Soon after our recent “How we began” posts, Nina P. asked Mary Jo:
“Now, y’all have me wondering. In my experience, turning a hobby into a career, adding deadlines multiplied by new expectations, can sour the flavor of what was once loved. So how has becoming published changed your joy of writing? Did your beloved passion turn from fun to task in the beginning? How did you cope?”
This are excellent questions –– especially since, in a way, you’re asking a bunch of romance authors if WE, as writers, have managed to achieve that elusive “happily ever after.”
I have to begin with the usual disclaimer, that I can only answer for myself. Like most writers, I have an imagination that is so wild and untrammeled that it puts kudzu to shame. For me, life is more an endless source of speculation, rather than inspiration.
The tantalizing question “what if?” pretty much rules my life. Not just at the keyboard, mind you: I mean when I come up with a grocery shopping list, I’m seeing myself walking down the aisles of the store, what else is on the shelves, who I might meet, who I’d like to avoid, which checker is a “good” checker, and whether the floor will still be sticky where the JuicyJuice display fell over last week. I can’t help it; it’s just they way by overactive brain works, and yes, it can be powerfully exhausting.
(And a pain to everyone else, too. Ask any of my friends or family about why they don’t ever want to be behind me at the top of an escalator as I stand there paralyzed with my foot poised endlessly over the descending steps while my infamous imagination plays out in gory detail every possible horror scene involving escalators.)
Which is all a roundabout way of saying I had a very good notion of what to expect after I sold my first book. It wasn’t the RIGHT notion, but it was good, anyway. I thought I’d be rich. (hahaha!) I thought I’d see people reading my books everywhere I went. (thirty-some-odd books later, and that still hasn’t happened.) I’d quit my day job. Working at home, I’d be able to spend more of that famous Quality Time with my family. Most of all, I believed that the fun of story-telling would never, ever go away.
But reality has a way of pruning dreams into less fanciful topiary. After five books, I was able to quit my day job and write full-time. But as I soon discovered, writing novels is not so very different from a “real” job. When deadlines loom, it’s just like having to work overtime (finishing a book takes precedence over birthday parties.) The bosses (i.e., editors and agents) can be a delight, or soul-destroying ogres. Co-workers (copy-editors, line-editors, art directors) can sabotage all your hardest work, while the others in the same business (other writers) can be supportive friends, or ruthless competitors waiting to trip you up if you falter (dang, if I’d just submitted my manuscript with the vampire-frog-prince-in-jeopardy earlier, why, then my version would have been published before Jane XYZ’s, and I’d be at the top of the NYT list instead of her.) You face periodic performance reviews (royalty statements and book reviews) and performance evaluations (contract renewals). You can, cruelly, be fired, too. (They drop you.) You stay in a job (write books for a particular line or publisher) longer than you really want to because the mortgage company refuses to acknowledge muses.
In short, that first book you write is a glorious labor of love, meant to please only you. As soon as you sign a contract and cash the check, then it’s a job. A really, really fun job, but a job nonetheless.
But what about the “joy of writing?” Yep, that’s still there, and if anything, it’s bigger and better and fun-er than it was when I began. I still can’t wait to wait to write each day. Even on days when I’ve “excused” myself from writing, I’ll sneak off and scribble down a particularly good scrap of dialogue.
Because, like kudzu, imagination just can’t be stopped.
So what about you? Have you ever had a job, or a much anticipated event, turn out in a very different manner in which you’d expected?