Advice to My Younger Writer Self: Write what you love…and just keep swimming

Please welcome guest author Elizabeth Harmon to the Cafe.

Elizabeth Harmon HeadshotHanging on the wall above my desk are Post-It notes with some of my favorite snippets of writing wisdom. Some came from famous writers, some came from friends, but the one I turn to most came from a cartoon fish.

“Just keep swimming,” the mantra of Dori from “Finding Nemo” is the advice that’s guided Act 2 of my fiction writing career, and the wisdom that I would share with my younger writer self.

Why Act 2? Because that’s how I look at my journey to publication, which came true this February, with the debut release of my contemporary romance, “Pairing Off,” by Carina Press.

As great as it felt to finally see my book on the  market, it’s that much sweeter because of Act 1, which began about fifteen years ago.

In 2000, I finished and attempted to sell my first novel, a contemporary romance set in the country music industry.  I’d spent two years writing it, meticulously polishing each chapter and bringing it before my critique group, before I moved on to the next. When it was finally finished, I had a beautifully written but structurally flawed story that was rejected by editors and agents alike.

I started another book, following the same chapter-by-chapter write/polish/critique approach I’d used before. This time however, the critiques weren’t so glowing, and the more feedback I sought, the more confused and discouraged I became.  About ten chapters in I stalled, with no idea what to do next.

Before long, fiction writing became something I used to do, and stayed that way for the next ten years.

During that decade, I raised two sons, volunteered, built a freelance writing career, tackled a few home improvement projects. While it’s tempting to use my busy life as an excuse, it’s not a valid one.  Writing is something we have to make time for, and between the rejection of the first book and writer’s block on the second book, not writing became seductively easy.

Flash forward to the summer of 2009 when I had an idea for a historical romance about an earl’s daughter who falls in love with a Cockney pickpocket.  Though I was terrified of starting and failing to finish another novel, it was a story that I simply had to tell. This time I did a couple of things differently.

First, I decided to let no one read it until it was written, start to finish.  Not only did this save time and endless revising, it was the carrot I needed to just keep swimming when inspiration lagged.  When I hit the inevitable wall, I couldn’t turn to others for direction, I had to find it in my story and characters.   This helped me develop confidence as a storyteller.

Second, I did my best to ignore the so-called rules of romance writing. Not that writers shouldn’t pay attention to the market, but worrying too much about whether something will or won’t sell can be crippling. So I didn’t fret too much about whether my characters met soon enough, or if my hero was alpha enough, or my heroine sufficiently spunky.  I simply wrote a book I’d love to read, and in the process, took some risks I might not have taken otherwise. This helped me develop my voice and rediscover the joy of telling a great story.

While that book is still unpublished, it gave me the confidence to start, and finish the next one, which became “Pairing Off.”

Though it’s hard not to imagine what might have been if I hadn’t thrown in the towel on fiction writing ten years ago, it’s impossible to know for sure. What I do know is that the lessons I learned made me a more determined, and confident writer than I was before, and continue to guide me, though Act 2, and beyond.

~  ~  ~

Pairing Off CoverAmerican figure skater Carrie Parker’s Winter Games dreams were dashed when her philandering partner caused one of the greatest scandals in skating history. Blacklisted from competing in the United States, her career is over…until she receives a mysterious invitation and is paired with the most infuriating, talented—and handsome—skater she’s ever met.

Russian champion Anton Belikov knows sacrifice. He gave up a normal life and any hope of a meaningful relationship to pursue his dream. And he’s come close—with a silver medal already under his belt, the next stop is the gold. All he needs is a partner. While he’s never forgotten the young American skater he seduced one long-ago night in Amsterdam, he never expected to be confronted with their past…never mind share the ice with her.

When what starts as a publicity stunt grows into something real, Carrie and Anton’s partnership will test their loyalties to family, country and each other. With only a few months to train for the competition of a lifetime, can they master technique and their emotions, or will they lose their footing and fall victim to the heartaches of their pasts?

~  ~  ~

Quirky settings. Loveable, if imperfect heroines. Gorgeous men with hearts of gold. Contemporary romance author Elizabeth Harmon loves them all.

A graduate of the University of Illinois, she has worked in advertising, community journalism and as a freelance magazine writer. She feels incredibly blessed to have a career that allows her to spend her days imagining “what if?” and a loving family that keeps her grounded in the real world.

An adventurous cook, vintage home enthusiast, occasional actress, and entry-level figure skater, Elizabeth makes her home in the Midwest, where life is good, but the sports teams aren’t. She loves to hang out on her front porch, or at her favorite local establishments, enjoy good food and wine, and talk writing with anyone who will listen.


Advice to My Younger Writer Self: Write what you love…and just keep swimming — 10 Comments

    • It’s nice to hear I’m not unique. The new chapter of my career has challenges too, and it’s nice to be able to see how all of you have met them and built successful careers. It can be done!

  1. Most of us have hit bumps on the road to publication. Congratulations for overcoming past hardships and finding your way to publication. I love the sound of your début book!

  2. I think your journey is probably quite familiar to many writers. I like the concept of your post – ‘advice to my younger writer self’. It’s interesting to reflect on the advice that one would give to a younger version of themselves. Keep swimming is hopeful and reminds all of us – not to give up.

  3. There was a long period between that rejection that broke my teenage heart and my decision to start writing fiction again. So I totally get how you were feeling. Thank you for sharing your experience here at the Cafe, Elizabeth. Wishing you many, many sales!

    • I think starting again can be even harder, than starting for the first time, because you know how tough and painful it can be. Congrats on taking the plunge to go from broken-hearted teen to multi-published author, and best wishes for many sales back at you.

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