I should be writing: Or, what I learned from infiltrating a romance novel workshop


Photo by David Klein on Unsplash

If I’m to be honest here, this is actually a workshop on how to kick-start your writing career. But it’s filled with romance and mystery novelists and hosted by a writer who makes her living by writing Christian romance novels. None of this is what I was expecting, but I am enthralled.

There are 43 of us sitting in this basement in a library in a suburb where I will never be able to afford to live. I estimate that I am the youngest by about 5 years, which isn’t as bad as I expected. But the room is primarily packed with post-menopausal women wearing beautiful matching jewelry while eating Panera lunches and I wonder what they do now and what they did when they were my age. Could they afford to live in this suburb back then? No matter – it is present day and we are all right here, right now, so circumstances don’t mean much.

This is a three-hour event: the first hour is lunch and networking, which is fun enough that I find myself disappointed when I learn that the dues to join this writer’s group are equivalent to three days wages for me. The last two hours consist of a presentation hosted by a 50-something writer who doesn’t want us to make the same career mistakes that she did. I am in love.

But before the presentation, one of the group leaders asks everyone to introduce themselves. In a room of 43 people, I happen to be the third in line to do this and it does not go well because I know nothing about this group or this workshop. It also doesn’t go well because I introduce myself as a poet, a knee-jerk reaction of mine leading to a knee-jerk cringe from the rest of the group. Suddenly, I don’t belong here. I am a spy.

I decide to take advantage of this voyeurism and observe, observe, observe. I observe the few white, graying husbands who shuffle in their chairs uncomfortably as the presenter discusses the nuances of selling erotica. I observe their wives, who are taking notes on everything.

The host is both traditionally published and self-published, and she refers to the latter as indie publishing and I don’t think that term means what she thinks it means but she is the published author and I am the young brat spy, so I take her word for it. She generates about $2,000/month from her self-published Christian romance novels. She emphasizes that these books have “very few shades of grey.” We all laugh.

I find myself smiling a lot during this presentation. I also find myself learning a lot about publishing and agents and what to do with your darling manuscripts that everyone but you seem to hate (answer: self-publish them after intense revisions). I think about the novel I’ve been “editing” since 2013. I think that maybe I could finish that book and put it on Amazon and someone who isn’t me may read it and like it.

But once we hit the last hour of the presentation, I find myself growing disillusioned. I’ve forgotten my role as a spy and am now filled with self-doubt: I don’t belong here, I’m a poet, and these folks write, like, 10,000 words per day.

The presenter says that she is contractually obligated to write 380,000 words this year, on top of outlining multiple novels and then editing them. I am in awe. I am also feeling sick. I get up to go to the bathroom and I do not return.

On my drive home, I think about my novel. For the past year, it has been listed on my website as “in revision hell” but if I’m honest, I haven’t touched the book in at least six months. Maybe I should.

Or maybe I’ll write a rambling piece about writing instead.

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