My origin story, Part 2: Becoming a romance writer

I loved books, as a kid. The first book I remember loving was The Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren. After I read it and we returned it, whenever we visited the library, I would walk by the shelf where it was housed, feeling like it was this special, secret gem, this thing no one else knew about or understood.

I felt the same way about the Harper Hall books by Anne McCaffrey. I was fairly young when I read them (maybe grade 5), and to me they were these fantastical things.

That love is what planted the writing seed for me. I wanted to write something that made people feel that way.

A bag beginning

But, I was never the kind of kid who wrote my own stories, apart from what we had to do for school. I was, in fact, kind of a neurotic kid. Even at that young age, I would never have admitted to wanting to be a writer.

Maybe because it really mattered to me?

I did very well in English class, and in all things associated with writing, but I still would never admit to wanting to write.

I think I did tell my grandmother, during the last of her rare visits from South Africa, not long before she died. She asked what I wanted to do with my life, and for some reason, I told her about my interest in writing. She said, ‘But you have to have a back-up’.

That is good advice, but I didn’t find it especially encouraging.

So I studied Biology and English at university. I think I imagined myself as a science fiction writer, and I thought that would be a good foundation for it. But I never told anyone.

I do remember at one point telling my friend Dave, “One day, I’ll write one of those,” as we passed a shelf of Harlequin Presents at Superstore. He didn’t seem all that impressed.

Girl with a problem

The problem was, I never wrote. And I knew that writing, like any skill, requires practice. How could I claim that I desperately wanted to do something that I never actually spent any time doing?

And since it meant something to me, trying to write felt like a big risk. I thought the universe was just waiting to judge me, and I’d most certainly fail. And to me, at the time, failure meant catastrophe. I (alone) wasn’t ever allowed to fail. I wasn’t allowed to be bad at something! I had a reputation to uphold! What would I be without it?

It probably sounds silly now. But at the time, my fears were profound, and they affected every area of my life, not just my writing aspirations.

And because I couldn’t do the things I really wanted to do, because I felt like I didn’t even have the ability to decide to do anything, I spent much of my time in stasis. Avoiding.

The great escape

Fortuitously, one of my favourite methods of avoiding was reading romance novels. And daydreaming. 

My favourite daydreams were romantic ones. I would come up with these stories — half-conceived, mostly — but I started thinking them through in my head.

I did try writing them down, a few times, but I never got past a week or two of daily writing sessions before abandoning my project.

I was just bad. I didn’t know what I was doing. And my story ideas were weak.

But, I started to get a bit further with each attempt, and a bit more confident. Or, maybe just less critical and scared.

The notebook

One day, a few years ago, my husband noticed a fat little black notebook computer sitting on his boss’ desk. My husband is not shy, so he said, “Can I have that?”

It was, apparently, a gift from a conference, and his boss wasn’t too attached. So he said, “Sure”.

So my husband brought it home, and I played with it a bit. We’d never had any variety of laptop to that point, so this seemed exotic.

And I had a brilliant idea.

“I’ll take this on the train, and write a romance novel!” I said.

So, I did.

I chose one of my ideas, one I felt was well-rounded enough to actually work out. And I wrote every day during my commute, half an hour each direction, sitting beside my husband.

It was hard. It was a struggle. I knew it wasn’t great, but when I finished, it was one of the proudest moments of my life.

I had done it. I had done something that meant a lot to me, that I’d believed for a long, long time I wasn’t actually capable of doing.

And I shared it with my sisters and my mother, and they said it was good.

Now, I know it wasn’t that good. It was fairly ‘telly’ (vs ‘showy’), and was a bit dry in places. But, it did — and does — have some good scenes and dialogue.

So that is how I became a romance writer.

Next steps

So far, I’ve been pretty content to be a ‘hobby writer’, trying to improve and get some projects under my belt, with the vague idea of trying to publish sometime in the future.

But, lately I’ve decided I just want to get my books out there. If I continue to sit on them, they may become dated. And, worse than that, I’ve started getting bored of working on them. I know it’s time to do something with them, so I can focus on making real some of the other ideas I have floating around in my head.

So, I’ve been making an effort to write every day, and I’ve started thinking about publishing options. You can read more about my thoughts and plans around publishing here.

If you’re curious, you can find out how I started reading romances novels.

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