I loved Loretta’s last post, and by extension, Nora’s RWR article, too. There are many challenges to being a Working Writer. Writing romance doesn’t necessarily mean you can romanticize writing. The ivory-tower ideal of hanging out with your muse until inspiration wafts towards you is a charming fantasy, but it’s not reality, not by half. If you don’t write on some sort of a schedule, if you can’t make your imagination bend to the demands of deadlines, you won’t have much of a career.
For most of us, that first book truly was a labor of love, without any constraints of time, length, marketing, or editing. It’s whatever you want it to be, and then some. But once you sign a contract and cash a publisher’s check, it’s a job like any other. It’s a swell job, true, but it can also be a righteous bear that shows no mercy.
In other words, I don’t have a muse. I have a mortgage.
Like most of the other Wenches, I write for two different publishers. While this offers more security and diversion, it also more than doubles the difficulty. We’re gluttons for punishment. We have two sets of editors and publicists to appease, two different writing voices to keep straight in our heads. In this last week alone, I’ve had to finish one manuscript, read and correct galleys for another, come up with suggestions for the cover art for a third, and sign the finished books of a fourth at a local bookstore.
The actual deadline can be fraught with more peril than a month of retrogrades. It’s not so bad now that I can submit a finished book as an email attachment, but in the Bad Old Days, everything would (and did) go wrong. The supply of printer paper would inexplicably disappear. The printer cartridge would go dry, the back-ups missing. Trusty old MS Word would suddenly be possessed by demons, putting gibberish in the middle of my hard-fought sentences. My final high-speed victory-lap to the FedEx depot (which accepted drop-offs until 8:00 pm, bless their purple-and-orange souls) would slow to a slug’s pace, so clogged with traffic that I’d have to sprint through the parking lot after the last truck.
And, of course, there’s plenty of Life going on to trip up the best of intentions. The cat needs to go to the vet. A next-door neighbor invites an entire team of yowling lumberjacks with chainsaws to cut down the trees in her yard, while, not to be outdone, the neighbor on the other side hires a crew of leaf blowers determined to blast every last blade of grass into high-decibel oblivion. Another cat throws up on a $65.00 research book. Children and husband plaintively ask if there’s anything to eat. That “routine” tetanus shot makes my arm bulge like a bodybuilder’s and turns my brain to mush, so when I have to speak at a booksigning, my voice echoes in my head and I begin every sentence the same way –– “Another interesting thing about Sarah Churchill” –– even when I’m asking directions to the store’s restroom.
As careers go, writing ain’t pretty, and it sure ain’t for sissies. It’s no benefits, no health insurance, no pension, no paid vacation or sick days. It’s waiting six months for a check from your publisher after you turned in your manuscript on time. It’s staying up so late to beat a scene into submission that you fall asleep with the keyboard imprinted on your cheek. It’s having your editor get fired, and being tossed out along with her. It’s seeing your manuscript returned to you so disfigured with editorial red pen that it’s unrecognizable. It’s being told that your story would be ever so much improved with the addition of a vampire or two. And it’s natural disasters beyond your control –– Blizzards in the Midwest! Earthquakes in California! –– that magically become your fault because readers weren’t able to buy your books and your sales numbers plummet.
And yet I can’t imagine giving it up. I’ll take the pitfalls because the good stuff is, well, so good. I love being able to take the story from my head and make it real on paper. I love being able to escape those leaf-blowers and go back into the past with my characters. I love having such a supportive group of smart, funny peers. I love not having to watch the rush hour traffic reports. I love hearing from readers (yeah, and not just my mother, either) that they enjoy what I do.
I’ve written a bunch of books (less than Nora, more than Margaret Mitchell), but last week was the first time I actually saw a stranger buy one in a store. I was near the new release table, browsing through the magazine racks, when a woman nearby picked up a copy of DUCHESS. I bowed my head over the new issue of “Lucky” and held my breath, watching and eavesdropping shamelessly. The woman read the back cover, read the first page, and held it out to her husband.
“Now this,” she declared, “looks very good. Buy it.”
On that day, anyway, I’d wrestled the bear, and I won.