Longevity in a writing career – Robyn Harding

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By Robyn Harding

Before I wrote my latest novel, the domestic drama, The Party, I had considered myself a humour writer. My first book, The Journal of Mortifying Moments, was published in 2004. As you might glean from the title, it’s a work of “contemporary women’s fiction”, AKA chick-lit. I followed it up with five more books, all in the same funny, female-focussed vein. I loved writing humour. I’d sit in my office, chuckling at my own jokes, as I took my characters from one hilarious mishap to the next. I was getting published. And paid! I had the best gig ever.♥

Within a few years, it became apparent that the chick-lit wave had crashed (at least for me). While I managed to sell my manuscripts, the advances had gotten smaller, the print runs more limited, and sales… well, they were not impressive. Something needed to change. And the only thing I could control was my writing.

But I didn’t want to write about sexy vampires (the next big publishing trend). I wanted to write comedy. Instead of changing my writing style, I realized I could change my medium. While the market for comedic books had shrivelled, they were still making funny films. And funny TV shows. What a brilliant solution! I would write comedy for the screen!

I couldn’t pull up stakes and relocate to L.A., but I managed to get an agent and a manager in Hollywood. They would shepherd my career and submit my projects. After writing roughly 78,000 scripts, I sold one. One. It became a low-budget, independent movie that played at several film festivals. It was exciting and glamorous and I learned a lot… primarily, that I wasn’t going to be able to make a living as a screenwriter without some serious luck.

I was ready to write another novel. The concept for The Party had been percolating for some time, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to write such a dramatic story. What if I didn’t have that kind of darkness inside of me? Or, what if I had too much of that darkness inside of me and pouring it onto the page would make me depressed? Or angry? Or both? But I knew this was a book I would want to read, so I sat down to write.

At times, it was tough going. I didn’t want to deal with this tragedy, to drag these characters through turmoil and strife, but I persevered. And eventually, I began to enjoy the twists and turns, the lies and betrayals. I was over the moon when the manuscript sold.

I’ve learned that, to have longevity in a writing career, you need to be adaptable. Sometimes, that means you need to step out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to try a new genre, or even a new medium. I’m not suggesting you chase publishing trends, or bite off more than you can chew, but be brave. If you are writing for fun, or for therapy, by all means, write the book you want to write. But if you are writing to publish, write the book you want to read.

Robyn Harding is the author of the domestic drama, The Party, published in June 2017, by Scout Press/Simon & Schuster. She has also written four novels of contemporary women’s fiction, a young adult novel, and a comedic memoir with an environmental focus. Her books have been translated into seven languages. Robyn is also the screenwriter and executive producer of the independent film, The Steps, which premiered at TIFF and was the closing gala film at the Miami International Film Festival. She lives in Vancouver, with her husband, two kids, and a seven pound dog with no teeth.


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