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Honest Writing

Years ago, I told my agent how much I had grown to love reading paranormal after years of thinking I wouldn’t care for it.

“You should write something dark paranormal!”  she told me with much enthusiasm.  “You’d rock at it!”

“Great idea!” I responded with equal enthusiasm. “I’ll get right on it!”

Fast forward about 2 years (maybe even a little more), I finally looked myself directly in the mirror and admitted, “Hi, I’m Shannon McKelden, and I can’t write dark paranormal romance.”

The relief I felt at finally saying that…finally giving up…was enormous.

The sad thing about the situation was that I knew long before that 2 years was up that I couldn’t write paranormal.  I just couldn’t bring myself to stop trying.  I wasted much of those 2 years trying, again and again, to find just the right story to tell, just the right book to teach me the ins and outs of paranormal romance, just the right class/workshop/CD to give me the magic key.

The problem was that whatever key there might be, I didn’t have the proper keyhole to fit it.

Wasted Years

During those years — the dark days of writing, as far as I was concerned — I grew frustrated and disillusioned with writing.  I began to doubt myself and my abilities (despite the fact that I had had 2 other  books published).  I started avoiding writing, avoiding contact with my agent, and being more and more vague with my friends about what I was working on.

Why did it take me so long to finally admit this wasn’t my cup of tea? A lot of reasons:

1) I really, really loved reading paranormal romance.
2) I respected my agent to know what was popular and would sell quickly.
3) I felt included in the paranormal community.
4) I wanted to write and sell something quickly.
5) I thought all of the above would make me happy.

The problem was that writing paranormal romance didn’t make me feel happy.  I don’t think outside the box enough to stand out…or to even do anything tiny little thing that hasn’t been done to death before.  I struggle with even the basics of world-building.  I don’t think in a fantastical way.

But I stuck it out because I really wanted it, because my agent and friends continued to encourage me, and because I had this underlying fear that, if I didn’t succeed at this, I wouldn’t sell anything ever again.

Getting Caught Up

It’s easy to get caught in the rushing flow of enthusiasm when you’re being encouraged, whether it’s by agents, editors, or fellow writers.  What if they (especially agents and editors) have some kind of special insight into what their clients would be good at? What if you just need to follow their guidance and your career would take off?  My agent painted a beautiful picture of a quick sale, a great contract, all those things I dreamed of.  Dismissing her counsel would have been foolhardy, wouldn’t it?

Wanting to be part of the crowd is addictive, too.  If I was writing paranormal romance, I had an “in” to be part of the group of authors I loved to read and whose skills I admired.  If I was writing what they were writing, I felt automatically included, and who doesn’t want that?

Also, that bandwagon looked pretty sweet.  Previously eeking-by authors were hitting it big with paranormal.  I burned with envy at contracts and advances that allowed them to quit their day jobs or hit the bestseller lists.

And I really truly did wish I could write paranormal.  I loved the complexity and imagination that went into these books. I wanted to be able to do that. It was just a matter of pushing myself a bit, wasn’t it?

Which meant that admitting I was a failure at it was harder than hell.

Honesty is the Best Policy

The lesson I learned during that time was that being an Honest Writer is the key to being a Happy Writer.

I should have told my agent I didn’t feel that paranormal romance fit my voice, my writing style, or my plotting capabilities.  I should have grown some balls and been proud of myself for what I did love to write instead of feeling inferior and like I would only belong if I wrote the same thing as so many others.

I should have embraced what gave ME passion, not what made others passionate.

As long as I continued trying to force my square writing self into a round writing slot, I felt blocked, incompetent, and like a complete failure. And no writer should ever feel like that if they can help it.

How do you know if you honestly aren’t not meant to write something or if you’re just whining because it’s hard?  It’s a gut thing.

Even when something is hard to write, the passion, the enthusiasm you feel for it keeps you going.  Note that I said the enthusiasm YOU feel…people around you may be enthusiastic about what you’re trying to write for their own reasons. Maybe they are envious and wish they could write it. Maybe they are writing it and want to have more to share with you.  Maybe they represent a lot of authors writing that genre and know they have the contacts necessary to get you that quick sale. All good reasons for their enthusiasm…NOT good reasons to write something that doesn’t make you happy.

I actually don’t regret going through all that.  In its misery, it taught me something:  I can only write what feels right to write.  When I feel happy writing, when I enjoy telling the story I’m telling, THAT is the write story for me to tell.

This doesn’t mean I’ll never try anything new or hard.  But I’ll be much less likely in the future to try so hard for so long to write something that doesn’t bring me joy.

What about you? Have you ever pushed yourself to do something that you ended up hating because of peer pressure or feeling like you “should?”

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