I want to be a romance author when I grow up.
As y’all know
, I’ve wanted to be an author since I was in eighth grade, and I’ve wanted to write romance since I was old enough to say the word sex
without hiding behind my hand in a fit of giggles.
When I decided to pursue my master’s degree in writing, it wasn’t even a question that I’d focus my craft on romance. That is, until I actually got to grad school and realized the stigma that surrounds my beloved genre.
Romance wasn’t even talked about too much, unless we were discussing what not to do. If it was brought up at all, it wasn’t a serious discussion. I regularly felt personally insulted anytime this happened. What made it worse was that the people knocking it hardly read romance, if at all, let alone understood what a real challenge it is to write it.
I was the only aspiring romance author.
I was alone on an island of happily ever afters.
I was embarrassed and ashamed to admit my love of romance to a group of people who didn’t see it my way – who didn’t get it the way I did. I thought I was wrong, that there was something wrong with me for liking it.
So I fought it. Halfway through my first semester, I stopped telling people what my favorite genre is. For workshops, I focused more on literary fiction because that’s what was popular among my audience, and well, it’s important to “know your audience.” I of all people, after having taught composition and rhetoric, know the significance of this.
So I wrote for the people.
And it didn’t go well, because my heart wasn’t in it. Instead, my heart was in the pieces I saved and hid on my laptop, the ones that held my love stories with all the excitement of meet cutes and sizzle of first times.
I kept those for myself, embarrassed that my classmates and professors wouldn’t take me seriously as a writer – and as a person – if they knew. That their perception of my intelligence would be negatively affected because I liked to write about love.
The turning point was when it was time to decide what my thesis project would be. I immediately declared I’d do an editing project to prepare myself for a career in editing.
But that’s not what I really wanted. I only said that to seem sophisticated and well read. I veered from my original plan because of my audience. Because I was ashamed to admit that I wanted to write a romance for my master’s thesis.
Although I was met with some distaste for romance, there were a few people who were supportive. The couple of friends I did make convinced me to do what I loved because in the long run, that’s all that mattered. In the end, I’m the one who decides my future. In the end, I’m the only one to benefit or lose from it.
That’s when I decided to hell with academia, I’m writing romance!
I had a renewed sense of purpose and joy after months of wearing a mask. But while I was thrilled to have taken off this mask, to finally be able to breathe, I did have several setbacks in the process.
Like with my professor when I asked him to be my thesis director. He actually laughed and made sure I wasn’t planning the next Fifty Shades of Grey.
What I’d feared up until this point was coming true – this professor laughed at me. I could only imagine what the others thought of me.
Nonetheless, I held my chin high and assured him that wasn’t what I had in mind, not because I was embarrassed, but because I had a different idea. I wanted to write a New Adult romance that was sweet and sexy about two average people in a small town setting. Basically the opposite of anything with an elaborate red room and private helicopter.
There were other setbacks as well, as this type of thing appeared around every corner. Many eye rolls and laughter. One day a classmate asked to read my thesis and offered her assistance to give me feedback. But as quickly as she said that, before I could tell her how much I appreciated her help, she also said that reading trashy romance was her guilty pleasure, so she’d be happy to read mine.
I cried over her comment later that night. I’m embarrassed now to admit it, but I did in fact cry over it.
Mostly because it was what I knew everyone else was thinking, and it validated the way I felt for the whole year before that – that I didn’t belong in grad school. That I should be ashamed that I wasn’t writing about important things like everyone else was. That I wasn’t as clever, good, or smart as them.
But I again talked (blubbered) to my two friends about this, and again, they talked me down and showed me the light at the end of the tunnel, which in my case, was a ripped bodice.
I like writing romance. Period.
No, not everyone likes writing or reading it. People can say it’s trashy, anti-feminist, smut, whatever, all they want – it doesn’t change the fact that it’s also hopeful, entertaining, insightful, raw, honest, and so many other beautiful things.
I won’t appeal to everyone with my romance novels. But all I can do is write what makes me happy. I write it for myself, no matter what people think that says about me as a person or my intelligence, because romance is what gives me joy. My heart is in it, and the ones who pick up my romance novel some day will see and appreciate that.
So I say once again: I want to be a romance author when I grow up.
And I am not ashamed.
Just as you shouldn’t be ashamed to do whatever it is you want to do. Be brave and keep after it, no matter what others say or think about you. In the end, none of it is worth changing your life or yourself over. In the end, what gives you joy isn’t something to be ashamed of – it’s something to celebrate.
Because that’s the thing about being ashamed – it keeps us from living our own happily ever after.