This aphorism is easy to call to mind at present when Scotland is basking in wonderful sunshine and heat. Make hay while the sun shines probably arises from our agrarian past. Don’t hang about and let the grass get wet again if you want to feed your animals. Metaphorically, it’s a wise injunction to the writer who has found their voice or whose work is particularly popular at present.
It can be difficult for creatives to repeat. So you’ve written a wonderful short story about young love in the frozen north – why would you want to go back to that theme? Because the readers who loved it will love another. With luck and a penname, they won’t be able to come after you with madness in their eye and a hammer in their hands, but many readers do like to find a writer whose books are similar one to another.
There are all sorts of things you can do to avoid the work becoming stale. I write historical romance and while I hope people who liked Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer will find my voice attractive, it is nonetheless subtly different. Mariah’s Marriage has no grand Ball scene, for example. I also like to give the servant class a voice. Maybe I know where I would have been living!
Another kind of hay-making creatives take up is writing in the manner of… how many young wizards have donned their cloak? How much erotica has seen the light of day? Had you any idea that vampires were dead, well, and living on a street near you? While publishers and editors are emphatic that what they want to see is an original voice, there’s no doubt that writing in the manner of is commercially successful for a lot of people. It always has been.
Think back to the day of the omniscient narrator when stories, often set in the South-Seas, began with “I was told this tale by…” Very few people made it further than the next town on the bus, or Rothesay for two nights in the Fair fortnight, of course they wanted to soak up a world of old salts and fast women vicariously. Of course the writer who wants to sell will write it.
Making hay while the sun shines can also hold a bit of warning, I think. As a daughter, wife, mum and grandma, I know exactly how tempting it is to get everything else sorted before turning to the Wip. And then the sun may have gone down – or the muse fallen asleep under the sheer weight of tasks attempted. NaNonWriMo was an eye-opening experience where that’s concerned.
There’s not a lot of sun during November in Scotland, but there’s electric light. Setting aside the mundane, the duty stuff, for a month wasn’t easy. It did pay off though, and Bella’s Betrothal, coming in the autumn from MuseItUp, is the result.
I did this sort of thing once before when I took up the Edinburgh University Febfest playwriting workshop. It was on a Wednesday evening when other commitments were heavy. Even so, it was there, and performance of one’s play was the carrot. Not to be set aside for another day. I’ve never regretted it.