Writing is like any other kind of recording.
If you want the reader to experience an emotion, you must experience it first. Pain. Sadness. Fear. Desire. Joy.
Especially joy, because that’s why people read.
The heartbreaking joy of finding love with a wonderful man. Seeing the face of your newborn child for the first time. Even the joy of surviving impossible odds against a brutal opponent when you’d thought you’d lost everything you care about. Even if you’ve never experienced that last, you must be able to imagine it in such detail, you can feel it.
That’s why we write. Those shimmering moments when we pound the keyboard faster and faster, lost in the fear, desire or joy our characters feel. We write to capture that crystalline emotion so well, the reader shares it. So well, she’s swept into our world, our thoughts.
But it isn’t easy. Nothing is more frustrating than when the dream fails to come together in all its orgasmic joy. Some piece is missing, but you have no idea what.
I’ve written more than fifty novels, novellas and e-books over twenty-two years. I’ve known that writer’ s version of coitus interruptus with every single one of them.
The most recent one, Master of Honor, has been particularly frustrating. I was so blocked, I was tempted to abandon the book. I’d even lost my love for the heroic couple.
Cheryl Parker isn’t like my other heroines. At 59, she’s too old to be young but too young to be an immortal, though an alien spirit has returned her to physical youth. To make matters worse, her hero, Ulf, an immortal vampire Knight of the Round Table, abandoned her almost thirty years ago. When he walks back into her life, he promptly seduces her and takes her captive.
How could I make readers believe in a Happily Ever After for a couple like that? After all, if Ulf left her once because Arthur Pendragon ordered it, he could do so again.
Then, after almost a month of frustration and disgust, I saw how Ulf could prove he’d choose her over Arthur. I realized how to involve them both in defeating the predatory aliens who meant to wipe out humanity.
It was then Master of Honor became a different story. It wasn’t just an action adventure anymore. It was about love and learning from mistakes. A strong man learning to believe that the woman he longs to protect can protect herself. A strong woman who has been betrayed trusting that the hero who failed her once won’t fail her again.
It’s a story about a love that refuses to die even when common sense says it should.
With that realization, the joy came back and I finished the book at a gallop. It’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever written.
It’s also a pretty good metaphor for being a writer. Disappointment. Heartache. Everyone in your life telling you you’re an idiot for doing this thing that will never pay off.
And yet, it does pay off.
It pays off in sweet, soaring joy after months, maybe years of struggle and disappointment. Because the longer and harder you fight for something, the sweeter it is when you get it.
I should know. I decided to become a writer when I was nine years old. I wrote every summer when I was a kid, took countless writing classes, read more books on writing than I even want to think about. Started and abandoned so many novels. I continued to write year after year as an adult. Yet despite all that effort, I was 40 before I finished my first book, The Forever Kiss, and 43 before that book was published by the small press, Red Sage.
But that was also the year I published two more novels and a novella with Berkley — and hit the USA Today bestseller list. Four of my later books made the New York Times paperback list.
True, there have been disappointments along the way. You can’t control the market. And yet somehow, I always find the joy in producing the best damn book I possibly can.
That joy is why I write.
It’s why I’ll always write. If you’re a writer, it’s why you, too, should keep writing, even if you think you’ll never succeed. Because that joy — those books — are waiting for you, too.
Write for joy and you’ll find it.