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Guest Post

Writing From the Heart by Harmony Williams

HowToRuinYourReputationin10Days-500
One of the first pieces of advice that you ever get as a writer is to write the book of your heart. Forget about trends; forget about what has or hasn’t been done. Write the book you want to read.

In November, 2009, after reading regency romances by the dozen for years, I did just that. I poured my heart onto the page in a fun book that swept me away so much that I completed the first draft in only one week. After many revisions, that book eventually became How to Ruin Your Reputation in 10 Days, but it didn’t come easily.

Back in 2009, at age 19, I poised on the cusp of launching my publishing career. I followed every plot bunny to its conclusion and drowned in the number of manuscripts I finished as I learned through writing (not editing) how to become better at my craft. I wrote young adult novels, fantasy books, romance novellas. Short stories, books that were way too long, I did it all. And then, as I slowly got around to editing these projects, I slowly put them on submission.

I tried publishing in young adult, as I was still on the far end of that age bracket. At that time I didn’t know how to market, let alone how to reach my audience. The book flopped. I signed another YA with a publishing company that turned out to be a scam. I made a lot of rookie mistakes, I learned from them, and I tried again.

I published in erotic romance with a lot more success. Not enough to quit my day job, but enough to encourage me. But life has its ups and downs, and during one of the lows I got too discouraged. It was compounded by a person whose opinion I trusted telling me over and over again that I didn’t have it in me to succeed in publishing. That I couldn’t even handle the stress of writing. Over and over again, until eventually, I believed it. And I quit.

I couldn’t quit writing—that I did in secret—but I quit publishing. I compiled all of my works in progress into a zipped folder titled Burn, Baby, Burn. After I emailed that file to myself because I am obsessive about backing up my projects, I deleted it from my hard drive. I wrote by hand, if at all. For over a year, I didn’t finish a project. I sank into a deep depression.

Until I purged that negative influence from my life and started the healing process. It was slow, but writing was a part of it. I decided to go back to my roots, to the very first books that made me fall in love with writing. I wrote fantasy and tried to deny anything in my imagination that was remotely romantic.

I tried publishing in fantasy, but never could make any traction. Maybe because I was fighting myself every inch of the way, taking out romantic subplots that wanted to be there and making myself miserable because I didn’t believe in happily ever after anymore, not even in books. Over time, I healed. I learned and I grew and I accepted and loved myself. Most importantly, I realized that those horrible things pounded into my head by the person I trusted were not true. They were his way of diminishing me, making me reliant on him. I might not be the heroine of my own romance novel, but I could damn well act like one.

I fell in love with romance for a reason. Yes, sex sells, but that wasn’t the reason I went from young adult to erotic romance. I made the switch because I was growing up and learning things about myself. Things that romance novels taught me. Things such as the importance of being yourself and asking for what you want and not giving up hope. Romance novels are incredibly empowering books. They taught me how to be strong.

So, long after my symbolic burning of manuscripts, I started to turn back to romance novels again. I started reading books that uplifted me and gave me hope. I fell in love with fictional characters when I was afraid that I didn’t have the capacity in me to love at all. And the more I read, the more I was reminded of my dream of becoming a published author, of living off my writing.

I started looking for submission opportunities. Wish lists or submission calls that my finished novels might fit. I found a pitch opportunity and pitched my very first regency romance, retitled from that first messy title into something succinct. The book was still in its raw second draft, not ready to be submitted as is, but the pitch allowed for five days for the requested manuscript to be turned in. I can edit a book in five days, right?

Wrong. When the book was requested in full, I was over the moon. I was also under an incredible amount of pressure to take my diamond in the rough and give it the polish it so desperately needed. The problem was, as I started editing, I realized that the book was not at all the way I wanted it to be. Francine wanted to tell her story in first person, not in third.

Those five days ended in a thirty-hour slog, during which I wrote 30,705 words. It is, to date, the most words I have ever written in a consecutive writing session. I was dead on my feet when I sent it in a half an hour before deadline. My laptop was flickering on its last legs, the screen winking in and out of life on me. That book was the last book I ever wrote on that laptop. Despite the large strain on my bank account due to having to replace that vital piece of equipment in a writer’s arsenal, I don’t regret it.

Don’t get me wrong, that hastily put together book was rejected. Despite the change in point of view, it had all the same flaws of the first and second drafts, weak motivations and cardboard characters. However, changing the point of view, rewriting that regency novel from start to end, was probably the single best decision I ever made in my life. For one thing, I doubt I’ll ever write 30,000 words in one day again so How to Ruin Your Reputation in 10 Days will forever have that claim to fame. For another, it made be fall in love with writing romance again.

Rewriting that book felt like coming home. I love Francine. Despite the fact that I am neither short nor freckled, I have always identified strongly with the intelligent, bookish, shy wallflower that she is. As I rewrote her book in first person, almost five years since I’d first written it, I finally felt as though I found my style in her flippant, sassy point of view. She was funny and engaging and despite the fact that the book had a lot of work, the editor who requested the book saw the potential in my voice, too. She passed on Francine, but gave an invaluable critique and invited me to submit to her again in the future. Between rewriting Francine and the encouragement I received from the editor who rejected her, I started to truly and fundamentally believe that I could do this. I could make my dreams come true.

So, using that feedback, I rewrote the book. I lengthened it, added depth to the characters, changed it to a friends-to-lovers romance because I can’t get enough of those. I gave the heroine a brainy passion to follow, much like my passion for history and literature has driven me. I submitted it to Entangled Publishing.

I was asked to revise and try again. You might think this is the same as a rejection, but in actuality, it is a far greater win. I set out to rewrite Francine. I tore the book apart, reorganized the scenes, put it back together, and polished. When my editor expressed an interest in reading (and publishing) a story about Francine’s married friend Rose first, I wrote that, too. Francine was made stronger for the suggestions. When I submitted that book again, when it was accepted to be published, I promised myself that I would seek out a happily-ever-after again through all my books. It marked such a promising new beginning for me that I tattooed Francine onto my body in a minimalist style I created. She means that much to me.

BookofmyHeart_tattoo

How to Ruin Your Reputation in 10 Days has always been my happy book. It’s a book I can count on to make me smile, to take away my troubles. Her revisions didn’t end with the acceptance—because I’ve started so many more projects than I’ve finished, my endings are always a bit weak. I’m learning, but it still takes me two or three tries to get it right.

With the amount of scenes I’ve deleted or rewritten in each of the many revisions this book has undergone, I could probably put together another book. Because this book means so much more to me than past books, a true book of my heart, I felt every single change acutely. I bawled. I railed. I thought about calling off the whole thing, but that day I was sent the mockup for the cover and I fell in love all over again. Nothing said Francine to me like seeing that cover. So I swallowed my pride and listened to my editor.

I made changes and doubted myself. I wondered if in taking my editor’s advice I’d veered wildly off course in telling Francine’s tale. Part of me cringed at the thought of presenting this to the public. And then something miraculous happened—I read the book from top to bottom during the galley edits. And I loved it.

If you read my first draft or even my fifth, you probably wouldn’t recognize How to Ruin Your Reputation in 10 Days. Francine has gone through different trials, come out of them in different ways. I am incredibly lucky to work with such a brilliant editorial team for opening my eyes to flaws in my book-of-the-heart that I simply didn’t want to acknowledge existed. Francine’s journey is so much better now, despite the tears spent in making her that way. She has quirky best friends, learns to stand up for herself, and finds herself a hero who is not only her best friend in the world but also funny and unwavering in his support. That girl has it all, even if the journey to the happy ending is a rocky one.

Francine and I have gone through a lot together. We’re not the malleable, bright-eyed young heroines we were to begin with. We’ve gone through hardships, we’ve laughed and cried, and in the end, we are stronger for it. How to Ruin Your Reputation in 10 Days is now available for purchase at all major online retailers and I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to be able to say that.

The book of my heart is finally published. I accomplished my dream.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

Harmony Williams is a small-town girl with sky-high dreams. When not writing, you can find her spending time with her 100-lb lapdog, practicing her swordplay with her local branch of the SCA, or playing D&D with friends. She loves to chat about books and all things geeky, so don’t be afraid to reach out to her on social media. Find all her links at her website.


HowToRuinYourReputationin10Days-500ABOUT THE BOOK 

In 1814 London, England, a lady is defined as a demure, delicate flower. Miss Francine Annesley is not that lady. If men were like plants, she would have a garden of admirers to choose from instead of the thorn in her side since childhood, Julian Beckwith. But she would make an even worse nun than she does a lady, which will be her fate if she can’t dig up a husband before the Season ends. However, Julian is not an option.

With only ten short days left in the Season, Francine doesn’t have time to waste on petty squabbles or knee-weakening kisses, even if Julian’s offer to fulfill her every wish rouses her curiosity. It seems men are more complicated than plants. Too bad love bloomed at the most inconvenient of times…

Sisters in Love Melissa Foster

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