Marion Lennox, recent inductee to the RWA Hall of Fame, is the author of 115 romance novels with many awards under her writing belt. Her keynote speech on the opening morning of the 2017 RWA conference discussed how to preserve the story telling magic over your lifetime. She gave us all a gum nut, for an analogy at the end of her talk. The following are my notes on her speech. I haven’t used quote marks as it’s not verbatim, and my note taking can be sporadic at times. This is my version what Marion Lennox had to say.
Having stories in your head is special. It is a gift beyond measure. We have only one crack at this thing called life, but through books we can have many. Readers get to travel the world as they read.
Marion showed us part of her royalty statement – one line with one book purchased in Iceland. Am I depressed reading this? No, because I see one woman picking up my book, heading home with hope for that story. She’s given me the gift of trust (that I will entertain her).
However, selling your magic is fraught. Life as a published writer is split between business and magic. Each part has to talk to each other without letting the business take the joy away.
How to protect your magic? How do you build a career that will hold up forever?
– Writing to sell a trend. This will destroy you and you won’t write well.
– Scorn from others. Don’t let strangers (and their poor opinions) have power over you.
– Word counts and deadlines. This is what you are paid for. It matters, but you must factor in holidays, drudge, and disaster. Make the word count your boss.
– Refrigerators are the work of the devil. (Note: this made people laugh, but confused me. I guess it means any distraction).
This comes from working hard and long hours. It is not the myth of writer’s block. Burnout is different.
– This is a risky profession. We work hard with no guarantees of income.
– The symptoms creep up without notice.
– Criticisms exacerbate it. Reading and reading negative comments is a bitter poison.
– Having the magic strike, but being too exhausted to trust it.
– The thought that all past magic was just luck
– Positive comments start to feel like lies.
Once you are here, get professional help. You need it so you can fight back.
You need to build a burnout firewall.
Make a list of five things that make you happy.
1. Nesting (writing in bed with warm feet)
2. Magic of characters appearing before me, dialogue.
3. The click of the keyboard.
4. Free writing with no constraints, often action with blood and gore.
5. Thinking about my reader. Conjuring up the image of someone reading my book.
The pleasure in your work needs constant reinforcement.
The gum nut exercise.
– Marion has a bowl on her desk of odd natural objects; seashells, gumnuts, stones, etc.
– When stuck, she picks one at random and rolls it in her hand, feels the texture.
– Think of the small things that make you happy.
– Pick one of those things (eg clicking of keyboard).
– Now do some free writing. A complaint letter is often good as it is cathartic. It will remind you of the love the word wrangling.
When a story sags, send in a man with a gun. Once when a book became boring, Marion killed everyone in a plane crash. The characters whined to each other all the way to their fiery death, and that untangled the book for her.
Happiness is finishing the book. It’s not winning awards. These are shards of triumph, but learning to enjoy every day is the great happiness in life.
Thank you, Marion.