Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Is It Blood or Fire

Back when I was struggling to make it as a young author, I launched two books under two names---Mary Alice Monroe and Mary Alice Kruesi.  The premise behind this poor advice from my agent---that at the time seemed like a good idea---was not to confuse the readers because I had sold two different kinds of books to two different publishers.  The Monroe name was used for books considered  Women’s Fiction.  My married name, Kruesi (pronounced as “cruise-ee”), was used for my fantasy novels.   I still can’t believe I agreed to do such a thing, considering that my own family members still sometimes misspell my married name.   

There I was with two contracts with two separate publishers. Sounds like a happy problem, right?  Be careful what you wish for.  I was committed to writing two novels in one year.  At that time, I was also a young mother of three children—fourteen, eight, and six years old.  It was a lot for any author to take on, much less a new one.

One day I burst into tears, sure that I was going to fail as a writer, as a mother, and pretty much as a human being.  So I picked up the phone to call my friend Nora Roberts.  Who else would better understand my dilemma of writing two books a year than America’s favorite romance writer with a solid reputation of churning out wonderful novels at rapid-fire pace? 

From a professional standpoint, Nora has no compassion for excuses or laziness.  She is well-disciplined in the craft, writing at her desk for eight hours a day, seven days a week.  And she expects others to do the same if they are serious about making it in the writing world.  As my friend, she also understood how hard it was to try to find the time to write while raising young children.  Nora offered me the greatest writing advice I’ve ever received—and now I’ll share it with you.

Nora told me how, when her two boys were young, she put a sign on her home office door that stated in big, bold red letters, IS IT BLOOD OR FIRE? IF NOT, GO AWAY! 

What Nora taught me that day was that a successful writer had to have enough respect for her time and craft that she wouldn’t let trivial distractions interfere with serious work time. Once the author was committed, she had to buckle down and see the project through without tears or excuses.  Though, chocolate and French fries were permitted.

The advice reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s admonishment in her book A Room of One’s Own:

    “A woman must have money and a room of her own to write fiction... So when I ask     you to earn money and have a room of your own, I am asking you to live in the presence of reality, an invigorating life."

That very same day I wrote the message in red magic marker on an 8X11 sheet of paper and slapped it on my office door.  My children thought it was funny at first and ignored it. Were they surprised when I firmly ushered them out of the office and closed the door in their faces!  I played fair.  At the same time I established a writing schedule that began the moment they went to school and I turned off the computer at three o’clock when they returned home. For years, my youngest thought it was very special to come into my office when he arrived home knowing I was waiting for him with my full attention.  He’d sit on my lap to tell me about his day.

My children learned to respect the sign after some trial and error, and a few tears.  But that simple sign gave me the balance I desperately needed in my home life and budding professional career.  It set boundaries, both physically and emotionally.  The process taught me how to respect the craft of writing, my writing space and time, and it taught my children to respect it also.  Mom’s business meant business.  And yes, I finished two books that year.  (I can’t say I’d do it again.)

Writing this blog entry today makes me realize that I’ve slowly slipped away from this discipline as my children left home.  I am at the office every day, but I take for granted my free time and allow phone calls, drop-ins, even pets to disrupt my schedule.  For 2012 I’m resolved to re-establish those precious writing hours that ban all outside distractions-- unless it’s blood or fire.  It’s time to put that sign back on the door!

Mary Alice Monroe is the NY Times bestselling author of more than a dozen novels.  Her new book, BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES, prequel to her Southern hit THE BEACH HOUSE, will be released May 2012.  Learn more at   


Robin said...

I am a new author, mom of three little girls and BADLY in need of an office with a door! Thanks for the encouragement!

Stacy S. Jensen said...

Great advice. I primarily write while kiddo sleeps.

Augusta Scattergood said...

I need to download that software that locks you off the internet. Or maybe put a sign on MY OWN door cautioning me against opening blogs and Facebook.

First, I am so posting this on FB right now. Love this advice.

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As a new author, you have to face these problems. But your advice is just great.

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