Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
2013 was a year of great change for me on the writing front. Over the preceding twelve months I'd finished two SFR's, made it to the third round of the big 2012 Harper Voyager open call with the first draft of My Name Is A'yen, semi-finalled in a contest with an inspirational historical romance, found out I was going to be an aunt for the first time, and lost my grandmother at whose house I'd rediscovered my words in 2011. I was trying to figure out where I was supposed to go next on the writing front.
Should I keep trying to fit into the inspirational romance box? Should I embrace all the strange places my SFR was taking me? Should I keep trying to do submit My Name Is A'yen to publishers, hoping for more than a form rejection? Should I keep my membership in the Christian writing organization? Should I go to their conference that year or should I stay home?
At the beginning of July, one of my friends emailed me saying they needed a third roomie at said conference and was I interested. Every penny I needed for the trip came together in about four days, including the cheapest airplane ticket I've ever seen. So I went. And had the best writing conference of my life, to date.
I went for one reason: James Scott Bell's all day class called Quantum Story. I had no idea what all it was going to cover, but I wanted to be in it. As awesome as his craft books are, learning from him in person is even MORE awesome.
But before the class on Friday, I had to sit through the first keynote address and the opening of the conference. Remember, this is a Christian conference. The biggest Christian fiction conference in the country, possibly the world. The entire theme of the conference that year was how Christians couldn't write anything but Christian fiction. That ticked me off, but I was there for Jim Bell's class and to see some friends I hadn't seen in a couple of years. Not the keynote speaker and activities designed to stuff me in a box I had grown to hate.
I sat down in the class on Friday morning with no idea what we were going to cover. It turned out to be the class his Write Your Novel From The Middle book is based on. It changed the way I approach story structure and plotting, and it's awesome! If you're a writer, go buy it.
The last forty-five minutes of the class, Jim sat down and talked to us about something he feels strongly about: finding your writing joy. Everything else I had heard so far at the conference, about how I didn't belong anywhere else in the market and Christians had no business writing general market anything let alone steamy general market romance, disappeared. Jim said we needed to find the genre and market that brought us joy. Because joy in the writer becomes joy in the novel, and readers can sense it.
I sat there listening to him, and started comparing my experience writing the historical romance versus writing My Name Is A'yen, The King's Mistress, and half of To Save A Life. While I enjoyed the historical romance, trying to fit myself into the box that came with it had sucked all the joy out of my writing. When I wrote My Name Is A'yen, it was totally different. I wrote every day. I WANTED to write every day. I couldn't wait to see what was going to happen next.
I found my writing joy. And I went up to him after the class, thanked him for talking to us about it, and told him I'd found my joy. He about squeezed my hand off he was so happy for me.
At that conference, I decided I no longer belonged in the inspirational market. It didn't know what to do with me and my love of focusing on the hero. SFR did know what to do with me, and I could write whatever I wanted with no judgment and no one peering over my shoulder saying I couldn't open a novel in the hero's POV. (yes, that happened to me)
The next evening while sitting in the hotel lobby with my friends and enjoying a Cosmo, every single one of them remarked on how happy I looked. So I told them what I'd decided. Every single one of them cheered me on. When I left that conference, I left the inspirational market. I've never looked back, and I don't miss it.
The secret to being a happy writer is writing what brings you joy. For me, that means hero-focused romance. My novels are deep and complex, and deal with heavy themes. But when you look past that, you'll find an author who's in love with words and having the time of her life.
It doesn't matter what ups and downs I go through, or what the market does. As long as I stay in my writing joy, the words pour out of me. And I don't want it any other way.
Rachel Leigh Smith writes romance for the hero lover. She lives in central Louisiana with her family and a half-crazed calico. When not writing, which isn’t often, she’s hanging with her family, doing counted cross-stitch, or yakking about life, the universe, and everything with her besties.
The third A'yen's Legacy novel, To Save A Life, released on May 4th. All the buy links are here. You can find her at www.rachelleighsmith.com.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this guest post are solely that of the author and not of the SFR Brigade.