Struggles, they say, make you stronger. It’s true, I know. When I was young, I didn’t have the experience to write some of the things I do today. I could empathize with other peoples’ problems, but I’d been raised pretty sheltered with boringly typical growing up angsts. Life took care of that in one way or another. Bumps and bruises leave lasting internal marks. They made me grow, so that the characters I write now have more depth.
I’ve known a few people–only a VERY few–who sailed through life mostly unscathed. They don’t carry the baggage most of us do. Now, I’m not glorifyng misery. If I’d have had a choice, I’d have passed on some of life’s more demanding moments. I’d have gone to a beach and played in the sand instead. But that’s not the way Life works. You get what you get, and some people live through burdens that would flatten me, nightmare childhoods and traumas that scar. More surprisingly, some people get multi doses of awful and still stay positive and generous. I don’t think I got that gene.
I know there are times when you’re just emotionally wrung-out, too. When you don’t have the energy to put words on paper. All you can do is cope, the most you can manage is to endure. I’ve watched friends go through grief or illnesses and their stories stop speaking to them.
Struggles with writing make us stronger writers, too. Not that I’m a fan of rejection, but it comes with the territory, doesn’t it? When I look back at some of my earlier efforts, I cringe. What if someone had accepted them, published them? Would I have tried as hard to improve? Actually, some of those stories were published, and I shake my head when I read them. What were the other manuscripts like in that slush pile if mine stood out? I don’t want to think about it.
Having to change genres has improved my writing, too. I didn’t think so at the time. After my kazillionth rejection that said, “Love your writing, but NO ONE’s buying cozies now,” I told myself it was time to give up my dream of becoming my generation’s Agatha Christie and move on. (I’ve always believed in aiming high and seeing where I ended up. Sometimes, it’s a long fall:) After cozies, I tried my hand at writing serial killers, but that market was glutted, too, at the time. And then an editor asked if I’d try writing urban fantasies. It took me a minute, but I learned to love writing those. And they made me think about battles and building tension until the ultimate battle at the end of each book. Then my agent asked me to try romances, and I reeled. They seemed impossible to me, but I learned to love them too. They made me think about smaller missteps that build tension and have an emotional impact. And finally, my editor at Lyrical Underground asked if I’d like to try a cozy mystery for their line. And I was back to writing mysteries again. But I really believe that all the twists and turns have made me think about ALL of the elements that make a strong story, not just plotting.
I doubt that many of you who read this are whistling happy tunes and skipping through the park every day of your lives. And I hope that when you look back, after the fact, that your trials and disappointments were worth it. So just in case, hang in there, and happy writing!