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.
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.
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...?