On doing the work

Occasionally aspiring writers ask me how I got my first romance published. I tell them that it began as a project — an assignment, really — that a colleague suggested I do when I told her that my agent liked the mystery I had submitted to her but thought the romance between the two main characters wasn’t working, and I didn’t quite know how to fix it. “Write a romance,” the colleague said, so I did. A 40,000 word manuscript, a short sweet contemporary, and it taught me what I needed to know. It was also later published by Avalon, under a pen name.

Every single time I’ve told an aspiring writer this story (and in fact most of the time when I tell any writer this story), I’m met with a moment of stunned silence and then the admission, “I would never have done that much work to fix a problem in a different manuscript.”

It is always very hard at this point for me to hold back the comment I most want to make, which is, “Well, possibly that is why my romance has been published and yours has not.” But I think it. I’m pretty sure they can tell I’m thinking it, because the subject gets changed pretty quickly.

But it’s instructive to me how often people want something very badly, but they don’t want to do the work without any guarantee of a reward. I completely understand this; I don’t like to do work unless someone sends me a check afterward, and maybe flowers, too. But if I hope to master a craft, then I’m going to have to do a lot of work that no one sends me money for, and in fact, no one may ever read or care about.

I think about this in regard to parenting, too. A lot of parenting writers/bloggers give tips and hacks for getting your kids to do this and that, as if the main thing was to have compliant kids. Parenting isn’t supposed to be about what’s easiest. It’s supposed to be about doing what’s going to help your kids grow into the kind of adults you’d like them to be. And sometimes that’s a lot of hard work without any hope of reward.

You’ve got to do it anyway.