Sunday, January 30, 2011

Do you remember your first time?

I was about eighteen years old. I don’t even remember much about it, except it was kind of disappointing. And it didn’t last long.

If I try to think back – it was so long ago – I seem to recall it was about a journalist who flies down to Plettenberg Bay to interview a reclusive hero. I’m pretty sure he drove a white Porsche 911 – this was the late 80s after all. Pastel fashions abounded, as did lashings of glamour. There may have been a dodgy choice of the word Moonlight in the title. I do remember I didn’t get past the first few chapters, before I abandoned the love affair.

But that was my first time trying to be a romance author. After that, my sister bought me a whole stack of romance novels and I started to read a lot more – probably the best advice to a new writer is to read, read, read. I waited a couple of years before I started a new romance. This one still had the dodgy title – Valley of the Sun – and the plot was something straight out of a soapie. Think Egoli meets Bold and Beautiful set in Sun City. It was predictable, filled with clichéd characters and over-written. Of course, at the time, I thought it was perfectly charming and was horrified that the editors at Mills and Boon didn’t like it.

After I recovered from the bleak despair of rejection, I did start to write again and I worked hard on improving my craft. (Another good piece of advice – just keep writing!). I tried my hand at romantic-suspense, at erotica, at mainstream storylines. The bug had bit. I was very much in love with romance.

At least, I was in love with the idea of a being a romance writer. What I’ve learned – sometimes not without pain and exhaustion – is that writing is hard work. It requires self-discipline, self-belief, and perseverance and, more than that, it requires a bum on a chair and words on a page. And, as we all know, that’s easier said than done.

My point is – I knew I had one somewhere – is that we always tend to idealise our first love affairs with writing. We remember it with a glow of nostalgia and a tender compassion for our naiveté. How foolish, how brave and how hopeful we were.
Sometimes, for me, that first dream, that feverish wish to be full time writer - published, secure, living in a castle in Spain – seems so far off and elusive. Writing feels dry and pointless. Writing doesn’t even feel like work, but a kind of self-punishment. And it shouldn’t. We should try as we move into the New Year, to reconnect with that dream again. Let’s be brave again. Let’s be foolish. Why the hell not?

If we don’t believe in ourselves, let’s believe in love. Let’s believe in love stories. And let’s write them.

This love affair ignited in me a love for romance writing. I discovered the love poems of Pablo Neruda, the joy of Wuthering Heights and every alpha hero that followed Heathcliff. I found out that one of my favourite movies is the heavenly A Walk in the Clouds. I watched Twilight again the other day and marvelled at what a clear, vivid love story it really is. I still sleep with a stack of Mills and Boon books next to my bed.

I hope we all can find the first spark of love again for our writing. And I hope we all find our forevers, our happily-ever-afters, ours dreams. We just need to look inside us for that first, heart-stopping moment we believed this was a love affair worth chasing.

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