As I approach my two-year anniversary as a romance author, I thought I'd share the best piece of writing advice I've ever been given. Before taking that leap and self-publishing Gilded Lily in May 2014, I had been focused on my spiritual healing practice while working on a commercial women's fiction manuscript. Ironically, it was a former client, who has now become an empowering figure through her own coaching practice, that gave me a piece of advice which I’ll never forget: You are what you do.
When I first started out writing romance, I was self-conscious about the potential stigma of being a romance writer, not to mention an erotic romance writer who writes extremely hot scenes like the ones in my latest novel, Forbidden Rose. Her advice made me realize that not being open about my work was in effect negating my identity and purpose. This was a huge realization. In fact, for all the lessons I’d learned spiritually and professionally, this was one of the biggest. I understood then that so long as I couldn’t really be open about writing romance or continued to fear that my books (featuring diverse female-driven stories as opposed to the misogynistic male-driven stories that dominate the market) would be judged for being too different, my books would languish. If I couldn’t fully embrace my purpose, it wouldn’t be completely reflected in my work.
This is also reinforced for me that I had to stay true to the key themes that I believe need to be addressed in women’s stories: female empowerment, education, balanced love relationships, diversity, and integrity. The advice, you are what you do, made me ask myself, are the themes in the books in line with my goals to honor women as well as men? And, most of all, is love at the core of each story? By love, I don’t mean the clingy, desperate infatuation that’s passed off as love in most contemporary romance books out there. Rather, by love, I mean the profound connection between two individuals that allows them to recognize something larger than themselves.1
Even after I had followed her advice and embraced my work, it took some deep soul-searching to understand why I feared potential judgment so much that I felt a need to not talk about it openly, except with my closest friends. If it weren’t for my husband and friends prodding me, I probably wouldn’t have put myself out there as much as I had. It made me understand how I had hidden that sexual side of myself because of my conservative Asian mother. That’s right, it was my hard-core, God-fearing Filipina mother that made me afraid of owning the fact that I write about sex. My mother had always been the face of judgment in my mind, and it was time to let it go. And upon hearing, You are what you do, I knew it was time to release the fear that was holding me back. Accepting my work was, in essence, accepting the part of myself that’s reflected in it. To my surprise, when I came out to my mother about my books, she couldn’t have been prouder.
You are what you do contains indelible truth. It tells us that how we live, the choices we make, and the relationships we have are reflections of our deepest desires and knowing. To embrace You are what you do means examining whether you’re living your purpose. Is it fear that’s holding you back, much like it was for me? If it is, then it’s time to understand why and let it go. There is no reason to live a life that isn’t a reflection of your whole self. This doesn’t mean quitting your day job if it means keeping a roof over your family’s head and food on the table. Rather, it means looking at the core of how you live your life and asking yourself is everything that I do and engage in a reflection of how I love myself? If you can answer yes, then you’re living your dream.
I’m truly grateful to my former client for teaching me such an incredible lesson and for reminding me that sometimes the best advice we receive doesn’t come from professionals in our own fields but from the most unexpected places.
1 See my article, Romance Must Die