Writing may be fun, but it’s also incredibly hard work. Lorraine Heath knows this better than most: She’s written dozens upon dozens of successful novels, and has managed to stay motivated and engaged in her writing for decades. Here, Heath dishes on how she’s stayed excited about her work for 25 years and over 60 books. Check out her tips, and don’t forget to pick up her new romance When a Duke Loves a Woman.
It’s difficult to believe it was 25 years ago that I sold my first book. At the time, I hadn’t really given any thought to long term goals—I simply wanted to publish a book. That first contract was for one book. So then I wanted to sell another one. And I did. Two more single-book contracts followed. Then I submitted a proposal and the offer came in for a three-book contract. And when that contract was finished, I wanted another one. That was pretty much my career plan.
Suddenly, I was looking at 40 books written for an adult audience, six novellas, and 27 young adult books. Where did the years go? Where did the words come from? After all this time, how do I stay motivated to write?
From the moment I learned that letters formed words to form sentences, I have loved to write. I’d rather type a long email explaining something to someone than pick up the phone and talk to them about it. I think best in the written word, partly because it gives me the opportunity to edit: to form my thoughts and then refine them. I’ve never been a quick thinker. My husband teases me about the times when someone will ask me a question I’m not expecting, even something as simple as, “What two sides do you want with that order?” and I get a deer-in-the-headlights look because suddenly I’m faced with a response I didn’t realize I was going to have to provide.
I’m most comfortable communicating through the written word. Writing stories speaks to my soul. But I’ve developed a few habits over the years that have helped me to stay in this business for the long haul.
I focus on the manuscript before me
Early in my career, I was advised to save my very best stories for when I had success so more people would read them, but I thought if I did that I would never have success. Every story I write has to be the best story I can write at the time. I’ll readily admit that sometimes circumstances in my life influence the story or the way I’m writing. When three dear friends were battling breast cancer at the same time and my husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I needed a place to put my fears, frustration, and anger at the unfairness of it all. Writing Grace Mabry (When the Duke Was Wicked) provided me with that safe space. For me, writing often serves as a catharsis.
I read everything
Unlike many authors, I wasn’t much of a reader when I was younger. I read maybe a book a year—until I discovered romance novels. Then I became a voracious reader. I simply couldn’t get enough of the characters and the different paths traveled to happily-ever-afters. The books I read brought me such joy that I wanted to bring that level of joy to others. My peers are my motivators, not in a competitive way, but rather because I admire their talents. So many of the authors I enjoy reading offer me a level of craftsmanship that I’d personally like to achieve. Every time an author takes me on a wondrous journey, I am encouraged to try to be as creative and to write as well.
I write stories and characters I enjoy reading
A book is a labor of love and that labor can take months from beginning to end. I want to wake up in the morning anxious to spend the day getting to know these characters who have taken up residence in my mind. I want to do everything I can to give them a story worthy of them.
I keep my eyes on my own career
I celebrate other writers’ achievements, sympathize with those who may be facing challenges, but I never compare where I am to where I perceive someone else to be. When I got into yoga, a new woman came to class. The instructor began leading us into a more advanced pose. The woman looked at me and told the instructor, “She and I aren’t going to be able to do that.” The instructor replied, “It doesn’t matter what anyone else on another mat is doing. In yoga, you only focus on what happens on your own mat.” And I realized that’s publishing. If I spend time looking at what’s going on in the careers around me, how will I ever do what I need to in my own career to succeed? So I don’t compare others’ successes to my own. I’m where I need to be in my own career.
I spend time with readers
I love attending reader conferences and other reader-oriented events that provide me with an opportunity to meet and speak with readers. I also try to keep in touch with readers via social media. Shortly after I sold my first book, I read a quote by Jimmy Stewart: “Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.” And I took it to heart. Readers are my partners. I work very hard trying not to disappoint them. That doesn’t mean that everyone likes every story—while I bring my experiences to writing the story, readers bring their experiences to reading the story. Sometimes what I’ve written might not be to their liking, but hopefully more often than not, I’ll write a story that will bring them joy and make them glad they took time visiting the world and the characters I created. Because pleasing them brings me joy.
Publishing is a rollercoaster ride. There are summits and dips and crazy twists and turns. While it’s easy to get discouraged, as long as we retain our love of writing, remain focused on creating compelling characters, telling interesting stories, and never forgetting our readers, hopefully we’ll find all the motivation we need to keep plugging along—one book at a time.
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Lorraine Heath always dreamed of being a writer. After graduating from the University of Texas, she wrote training manuals, press releases for a publicist, articles, and computer code, but something was always missing. When she read a romance novel, she became not only hooked on the genre, but quickly realized what her writing lacked: rebels, scoundrels, and rogues. She’s been writing about them ever since. Her work has been recognized with numerous industry awards including RWA’s RITA(R).