How do you write a book? Write what you know.
Unless of course you’d rather write about something you don’t know anything about.
The summer after my sophomore year of college, I wrote my second book. The first book I’d ever written lies deep within my computer’s archives and will never see the light of day. A fantasy with a terrible heroine’s name, it’s just awful.
But that second book? That was my first attempt at writing the genre I love to read: historical romance.
From the beginning, I knew something was different about that second book. It flowed better, and I wrote it more easily. I didn’t say it was easy, though. After all, I was most certainly not writing what I know.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
I was learning to write a romance novel while still very much a single woman.
Yes, I wrote my first romance novel while I was still single. Never-been-kissed, never-dated-on-purpose single. And you can, too.
Single? No problem! You can write a romance novel.
If you also love the romantic fiction genre like I do, doubtless you’ve enjoyed any number of medieval romance novels like mine, western romance novels where the hero (or heroine!) wears a cowboy hat, or time travel romance books (I’m still trying to wrap my head around those).
I bet you’ve never once flipped over the book to read the back cover just to see if the author was happily married before you decided to buy the book.
No one’s disputing a single woman can write a romance novel that’s both sweet and epic. Jane Austen wrote classics and never married.
But if you’re looking to become an author known for sweet love stories, you probably feel a smidge vulnerable about writing a genre you can’t yet relate to. I certainly felt that way. So here are the three tips I followed to write a romance novel while I was still single in college, the book that would be published just a year after I graduated.
1. Read good romance novels. Lots of them.
I may not have ever been on a date when I first wrote chapter one of my debut novel, in which my hero and heroine meet for the second time. But I knew a thing or two about how to write a good romance novel purely by reading.
I read a lot growing up. Though working and marriage and life have curated my reading time, reading remains my favorite pasttime—and not just because I think it’s one of the best exercises for a writer but because I love learning about new-to-me places and time periods within the pages of historical fiction.
When asked how I learned to write historical fiction, I often say you can’t learn how to fly a plane by watching a pilot, but you can learn how to write by reading.
It’s the only profession I know where osmosis is real.
So read dozens of good romance novels before you endeavor to write your own. You’ll pick up more than you think.
2. Study the love stories around you.
Again, osmosis is real.
If you’re an introvert like I am, you may enjoy people-watching. In a non-stalker way, study the love stories of those around you, of all ages. Take notes on the mannerisms of a man with his woman, the way a woman’s eyes will soften when her beloved enters the room, and most importantly of all, how they speak to each other.
Why is this the most important? Because most writers are gifted in either writing dialogue or description. My editing clients hear me say this all the time: the secret to writing amazing dialogue is cutting out the boring stuff we say to each other in real life.
Real-life couples in love can often be the best examples of folks who cut out the boring when they speak to each other. (They can also be the most guilty of staring into each other’s eyes and saying nothing of value except endearments!) Study that. Learn from that. Incorporate that into your writing.
The first book I ever wrote, the fantasy no one will ever read, was also a medieval romance novel. The reason I had such trouble writing it was that it was so far removed from what I know. It was a romance and it was a fantasy.
So by the time I picked up my pen to begin composing The Sound of Diamonds, I knew I had to pick a time period I was familiar with to compensate for writing outside my comfort zone in the romance department.
I set my debut novel in the Elizabethan age, a time period I’ve always been fascinated by, and discovered a happy surprise. That first terrible novel had worked out some of the kinks when it came to learning how to write romance.
I know The Sound of Diamonds is stronger for the practice I put in beforehand. I hit my groove and wrote that book in only one summer. Then I wrote the sequel the following summer. And the third book in the series the following year.
The October after I graduated college, I signed a three-book contract for the entire series. Still while single.
So, if you’re thinking of writing a romance even though you’re single, some people may raise their eyebrows, but I guarantee you it’s not as difficult as you may expect. Not to say it’s not difficult, because writing is hard work!
But you can do it. I did.
Have you ever tried to write a romance novel before?