beckett (Irish playwright, Waiting for Godot is not obviously relevant to her books she wanted to interview him. She had to convince her editor but she managed it. She did not worry that anybody would be confused why a writer of contemporary fiction whould want to write about Samuel Beckett. Maeve was very comfortable speaking to Beckett. She could speak about literary works even though the books she wrote would not be on the same shelf as Beckett’s works in a book shop.

Maeve Binchy’s advice to writers

Finally I am going to include this link so that you can hear her writing advice in her own words.

What can we learn from Maeve Binchy

Summing it all up . . . .

She wrote what she wanted to write and the way she wanted to write it.

Maeve Binchy made space for writing in her life and always met her target of 10 pages a week.

She kept writing because writing was what she loved.

She wrote in lots of different ways.