My new fantasy m/m romance Seducing the Sorcerer releases today (23 Sept), so to celebrate I’m blogging about how I wrote it and how I felt about writing it.
My topic was inspired by a recent flurry of indignation over on Twitter, when a big name author said something like ‘if you think writing is fun, your book probably isn’t very good’.
At the time I scrolled on by, but the sentiment—and the angry responses—stuck in my head.
There’s not a lot of nuance on Twitter (hollow laugh) so I have no idea what else that big name author might have said. But I have thoughts, because writing Seducing the Sorcerer was sometimes fun and sometimes very much not fun. And I suspect that’s true for most writers.
I started writing Seducing the Sorcerer for fun. I’d been struggling with a different book for over a year and it was going terribly. I abandoned that other book for a bit of good old-fashioned writer’s block. When I complained that writer’s block was definitely no fun, people advised me to write something ‘just for fun’. I tried and hated it. It wasn’t fun because, at the time, I’d lost my capacity for fun. But people kept suggesting it and I felt as if they might be onto something.
I started again with a different ‘fun’ project and that manuscript became Seducing the Sorcerer.
The writing process and associated mental state (fun vs not fun) went something like this:
- Formulate basic idea and characters = moments of perkiness followed by gloom. Glimmers of fun.
- Write chapter 1 = vague sense of ‘doing the right thing’ by getting words down. Like eating kale when everyone else is tucking into jam doughnuts. Dull, but fun may be on the horizon.
- Write chapter 2 = terrible. Stop writing. Realize, over a few weeks, that the whole book needs to be written from the point of view of just one main character. Freak out because I’m not sure I can make that work. Almost abandon project. Not fun.
- Rewrite chapter 2 from different point of view = better. Not quite fun, not unfun.
- Write chapters 3 and 4 = it feels good to be writing again but something’s not right. I’ve now been working on the book for four or five months, including the planning stage. Fun adjacent.
- Read over everything for the umpteenth time = realise it’s the tone that’s not right. It’s too flippant. It makes light of the characters’ struggles in the wrong way. It’s an aha! moment, which is fun, followed by a sinking feeling, which is less fun.
- Rewrite first four chapters in more serious tone = weary but calm. I’m doing the right thing. It’s like painting a wall with a very small paintbrush. Not exactly fun, but it’s satisfying seeing the new colour overlay the old.
- Write the rest of the book = the familiar emotional/creative cycle of ‘this is the best story ever and I’m happy because I’m writing it’ leads to ‘oh no, wait, what?’ leads to ‘this is the worst story ever and everyone’s going to hate it including me and somehow that also means I’m a bad person oh woe’ leads to ‘well, but this bit isn’t bad’ leads to ‘this is the best story ever…’ and so round and round. Bits of this are definitely fun. Some lines or ideas are just right and give me deep satisfaction or a moment of joy. Some days I lose myself and the characters say things and do things I wasn’t expecting. These are the best days. These days are why I write. Is this loss of self ‘fun’? Am I ‘enjoying myself’? To suggest so is missing the point, because at those moments I cease to matter. I am focused on the book. This is flow. It’s divine and empty and as close to magic as I can get. At the end of these days, I often have a beer to celebrate because it feels as if something worth celebrating has happened. I’ve fulfilled some deep potential. I’ve been totally myself and also transcended myself. I’ve used every bit of myself; every memory, every emotion, everything led up to that moment. Did I have fun? Well…I certainly want to repeat the experience. The word ‘fun’ feels a little reductive, but I was playing; playing with words, with emotional nuance, with what I wanted to say. And playing like this is fun. It’s serious and it’s also work, but it’s fun in the wider sense of the word.
- Edit everything, proof it, get beta feedback, rewrite, re-read, edit, re-read, edit, re-read, edit = see above but wearier, like decorating a cake at four in the morning. I want to be doing it. I know I’m nearly there. I know it’ll be worth it. But would I rather be in bed? Yes. Do I have moments where I want to chuck the whole thing and go to live under a log in the forest? Yes. I’m still pretending I might not publish it.
- Send book to editor = terrifying. What if she thinks it’s crap? She’s too professional to say so, but what if? Not fun. Then…suddenly fun! Because she thinks it works! She says nice things about it! There are no big development edits! Relief is fun. Working through her comments will make the story shine so it feels worthwhile. Very tired though.
- Rewrite, reread, edit, proof, reread, proof etc and ready book for sending to people to ask for blurb quotes = crises of confidence happen daily because people I admire may READ MY BOOK OH YE GODS AND LITTLE FISHES. Fun? Not a word I’d use about the day-to-day emotions. But on the other hand, I get to contact these people I admire and ask them if they would consider providing a blurb quote for my book. I know they might say no or be too busy etc, but I get to do that amazing thing.
- Receive blurb quotes = waves of relief. Floating about in a radiant glow. Maybe the book really is good? Better than fun.
- Admin, promo, all the business side of things, cover art, decisions about where to publish, when to publish, approaching reviewers, running giveaways etc = little jewels of fun embedded in a vast expanse of sackcloth. Reviewers are interested = fun! Readers say nice things = fun! Cover art turns out well = fun! A reviewer asks some great interview questions = fun! All the other stuff = not fun. But I can’t stop now.
- Publication day = too tired and nervous to call it fun but I’m drinking champagne and making pancakes for dinner. With lemon juice and brown sugar. Hoping sales will be good. Hoping reviews continue to be mostly positive. Looking forward to a rest.
- Three months from now, while waiting for a bus or chopping broccoli = the sudden realisation that I published another book and quite a lot of people enjoyed it. I overcame crippling moments of self-doubt, fear and plot holes. I could have given up but I didn’t. It’s like receiving a hug from an angel. I’d call that fun. Sublime, warm, fun. I did it.
So, was writing Seducing the Sorcerer fun? Yes. Also no. So, you people on Twitter, you’re both right. So there.
Ah, but is Seducing the Sorcerer any good? That’s a matter of opinion, but early reviews suggest it is, and some really awesome people gave me blurb quotes, so, yes, on the whole, I think I can say it’s a good romance novel, especially if you like fantasy stories about cynical middle-aged magicians falling in love. If you like stories containing sackcloth horses that eat eiderdowns, Seducing the Sorcerer has that too.
What do you think? Is writing something good ‘fun’? Or is it hard work? Or is it a bit of both?