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.

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Comments ( 10 )
  1. Susie Sheehey
    November 3, 2010 at 8:33 am
    Reply

    Its amazing how much I relate to this… having to prioritize your constantly changing life, even if that means having to put a beloved pair of characters (half on paper, half still stuck in your mind) on hold for month, even several years in my case, while you take care of newborns and juggle a full-time job.
    Thank you for sharing… its comforting to know there are others out there who go thru the same struggles as I.

  2. Zee Monodee
    November 3, 2010 at 8:57 am
    Reply

    Thanks for this insight, Melissa. Very helpful.
    It’s true that life butts in, and responsibilities don’t end when the baby is no longer a baby – they start school and extra-activities and you turn into Mom-Driver-SubstituteTeacher. The list of Mom duties is endless! It’s not easy to fit writing in there!
    Side note – See Jane Date was the first RDI book I read, and it made me fall in love with chick-lit. 🙂

  3. Tweets that mention Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. -- Topsy.com
    November 3, 2010 at 9:40 am
    Reply

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Melissa Senate, Melissa Senate. Melissa Senate said: My guest blog post on juggling writing and freelancing on @HarlequinBook's So You Think You Can Write week: http://t.co/n63qHjY […]

  4. Robin Covington
    November 3, 2010 at 11:53 am
    Reply

    Melissa – I’m glad you stuck with your dream.

  5. Paprika
    November 3, 2010 at 11:55 am
    Reply

    Can you define more clearly what you mean by a “commercial voice”? I’m guessing it’s the never lose any reader, so all information is in scene and in exposition and then sometimes in the exposition again a page later, just in case, but I’m only guessing and am quite curious to know for certain.

  6. Melissa Senate
    November 3, 2010 at 12:48 pm
    Reply

    Thank you so much for these wonderful comments. And double thank you, Zee!

    Paprika, what I mean by “commercial voice” is a writing style that would appeal to a very wide audience. (A la a commercial movie like When Harry Met Sally vs. an indie film.) Hope that helps!

    🙂 Melissa

  7. Sarah Jio
    November 4, 2010 at 12:21 am
    Reply

    What a terrific, honest post about the realities of being a writer and mother. I identified with this so much, and with a book coming out in August, a 1 and 3 year old and a baby due in Feb, I loved the concept of your work being your “Calgon bath”–ha! Fiction for me is a wonderful luxury after hours of working on magazine stories each day. I love magazine work too, but they really do balance each other out nicely. Great post. I so enjoyed reading more about your life as a mother and writer. xo

  8. Zee Monodee
    November 4, 2010 at 7:54 am
    Reply

    Late (sorry, I’m in uni exam week) but Melissa, you’re welcome! 🙂

  9. Claire Cook
    November 4, 2010 at 11:20 am
    Reply

    Great post, Melissa! And perfectly timed on a day when the Comcast guy has been here for almost two hours – 13 minutes to fix the cable and the rest of the time to pitch me ideas for my next novel! It’s always something, and yet there’s always a way to make it happen if we want it enough. Thanks for reminding me how lucky we are to get to make our living as novelists. And I wish you much success with the fabulous The Love Goddess’Cooking School!!

  10. Melissa Senate
    November 4, 2010 at 1:05 pm
    Reply

    Thank you so much, Sarah and Claire! LOL, Claire, that the Comcast guy is pitching you ideas for your next book! I kind of love that.

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