In The Fire

by Jane Porter

Having just spent six days in San Francisco with fellow writers at Romance Writers of America’s annual conference, I’ve found it hard to come home and unplug from social interaction to become the solitary writer again.  I’ve attended 12 of the past 13 RWA conferences but this one was my favorite.  Some years I’ve struggled with fear and inferiority at the conference; after all, 2,000 women attend the conference and 500 authors sign at the big literacy event on Wednesday night, but this conference isn’t about competition.  It’s about growth.  We as writers aren’t competing with other writers.  We’re competing with ourselves, constantly challenging ourselves to improve:  How to write better.  How to write stronger.  How to write smarter.

So confidence is good in this writer life of ours.  And tough mental focus is even better.

Returning from San Francisco I knew I’d have to tackle revisions on the book I turned in late July, and it was a book I’d already struggled with for months.  This particular story didn’t write the way I expected it to, and despite weeks of revisions it still didn’t come together to my satisfaction.  Reluctantly, I handed it over to my editor for her input and she agreed with me.  Book just wasn’t up to my par.   So now I take this manuscript and salvage the parts that work and re-vision the rest. 

Fortunately, over the past eight years of being a published author I’ve learned that editing and rewriting are my best friends.  Being a revision warrior is essential if I want loyal readers, readers who will make me an auto-buy.  To succeed in this business, I can’t afford to be lazy or self-indulgent.  I can’t afford to get tired, either.  Rewriting is truly a girding of one’s self, and I approach this next step of revision as though my life depended on it.  And in a way, my writing life does depend on it.  My reader base expects magic.  I must find that magic.   

So this book, already my troubled delinquent child of a book, is being stripped to its bare bones.  I’m on chapter four of the rewrite which leaves just 420 pages to go.  420 pages of questions and decisions, decisions that may or may not improve the story.  Decisions that may or may not be the right ones. 

Intellectually, I know I can pull this off.  I’ve done it before and I can do it again, so this is the part of me I listen to.  The part I don’t listen to is the fear, or the insecurity, or the panic that time’s passing and I’m not getting enough done.  If I’m working hard, and doing my best, I’m getting enough done.  My mental toughness runs the show now.  The tough self that rolls up its sleeves and says, you can do this, because this is who you are and this is what you do.

My family doesn’t understand this part of my career.  They don’t know why a book doesn’t work or why revisions can be so challenging.  They just know I’m preoccupied and intense and a little fierce.  Fortunately my writer friends understand this process.  They know that when we’re faced with fire, we have to go through it.  There’s no jumping over it, or running around it.  The only way to get better as a writer is to do it.  One word at a time. 

Is writing hard?  Yes.  Does it make one crazy?  Pretty much.  But is it worth it?  If you’re a writer.

In the end it’s all about craft, and the story itself.  Mediocrity has no place in our business.  Phoning a story in is unacceptable.  My readers are smart.  My readers deserve respect.  The best way I can show them my respect is doing the work that needs to be done.  Each time, every time.

With that said, it’s not always easy and not always fun.  But it’s real.  And that makes us better writers, too.

And this is one more way good writer friends can help.  Over time I’ve come to surround myself with writer friends that push themselves, too.  We all have high standards and we know that writing is a risky business.  We realize that we’re constantly revealing ourselves in our work.  And while it’s difficult to write while feeling vulnerable, writing from that honest place will allow us to write not just good, but great books.  The secret then is giving ourselves permission to reach high, knowing we just might fail.  But if we’re aware of the risks then falling isn’t a surprise or shock, and falling and failing won’t be debilitating.  Instead, falling and failing gives us the opportunity to try again.  And in trying again we have yet another opportunity to succeed, and this is how we learn our craft and build our books.

And this is the calling.  We’re to aim high, dream big, and write tough.   

Jane Porter’s July 2006 release, Flirting With Forty (5 Spot), was picked by Redbook Magazine as its Red Hot Summer Read before being optioned as a Lifetime Christmas 2008 TV movie. Jane's newest novel, Mrs. Perfect, (May 2008, 5 Spot) has also received tremendous acclaim from her readers.

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