A Romance Writer’s Work is Never Done: RWA Conference 2014


(*A reposting of a blog I wrote for Women and Words earlier this month.) 

“We are all fools in love.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

When I was twelve years old, I started reading romance novels. I was the youngest of three girls and my oldest sister had a collection of them along the shelf behind her bed. I knew my parents weren’t likely to allow me to read the rather mature themed books at my age, so I didn’t ask – and instead helped myself. Back then, it was usually Danielle Steele, Nora Roberts or Judith McNaught who whisked me away to other worlds and times and places and made me wonder what it would be like to fall madly in love and find my own happily ever after. I would lose myself for hours in the angst, the emotion, and the passion those books brought forth, and never once felt the passing of time. Nowadays, it’s just as likely to be KG MacGregor, Radclyffe, Lynn Galli, or Georgia Beers doing the whisking. Shrug. Romance is romance.

So when I decided to become a writer, it was a no brainer that my genre of choice would be romance. For me, there’s nothing better than two people who should not be together, finding their way to each other anyway. Love conquering all. It makes me all tingly and happy and optimistic about life. No other genre can make me feel quite as much or affect me in such a memorable way.

And while I have a passion for storytelling, I’m the first one to admit that I’m still fairly new to this whole writing thing and am always looking for an opportunity to learn and enhance my craft. I want to be good at this. I want to be the best romance writer I can be! In fact, no matter how many books I write, I don’t think I’ll ever stop seeking out those shots at enrichment. Because if I know one thing about writing, it’s that there will always be more to learn.

I had one such opportunity two weeks ago at The Romance Writer’s of America Conference. The RWA is a national organization dedicated to advancing the interests of career-focused romance writers. Well, that’s me, I thought and signed myself up!

Okay, let’s backtrack a bit. I’d had this particular conference on my radar for several years now, but the dates and the cities didn’t always match up with my life. I pulled up the website a few months back to see if this year’s location just might be in NYC, where I’d already planned a vacation. Maybe the two could coincide if I played my cards right. But the news was even better. The 2014 conference was being held in San Antonio, my very own hometown. Score!

Once the workshop schedule was posted online, I became super excited and overwhelmed by how many of the sessions interested and applied directly to me and what I write. Cartwheel!

It was clear I was going to have to make some tough choices on what to attend. They had the conference divided into the following tracks: Career, Chat, Craft, Industry, Marketing, Publisher Spotlights, Research, Self Publishing, Special Topics and Writer’s Life. (If you’re interested, take a look at the individual workshops by clicking on each track here: http://www.rwa.org/p/cm/ld/fid=1052) In the end, I found myself mixing and matching from the different tracks to get a varied sampling of what the conference had to offer.


I was not disappointed.

Over the course of the three-day event, I found myself floored at the amount of valuable information I’d taken in beginning at the very first workshop, Writing Better, Writing Faster and continuing all the way until the last, Understanding Your Contract. I can honestly say that they were the most valuable three days I’ve spent in my publishing career thus far. And to top it off, I got to have a fantastic lunch out with Radclyffe and Sandy Lowe from Bold Strokes Books, who were also in attendance. Lunch with my publisher and a productive workday? Unbeatable.

I’ve talked to many colleagues of mine in lesbian fiction who feel that maybe the RWA is not the place for us. But I have to politely disagree. It’s the perfect place for us. Not only does it afford all writers (that’s us!) the chance to become better at what we do, but it also raises awareness about our genre under the larger romance umbrella. I can’t tell you how interested these women were in hearing about what it is that I write. I was welcomed and encouraged. But the best part? I’ve never felt so excited to get home and write. Sarah MacLean’s workshop Mastering the Art of Great Conflict had me jotting new and very specific plot ideas for my current work in progress all through the session. And when it was over, I raced into the lobby with my laptop to make it all happen.


Long story short, attending the RWA conference was one of the best writing decisions I’ve ever made and I can’t recommend it to my writer friends enough. And it’s in NYC next year! Writing with a side of theatre? A winning combo.

I’ll leave you with a few helpful tricks I picked up at the conference:

  • Don’t shy away from writing faster. It can actually engage your subconscious in a way that a slower pace cannot. By writing fast, you open up a whole new channel of creativity. Give it a shot!
  • Not everyone is going to like what you write. You have to be peaceful with that. Develop a thick skin and worry about the words, not the world.
  • When writing a romance, you should stop yourself often and ask the question, “Why can’t these two be together RIGHT NOW?” And if it’s an easy fix, you’re missing the insurmountable odds that make the story breathless.
  • If a character walks into a book, they better have a reason for being there.
  • When working with exposition, remember that the reader does not have to know everything the author knows about backstory. Less is more.
  • Never stop your writing day at the end of a scene. You’ll just set yourself up for a difficult starting point the following day. Leaving off in the middle of the action lets you hop back into it seamlessly.
  • Don’t use self talk. For example, “I’m a slow writer,” or “I only write well in the morning.” You’re just boxing yourself in and psyching yourself out. Instead, do the opposite. Challenge yourself. Write 500 more words in a sitting than you’re comfortable with. You’ll be shocked at how well you’ll adjust when you open your mind.
  • Last but not least, Hemingway once told us to “write drunk, edit sober.” (You’re welcome for that little reminder).

Now get to writing, everybody! And maybe I’ll see you at next year’s RWA conference. Buy me a drink? Or maybe I’ll buy you one.


One Comment


Hi Melissa,

Big fan of your work! You’ve inspired me to give my own writing more focus and time. So these tips come at the perfect time. I like the one about not stopping at the end of a scene or chapter, but instead doing so in the middle of the action. Makes perfect sense. And I especially like the Hemingway quote. Words to live by. 😉 Cheers!


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