By CAT JOHNSON
My writing career had a less than illustrious beginning. At least, I’m sure the true creative types, those authors who live by the muse, would think so. Over twenty years ago, I started out in the write-for-hire world of YA series. The publisher and/or packaging house gave me the series bible (setting, characters and key events already written by other authors), then they handed me a one or two paragraph synopsis of what they wanted to happen in the book I was to write, a deadline, and a check. Then it was off to write. I did this for twelve books total as part of 3 different YA series for 3 different publishers over the span of a few years before the packager closed its doors and the series I was working on directly for Western Publishing wrapped up.
It may seem like drudgery but really it’s not as restrictive as it sounds. Yes, they created the characters and the world and even the general idea for the storyline in my books, but every word, every scene, every line of dialogue in those 120 pages (this was back before YA books were epic length) was mine.
I wouldn’t change a thing about how my career started. Why? Because it trained me well. It made me a professional writer. I can be handed just the bare husk of an idea, a word count and a deadline, and run with it. It’s happened time and time again. Sometimes this ability has put me in a bit of a time crunch, such as when I agreed to write a 50K story for publication the next month so we could get it out in time for the holiday. Other times it has made me more marketable in the industry because when my editor says something like, “I’d love to see this kind of story from you,” I know I can say with confidence, “No problem. When do you need it?”
I’m not saying I don’t get writer’s block. I do, and when that happens it’s because there is something wrong with my plotting, or story arc, or the direction I started to take the initial idea to begin with. I’m also not saying there aren’t “muses” in my life. There are, just not the ethereal, mystical kind. My muses end up being real live people (career military, or professional cowboys, etc) who give me ideas for stories. But every second is a new opportunity to be inspired with an idea, whether it be from a song, or a title, or a news broadcast, or a quote, or an email. But I can’t wait around for some muse on high to swoop down and inspire me. Readers want more stories to read. Publishers want more to sell. I want to give that to them.
I count myself as one of the lucky ones who not only loves what they do, but actually gets paid to do it. Being a working writer is work, and damn hard work at that, yet I still wouldn’t have it any other way. Last week while I was away at a lake house with friends, someone put out the question to the group, “If you could do anything you wanted for a living, anything at all, what would you do?” I angered the asker who was obviously looking for a more creative answer by saying with complete honesty, “I’d write.”
CAT JOHNSON writes contemporary romance in genres including western, military, romantic comedy, and multiple partner. She is known for her creative research and marketing techniques. Consequently some of her closest friends and book consultants wear combat or cowboy boots for a living and she owns an entire collection of camouflage and western footwear for book signings. She’s also sponsored real live, pro bull riding cowboys. Cat has published both full-length novels and shorter romances. She is currently contracted with Kensington and Samhain Publishing, and also has works released through various small presses.
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