Thinking of Why and What we write
The wonderful author Kathleen Gilles Seidel just said something to me and my podcast co-host, Pru Warren, that really grabbed me. We were talking about writing and publishing when she first started out thirty years ago.
For those of you who don’t know, Kathy wrote contemporary romance, and she did so very, very well (I say did because she’s now retired – which is a whole other topic!). When she first began publishing with Harlequin in the 1980s and ‘90s, women who read romance were ashamed of their choice of novels, Kathy reminded us. I remember this well because it continued until about five to ten years ago, and still some women are ashamed of reading romance.
Women (and men) feel that they should be reading something more substantial. They feel that they should be reading Literature, or something “improving”. But Kathy made two points when talking about her writing career. One was that she knew who she was writing for—women, usually with small children, who didn’t have a lot of time to devote to a more involved novel or piece of non-fiction. And from this she gave me the quote that really struck me:
“I wasn’t writing to change my readers’ lives, but to change their afternoon.”
She wasn’t trying to write some Grand piece of Literature. She was writing to give a woman a break, some time off, a bit of relaxation in an otherwise hectic day of running around after children or trying to juggle home and work. That blissful few moments when your toddler goes down for a nap and you’ve got half an hour all to yourself. Or that precious hour after the kids have gone to bed and before your own eyelids drop from exhaustion. That is the time when someone wants to open up a good book and get lost in a daydream.
Yes, you can add in some deeper message or theme, as I was writing about recently, but even if you do so it is couched in something light and easy to swallow. We are not teaching or preaching in our books, we are providing an alternative to watching a sitcom on tv. If you are trying to do more than that, more power to you.
I write light, fluffy historical romance. I write ball scenes and describe beautiful dresses and handsome men who take the heroine out for a moonlight stroll through a garden and might take the liberty of giving her a kiss. Yes, I also frequently have a deeper message (the hero is scarred from fighting in the war and battling his inner demons, or is of a mixed race and fighting to be seen as a whole person despite the color of his skin), but I don’t smash my reader over the head with this, I let it flow like an undercurrent that only surfaces to provide some conflict and tension.
The other thing that Kathy said that stuck with me is that we’ve got to write books we’re proud of. It’s those books—books that are written to the best of our ability, books of quality that are carefully crafted and not just churned out because you’ve got to write so many books a year—that survive the test of time.
Can you look back on a book you published a year ago, two years ago, five, and say ‘yes, I’d read that again’ or ‘I’m proud of having written that’? If not, maybe you should work on your writing some more. Work on your craft. Take some more time to really write a book that will stand the test of time, that will last for longer than you or your writing career.
These digital books that we are publishing will never go out of print. Will you still be proud to have your name on the cover of that book in ten years or twenty?