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2019 Golden Heart Sara Whitney on What She’s Learned from Doing It Scared!!

Today’s Omega guest is Sara Whitney, a 2019 Golden Heart Finalist whose manuscript TEMPTING TALK is nominated in the category of Best Contemporary Romance!

Sara Whitney writes witty, sexy contemporary romance novels packed with breezy charm, crackling dialogue, and want-to-root-for-them characters. Sara worked as a radio deejay, a newspaper reporter, and a film critic before she earned her Ph.D. and landed in academia, where she teaches courses on communication theory and media/race/gender. Under her “day job” name, she freelances as a TV writer for the Entertainment Weekly website and hosts a podcast about live-action DC TV television, so definitely hit her up with your hot takes about nerdy shows.

Sara lives in Central Illinois with her divorce attorney husband—she likes to believe that the happy endings she writes help balance their karmic scale— in a house full of books, cats, and pinball machines.

Tempting Talk is the third book in her Tempt Me series, which will be available beginning in early 2020. Here’s the blurb:

The first time Mabel Bowen takes Jake Carey’s hand, their chemistry’s so explosive that she’d bet her mother heard the gong of imminent grandchildren from two states away. But Mabel doesn’t mix work and pleasure, which is a shame since Jake’s the accountant overseeing the sale of the rock radio station where she’s one of the deejays.

Jake’s only goal for the past decade has been landing a partnership at his firm, and he was fine putting his personal relationships on hold to achieve it—until he met the glib and gorgeous Mabel. But when they finally decide to stop fighting the inevitable, a professional betrayal shatters their burgeoning relationship, leaving Mabel struggling with forgiveness and Jake questioning the toll his work-first lifestyle has taken on his heart.

You sold me on the book with the line “her mother heard the gong of imminent grandchildren from two states away”!! I’m thrilled to know this will be out soon!!

Folks, Sara’s here today to talk about facing her fears—and what finding the courage has taught her. Take it away, Sara!!

 

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WHAT I’VE LEARNED FROM DOING IT SCARED

My romance-writing journey began on an “I bet I can do that!” whim during NaNoWriMo 2013, and since then, my three constant companions have been my MacBook, my Wonder Woman coffee mug, and my fear. The first two have been nothing but helpful, while the third is daunting enough that I refer daily to the wooden sign that sits on my desk and reminds me of one thing: If you can’t beat fear, then do it scared. Yet when I think back on the things that used to frighten me, I see that over and over again, doing it scared has been just as helpful to my writing career as caffeine and my keyboard.

To wit, a partial list of fears I’ve faced and lessons I’ve learned:

Fear No. 1: Saying the words “I’m an author” out loud to another person. How pretentious, to claim I’m an author when I have no publications to my name! I demurred and deflected too many times in the early years. Thankfully, a friend at my local RWA chapter urged me to spank my inner moppet and own the fact that I take this pursuit seriously. The first time I looked another human in the face and introduced myself as an author, I realized that I’d just said something true.

Doing it scared reminded me of my goals.

Fear No. 2: Announcing my romance-writing plans to acquaintances. We’ve all been there. “Oh. Those books.” “Are you gonna have Fabio on the cover?” “Don’t you want to write a real book?” We understand our genre, and we love our genre. Unfortunately, the rest of the world does not always seek to understand or to love our genre. But I stopped worrying about the judgment of others once I embraced this opportunity to educate the uninformed. I now ask the skeptical people in my life to examine what’s behind their kneejerk mockery of a powerhouse literary genre that’s primarily written by women, for women, and that focuses on traditionally feminized concerns like emotions, relationships, and sexual satisfaction. Almost every time, it leads to an eye-opening conversation.

Doing it scared allowed me to advocate for the books we love.

Fear No. 3: Letting someone else read my words. Do you remember the first time you sent your manuscript to a friend? Or when you showed up at your local RWA meeting with fifteen printed copies of a scene for critique? I sure do—and my chapter reads those pages out loud in the group. I’ve gotten feedback that was discouraging to the point of despair, but I’ve also received thoughtful suggestions on tone, word choice, dialogue, pacing, plotting, motivation, and emotional overtones. You name it, it’s been improved thanks to my author circles.

Doing it scared made me a better storyteller.

Fear No. 4: Querying agents. Or worse, finding the typo only after hitting Send. “Love me,” we beg the agents. And the agents say, “This isn’t a good fit for me.” Rejection City, population you, may not be a fun place to live, but it is a testament to perseverance, self-reflection, and the restorative powers of a glass of wine.

Doing it scared showed me that I can stand back up after getting knocked down.

Fear No. 5: Producing lousy work. Writing? It’s hard. If you’re like me, you got A’s and a “great job!” scrawled on the bottom of all your writing assignments in school. But when I finished my first book, I quickly realized that I had not, in fact, written the Great American Romance Novel, and I started to wonder if maybe I wasn’t good enough. But I pushed that fear aside and started paying attention to books on craft. I figured out what the heck a GMC is and where to put my pinch points. I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote, and with each draft, I remembered the words of the great Jimmy Dugan: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

Doing it scared forced me to tackle the hard work.

Fear No. 6: Acknowledging that my mother will read my sex scenes. In my books, I use words. Blunt ones. Anatomical ones. Four letter-y ones. And my mother is going to read them.

Doing it scared? Um, there’s no way around it. I’m doing that one cringing.

Fear No. 7: Failing utterly. Someday soon, I’ll have books available for purchase. People will read them. Some will like them, and others will not. Maybe I won’t be able to cut through the marketing clutter to find any kind of audience at all. Or even worse, my books might be so universally loathed that I’ll be driven from polite society and forced to subsist in a dank cave on the outskirts of town. Who can say, really? All I can do is put my best work out there alongside the best promotional efforts I can muster. And friends, you’d better believe I’m going to do it scared.

It’s worth doing it scared, every time.

Fess up: What were you most afraid of when you were starting out, what’s the thing that scares you now, and how do you push past it?

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If you have a minute, connect with Sara on Twitter, Facebook, BookBub, or her website!

 

33 responses to “2019 Golden Heart Sara Whitney on What She’s Learned from Doing It Scared!!”

  1. Sara, I love this post. And congratulations on your final! Your blurb is fabulous.

    All of these fears are familiar to me. Afraid my books would be terrible, that they would bomb…I’m not sure those fears ever completely go away, and maybe that’s a good thing. I think the fear pushes me to try to be better – at least that’s what I tell myself. 🙂

    Good luck in New York!

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  2. Becke Turner says:

    An Omega sister who hails from ‘the land of Lincoln.’ I’ll toast to your compelling blurb and publishing success.

    I recognized every fear scenario in your blog. I’ve never out written my fear, but I keep slogging away.

    My first fear: I’m not good enough. I haven’t resolved that. I can write, but can I write a compelling story people will buy?

    Thus, my motto: Nothing bad happens if I don’t succeed. It will suck petunias, but no blood or death.

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    • Sara Whitney says:

      Becke, it’s so interesting how many of us got the GH nod but are still little balls of uncertainty. Writing’s just such a personal thing to reveal to the world!

      Can’t wait to meet you in NYC!

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      • Elisa Beatty says:

        There are plenty of RITA winners and NYT bestsellers out there who secretly believe it was all a fluke….this Imposter Syndrome thing is real.

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  3. Valen Cox says:

    Sara! Thank you for your inspirational post! Naming your fears which happen to be many of mine just takes the whole thing down several notches, and makes this whole journey to publication more manageable! And you’re funny and clever and your blog was a pleasure to read! Can only imagine your actual novels! You WILL get there!
    Hugs,
    Valen~~~

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    • Sara Whitney says:

      We’ll ALL get there! The best thing about becoming an Omega is how much it’s expanded my “can’t wait to read it” list—and that definitely includes yours! 🙂

      Cheers!

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  4. Jilly Wood says:

    Love this post, Sara!

    Your blurb is very engaging. If Tempting Talk is the third book in your Tempt Me series, does that mean we get three books to read next year? I’m in!

    I recognize all your fears. It’s taken me years to learn to say “I’m an author” instead of “I’m an accountant-turned-writer” or some other lily-livered cop-out. I think/hope I’m past that one now, though I’m really looking forward to having at least one published book so that I’ll have a concrete answer to the usual follow-up question.

    As I get closer to publishing I am still living with Fear no.7. The thing that helps me push past it is Fear no.8 – that I’ll get to the Pearly Gates without having published at all.

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    • Sara Netzley says:

      Oooh, Fear No. 8 is a biggie, too. I bet that’s what drove many of us to take all those big steps.

      And yes, I’m planning to release three books at a minimum next year! Tempting Talk was supposed to be book 1, and then I wrote a prequel novella, and then my critique partner fell in love with a supporting character in the novella who became the lead in her own full-length book and … bada bing, bada boom, it’s a three-book series (and counting). Darn series creep …

      And I’m so excited that we’re going to see your first book sooner rather than later!

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  5. Sara—

    What a relatable post! First, I can’t wait to get my hands on your book. Handsome accountant? Sign me up, says the accountant’s wife. 😁

    I think I really related to your first two points. I was always scared to let anyone know I was writing fiction and that it definitely has a romantic leaning. The attitude toward “those books” do seem to be changing SLOWLY. And the fact is, ain’t none of those haters writing any books at all. So, there. I think the world needs romance and the hope that is intrinsically linked to it.

    Anyway, nowadays, my first book is on submission a has been since September. I worry it won’t ever sell and that maybe that’s indicative of my talent and the books I chose to write. What if I never sell a book? It doesn’t help that this book is also the book of my heart.

    At least we’re all in this scary writing thing together.

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    • Sara Whitney says:

      Oooh, eternal submission is so hard! I’m optimistic that there’s a niche and a market for all of us; it’s just a matter of gutting it out until we find it.

      And mmm-hmmm, you give that accountant husband a squeeze and let him know he’s occupying prime romance novel hero territory. 🙂

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      “ain’t none of those haters writing any books at all.”

      ^ ^ ^
      THIS

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  6. Angie Hockman says:

    An amazing post, Sara! Man, do I feel where you’re coming from 100%. I think my top fear, which is the same as when I first started writing, is that I’ll never be good enough to succeed — despite my best efforts. To cope, I’ve reevaluated my definition of success. Doing my best work IS success…even if I don’t land the agent/publishing deal/bestseller status of my dreams. I figure I might as well celebrate what’s within my control rather than get hung up on what isn’t.

    Also, Tempting Talk is THE BOMB! I promise you will not be forced to live in a dank cave when it’s released! Folks are going to love it as much as I did, I know it 🙂 And I *can’t wait* to read the other books in the series!

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    • Sara Whitney says:

      Yes! That was such an important question a mentor of mine asked me earlier this year: What is success TO ME? Once I started grappling with that, my path forward become so much clearer.

      And awww, thank you! You were one of the earliest sets of eyeballs on it! It’s grown quite a bit since then, and I’m so excited to unleash it into the world. (I’m also excited to see all the things you’ve been working on since then, too…)

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  7. All these fears are so relatable especially…. well, all of them! My mom will read my book, my husband’s friends, my kid’s friends, MY friends. I like to make believe someone else wrote the part with bits.

    I love what you say about fear “If we’re not a little scared, would we get complacent? I’m starting to think a little bit can be healthy.”

    Just before a band or choir performance my dad would say never stop being afraid. It brings out the best.

    Can’t wait to read your books!

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  8. Elizabeth Langston says:

    I never could get past Fear #6. My brother-in-law even gave me a pep talk once. “You should write sex scenes. I bet you’d be great at it.” And I’m like–wow–I’ve been given permission by my husband’s brother, and I still can’t write it.

    My other greatest fear is about my writing speed. I write SO SLOWLY. It makes me worry that my readers will forget about me between books and I’ll lose them.

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  9. Sara, your books sounds great. I can’t wait to read it.

    As to fears? Oye. All eight and counting. I’m the girl who got C’s in English so showing my work to anyone was a big step for me. I’m still terrified about putting it out there. But knowing that other Omegas share those fears helps.

    My mantra these days is–If Julia Child could become a TV sensation at 50, I can successfully publish my first book at 60.

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  10. Tracy Brody says:

    LOVE the “she’d bet her mother heard the gong of imminent grandchildren from two states away.” line! And can I flatter you by borrowing your “what’s behind their kneejerk mockery of a powerhouse literary genre that’s primarily written by women, for women, and that focuses on traditionally feminized concerns like emotions, relationships, and sexual satisfaction.” line?

    Congrats on your GH final and I think it shows fear #7 is NOT going to happen so don’t go looking for caves.

    I owned up to be a writer early on. Prior business experience taught me that you are more likely to succeed if you put it out there, so I claimed it. Think my fear is mostly along about not writing fast enough to get all the ideas in my head written. Also, messing up with figuring out marketing or accidentally offending people with something one of my characters says or does..

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    • Sara Whitney says:

      Take it with my blessing! I had to negotiate my own response over the years before I was finally able to articulate why those attitudes bother me so much. Oh, you’re sneering at romance novels? Tell me, when’s the last time you read one? Around never, right? The internalized disdain burns me up.

      BUUUT we’re here to talk about positive things, like how I gave my business card to a cupcake shop owner today after I picked her brain about home bakery certifications for a book and she told me how much she loves romance. 🙂

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  11. Elisa Beatty says:

    Thanks so much for being with us today, Sara!!

    Looking forward to meeting you in New York!1

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  12. Addison Fox says:

    Sara

    I LOVE this post and I love how you’ve humorously defanged the fear beast. And the Jimmy Dugan reminder is always a good one – it IS supposed to be hard. That’s what makes it so wonderful.

    Wishing you all the best in New York!!!
    Addison

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  13. Lisa Heartman says:

    Sara, I recognize each and every one of these fears. I’ve been there (some I’m still there), but like you, I push through the fear. Because Jimmy is right. If it was easy everyone would do it, and it wouldn’t be as much fun.

    My biggest writing fear right now? Probably the next step of putting my book out into the world. Will people read it? Will they love it? Will I be bludgeoned with rotten fruit at the grocery store? Hopefully not. All I know is that I have written the best book I can, and I continue to learn to make the future book even better.

    Stay strong! We’re all here for you.

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  14. Fenley Grant says:

    Sara,

    I live with Imposter Syndrome and the fear at its core. Your post struck a chord.

    When I first started writing with the intent to publish (because I’ve always written), my biggest fear centered around sharing my work with the world. I started with family (sisters and sister-in-law) and close friends. I branched out by entering contests. Once I had a few finals / wins in my corner, I started querying and pitching. I’ve upped the risk factor each time I took a new step toward the publishing journey.

    To quote you, I might still live in Rejection City, population me, but I’m getting more requests for my work from agents and editors and I’m hedging my options by working toward a hybrid career.

    I can’t wait to read Tempting Talk and getting to know you better in NYC. Go Omegas!

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    • Sara Whitney says:

      Look how many steps you’ve taken! It’s so cool to take a long view about where you are now versus where you were at the beginning. Onward and upward!

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  15. Janet Raye Stevens says:

    Great post, Sara! I’ve slogged through every fear on your list, especially being scared/unable to call myself an author (even after 10 short stories published!). I guess my biggest fear is and always has been failure, but nevertheless, with the support of my writing friends, and especially my GH sisters, I’ve persisted!

    Congrats again my Omega sister — so excited to meet you in NYC!

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