The Trick is to Miss the Ground – Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Writing Again

Okay guys, I’ve been wanting to write this post for weeks now but I had to wait until I’d signed the Samhain contract. It’s about my first sale and why writing for yourself is so important.

As you all know, I’ve been aiming at Mills and Boon for years. I had some success early on but basically, because I knew NOTHING about the craft of romance writing, I wasn’t able to follow up on the editorial input I got. It was incredibly frustrating. Then, back in 2010, I decided I really had to figure out what all this conflict/character/structure/plot crap was instead of just ignoring it and letting my instincts do my writing for me.

Learning craft was very, very hard for me. I’d had 20 years of writing purely for my bad self but writing for publication is different to writing just for your own pleasure. I took one or two courses but they didn’t really work for me because I don’t really learn like that. I struggled with figuring out how to apply them to my own writing. I struggled to put the lessons into practice. I basically just struggled.

The end of 2010, beginning of 2011 was a killer. I won an Aussie contest and got a request but then this and another partial was was rejected and I got sent back to the slush instead of working with an ed. To say this sucked was an understatement. I’d had a couple of years of working my butt off trying to figure out what they wanted from me but I hadn’t managed to give it to them. This wasn’t their fault. It’s only now I can see that the reason I didn’t get anywhere was because I still hadn’t got the craft stuff right and it was majorly messing with my writing ability. I’d lost my voice in other words.

By 2011 I was second-guessing everything I wrote. The process had become a nightmare. Did I have enough conflict? Were my characters acting inconsistently? What the hell was GMC and did I need to know? Did I have too much exernal stuff going on? Was it flirty enough? Was it too sexy?

I’d lost any pleasure I had from writing. I hated it. Basically I wanted to give up.

My CPs and my family told me I needed to go on. I needed to keep going. That I’d got too far too give up now. And because I’m actually quite a really stubborn old cow and  I HATED the thought of giving up, I decided they were right.

So I got back in the saddle. Being the glutton for punishment I am, I decided to keep trying with M&B but to write something a bit different from the Modern Heat/Rivas. So I wrote a Presents. It wasn’t anything particularly different and despite the dread of putting myself out there again, I entered it into an NZ contest. I finalled with it. This was the first positive writing thing that had happened since I was slushed and – I’m not ashamed to admit it – I cried! I didn’t get anywhere with it alas and I didn’t get a request which was gutting, but it was a sign to me that maybe I didn’t actually suck after all.

After that, I wrote another Presents and entered it into yet another little contest. This time it won. By this stage I was looking at the Presents I was writing and trying to figure out what I was doing right this time that I hadn’t before. I wasn’t holding back on the angst that was for sure and I really liked that aspect, but it still felt hard.  Anyway, I had a great conference year that year. Two great pitches and lots of lovely feedback from M&B about my writing. I was very happy. I’d dragged out an old Modern Heat that I’d rewritten and pitched to another ed from another publishing house. She loved the sound of it and told me to send it so I did.

The conference success was great and I was on a high. But then I got a bog standard rejection for my rewritten Modern Heat from the previously keen publisher and this made me incredibly unhappy. I couldn’t figure out what the problem with it was because I received no feedback. Plus, the partial I’d sent to M&B was very hard to write and once again I felt back into the ‘my writing sucks’ hole.

Which is when I finally decided to take the advice that everyone had been giving me all year but I’d been too stubborn (AKA too dumb) to listen to: WRITE SOMETHING DIFFERENT JACKIE.

Well, something had to change. I either gave up writing or I got back the joy again because my loathing of the process was eating into my stories and killing my voice.

So I decided to write the way I used to when I loved writing, without thinking of craft or whether an editor would like it. Or whether it fit guidelines. Or whether a character had to be sympathetic. Or whether a reader would hate my idea. I threw all of those fears in the bin. I wanted to write what I wanted to write. Something with tonnes of emotion, sexy times and angst. I wanted to put everything I liked to write about in it and I would NOT send it anywhere. It would be just for me.

I had an idea for my heroine that I’d been toying with for a while now but that didn’t fit into any guidelines for category – a woman who was recovering from a sexual assault. She wanted to reclaim her sexuality and the man she wanted to help her reclaim it with was her best friend, the one man she trusted absolutely. Friends to lovers is one of my favourite tropes and the theme of recovery from sexual assault complex and difficult and one I’d been wanting to explore for ages. So I decided I’d just go ahead and write it.

Like my heroine reclaiming her body, I was reclaiming my voice and my love of writing. I didn’t second guess anything. I just wrote the way I wanted. And I LOVED writing it. Absolutely loved it. My hero was hot and dirty and alpha, and my heroine was gutsy and tortured and strong and it was the best experience.

And somewhere in the process of writing that all the craft I’d been learning just clicked. I didn’t think about craft or character arc or goal or motivation or anything while I was writing it, but somehow it just happened anyway.

Douglas Adams in one of his Hitchhiker’s Guide books has Arthur Dent learning how to fly. The trick to flying is missing the ground. Arthur gets distracted just before he hits the ground and ends up missing it entirely. I think this is what happened to me. I got distracted, somehow missed the ground and ended up flying. 🙂

When I finished writing this book, my CPs told me I HAD to send it out. Since I’d never intended to send it anywhere this somehow made it easier. So I thought I’d give Samhain a go since I’d never sent anything there before. I didn’t think it would get anywhere. It’s such a hot-button issue and I worried I hadn’t dealt with it sensitively enough. But I loved the story and decided to take a chance anyway.  Three months later, the editor sent me an email saying she loved the story too and wanted to buy it. 🙂

Just after I finished writing it though, the good feeling I had with that book stayed. And because of it I began to realise what I’d been doing wrong with my M&B subs. The two characters in my Samhain book came alive for me in a way my characters hadn’t before and that’s what I realised was missing. Decent characters. I’d got it right with some mss – the contest winners – but not others. In others they were a collection of traits, robots going through the motions.

So after I sent my novella to Samhain, I rewrote my old Modern Heat that had been rejected again. I kept my heroine but I finally found the key that made my hero a real pereson. He had ADHD. And this is the one that I sold to Entangled.

There was something so freeing about writing my Samhain book. It was like everything came together in a perfect storm and finally slotted into place. And now everything I write is so much stronger because of that.

I’m so pleased that book was my first sale. It changed the way I wrote and it’s the reason for my subsequent sales. If I hadn’t written that book, I wouldn’t have sold.

So if you’ve ever got to the same point I did and can’t remember why you ever thought writing was a good idea in the first place, try writing just for yourself. Put in all the things you love. Don’t think about where to send it. Don’t think about an editor reading it. Just write because you love to write. And don’t, whatever you do, look down.

If you’re lucky, you may just miss the ground and end up flying. 🙂