Why You May Need to Put Your Writing in a Box
This summer I went to my first RWA National Conference. It was held in San Diego, and while I don’t know the exact number of attendees, it seemed like hundreds and hundreds – everyone from editors, agents, publishers, best-selling authors and beginning writers! For those of you who’ve read my YA contemporary debut, THE SECRET TO LETTING GO, you may ask why I am a member of the Romance Writers of America.
First, I started out writing adult romance more than a decade ago, which is what brought me to RWA. As a newbie writer, the community I found there was so welcoming, encouraging and supportive, I never wanted to leave. When I switched to YA, the love story continued to be a major component of my stories. So, the YA chapter of RWA was a perfect home for me.
Back to Nationals – the conference is a busy few days with back-to-back workshops, book signings, opportunities to pitch to editors, and various evening socials. Most importantly, it was a chance to make personal connections with my agent, other authors with the agency I am represented by, and the many virtual writing friends I’ve met through RWA over the years.
The conference also came at a really good time for me. Lately, I’ve felt like my writing is in limbo – lacking direction. I currently have one published book with Entangled Teen and three other completed manuscripts with my agent. But all of these manuscripts were fully or partially completed prior to signing with Carrie. Because I’d been writing for so many years prior to finding representation, I’d gotten in the habit of writing the stories that came to me. I’d come up with a story idea and as long as I was able to fully develop the story and be excited about it, I wrote it.
When I signed with Carrie, I was excited because not only did I have a book contract with Entangled Teen for my debut, I had three other solid, completed manuscripts that we could shop around.
But over the course of many discussions with my agent and many discussions with multi-published authors at the conference, I have finally learned a valuable lesson – I need to put a box around my creative process. I can call it ‘author branding’ or my ‘promise to my reader’, but I need to decide on what type of stories I want to write and stick with it.
When I look back over the thirteen years I’ve been writing, I’ve completed:
an adult contemporary
an adult paranormal
a YA paranormal
a YA contemporary
a NA romantic suspense
a YA historical
and a NA with magical elements.
I definitely see common elements in my writing style, which tends to be sweet, angsty and a little on the literary side, but this is not enough to tie together an author brand or reader’s expectations.
On the plane home from San Diego, I spoke to a fellow author, who has published forty books in the past ten years. I was in awe of her productivity and also of her ability to come up with so many story ideas. In general, I’d only been thinking of story ideas once I completed a book. And once that story idea took hold, I’d proceed, regardless of how that book fit with the novels I’d already written. This author told me that she regularly comes up with story ideas and the more she thinks of, the easier it becomes.
So this is one of my greatest lessons learned from the many discussions I had in San Diego – I will come up with more story ideas and I will be more selective in the ideas I choose to proceed with. Just like learning to add discipline to my writing process, I need to be more disciplined in choosing my next project. If I want to build a career as an author, it’s not enough that I love the story idea. It has to be a story idea that I love, that fits in with the promise I am making to my readers, and that publishers will hopefully drool over!
Do I regret writing the stories I did? No, because through these books I have refined my voice. They have given me the experience needed to confidently decide which box best suits my style, interests and passions. Will I eventually want to redefine my box? Probably, but I need to be strategic about when and how I do that. I can’t do it on a whim, because I happened to come up with a story idea.
Thanks for stopping by, and for all my writer friends, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you ever struggled with something similar and what worked for you?