The Road to Passionate Writing isn’t Linear

Note: This is another “write to market” post. If you don’t want to read it, skip this one.

Real life story that does lead into the theme of this post:

Yesterday morning, I woke up and discovered mold that had been sitting along the hallway wall for months. (The bathroom shower is on the other side of this hallway wall.) I have no idea how long it was sitting there, quietly growing and spreading. It was hidden by some shoes and some towels. (We had shelves that were on this wall. Needless to say, those shelves are gone now.) I called a handyman I know, and he tore into the wall so we could see how much damage we were looking at. In short, we’re going to need to remove the entire wall and put in a new shower. If anyone wonders, the way to kill mold is by bleach. But this wall was too far gone. There was no saving it, and the shower and tub were a part of the damages in this whole thing.

So here’s how this ties into theme of the post:

Sometimes there’s something wrong within us, and, like mold, it quietly works in the dark. It’s often something that is at work for a long period of time, which makes us unaware that it’s even there. This morning as I was spraying bleach to kill off any remaining mold, it occurred to me that the problem I’ve been experiencing with my writing has been bothering me since last August 2017 (yes, I mean 2017). I know it was that month because it was the first time I got completely wiped out, and I’ve been limping along ever since. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Last week, I actually contacted a couple of close author friends and confessed I was seriously consider quitting. This isn’t the first time I’ve wanted to quit. I’ve been on Amazon and Smashwords since 2009. There have been other times when I’ve wanted to throw in the towel and give up. It’s not easy being a writer. I bet it’s not easy being anyone who is creating something.

When you create something, a lot of people find ways to criticize it. There is no story that pleases everybody. That is an impossible mission. That’s why I don’t believe in revising a story to death. No matter how much you go through a story, it’ll never be perfect. On the flip side, you do want to write the best story you possibly can. You don’t want to rush through the story and throw it out there.

The rushing part is what I’ve been guilty of for the past 2.5 years. I bought into the “hurry up and get another book out” mindset in my pursuit to keep making the same amount of money I did back in 2015. I realized I could no longer take my time writing a book and expect to make the same amount of money I was up to that point.  I know a lot of it has to do with the supply of books going up. Authors who started out in 2009-2011 like I did were used to taking our time writing books and yielding good results from it. We suddenly found ourselves in the hamster wheel I’ve also discussed on this blog. And a lot of us have been trying to keep up. We also had to learn to write to market in order to appeal to the majority of people, which is another thing I did.

Apparently, just getting out of the wheel wasn’t enough for me. The mold within my own writing life was still there. I feel like I’ve been playing whack-a-mole in nailing down the source of the mold. If I can rip out the mold, I can stop the damage from spreading. My last couple of books pretty much bombed. I only have one book this year that sold decently. Now, I knew the pen name books weren’t going to do well because no one knows who that person is. But my romances had way underperformed, and it did get worse in the summer, which (from what I heard) is the same time frame a lot of other authors got hit with lower-than-average sales. So it wasn’t just me during the summer months.

So then what? Well, authors run to educational resources (books, videos, courses, podcasts) to learn how to improve sales. I’m not immune to any of this. But I found the more I focused on this stuff, the more stressed out I was getting, and I’m sure that helped the mold in myself grow faster. I realize all of these educational resources are there to help authors, and they do have a benefit. However, the advice in these recourses doesn’t work for every author who follows it. I have a really nice author friend who has been writing awesome books this entire time (we started out at the same time), and her sales aren’t what they should be. According to the advice of this latest You Tuber, my author friend should be making $10,000 a month. But I know my friend isn’t making that much, and she’s followed every piece of advice that this You Tuber said she should do.

I’m at the point where I think marketing advice is like throwing spaghetti up on a wall. Maybe it worked for THAT author, but it’s not something that is guaranteed to work. But a lot of other authors will blame the someone like my author friend for not following the advice better. And this contributes to “mold” that builds up within a writer. I know it contributes to my own mold. I can’t control what happens if I do X, Y, or Z. All I can control is the story I write. These marketing people make it sound like authors can control what happens after a story is published, but that’s not true. Authors can try different tactics to get noticed, but we can’t control who is out there buying our work, if they even buy it at all. And that’s a very frustrating and discouraging feeling. If people don’t buy our work, we assume it’s because the story isn’t good. Of course, this isn’t true. I’ve come across a lot of excellent stories that don’t sell well.

Is all of this rambling getting somewhere?

Yes, actually, it is. Last week, I hit rock bottom. For the first time this morning, I saw the “mold” in my own writing life. Some people will say the answer is to stop writing for a while. I thought that at first, too, but writing is not my problem. When I write, I feel a lot better. I did a couple of days off and felt extremely frustrated. I went ahead and wrote, and I felt calm and in control over things again. But, it really does depend on what I’m writing and why I’m writing it.

My problem began when I started writing to market. I was also rushing books out, but it was the writing to market thing that did me in. From 2007-2015, I wrote what I was interested in. That meant I loved every story I was writing. It wasn’t stuff everyone loved. Some people who loved my earlier books said they didn’t like the recent ones, but I loved them. Over these past three years, I’ve only been passionate about a handful of the books I published. I enjoyed every book I wrote, but there’s a difference between enjoying something and being passionate about something. Passion means I want to go back and reread my own books. Enjoyment is okay but not something I care to go back to.

So I had to admit something that’s not easy: I write to a niche market.

The books I’m passionate about are not the same as what the majority of readers out there seem to like. I like to mix a Christian perspective with sex in a marriage relationship. A lot of people don’t like that. They prefer to do one or the other. So authors who want to reach the largest market end up choosing which side to go on. It’s hard for me to find a Christian romance that has love scenes between  husband and wife. This has been true in traditional publishing and indie publishing. Combing both things is not popular. I tried breaking out of the niche by being more secular in my work, but I didn’t feel fulfilled doing that. In fact, I think that’s what God’s will is for me: to write books that glorify Him in and out of the bedroom. I believe sex is a beautiful act between a husband and wife. I don’t think it’s dirty. I’ve been married for 18 years now. I have four children. I still have sex with my husband. I’m not ashamed of it, and I see no reason why my characters should be.

A sex scene isn’t just about sex. Sex is only the physical actions. There are things happening between the characters that are much more than physical. You have emotional completion on an individual level, and you have a spiritual bonding where the two become one. Sex is a very layered event. And it complements what happens outside the bedroom. What happens outside the bedroom is just as important as what happens in it. This is why I added sex scenes to my romances early on. I felt that Christian romances that were clean missed out on the opportunity to show the additional layer within a marital relationship. I still feel that way. I don’t see why a Christian perspective needs to exclude the sexual part of a marital relationship. So I mix the two, and because of that, I will end up upsetting people from both sides of the aisle. Most of the Christian romance crowd isn’t happy with me, and most of the non-Christian romance crowd isn’t happy with me, either. So how can I expect to appeal to the largest audience out there? It’s not realistic.

Looking back on the years I’ve been writing romance, I believe the mold started to develop inside of me when I decided money was more important than doing what God wanted me to do. That’s not easy for me to admit, but how can you solve a problem unless you point out the cause? Like the pipe from the shower in the bathroom, my decision started out as s trickle. Easy to ignore. Not doing a lot of damage. But over time, the leak got bigger and stronger. I think it went full blast in August of 2017. I think that was the point where I could no longer ignore it.

While I was writing to market, I was removing as much of me as possible because I had stopped writing for myself. I think that’s what passion is. Passion is writing the story that has layers and layers of things that mean something to the author who writes it. Writing to market removes those layers because the books are tailored directly to the largest number of readers in a given genre. You can have themes and such, but they are going to be society’s important themes, not an author’s.

I’ll give you a couple of examples of what I mean. I’ve done some books with a spiritual theme in them. Eye of the Beholder is actually about how Christ loves the Church. His love makes the Church beautiful, just as Dave Larson’s love made Mary beautiful. His Redeeming Bride and Loving Eliza both have the spiritual theme of Christ’s love removing all of the sin from a person’s life so that there’s no blemish in them. (In other words, Christ offers another chance in life.) I didn’t set out to put those themes into the books. They just developed. I don’t put in spiritual themes in all of my books. Some books are just supposed to be for fun. Books like “A Bride for Tom” and “The Wrong Husband” are just comedies that were meant to make me laugh. I love a variety of books.

The mold in my life came from fear of putting those themes into my work. They are my themes. They are my interests. Sometimes I want to do something with a spiritual theme, and sometimes I just want to sit back and laugh. Either way, I put pieces of me into everything I was writing. This is why I was passionate about writing them.

Back then, I also wrote the story that most interested me at the time. I didn’t worry about what number I was in for a series. I just wrote the character’s story that I was dying to write. This is why the Nebraska Series was writing out of order. (Eye of the Beholder, Book 4, was the first book written.) The Virginia Series was written out of order, too. (An Inconvenient Marriage was written first, and that’s Book 3.) Everyone seems to want books written in order. So I started forcing myself to write them in order, and I think some of those books were forced before they should have been written. I don’t know if I’ll go back to writing out of order, but if I do, I’m not labeling the books as a series until the whole thing is done. We’ll have to see how things proceed.

I’m going to stop writing books according to other people’s interest. I’m going to only write the ones that interest me the most.  Fortunately, I am interested in the current books I have in progress. The Imperfect Husband is a comedy, but it also has a spiritual theme, “When God closes a door, He opens a window.” In other words, God’s best often comes in ways we don’t expect. We just have to be open to His leading. Kidnapping the Viscount is just a fun comedy. I’m working on both at the same time, and I find the variety helps me stay creative. I’m also working on the YA psychological thriller to give myself a complete break from romance. I’ve always found variety to be the key to staying creative. This is why I don’t focus on one genre all the time like some authors do. I know “smart” authors do that, but that would be the worst thing I could do, especially being as weak as I am at the moment. Mold has a way of weakening things. The wall in the hallway was soft when I was cleaning it with bleach. I felt the wall give under the pressure of my fingers, and I wasn’t even scrubbing. That’s similar to what’s happened with my creativity.

In conclusion:

Removing the mold and putting in the new shower and wall will be a lot easier for the house than removing the source of the mold within my own writing life. I’ve spent the last thirteen months in the middle of a storm where I knew something was wrong but not knowing what it was. What I didn’t realize until this morning was that the last thirteen months have really been a blessing in disguise. I’m finding my way back to the stories I really want to write. One might think this would be easy. I thought so, too, when I dropped out of the rat race earlier this year, but it’s not easy. I have to fight against all of the negative thoughts within myself and the negative comments from others that keep creeping up around me.

So I tell myself to be patient. The mold didn’t get here overnight. It’s not going to go away overnight, either. This is going to be something I’ll struggle with for some time. Progress is not going to be a straight line. But then, the mold that was growing on the wall behind the shower wasn’t linear, either, and it’s requiring the handyman to cut out the entire wall and remove the tub and shower to rip it all out. I am confident that in the end, all of the frustration, pain, and work will be worth it when everything is cleaned up.

About Ruth Ann Nordin

Ruth Ann Nordin mainly writes historical western romances and Regencies. From time to time, she branches out to contemporaries romances and other genres (such as science fiction thrillers). For more information, please go to www.ruthannnordin.com or check out https://ruthannnordinauthorblog.wordpress.com.
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21 Responses to The Road to Passionate Writing isn’t Linear

  1. Shirley Linn says:

    I hope your journey to find yourself is a happy one. I am not a writer, I am an avid reader. I read between one to three books per day. I started out along time ago reading Barbara Carland. She was what I would call a completely clean romance author. Over the years I have went to the opposite end of the spectrum but, this year especially I have found myself going back to western mail order brides. The problem I have is that they are mostly either super clean or super dirty. I would love to find authors who write romance with making love in a tasteful way. I feel like clean romances are lacking in that they don’t show the completion of the love shared by the couple. Sorry, to be so long winded but you brought up something I have been thing about alot. Regardless of what you do, I believe that you are a talented author and that you will find your way. Happy Trails, Shirley

    • You sound like me as a reader. I go through times when I’m in the mood for certain kinds of books. 🙂 I like a variety. I’ve been happy reading all heat levels, but it depends on the story. Some would have been much stronger if the intimate scenes were given because then the romance would be complete. “Lacking” is the perfect word to describe how I feel sometimes with the clean romances I’ve read. I’m also not a fan where the focus is on the sexual relationship. I’ve read some books where it seemed like all the characters thought about was sex. Those were lacking in a different way. They didn’t seem to have much emotional depth, and the romance came off as superficial. I was supposed to believe in the happy ending because the author said they loved each other. I think some authors confuse sex with love. The two aren’t always compatible. My goal has always been to find a happy medium between the two extremes. I’m just hoping I can be much stronger in that pursuit going forward. 🙂

      And Shirley, thank you! I appreciate your encouragement.

  2. Such words of wisdom! Everything you said made perfect sense. It’s so hard to write without passion, so I figure what’s the point. You eventually get burned out and stop writing at all. So I say go for the passion, and more people in that niche group will find you and love your books. I love all of them, regardless of genre.

    • I often wonder how long an author can keep going without passion. It seems like they can do it for quite a while, but common sense says that being boxed in like that can’t go on forever. We write books. That’s a creative pursuit. It’s different from doing a job where we work with our hands or plug in numbers. I could do some jobs in the past (fast food, data entry, etc) that I never burned out from, but they weren’t based on creating something. I wasn’t necessarily fulfilled at those jobs, but they were okay. Writing was the one job I had where I couldn’t wait to get out of bed.

      Even this morning, I was itching to get to the computer. I think writing for passion is what drives that kind of excitement. I haven’t had this level of excitement in a long time. But I’m learning that it has to be guarded, too. It’s too easy to slip back into the writing to market mindset. I’m going to have to stay away from the marketing advice that’s floating around out there. Every time I listen to it, I start to lose my passion. Maybe it’s because my attention goes from God to what people are saying. In the beginning, it was easy to focus on God. This morning, I heard someone talk about how they have set up a private monastery in their minds to get away from all the political upheaval in the country right now. I’m thinking the same idea can be applied to writing. When I remove myself from the marketing stuff, I feel much better and can focus on what God wants.

  3. I’ve found writing in a journal helpful for my anxiety. Maybe you might find it useful for your psychic mold.

    Also, the whole mold metaphor may have given me an idea for a story.

    • LOL If you write that mold story, I want to read it! (Of course, I want to read your other stuff, too, but I can see the mold metaphor having some neat spins to it.)

      Journaling is good. I do that from time to time but probably not as much as I should.

  4. Juli Hoffman says:

    Regardless of the direction you wind up in, I think the act of looking inside yourself and seeing what makes you happy (self-discovery) is probably a great start. I think we’re around the same age. It’s been brought to my attention (from ladies decades older than me) that it’s normal to reevaluate your life in your forties because you’re approaching the next half of your life. YAY!!!

    As a writer. your stories may also change to reflect this. I just finished reading a book by Viki King and she said she could guess the age of a writer, with fair accuracy, by the themes they wrote about. Isn’t that interesting? She listed the most common themes by age and gender and had me pegged pretty accurately. So if you’re writing for the market instead of following where you are emotionally in your life…yeah, I would think that would make you pretty miserable. You probably wouldn’t be writing the stories that are resonating with you.

    As you go through your struggle, I hope you are kind to yourself. You are a wonderful person. Look at all you’ve accomplished…so far! What does this next phase of your life look like? You don’t have to figure it out all at once. It’s all about the journey! Now might also be time to try something new, something that’s been niggling at the back at your mind that maybe you’ve been putting off or been afraid to try. I’ve been doing this and it’s opened me up to creative possibilities that weren’t on my radar 6 months ago.

    Lots of love and good luck to you!
    xo Juli

    • That’s very interesting. I never thought of how our age can influence our interests. That might explain why stuff I loved in my teens and twenties has been a huge letdown when I’ve recently gone back to them. It’s a sign that I’ve changed.

      I’m 43. I’ll be 44 next month. I hadn’t thought some of this could stem from a midlife point where we look at where we’ve been and where we want to go. That actually makes me feel better. And yes, I find it fascinating that certain themes tend to emerge according to age and gender. Was this in an article she wrote? I looked up her books on Amazon, but out of the three, I’m not sure where she would discuss that topic.

      My goal is that my future books will have more depth and meaning in them, with some being light and fun reads. I still like to laugh. 🙂 I just have to pull myself out of the “you’re not a successful author if you’re not making a six-figure income a year” mindset that is so prevalent in the indie world. I started out at a time when no one expected to make money if they published their own books. Back then, we were told, “The average self-published author won’t sell more than 200 books in their lifetime.” Times have changed. Now it’s the other way around. “You must make six-figures a year in order to be accepted. Otherwise, you’re not worth listening to.” Honestly, I had a lot easier time writing when I was told I would never sell more than 200 copies.

      I do like that authors can make money with their books. I just wish the respectability didn’t hinge on how much we earn. But I can’t change that. The best thing to do is to get back to the basics. I’m sure those basics are different for me now than they were when I started in 2007 with romance. I guess I’ll figure out where things will progress from here one day at a time. I wonder where I’ll be in 6 months. 🙂 It’ll be fun to find out! Thanks for the encouragement!

      • Juli Hoffman says:

        You are so welcome!

        So the book I referenced is “How to Write a Movie in 21 Days” by Viki King. I have no interest in movie writing, but it was an interesting book. Blake Snyder said Viki was HIS inspiration for his writing method in “Save the Cat.” Again, this is a different type of writing than what I’m interested in, but I learned more about plotting from this book than any other…so far. 😀

        If I find someone who inspires me, I like to check out who inspires THAT person and follow the trail for as far as it takes me.

        I’ve also been trying to stretch my reading muscles. I’ve been picking up books that I wouldn’t normally read, getting out of my genre comfort-zone. For example. I just finished listening to my very first “space opera” audio-book: Illuminea. Normally, I’d shy away from science fiction…but I LOVED this! I’m learning that maybe I don’t always know what books I’ll like until I try them.

        I think this is why I’ve been more open-minded about reading different types of writer/crafting books. Even though Vicki and Blake’s books were about writing for film, I read them with an open mind. What can they teach me? A LOT, actually!!! LOL

        I’m slightly older than you, just turned 44 in April. I’m telling you, all of my mentors who are decades older than me, say that from now…until about early to mid-fifties is a time of BIG changes. If we’re on track, this is our time to let go of the old and figure out where we’re headed. I think it helps to know that this is the NORM, so you don’t feel like your going crazy. LOL The “mid-life crisis” is kind-of true, but it certainly doesn’t HAVE to be a crisis. Once I began to embrace the changes, it’s been super-freeing! It’s almost as if I’ve outgrown some aspects of “younger me.” (Does that make sense?)

        Enjoy this new phase of your life! I think you’re on the right track, writing books that appeal to you and where you’re at in your life. You have to think, your readers are also growing older and may be going through changes as well. There are a few authors I follow on Goodreads, etc, but I no longer read their books. I loved their books years ago, but my tastes have changed with time…and these authors are still churning out the same stuff. Nothing wrong with that, but maybe I’m no longer the target audience.

        • What you said really struck a cord with me. Over the past year, I’ve reread and rewatched stuff I loved when I was in my teens and 20s. I have fond memories of those books and movies. But when I went back to reread them or rewatch them, I felt a huge disappointment that surprised me. Maybe this is common. I don’t enjoy the things I used to. I have found my interests changing. Maybe I should go back and reread or rewatch stuff I didn’t like in the past. Maybe I’ll enjoy them now.

          Outgrowing the younger person makes a lot of sense. It’ll be interesting to see where things are heading. 🙂

          Thanks for the mention on the book. I’ll check it out!

  5. Melanie W McRee says:

    I am an avid reader and a Christian. I have to admit i did not read everything in thes post, but i think i understand where you are coming from. I appreciate the love between your couples. I hate foul language, but do not mind sex within marriage. These two things are hard to find. God gave sex to married couples as a beautiful gift. Keep writing for God and be true to yourself.

    • I don’t blame you for not reading the whole post. I had originally planned for 1000 words and ended up with 2000. My mind was in ramble mode that day. 🙂 But it was good to clear everything out. I think best by writing things down.

      It sounds like you and I like the same thing. I agree wholeheartedly on the foul language issue. I don’t like reading it or hearing it. I narrow down a lot of what I read and watch because of it. I’ve always seen sex as beautiful when it’s within marriage. I remember reading a romance back in college from a wonderful author, and when the couple finally married, my first thought was, “Why didn’t she include the wedding night?” I was disappointed because during this 4-book series with the same people, she had built up this amazing relationship, and I felt that the wedding night would have added much more to the romance part of the book. It would have made a great story an excellent one. That book probably influenced the direction I ended up going a lot more than I realized.

      Thanks, Melanie! 🙂

  6. Shelley Chastagner says:

    Amazing…you are so on point. Look at all those wonderful, supportive comments as your ‘bleach’. There are so many people that love your work and care about you as a person. I’m so looking forward to seeing the direction you go in now.
    Hugs!

    • I feel very blessed to have so many wonderful people surrounding me. It is great bleach. I’m guessing that the growth will be slow as I move forward, but I’d like to write more books like the kind I did early on, only better because my writing has improved since then. 🙂

  7. dm yates says:

    First place, it’s easy to criticize but painstakingly difficult to write an entire book. But please don’t stop writing. I love your works. We, as authors, do fall into that dark abyss from time to time. Climbing out and writing again isn’t always easy. As for marketing, you’re right. It’s like throwing spaghetti at the wall.

    • Marketing is harder than a lot of people make it seem. I never had trouble coming up with story ideas, and I used to love writing. I used to sit down excited about where the story would take me next. I agree that crafting a story isn’t easy, but the enthusiasm used to be easy. Once I got it into my head that the goal of writing was to make money, things flipped upside down. Writing became a chore. It’s awful to say, but the goal of writing has a big impact on the writing process. I’m trying to train my brain to go back to writing for the sheer pleasure of getting the book finished. I thought it would be easy to do, but it’s harder than I expected. I’m having to fight through the money angle every day I sit at the computer. I’m sure it’ll get easier as time goes on. I’m hopeful that my best books are ahead of me. Thanks, DM!

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