Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How To Write a Romance


by Mary Margret Daughtridge

The other day an invitation came to participate in a writer’s conference. Me. I’m still getting used to being a writer, and suddenly they want me to tell aspiring writers how to do it.

I’ll never forget the day I decided to write a romance. I had read a million of them, but I had no idea where to start so I typed into my browser: How to write a romance. No, scratch that. The story goes back further than that.

I have a little voice that talks to me in my head. Which is different from the voice with which I talk to myself in my head, if you know what I mean. I was reading a romance—happily, I don't remember what it was—and the little voice said, I could write a better book than this.

I snorted. “Lots of people say that kind of thing, but I never expected to hear such hubris from you. You’ve done enough writing to know it isn’t easy.”

In that unemphatic tone it uses, the little voice countered, I didn’t say it was easy. I said I could do it.

Nah.

Time passed. A week, a month, a year—I don’t know.

One day I was on my way to the kitchen to fix a cup of tea. I was in the doorway between the dining room and kitchen. In my hands I carried a romance that was so good I literally couldn’t put it down, and my little voice matter-of-factly observed, I could do this.

“Do what?”

I could write a book like this.

I looked down at the book in my hands. I had one of those moments of preternatural clarity. I still remember the hot yellow puddle of sunlight on the white kitchen counter, and the jingle of the tags on the dog’s collar, and the fast-elevator-drop of my stomach. The thick linseed oil smell of this painting drying on the easel.

In my experience, most of life’s turning points seem to be visible only in the rearview mirror of our lives. We recognize the fateful moments of choice only once they have passed. But in that particular instant of clarity, I knew. I knew I could refuse to listen, and my life would go on pretty much as it had. And the little voice would not mention writing romances again. Later if I tried to change my mind, it would be too late. The boat would have sailed without me.

I’m not trying to say until that moment I had never considered writing fiction. I had. I had wished over and over that I could, and in my spare time I entertained myself by filling yellow legal pad after legal pad with character sketches, and descriptions, snippets of dialogue, short stories, musings about suppose a person had this problem and they met a person who… But writing fiction wasn’t even anything as legitimate as a hobby—it was more like a secret vice.

And I had written in my professional life. Reams and reams of utterly forgettable stuff, that any time I injected one iota of humor or personality, or said what I thought the way I actually thought it, someone would point out the lack of “professional tone.”

But in that space between one room and the next, between ticks of the clock, my voice stopped me, and said, I can do this. I understood it meant I could write my funny run-on sentences and my twisty compound words and my relishment (my dictionary says there is no such word as relishment) of human foibles and my love of seeing events through the eyes of the dogs as well as the humans—I could do it all—I could write my way and it would work.

I described the moment to another writer friend and he said, “Oh. You found your Voice.”

It was more like I finally listened to my Voice. But I'm no pushover. I said, “Okay. Now prove it.”

And that’s how come I sat down at the computer one day and typed into the browser: how to write a romance.

There's more to the story about how I wrote my first novel. Tune into my next blog. In the meantime, has there been a turning point in your life? A moment when you knew...?

21 comments:

  1. Good morning, MM, and thanks for listening to that inner voice. I don't think enough of us do. I had a similar moment, but with me, it was not when I knew I could write a book, but when I knew I could finally handle the pressure of trying to sell one. It was when a rejection letter came in the mail and I didn't curl into a ball and whimper. Instead I thought, "It's just a process of elimination," and sent more queries. Lots and lots of them. No more whimpering allowed.

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  2. Hey MM--

    What a great blog! I'm glad you listened to that inner voice and are now bringing us amazing new romances :)


    Danielle

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  3. Wow, Christina. That's huge. "I knew I could handle the pressure of trying to sell one." I can feel the power of that moment from here.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Thanks Danielle.

    I had a ways to go, but it was the point at which I opened the door into a new reality.

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  5. I love this line, Mary Margaret: "In my experience, most of life’s turning points seem to be visible only in the rearview mirror of our lives." Isn't that sooo true? For me it wasn't a moment of clarity so much as the soul deep knowledge that this was something I HAD to do or my life would be incomplete. I carried that understanding with me for years until the time was right and the words started to come. Great post and best of luck with SEALED with a Promise!

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  6. My moment of clarity had nothing to do with writing at the time--though in the long run, perhaps it did. No, my moment of clarity was when my future husband leaned over the counter at the nurse's station desk and said, "Got anything you need me to do?"
    Billions and billions of things popped into my head, but all I could say was, "Sure!"

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  7. The best thing you did was listen to that voice!

    While there's always voices going on in my head with my books I do know that Jazz was the strongest and actually the most fun.

    Linda

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  8. Great post MM~

    I do remember a moment, but it wasn't one that told me I could write. It told me I could do it for more than shits and giggles.

    Six years ago I'd written a contemporary retelling of Pride & Prejudice with a twist of Persuasion. A fellow writer, a professor at Cambridge, who wrote incredible regency JA Fanfiction and taught Jane Austin, contacted me and said she'd read my tome and loved it. She told me I really should publish it--as if one can just go out and publish a book as easy as that.

    At first, I thought she was kidding, it wasn't until she told me for the fifth time that she was deadly serious I actually believed her. I thought she was nuts, but I knew she meant what she'd said.

    She planted the seed and it grew from there. I'd always loved to write, but never considered making a career of it.

    I'm still not sure I can call what I have a career, but it's the start of something, just like that seed planted in my brain.

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  9. "For me it wasn't a moment of clarity so much as the soul deep knowledge that this was something I HAD to do or my life would be incomplete. I carried that understanding with me for years until the time was right and the words started to come."

    There's a Greek word, which I never can remember, for the sin of holding back, of not bringing into expression one's innate ability. It sounds like you didn't need for the clarity to burst upon you. You already had it.

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  10. LOL, Cheryl.

    And you're right, those moments don't matter only in regard to writing. I once had a client call me because in a moment of clarity she knew that if she stayed in her marriage she would die.

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  11. Linda,

    Yes. I'm looking forward to reading the book, and I was very aware of the "strength" (presence, maybe?--not sure of the word) of Jazz in the excerpt you posted.

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  12. Great post Mary Margret! I think about my stunning, incredibly sudden decision to be a 'writer' quite often. I can no longer pinpoint the exact day. In fact, I will usually say - in all truth - that it was much like Mr. Darcy's love for Elizabeth: I was smack in the middle of it before I knew what was going on!

    I had been reading tons of JAFF looking for what was swirling in my head. Aside from not being able to find it, I also began to believe that I could write something better than much of what I was reading. I know that sounds really arrogant, but it was such a strong feeling! I could not deny it. But, it was also fairly easy to write what I thought would be a short story or two to post on a couple of fan websites. Not so much pressure!

    It took me longer to fully grasp that I had found that 'voice' and was immersed into an obsession for writing, story-creating, that has not stopped. Like Robin, I laughed the first dozen times anyone suggested I get published! Took me a long while to embrace that idea, and I am still not sure what I have gotten myself into! LOL. So, I cannot red-circle a Day, but I can now undeniably say that I know this is what I have to do.

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  13. "At first, I thought she was kidding, it wasn't until she told me for the fifth time that she was deadly serious I actually believed her. I thought she was nuts, but I knew she meant what she'd said.

    She planted the seed and it grew from there. I'd always loved to write, but never considered making a career of it."

    It's neat Robin that you eventually could hear her voice, if not your own, telling you could do it.

    I couldn't. Friends told me for years that I was a writer and should persue writing seriously, but I brushed them off.

    But you've raised another question. How can one tell whether one has a writing career?

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  14. Quoting Sharon: "I also began to believe that I could write something better than much of what I was reading. I know that sounds really arrogant, but it was such a strong feeling! I could not deny it."

    The first RWA convention I went to, what I noticed most among the pubbs was a "here I am" quality. It might be soft-spoken and low-key like Jo Beverly or in-your-face-take-it-or-leave-it like Jayne Ann Krentz. Regardless, they weren't asking anyone's permission to say what they though or to know what they knew.

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  15. Mary Margaret, wow. I don't think I ever had a revelation quite like that. It was more a kind of slow creeping up on me.

    I wrote my first book for fun, for me, and then wanted to write another one. A better one. And then. I couldn't stop.

    I love hearing about how others discovered they were writers. Thanks for sharing

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  16. LOL MM! I think I'd call it Jazz's snarky personality.

    Linda

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  17. Really great post. I knew I wanted to be a writer from early on. However, I also wanted to be a singer and an actor. Which I've done somewhat. I'd written four manuscripts (more category in length) and put them far beneath the bed. The dust bunnies were grateful for the new digs.

    It was ATB that wouldn't leave me alone. I'd joined RWA, and my local chapter. Learned the difference between showing / telling, action / reaction, and omg the dreaded POV. On I wrote, the story flowing easy and the characters taking over at times. In a push to meet my internal deadline, I wrote the last 19,000 words over one weekend. (Okay, a lot had to be edited from that writing craze)

    But, it was the day I called Science Guy about something happening at the day job, and I wasn't happy about it. Did he tell me he understood, my boss understood and was fighting for me, it would all work out? Nope, He said this, "When I think of you, I don't think of Vicki the XX, but I think of Vicki the author. Hon, that's who you are."

    You know what...he was / is right. And that's when I knew.

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  18. Just came back in from the hairdresser who maintains my redhead status for me. A VIP and you don't mess with her schedule.

    Thanks to everyone for sharing. In fact, I liked it so much I'm thinking of just doing a completely sharing thing the next time I blog. How about what makes life worth living?

    Or a question I had never thought of before but came upon yesterday. Is the job of mistress as sensitive economic indicator or not? i.e. are they more or less likely to lose their jobs in an economic downturn?

    Be thinking on these.

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  19. GREAT post, MM!
    Thanx so much for sharing with us. I look forward to hearing more.

    I can't think of any one moment when I decided to write fiction. Writing was something I did from the time I learned to read and write. Now learning how to actually structure a story or (GAH!!!) submit it to an editor was a whole nother story!

    One crystal moment for me came the first day of an early creative writing class. The teacher was a tiny, silver-haired lady with an even tinier voice, but she stood in front of the class and said, "Other people get paid for writing stories, and you can too." So simple and matter-of-fact, but it was a revelation for me! It took a very looong time before I actually did get paid for something I wrote, but eventually I did.

    AC

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  20. That's touching AC.

    Having been a teacher of one kind or another most of my life, your story connected me at the heart to that writing teacher.

    You never know at what moment someone is going to tune in and actuatlly listen. ;-) But if they do, the chance is always there that you can change their life.

    And I love the affirmation: you can make money at this.

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  21. I love this post, Mary Margret! I have a voice too, which pops up only rarely. Thus, I'm inclined to pay more atention to it. It's a good strategy, since my mouth and brain are usually running rather noisily.

    I think the epiphany moment came after I'd dealt with the final and sound rejection of my first attempt at a novel. I was at my parents' house for a vacation, and had left a new, half-finished manuscript on their computer desk while Dad took me out on the boat (I played plenty of hooky from that book while I was fiddling with it). I was in the front of the boat, cruising over the lake on a glorious June day with the wind in my hair, watching the way the sun glittered and shifted on the water and feeling utterly at peace. And that's when the voice popped in. "This book is the one," it said. "So finish it." It was so sure, so matter-of-fact...so very unlike me!:-)

    I'm glad I listened...that little voice always seems to be right. Thanks for sharing your story with us!

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