I love romantic suspense. As in, it’s pretty much been the only thing I’ve been reading (aside from the occasional inspirational non-fiction) for the past five years straight. Yeah, I know exactly what you’re thinking (“Why would you limit yourself like that?” Right?), so the headline of this post probably isn’t surprising to a few of you.
I fully believe the best way to hone my craft and grow as a romantic suspense author is to read romantic suspense. And I was pretty happy with reading what I loved for the rest of forever.
Until I got burned out with reading so. much. romantic. suspense.
I have no shortage of reading material when it comes to RS. I’ve got shelves full and my Kindle is packed with unread titles. Only none of them caught my interest for more than a few pages. I had to take a break. Luckily, I’ve been buying Harlequin Presents books from the library for 10cents each when they’re getting rid of them, I’m on Maisey Yates’s book review crew (so I have a ton of her recently published titles), and I came home with a lot of books from the RWA conference in July. All paperbacks, which are taking up precious space on my minimalist shelves.
So it seemed I had motivation and resources to satisfy my craving for romance, yet keep a respectful distance from guns and danger, and make room on my shelves in the process. Win-win.
But something I didn’t expect happened, too.
I Started Writing with More Emotion
I’m one of those people who’ve been hurt so many times, by people who were supposed to care about me, that I’ve learned how to shut myself off from disappointment. I have deeply engrained trust issues, I take pride in solely relying on myself, and I no longer commit to others. Short story: I have trouble with expressing emotion. And that comes across in my books on occasion (this is why I have a critique partner).
Seems weird that I would choose to write romance then, the most emotionally satisfying genre in existence. Well, that’s because happily ever afters allow me to feel what I don’t let myself feel in the real world in a safe space. I can’t be hurt or disappointed by them, and for that reason, I’ll keep writing and reading them.
When it comes to contemporary romance, however, I’ll admit, I’ve steered clear for one simple reason: too much emotion. Contemporary romance authors are goddesses in my eyes. They are the rock stars of the genre because every book they write depends on getting those emotions across, making the reader feel. And that’s hard in and of itself.
With romantic suspense, I can tell you straight up writing action scenes are my favorite and most inspiring because I don’t have to focus on the emotions while the bullets are flying. Occasionally, yes, but overall, no. I can fake it until I make it in the emotion department, but it was a single line from Jennifer Probst’s Write Naked that made me think I could elevate myself more as an author if I only gave myself a chance.
With that advice in hand, I started reading all of the contemporary romance on my shelves while still drafting the project I just turned in at the beginning of the month.
Over the course of the rest of my draft, I:
- solved my heroine’s romantic conflict (I’d been struggling hard with that)
- established a deep, meaningful connection between my H/H since physical intimacy was off the table for them (they’re constantly followed by a six-year-old in this book)
- didn’t spend so much time on the non-action scenes as I usually do because I’d been so inspired by what I’d read over 10+ books
For the first time in a long time, I was able to slide into deep work for hours at a time and just feel. I laughed, I cried, I feared, and I cheered, and now it’s all right there on the page of my June 2020 release. And I just hope readers think so, too.
I Filled My Creative Well Faster
The entire draft of that same release fought me at every turn. From rewriting the first three chapters from beginning to end after my critique partner hated everything about them, to realizing I’d written my entire midpoint out of order, it was not a pretty process.
A lot of that came from pressure I’d bestowed upon myself to make this book the best I’d ever written and live up to my publisher’s expectations, but an even bigger problem was that I’d been working non-stop since the beginning of the year. I’d turned in the last book in my Blackhawk Security series one day and started writing the next Intrigue the day after because of a tight deadline + conference travel.
During this time, I was still reading romantic suspense, but the number one problem I have reading romantic suspense, is that I think about writing romantic suspense while I’m reading. I’ll read a few pages then immediately fall into writer guilt that I should be writing. Like I pointed out above, I was just plain burnt out from reading and writing romantic suspense.
So when I switched to reading contemporary romance it was like the dark clouds in my head cleared for the first time in years. It gave my brain the break it needed to simply enjoy reading, which I know sounds weird, but I think it’s because I really never see myself writing contemporary romance. I’m just not there in terms of headspace and my career, but I’ve really enjoyed reading them. I found I didn’t have to subconsciously analyze the pacing of the book I was reading, how many point of view scenes each character had, or if the antagonist’s identity was known or a mystery until the end. None of that mattered while I was reading these contemporary books, and I was able to recover and refill my creative well faster than before.
Helped Me Fall Back in Love with Romance Again
Reading and writing romance is my business. It makes up roughly forty hours of my week between drafting, researching, pitching, and marketing. My work is constantly on my mind, and between my job and my family, I don’t have a whole lot of room for much else. I see reading romance as a job, and for as long as I’ve been in this business, it’s been that way.
But taking a step into contemporary romance has helped me find my way back to those roots where I simply read for pleasure.
I can’t say the burnout from reading romantic suspense is 100% lifted. I need a serious vacation for that, but for the first time in a long time, I couldn’t stop reading the handful of books I’d chosen. During this process, I remembered:
- why I got into writing romance in the first place
- the rush of satisfaction at the end of each book
- how cleansing cathartic tears can be when your emotions are all tied up in your own work
- what it feels like to just slow down and enjoy a good book
I know like it doesn’t seem much, but this is coming from a person who hasn’t been able to feel much of anything in over a year because it’s just been one thing after another in my personal life. So I can’t describe how good it felt to finally let go of the reins and laugh, cry, and smile because of these stories. Something finally broke while I was reading these books, and I was able to unblock most of the sewage (Jennifer Probst’s words, not mine) that’s been building up and holding me back.
This gave me the freedom to finally understand what Jennifer meant by “Write Naked.” Originally I took that as taking risks and being true to who I am as a writer, which I’m great at. The emotional part? Not so much.
What I’ve come to learn by this experiment though was that, in order to make the reader feel what my characters are going through, I need to be able to work through my own emotional blockades and heal along with them. It’s an ongoing process, but one that has freed up a lot of pressure, guilt, depression, and anxiety, which I’ll happily keep working toward.
Contemporary Romance Wrap Up
Here’s a list of the contemporary romances I read:
- A Cinderella for the Greek by Julia James
- Good Time Cowboy by Maisey Yates
- Unwrapping His Convenient Fiancee
- Want Me, Cowboy by Maisey Yates
- A Deal with Alejandro by Maya Banks
- Hard Riding Cowboy by Maisey Yates
- A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
- The Desert King’s Secret Heir by Annie West
- One Night with Gael by Maya Blake
- A Diamond for Del Rio’s Housekeeper by Susan Stephens
- Married for the Sheikh’s Duty by Tara Pammi
What is the best contemporary romance you’ve ever read and what did you love about it?