J is for Judgement – Romance Writing from A to Z
Personally, it took me a long time to come out of the romance writing closet. First I was a teenager, embarrassed to say that I read real books for fear of being labelled a nerd. Then I was too shy to reveal that I loved to read fantasy, and it took until my adult years to peel back the layers of analysis and figure out what it was exactly about those fantasy books that I loved the most. It was the ones with a romance thread in them. It was a real eureka moment for me: I like romance. I love reading it. I love writing it.
There I said it.
I LOVE ROMANCE!
What’s so bad about that? Why can’t we just admit it, we all love romance!
This question bothers me all the time. First, it was myself who was ashamed as a teenager. Now, to this day, I still get the offhand snide comments about ‘mummy porn’ and ‘joining a cult’ that play into this insecurity, and I’m not alone in this feeling. Many writers feel ashamed, or somehow not worthy of their writing. We’re not shy talking about it to each other, but often, especially when we’re new to writing romance, we can feel a little hesitant to admit it to the world.
So what is romance?
As Kat Mayo said in her article for The Drum on ABC, “The modern romance genre only requires one thing: that by the end of the book, the main characters are together and in love (with each other, of course).”
Romance is the central focus for countless stories dating back thousands of years. When you think about our brains being wired for story, and how romance is the most popular modern reason for writing said stories, then it should be logical to think that romance is what makes the world go round. It’s beautiful when men write their love songs, or brave when John Wayne stars in his movie, or exciting when the latest superhero flick , Love is the central focus for thousands of songs. There’s even romance in video games. So why do we get a bad rap for writing about happily ever afters?
Why do we feel judged?
Many people, not just romance writers, feel something called the ‘imposter syndrome’. This is when you don’t feel like you deserve to be a writer, that even though you put out amazing continuous efforts in the field, you’ll always come back to self-sabotaging thoughts like ‘I’m a fraud’, or ‘someday somebody is going to figure out that I don’t really know what I’m doing.’ Tina Fey is a famous writer who still feels this fear all the time. It’s not just reserved for those of us who are starting out.
“Ah, the impostor syndrome!? The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania, and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh god, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud. Seriously, I’ve just realized that almost everyone is a fraud, so I try not to feel too bad about it.” TINA FEY—The Independent, March 2010
So, coupled with the imposter syndrome, romance writers often feel the need to defend the genre as well. I find this extremely HARD! I asked some of my fellow romance writers how they deal with prejudice to their chosen genre.
Many agreed that a lot of this feeling can be in our own heads, but to having some ready to go replies to derogatory comments (which inevitably rear their heads at some point in your career) is a good way to handle your emotions in these situations.
Elizabeth Ellen Carter said “that almost every John Wayne film is a romance.” But, if she’s talking to more of an intellectual then, “I tell them I’m carrying on a tradition of literature that goes as far back as time itself and more specifically romance of the chivalric tradition. Then I follow up with mentions of Beowulf, Arthurian legends and Ivanhoe.”
I love this approach Elizabeth.
Finding your own automatic response for when you feel judged is a good way to prepare yourself for the array of emotions that take over in these situations. I’m not sure what mine is yet, but the more I talk about it, the more I don’t feel I need to justify my genre choices any more.
One last thing: if women are getting a bad rap for writing romance, you can imagine being a man and wanting to come out of the romance writing closet! All I can say, is that if this is you, I highly recommend you join a group such as the Romance Writers of Australia, or a similar organisation in your country.
So, if you enjoy reading or writing romance, hold onto that feeling and acknowledge it. Because in my experience, finding something that brings you joy in this chaotic world is rare and should be held onto with two hands. And then once you’re comfortable with that realisation, then be proud. Most derogatory comments come from ignorance and the minute you point it out, most people are humbled. And if they’re not, no great loss there.