Sorry for the delay people. Lost my internet connection! This week’s guest poster is the lovely Jayne Denker, author of several romcoms and already onto her seventh… (paint me jealous!) However she has found time to contribute to this blog! Enjoy 🙂
I’m supposed to be writing.
My next romcom, my seventh, is all mapped out in my head. Why am I not writing it? Well, life sort of got in the way recently, as it tends to do. And then the holidays came along, which always make the “real-life lag” ten times worse.
Okay, you know what? I’m procrastinating. I admit it. Even though writers learn how to write despite grappling with random obstacles thrown in their path, and whining about not having time is not allowed, sometimes we need time to decompress, so here I am, telling my next novel idea to shush, that I’ll get to it in a little while. I only feel a little guilty about it.
To assuage the guilt, I decided to get in a little reading. It’s part of the process, after all—reading other people’s work is a learning experience, like attending a symposium on other people’s writing techniques.
Normally I choose to read other romcoms to keep up with what’s new in the biz and because I like the genre (of course). But none of the books on my cliché of a to-be-read pile teetering on my nightstand was a romcom. Well, not reading romcoms could be a good palate cleanser, I reasoned.
I worked my way through a couple of standard novels, then unearthed a rather large hardcover: the diaries of actor and writer Michael Palin, volume 2. I’d read his first instalment, The Python Years (1969–1979), ages ago.
A huge fan of his comedy troupe, Monty Python, I’d enjoyed it and now couldn’t figure out why I never got to this second volume, Halfway to Hollywood (1980–1988), as well as the third book, Traveling to Work (1988–1998), which was also sitting there, all dusty and neglected. Why not dive in?
Although it felt like a major departure from my usual romcoms—shorthand diary entries detailing business meetings, trips all over the world, and movie shoots, among other things, I really got sucked in.
I’d forgotten that in addition to acting (Monty Python’s Flying Circus, A Fish Called Wanda, Brazil) and hosting TV documentaries (Around the World in 80 Days, Pole to Pole) and writing screenplays, Palin also wrote books and stage plays.
When he fretted about getting those ideas off the ground, I wanted to hate him. I mean, what’s the problem? If you’re Palin-caliber famous, you call up some famous friends, have a few lunches, go to some black-tie affairs, and Python’s your uncle, right? Wrong. So wrong.
Yes, there were famous friends (hobnobbing with George Harrison, Princess Diana, and Peter Cook? pardon me!), black-tie affairs, and business lunches (so many lunches—honestly, the guy should weigh 300 lbs.), but when Palin was faced with a writing project, he sounded alarmingly familiar.
He ruminated, he procrastinated (not that I would know anything about that—ahem), he doubted. He even panicked.
I was particularly amused at the juxtaposition of two diary entries from volume 3, regarding the novel he was writing:
“Friday, August 19: A very clear idea of the potential of the characters and the course of the story comes to me. Almost feel I could go ahead and write the whole thing [novel] in a fortnight.
“Tuesday, August 30: Cannot think how to go forward. Feel that what’s gone before is just a whole bunch of words. Why would anyone want to put this inside book covers? I pace the room desperately. Sometimes on the verge of tears. There seems not only no way forward, but no reason for going forward.”
Brother from a British mother! That sounded really familiar. Reading that was hilarious, and comforting as well.
Here was a super-famous guy who should have been comfortable and confident in his abilities, yet he was still worrying that his characters weren’t fully fleshed out, his ending was lame, and/or his jokes weren’t landing.
Even though he was at the top of his game, he was still having trouble putting out a quality piece of work—sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing (with the bad reviews to prove it).
It was an excellent reminder that occasional failure is universal, insecurity doubly so (especially for authors).
Evidently, this overwhelming fear that we’re churning out a supreme bit of garbage never really goes away.
No matter how much success we meet with, we have to dig in and treat each project as though it’s a make-or-break piece of work. And even if we do, that doesn’t mean that each book is going to be a massive hit.
Palin’s diary entries showed that doesn’t even happen when you become a household name.
Even the most successful writers face the same challenge the rest of us do: to do good work—good enough that readers connect with it and find value in it—in the face of that insecurity, and when one project fails, the next one could succeed beyond our wildest dreams.
Guess I’d better get started on novel number 7. Just in case.
Jayne Denker divides her time between working hard to bring the funny in her romantic comedies and raising a young son who’s way too clever for his own good.
She lives in a small village in western New York that is in no way, shape, or form related to the small village that’s the setting for her Marsden novels, Down on Love, Picture This, and Lucky for You.
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Big thanks to Jayne for the guest post, was interesting to read that Michael Palin feels that way with his own writing. It’s kinda nice to know all us writers feel the same. Makes us not quite alone.
Do make sure you visit Jayne’s social media pages and check out her novels!
Happy writing people!
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NB: Picture supplied by the author