Lorri Carpenter and her mom were both aspiring authors, but they never thought that collaborating on one story would make writing so much fun! In Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writers, Lorri shares how writing with her mom helped them achieve a shared dream.

Written by Lorri Carpenter, published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writers.

If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking. —Buddhist saying

"Slow down before we reach the intersection." I clutched the steering wheel with sweaty hands as I followed the instructor's direction. The car lurched toward the side of the highway, the front tires perilously close to the edge of the pavement, where a six-inch drop-off threatened to flip us over.

"Careful." The instructor calmly reached across and straightened the steering wheel. The car returned to the center of the lane, and my teenaged classmates, belted in the back seat, let out sighs of relief.

"Keep your eyes on the road ahead," the instructor said, while I tried not to feel incompetent. "You go in the direction you look."

Keep your eyes on the road ahead... You go in the direction you look.

I remembered the remark several years later, when my mom and I reached a crossroad in our writing careers. We'd been writing separately, pursuing different paths on the way to publication. Whenever we got together, we talked about our stories, books we enjoyed reading and the latest trends in the publishing industry, which we gleaned from writing magazines whose subscriptions we shared. We loved writing, though we weren't making progress toward our goal of getting published.

"Romances are popular," Mom said, during one of our chats.

"We should write one."

"We? As in the two of us, working together on the same book?"

She nodded. "I think it'll be fun. I'm tired of facing a blank screen every morning. If we took turns, there'd always be something to build from. We could be each other's writing imp. You know, the little pixie who sneaks into the computer late at night and magically makes words appear."

"Think so?" I said. "I'd be tempted to trim the wings off any imp who changed my stories."

Mom thought about that for a minute, then admitted, "Yeah, me, too."

Woman typingon laptop keyboard

Still, the idea of writing together was appealing, and we kept coming back to it. After a few months of indecision, we decided to give the imp a chance to show off her talents. We outlined a romance novel and got started. I worked as first-shift imp, writing in the morning before leaving for my day job. Mom showed up at the house just before I drove off and took over the computer keyboard.

The rough draft progressed rapidly. Mom had been right — the imp made the work much easier and a lot more fun. We both looked forward to getting to the computer each day to see what twists and turns had taken place while we were gone. We both also wanted to make sure the work we left during our respective imp-stint was as interesting as we could make it.

Re-writing and editing presented challenges. The imp was great at creating, but not so good at revising. After a few ugly arguments, we established one unbreakable rule: When in doubt, delete. If we simply could not come to a compromise, we deleted the offending word, line, paragraph or scene, and started anew — with one change: We worked together on the new part, instead of separately. We red-penciled revisions over lemonade and cookies while sitting at the picnic table on the sunny back porch, and heated disagreements turned into what my dad called "giggle sessions." We couldn't help it — we were having fun.

We finished the first book and began sending queries. We got some good feedback from agents, and a couple of them asked to read a few chapters. Despite the initial encouraging remarks, as the months went by, rejections piled up: Too much mystery. Where's the romance? Contrived plot. Sorry, not for us.

From experience, we knew the best way to keep from dwelling on the disappointment: Start the second book while we shopped the first. Once finished, we bravely sent off our second effort — and fared no better. We began a third, grinding out a set number of words each day and turning our imp-stints into grim marathons. When romance number three reached rewrite status, the giggle sessions became relentless quests to root out every error and produce a saleable manuscript.

In the summer of our battle with manuscript three, a convention for romance writers came to town. Despite the steep fee, we needed the inspiration, so we made reservations. We spent three days attending lectures, signing up for agent conferences and networking with other authors.

Yet instead of inspirational, we found the event dispiriting. With the exception of an elite few, most attendees were just like us: hopeful and struggling. And we learned about the terms of the writing contracts we'd be expected to sign — should our work ever be accepted — which included relinquishing almost all rights. Were we working so hard only to end up for-hire hacks?

"We're never going to break in," I said, as we drove home on the last day. "We have better odds of winning the lottery or getting struck by lightning than we do of getting a romance published."

"I agree." Mom's voice was low. "Maybe we should give up."

"Do you want to?" I looked at her, and the car drifted to the right. With the practice of years behind the wheel, I straightened it automatically, and my high school driving instructor's words came back to me. Before Mom could answer, I said, "Maybe we ought to look where we're going."

"What do you mean?" Mom asked.

We've taken our eyes off the reason we started writing together, and we've strayed off course. We want to be published, sure, but the main reason was to have fun doing what we both enjoy.

"It's like driving." I gestured at the highway. "We've taken our eyes off the reason we started writing together, and we've strayed off course. We want to be published, sure, but the main reason was to have fun doing what we both enjoy."

"You're right." Mom let out a breath. "I haven't been having fun for quite a while."

"Me neither."

"So what now?"

"I still want to be published," I said. "I just don't think we're cut out for romances."

"Actually, we stink at them," Mom said, and we laughed together for the first time in ages. She added, "I think I know why, too. We only started writing romances because they're popular, and we thought it was an easy road to publication. There's no real heart in our stories, not like some of those authors at the convention. They love romance. We don't."

"True. I'd rather have the heroine pursued by a killer than a boyfriend."

"I agree. We should have paid more attention to the rejections. Apparently, our preference was obvious to everyone but us."

"Now that we've figured it out, we could try writing a mystery. They sell well."

"Isn't that the same road we were just on?" Mom asked. "Rather than picking a genre, let's write a book we'd like to read."

"Sounds like a plan." I smiled at her. "I'm looking forward to working with the imp again."

I flipped on the directional and slowed to turn onto the exit leading us home, and we launched into a conversation outlining the plot of a new book.

The SkyHorse, our young adult novel, was published by Musa Publishing last year, using our joint pen name, HL Carpenter.

*****

Every writer faces roadblocks, but Lorri and her mom learned that focusing on what you're passionate about is one of the keys to success. If you enjoyed this story on writing and would love more inspiration to keep you putting pen to paper, pick up a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writers.

Reprinted with permission from Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC © 2013. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.

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