There are so many choices to make when we sit down and write a romance novel. Should we plot it out or wing it? Do we write in first person or third? Is it going to be a novel or a novella, and what kind of word count should I be aiming for? And then there’s the craft, finding ways to make the connection between the hero and heroine deeper (in romance), and how to tear them apart again just for the reader’s enjoyment. Deciding on a sub-plot (if you have one) and how to weave that into the main romance.Of course these are only a few of the questions I ask myself (not always consciously, but they need to be addressed at some point), there are so many more. A bit like when I first started to drive, I’ve had a huge learning curve — first of all realising that, just as I wouldn’t get in a car and expect to be able to drive like Jensen Button, nor should I sit down and write a book and expect it to be brilliant in the first pass. (And yes, we all know some authors who can do this — whose first book was amazing and took off — but there are more of us whose first books proved to be huge learning curves).
So if I take the driving analogy further; at first, every move you make when you’re learning to drive is conscious. You sit in the driver’s seat and have to think ‘first I put my foot on the clutch, then I turn the key, then once the engine is started, I need to find the biting point’. And all this is before you’ve even driven anywhere. More importantly, you have an instructor, somebody to guide you until you’re competent enough to do this thing on your own. Sadly, I didn’t have somebody to sit by my side as I typed, pointing out all my mistakes and suggesting alternatives, but I did find people who could help me do this. Beta readers, editors, and reviewers all can help you learn what works and what doesn’t, and I find them invaluable, even if I’m more confident in my skills nowadays.But more than anything, I needed a method to approach my writing, even before it went before the eyes of the editors and the readers. I needed to find my writing process. I’ve managed to do this through a combination of reading craft books, watching webinars, and, most importantly, learning through my own mistakes. In the romance world we’re really lucky that other writers are so willing to share their experiences, and often for free, or not a huge cost. Most weeks I find myself reading craft books or watching a video — as an ex-HR professional, I take my continuous professional development seriously!
The important thing to remember is no two writers’ processes are the same. What works for me won’t work for somebody else. I hate pantsing (i.e. writing without a plan) — although I do less planning than I used to nowadays. So when you get advice, whether it be from books, webinars or fellow authors, remember to take what works for you but ignore the rest.
As for me, my process has been gleaned from a combination of Blake Snyder’s ‘Save the Cat’ beat sheet, Gwen Hayes’ fabulous book, Romancing the Beat, Nina Harrington’s brilliant videos (plus her many writing books) and a whole lot of trial and error. More importantly, it’s changing every day, as my needs and experience changes. I don’t need as much ‘instruction’ as I did when I was a learner driver, but I’ve also learned that a ‘refresher’ course doesn’t go amiss. I don’t want to be caught speeding after all!