is a former Ph.D. student who once wrote discussions on the medieval feminine voice. She now prefers weaving stories of romance and redemption. Her first inspirational manuscript won the prestigious RWA Golden Heart and sold to Harlequin’s Love Inspired. She is currently working on her fourth novel.
Besides writing, she loves hanging out with friends and family, cooking for lots of people, and spending time in the sun. She, her two children and one extremely energetic Border Collie live in central Virginia.
Writing Romance When the Real Romance Fails
How do you write a happily-ever-after when your own story has turned into a tragedy?
When I landed my last novel contract, frankly, it was the first bit of good news I’d had in a long while. I’d prayed to be able to write this book for a few months, thinking it would be just what I needed to take my mind off of what was going on in my real life—a divorce.
I was so thankful when it came through. I read through my editor’s notes immediately and sat down at the computer. I couldn’t wait to bury myself in this new story. But instead of pouring my energy into the new book, I found, for the first time ever, that I couldn’t write at all. Not only could I not write, I loathed sitting in front of the computer. I found myself doing anything else—bathing the dog, painting rooms, cleaning the garage, all sorts of things I REALLY hated to do. And, if I did happen to get in front of the computer, I was emailing my lawyer, trying to negotiate the sale of my home or figuring out whose weekend it was with the kids. Even emails I feared would be full of bad news. And I especially avoided staring at the blinking cursor on the white page of my very incomplete manuscript. The document sat minimized on the dock of my desktop.
My deadline came and went and I’d barely squeaked out half of the story. I started wondering if I could finish. I started wondering, if I could even write romance anymore. I mean let’s face it I was a failure. I’d failed as a wife. And now I was failing as a writer… What next? I was afraid to think about tomorrow.
Desperate for inspiration, I pulled out writing books and plotting outlines. I went to my favorite writing spots. I tried using Scrivener, thinking something new to look at would inspire me. I set little daily word count goals and failed at those. I even tried to use some of my confused feelings to “get into” my story, but while sorrow and depression might inspire some artists to abandon themselves into their work, I was stuck with the worst case of writer’s block ever. My ability to focus on anything had vanished and I didn’t know how to fix it. Depression hung like a cloud in my mind and my fingers were paralyzed at the keyboard. Even with great family and friends and a whole lot of prayer, there were days when I wanted to crawl in a hole and come out in a year or two when all the difficult stuff was over.
It was in the midst of all this that I found myself at a writer’s conference sitting on a panel of “pro” writers (something I’d agreed to do a long time before all the other life turmoil began). I looked out into the audience at other authors and even at my editor who should have been pointing at her watch and glaring at me for the late manuscript I owed her, except that she’s way too nice for that. I was feeling like a total fraud when someone in the audience asks, “What are inspirational romance readers looking for?” Great question. I repeated it for recording purposes then promptly passed the microphone to the author next to me because…well, I had no idea… I couldn’t write anymore.
It was author Margaret Daley who sat next to me. She leaned up to the microphone and without a second of hesitation said, “HOPE. Our readers are looking for hope.”
Hope. Now there was a nice little four-letter word that I’d forgotten about. A romance story needed hope. Or wait…maybe I needed hope. Because how can I give my readers hope when I have none of my own? If I wanted to finish my story—and I did—I had to find a way to remember my hope. I was determined.
But it didn’t happen overnight. It was slow—one minute, one hour, one day at a time, I stole back that hope that sorrow taken. I’d find hope in my children’s eyes. I’d find it in a friend’s voice. I’d find it in God’s promises. I’d find it in doing something for someone else. And the hope began to trickle over into my work…
I quit trying to write the story as fast as I could. I’d find a few quiet minutes here and there and I’d write a page. Many times that was it—one page. But then two or three and slowly, so slowly those characters worked their way to a happy ending. In some ways, I felt like I was healing along with them.
Of course, real life doesn’t stop at page 385 like a storybook romance, so I won’t end here by saying I got my own happy-ending. But I do have all I need to expect many more happy chapters. I have God’s promises and perfect love. I have friends and family and two beautiful children full of life.
And soon I’ll have more stories to tell of romance and love and hope.