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Monday, December 7, 2009

Monday Spotlight: Jennifer Shirk

Unexpected Directions

When I first started writing, I had some pretty high hopes of becoming the next Nora Roberts.

(Don’t look at me like that! What beginning writer didn’t want to be the next Nora?)

I read all her books voraciously. So when I finished my first own romance book, I really thought I had managed to emulate her in every way.

Then…my first chance to showcase my stuff appeared. My local library was having author Ann Kelleher come and do a writing workshop. I was a newbie writer, so I enthusiastically gobbled up all she had to say on writing and trying to get published. I’d learned so much!

On the last day, she asked for volunteers to bring in samples of their writing for a critique. I was psyched! I had not found any critique partners yet—nor had ANYONE else read my work—so I was anxious to hear what others would think.

The last day of the workshop, I brought in my first chapter grasped in my sweaty little fingers and anxiously handed it over to be read. As Ms. Kelleher read it, she smiled and nodded. (Good signs, I thought) But I also heard muffled chuckles from the other readers. (Not good signs, I thought)

So when she finished, I looked at her expectantly. She said, “It’s really good. You got the Chick-lit voice down pat.” Then she proceeded to tell me how I could make my manuscript better. Yeah, well, unfortunately, I missed half of what she said because I was too preoccupied by her chick-lit comment.

Chick-lit? I thought. (I barely knew what chick-lit even meant) My story isn’t Chick-lit. It’s a Tender Romance!

Huh. Obviously, I was not the next Nora. I went home that night with my tail tucked between my legs, devastated that I was so far off base with what I thought my writing was. But as I learned more about the craft, I realized that it was actually a good thing I had my own voice and style. In fact, I learned to embrace my humorous tone and switched my focus from trying to write like Nora to trying to write like…well, me. And when I did that, I found I enjoyed writing more. It came more naturally. I soon found some crit partners who agreed and gave me positive feedback.

I don’t write Chick-lit but it is kind of funny—no pun intended—that I’ve switched to writing Romantic Comedy instead of the romantic dramas I thought I should write. Who knew? But I’m very grateful for that accidental steering I got. It opened my eyes to a whole new sub genre of romance I might not have found on my own.

What about you? Are you writing in the genre you thought you’d be writing in?


Eileen Astels Watson said...

So far I haven't ventured off course, but I'm not published so maybe I haven't found the right genre for me yet.

Joanne said...

Isn't it interesting how a comment from someone removed from our work often does have an element of truth in it? It's always good to have that unbiased opinion to consider, to ruminate over, and to perhaps guide us on our journey.

Stephanie said...

I don't think I've found my genre yet. Stay tuned....

But you've got a beautiful voice, Jennifer. I'm glad you found yours! I love your work!

PatriciaW said...

Your comedic voice shines through in your blog posts too, so it seems that's your natural voice. I think you were blessed to find that before you had the voices of others and the "rules" of how to write in your head.

Diane said...

I just barely know you, and can tell that you are the romanitc comedy type and will be great. I have to go with the genre God has wired me for and I try not to be jealous of how good other genres and writing seems. :O)

Cindy said...

Jennifer, thanks for sharing that story with us.

When I started writing, I had no idea what genre I was meant to write. So I dabbled in a little bit of everything. Can you believe it's taken me over ten years to really discover what I think I SHOULD write? And even now, though I feel like I know what I write well, I still enjoy switching genres sometimes and letting my creativity flow.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Thanks, Stephanie and Patricia!

Diane: I think that's so true. You can't chase trends. When God wires you a certain way, you have to go with it!

Cindy: I love the bits of writing I've seen on your blog. I think you truly found your genre. :)

Susan R. Mills said...

I think it's important to write in the genre that your voice is best suited for. One of my beta readers has come to this conclusion as well. When I was a teenager, I tried writing adult fiction. Now as an adult, I'm writing teen fiction. Go figure!

Penny Dune said...

that's so funny. I've never thought of Nora as Tender Romance. :D

I don't know what my voice is... it isn't funny, but it's not Nora, either, though when I start plotting stories, they feel more like Nora. It's the writing that transforms them.

R.M.Gilbert said...

Not thinking I've found out what genre I'm meant for, yet. You have though, and good for you.

It's such a personal venture. I think most writers have that published author(s) they hope to be like someday. When really it's about finding your own personal style. Your groove.

Robyn Campbell said...

Great hearing how it all began for you, Jennifer.

I didn't want to be the next Nora, but I did dream about becoming the next JK. :)

I started writing for kids to share my love of reading with them. And I have a natural kid voice. So there you have it. Hope to be with AGENT soon. :)

Patti Lacy said...

Yep, I'm edgy women's fiction all the way! I just love watching God put together women's shattered lives, even in a novel!


Tamika: said...

Awesome post Jennifer! Being the newbie that I am, this makes perfect sense. I am a little on the opposite end, where I'm too afraid of feedback to share my work with a stranger.

Recently I've found a nice blogging friend willing to walk me through the critique phase, and I am eternally grateful.

~Ellie Kings~ said...

I believe when we read enough of one author or several, it comes as no surprise to want to write more like them. But having our own voice and style is what makes us unique. I'm glad you found yours. I think I'm coming around to finding mine as well. Since I'm new to the writing world, I'm learning by reading posts like yours and others that are helping me along the way.

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

lol, I think Susan M,'s comment above is talking about me. I wrote YA first and I think I did well with the teen voice, however, I kept putting way too much focus on the romance and things got a little steamy with my characters. Oops. I soon realized that my natural tendency worked much better for contemporary romance. And like you, I can't help but write humorous, it's who I am.

silke said...

Your voice is unique. :)
That's what makes you, you.
Don't write like Nora. Just be as successful as Nora. :)
Fingers crossed for you!

Amy DeTrempe said...

I started on writing historical romances but they weren't going anywhere. Then I was compelled to write inspirational historical romances. I also write sweet now too. It took me five novels before I made the switch and that is the one that was published.

C. D. Yates/Cynthia Brayden-Thomas said...

Heh. Isn't chick-lit a type of GUM?

Love this story, Jennifer. You're the best!