Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Advice for Romance Writers and Readers

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were watching CBS Sunday Morning and a commentator quoted the following:

Work like you don’t need the money, love like your heart has never been broken, and dance like no one is watching.

This quote is actually taken from Aurora Greenway, Shirley MacLaine’s nut-ball neurotic mother in Terms of Endearment, and while I don’t normally take advice from nut-ball neurotics, this one got me thinking, especially in terms of reading and writing romance.

Work like you don’t need the money:

You’ve heard the response of at least 30 authors on this one. We don’t—repeat, DON’T—write to make money. At least not initially. We can’t. Unpublished authors have zero monetary incentive to write—to slave away at their craft for years and years until they’re good /recognized enough to publish—while debut authors generally start out grateful for the mere pittance they’re offered.

So what is it that keeps us writing? What motivates us?

I can think of only one answer: We write because we have to.

That’s it. That’s the broad reason, though there are a thousand smaller reasons that fit under the “have to,” reasons such as:

  • to feel some sense of controlling our world by controlling that of our characters
  • to provide an escape for our readers
  • to stop the voices in our heads by some other means than psychotropics, etc.

You get the point and you can add some more if you like, but I think we’d all agree that as writers, we have to write. It’s an instinct (or an infectious disease depending on how difficult the writing went that day).

So as writers, we all start from a place of working like we don’t need the money. See? Already we’re ahead of the game.

Love like your heart has never been broken:

As romance readers and writers in particular, I think we are all implicitly aware of the curative love is to all that is wrong with the world. Don’t believe me? Watch.

Solution to war, famine, poverty? Love the side experiencing it. If everyone did so, the calamity wouldn’t exist.

Solution to personal unhappiness? Stop thinking about yourself and focus on loving someone else. Sure fire solution for happiness.

Solution to the economic downturn? Yes, love. Love someone else and stop obsessing over what you want, what you think you deserve and what you should be getting.

It’s basic, but something everyone tends to forget, particularly when the news channels keep pounding financial doom and gloom into our ears. But we, as romance enthusiasts especially, tend to be enlightened. We go to grocery stores and in addition to picking up milk, we pick up a novel about love. The escape we’re looking for (or trying to write) is an effort to turn our thoughts away from ourselves and focus outward and isn’t that far more pleasurable than focusing on dwindling retirements?

And by the way, isn’t that what romance writers are getting at in the first place with all those happily ever afters?

Dance like no one is watching:

When you start any creative endeavor, go at it as though no one is watching. In our case, write the first draft like no one is watching. I see no other way to maintain one’s integrity as a creative being other than letting go of how we’ll be received. This goes for any kind of artist but in the case of writers specifically, I think there would be a lot less cases of writer's block if we all took this approach. And of course, there’s time in later revisions to tailor a manuscript to our audience (love others, after all), but as a writer, we’ve all experienced those moments in the fledgling stages where the words we chose were tainted by the awareness of how they would be read. And wasn’t it true that when we read that section later, it reeked? Wasn’t it a tedious thing to write in the first place?

So, write like no one is watching. Explore the far limits of your creativity and venture into new grounds.

Work without thought for result. Love without limits and dance to your heart’s content.

So how about you? What’s the best advice you can give for the coming year? We need all the positivity we can get.


Gannon Carr said...

Excellent blog, J Perry! I think you're spot on about turning our thoughts outward and thinking of others. If we all did that, the world would certainly be a better place.

And reading a good romance always makes me feel better. Who doesn't want a HEA?! Love makes the world go 'round.

J Perry Stone said...

Hey cutie Gannon! I'm just trying to sing it like I see it. Plus, you know, everyone seems to be sinking of late. I blame the media, but it's sort of up to us as to how we'll respond.

So for 2009, I've determined to be annoyingly positive. And you're right: HEA's certainly help with that endeavor!

Marnee Jo said...

Hello! This is a great post, J. :) I think my best advice is to just keep moving forward. We only get better at this by doing it more.

Robert said...

Brilliant, as always.

Kerri said...

Just like highschool!! You are the BEST writer in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD!!! Being positive is NEVER annoying--just remember that! k

J Perry Stone said...

Hey Marnee Jo. Welcome, lady.

And I think you're dead right. Repetition is crisis lube (makes the going easier).

J Perry Stone said...

Thanks, Robert. And waaaay too generous.

Kerri, you are and will always be my first and best fan. Love your guts.

Julie said...

My best advice comes from Winston Churchill. He said...
Success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.

Marnee Jo said...

Repetition is crisis lube.

That sounds better than what I said. LOL!! Or dirtier.... Whatever.

J Perry Stone said...

Oh, hell yeah, Julie! You need a bullhorn for that one. Go now. Go to your FB page and put it in your status update.

J Perry Stone said...

Marnee ... I do try. Ask poor Terri.

Marnee Jo said...

LOL! The stories are infamous, JP. :)

CiCi Barnes said...

Great food for thought, J.

My advice for writers for the coming year? A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit. Sorry, I can't name the author of this quote, but it sits above my computer as I write everyday. And you can plug anything into it. No one should ever quit or give up on their dream, their lives, their loved ones. As I logged on today, one of the headlines said something about a billionaire committing suicide because of his econimic losses. How tragic that he quit life over money.

So stay the course, ladies and gents. Patience, patience, patience. And follow J's advice.


Manda said...

Wonderful advice, JPerry! And so true about dancing like no one is watching. I had about a gazillion WIPs before I finally finished one. The reason I finished? Because I stopped looking back at what I had written. Boy were the early drafts rough, but at least I had a whole MS to work with instead of three measly chapters...again...Now if I could only do that again...

Debbie Kaufman said...

How right you are. We so don't do it for the money! Oh wait, what money????

Love your solutions to world problems. Hubby and I have said for some time now that the media is the biggest crisis creator.

J Perry Stone said...

CiCi wrote: "How tragic that he quit life over money."

That is the *same* thought that went through my mind! And over money. Talk about bungled priorities. And even writing the trivial word, "bungled" when someone has made such a tremendous, needless sacrifice makes me cringe.

J Perry Stone said...

Given that I know you and your massive powers of thought personally, Manda, I'd say you're suffering from the same.

You suffer from MASSIVE powers of thought.

If I could give you a dumb pill, I would. There's something to be said for blissful ignorance. I should know.

J Perry Stone said...

Debbie, we should talk at the GRW meeting because I'm right there with you.

And yet, my husband and folks make fun of me because I'd rather watch M*A*S*H reruns than news.

I'm making a wholly conscious choice here, people. And also, I'm not strong enough to withstand the constant barrage of impending doom. Not only that, I think we have the power to turn it around.

Julie said...

I already FB-ed Winston last night JPerry!
Now the best advice I can give is about living life to the fullest. And learning to appreciate the things that life brings your way. Good. Bad. It all has a place in your life. Hmmm…. This isn’t so much “advice” as it is a mantra.
From an old post:
My mantra is
There are plenty of Reasons. But there are No Excuses.
What I mean by this is: do not fall into the trap of allowing the difficulties of life to become an Excuse for not living life to the fullest. Yes things are hard. But that is not an excuse. You are not excused. Not from a task that must be completed. Not from a life that must be lived.
There is more … about 600 words more. Didn’t want to overload your lil’ blogger window. The rest is here…. residing among the tomatoes :)lie

J Perry Stone said...

Julie said: "do not fall into the trap of allowing the difficulties of life to become an Excuse for not living life to the fullest."

Can I yell my "Amen!" now???

J Perry Stone said...

Also, Julie, if only people were aware of how truly you know from whence you speak!

Julie said...

I have absolutely No Idea what
":)lie" is. Or how it got there. It looks like some secret cryptograph from the Da Vinci code. Yes. That must be it.
:)lie must be the secret code for “Julie screwed up her post”.

Julie said...

Is that a Nice way of saying that I’m A Loser?

Santa said...

Well done, J. Well done! These words resonate for me, so why don't I follow them to the letter. It's what I tell everybody else, for pity's sake.

But this is the year of making a difference in my writing life. I spend way too much time taking advice as gospel and instead of getting lost in my own story - get lost in the story others see. Made that mistake with my first manuscript and I butchered the poor devil to death (maybe not death but it's on shaky ground with life support running on gas generators).

I strive to write my new one dancing as if no one is watching. I haven't looked back beyond what I wrote the day before. That's sound advice from someone I respect and trust a great deal. And I set realistic page quotas. I'm a busy woman outside of my writing and can't afford to kick myself when unrealistic goals aren't met.

And to quote my DH - Fear not, this too shall pass. I feel sorry for that billionaire's suicide but I feel even sorrier for the people he's left behind. People who depended on him, not for his money, but for his love.

That's why I don't watch the news or read the paper. It saddens and pisses me off too much. It's The Daily Show for me because at heart I'm an escapist. Heck, I write romance because I gotta have me a HEA!

LYG, J. Ladies this is a great blog. I've been lurking but, fear not, I'll be back. Or maybe you should be fearful....;)

J Perry Stone said...
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J Perry Stone said...

Oh San. I've gotten lost in my ms because of others' advice too. You know I have. I've called you crying about it too many nights already.

I just think there's the right time for critique and a wrong time. There's also the right kind of critique partner and the wrong kind.

There's a fine line between constructive and destructive criticism ... and you have far too much talent to squander on someone who gets their rocks off of highlighting the negative.

Now read your post again. You're good. Believe me.

Kim said...

Hey J! Awesome words of wisdom as always. Your words always strike home with me.

The one I'm trying to listen to most is "dance like no one is watching". Its my goal to write and not ask for someone's input (aka handholding, reassurance that I don't suck) every stinking page. Its hard. But if I'm going to do this I need to do it for myself. That's my goal.

My best words of wisdom; believe in yourself. Everyone of us rocks in our own way. Believe that, don't doubt that. Find your strengths and accentuate them.

LYG babe!

terrio said...

I'm late! I'm late! But I'm here!!!

This is an awesome blog. But then I knew it would be. As I told you already, I have a sign on the wall behind my desk that says these exact words. It's really the only way to go through life.

As to the advice, it's not as pretty but it's essentially what you say here. Vomit it out. Best advice I ever got. I had to give myself permission to just get the dang story out of me. Then I can work with it to clean it up. As someone who hasn't even gotten the first third down on paper yet, I know from where I speak. LOL!


Janga said...

Love the blog, J!

And your words are ones I need to hear. I fight an on-going battle with despair over the gap between the words in my head and the words on the page. I know what's in my head is flawless and powerful, but so often what makes it to the page is crap. :)

Your blog reminded me of a quote from Anne Lamott that I keep prominently displayed in my writing space: “Don't look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance." In 2009 I'm trying to "just dance."

J Perry Stone said...

Kim, accentuating our strengths is REALLY important. The problem is recognizing them. It's easier to see the caca, isn't it?

Vomit, Terri? I agree whole-heartedly, but you KNOW how my mind gets caught up with that word!

But now that you've put it out there that you need to finish your ms, you've shot all your excuses not to in the foot. Doesn't that suck? And man, now I have to do so too. Manda does, Janga does.

Why do we all have a hang-up with this? It's the self-criticism, isn't it?

MsHellion said...

Brilliant blog! I'm so glad Terri directed me to it!!! Thank you, thank you, I needed this positive reinforcement today...this year...

I have a magnet above my work computer:

Do not follow where the path may lead--Go instead, where there is no path, and leave a trail.

(I wish more people would do this. I'm getting tired of reading books that all sound the same!)

J Perry Stone said...

Janga, I need to hear it too. Constantly, but you should know, it is sentences like these:

"I know what's in my head is flawless and powerful, but so often what makes it to the page is crap."

that baffle me. If *you* think *your* stuff is bad, well then my stuff should be printed on toity paper.

And I adore Anne Lamott. She suffers for her craft too and yet is so charmingly vulnerable and humorous about it, it's a joy to read about it.

Your novel will be too. A joy.

Linsey Lanier said...

Very meaty blog. A lot to think about.

My advice after reading it – like J Perry said, turn off the blah, blah, newscasters, and doom and gloom politic pundits on the TV and grab a good book!

Who knows? If everyone starts thinking this way, book sales might skyrocket this year. Sorry. I tend to be too money conscious. :) Something I need to work on....


J Perry Stone said...

Ooo, Hellion, great quote. Really.

But you know how it goes. Audiences are far more likely to accept something original from an unknown source, but try introducing something original from a trusted autobuy, and they freak right out.

It's awful really, because then those groundbreaking authors are now trapped in their original approach ... which is now not so original the second time around.

Did that make sense? I'm not so sure.

J Perry Stone said...

Linsey, that's your blog topic. Please. This right here:

"Turn off the blah, blah, newscasters, and doom and gloom politic pundits on the TV and grab a good book!"

Sing it, sister. For all our sakes.

Manda said...

If by MASSIVE powers of thought you mean MASSIVE powers of slack, then I totally agree, J!

Oh and I was just talking about destructive criticism yesterday. Everybody keeps saying how you should get used to harsh critiques because that's how agents and editors will treat you--well, I've been rejected by a LOT of agents and editors and I have never had one say anything that wasn't tactful. They didn't like my book, but they explained themselves without being mean about it.

And BTW, where are the hotta males? I was promised hotta males!

J Perry Stone said...
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J Perry Stone said...

So let's make a pact never to get used to harsh critiques. Done! Why should we?

Hotta males?


Hot .... tamales!

Although, now I have to question my blog sisters on subliminal messages.

Santa said...

Some of the great ones (and I don't mean Jackie Gleason) say that you can never develop thick enough skin in this business. There is always going to be someone out there who doesn't like your work or who openly and harshly critiques the way you do research or the way you write.

It may be that once you grow that thick skin it may, in turn, effect your work and cloud your perspective in the story.

Stay true to yourself and your story.

Ana Aragón said...

I just spent the last week of 2008 sitting next to my MIL in hospice. Thankfully, she rallied near the end and gave me one of the best weeks of my life. It was wonderful to see all the people who came by to see her. Neighbors and friends. The manager of Walgreen's where she shopped. As many of her grandchildren and nieces and nephews that could make it.

Shirley had a smile for anyone she came in contact with and never knew a stranger. That positive outlook followed her to the end of her life.

The words we write do not fall on deaf ears. We can use our talent to build up, to entertain and to bring hope, or we can use it to tear down, demean or destroy. As romance writers, we choose to bring hope through a story that promises a happily ever after.

According to RWA, romance fiction is the largest share of the consumer-book market? Why? Because 51 million people want to read stories that take them out of their lives and transport them to a world where there is hope...and love.

So this year, let's write like we're going to be an integral part of bringing hope and love to people who need it.

And we just might!

J Perry Stone said...

Ana, so very inspiring!

Yes. Let's do that.

Tami Brothers said...

Wow, JP. You slay me!!! Love the post and love all the comments. You said it all!!!!


J Perry Stone said...

And then some, huh Tami???