Editor, Writer, Juggler
by Melissa Senate, author and editor
In my early twenties, as a young Harlequin editor, I took a writing class at NYU with one of my favorite authors, a writer of literary fiction. She hated everything I turned in. My voice, style, content. For some reason, despite being an editor of commercial fiction, it didn’t occur to me that what offended her was my commercial voice. So I gave up writing and focused on my other love: editing. Discovering a great new author. Working with a list of writers I loved. Acquiring, developing, editing. I loved everything about my job—from the meetings to the RWA conferences to the lugging of manuscripts home on the subway. And sometimes, usually late at night, when I couldn’t fall asleep, I’d pull out my notebook and write a few sentences—and then crumple them. Not good enough.
And then in 1997 I read Bridget Jones’s Diary (one of my top five favorite books of all time). A thousand lightbulbs flashed on. Maybe I could write a novel. In my voice, in my style, with my content.
With a bit of confidence, I began thinking of the story I’d always wanted to tell. About a character a bit like myself, a single woman searching for happiness, finding her way. But, I had a very demanding full-time job as a senior editor with a series to run and a staff to manage. At the office, I didn’t think about my WIP (work in progress); I was too busy, of course, and besides, my manuscript was my secret, private joy, all mine, that I didn’t want to tell anyone about. And though I wanted to rush home to write, I’d often have to work late or bring work home. Work itself—and bosses, authors, agents, coworkers, conferences, contests, manuscripts—had to come first. My WIP began to seem more and more like my own version of that wonderful Calgon bath. I couldn’t wait to get to it, for it to take me away. And it did. Long into the night. Early in the morning.
Now, that was back in my single days. When my first novel, See Jane Date (2001 Red Dress Ink), was published, it was just me. No husband. No children. No mother-in-law. When my second novel was published, I had a newborn. A husband. A whole new set of responsibilities. By then, I’d become a full-time freelance editor, copywriter and author—but now I needed to work around the baby’s schedule. Trying to write—and think—coherently when you’ve been up all night nursing or soothing a teething or sick baby isn’t easy. So I learned to cut myself some slack and realize I needed to go back to those old days when the manuscript I was working on was a Calgon bath. Something to bring joy, something to take me away, not something to stress over.
Reprioritizing was difficult for me—my family had to come first, but I had to make money, too, which meant the work had to come first sometimes. Which meant the writing suffered. On and on and on. Eventually, as my dear little boy turned one and then two (he’s now eight), I found my work groove. It is about prioritizing. Sometimes the priority needs to be you. Sometimes it’s your family. Sometimes it’s work. Sometimes it’s writing. And sometimes, what it needs to be will surprise you.
A former editor at Harlequin and two young adult book packagers, Melissa Senate has written ten novels, including her debut, See Jane Date, which was also made into a TV movie, and her new release, The Love Goddess’ Cooking School. She lives with her son on the coast of Maine, where she continues to juggle life as a freelance editor/copywriter, author and mom.