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Focus, Focus, Focus!

Margaret Moore

It recently dawned on me -- and by that, I mean in the Macaulay Culkin slap-on-the-cheeks-in-Home-Alone way -- that I've been a published author for a long time. In fact, I'm coming up to the fifteenth anniversary of my first sale. Once I recovered from the shock, I realized I've learned a lot along the way -- some good, some bad, some distressing, some amusing. Over the next few months, I'd like to share some of those things with you. There's a lot about the publishing business that can wear you down and stress you out, and I hope my experience can help.

One of the most important things I've learned along the way is, focus on the book you're writing right now.

There are so many different romance sub genres, it's easy and tempting to flounder around, trying out various ones, when you first begin writing romance. For one thing, it's all! It's like you've just stepped into a department store with your first credit card. Where do I go first? What do I want to write? But until you focus on one particular sub genre, you're going to wind up with a lot of partials, and not much else.

At any stage of your career, it's easy to get overwhelmed with news about what's selling and who's buying. I've fallen into the trap of trying to write something simply because I thought it would be easier to sell. When I began writing, my heart was really in medievals but I heard that medievals were a tough sell, so I tried my hand at short contemporaries. There may be editors at Harlequin still chortling over those efforts. As it turned out, my first sale was a medieval. I'm still hearing medievals don't sell and I'm still selling them.

Does this mean I've never tried to write in other sub genres since that first sale? I have, including one effort that prompted my agent to remark that she thought I'd lost my mind (not something one generally wants to hear one's agent say).

As time has passed, I've figured out that I'm most tempted to switch gears when I'm stressed about my work or career -- if I'm having difficulties with the new book, or I hear something about the business that makes me think my writing days are numbered.

However, I've also (finally) learned that what I ought to do when that happens is simply focus on the story I'm telling right now. I can't control what's happening in the industry, and too often rumors turn out to be just that.

If I do get an idea for something really different, I make notes. If it's strong, it'll linger and develop. So far, nothing outside of historicals has done that, which I take as confirmation that I was wise to leave those projects withering on the vine.

You should be aware of what's happening in the world of the business you've chosen. If you haven't yet figured out which sub genre suits your voice and the stories you want to tell, you do have to keep "trying them on" until you find one that "fits." Sometimes, it is time to switch gears, and you're right to heed the urge.

But I've learned along the way that I have to think about what's really going on in my head when I get the impulse to try something totally different. It might be a great idea, or it might simply be a reaction to stress. Time will tell, and in the meantime, I should focus on the book I'm writing right now.

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Copyright © 2006 by Margaret Wilkins. This article may not be copied without the author's permission.