How to Write a Love Story

He wept.

Standing in my kitchen filled with the warmth of baking sugar cookies and the scent of a cinnamon candle, I pressed the phone harder against my ear. Every one of his ragged breaths spears my heart. His wife, my dearest friend, has died.

And I have no words.

How do you comfort a man who’s lost his wife, his best friend, the one person in this entire world he counted on always to be there, always to love him?

Deep in the hard pit that used to be my stomach I realize you don’t. I can’t.

I finish the call and six teenagers, some mine and some borrowed, race in to find the cookies. I hand them out, present in person but not in heart, as his last words swirls around me.

“Why is this so hard?”

My answer was, “I don’t know.”

Does anyone know how to say goodbye and survive?

I pour milk for the chattering masses worried about Fall Out Boy concerts and cross country rankings. Yet all I can think about is it’s not the letting go that’s hard, it’s the leaving behind.

While her struggle is over, his is just starting. The world will expect him to grieve quickly and properly, take care of his children, go to work, accomplish things. Face the world with courage and strength and a smile stretched across his unnaturally thin face. Yet some accommodation will be made since he is the widower.

For her friends, those who sent cards filled with love when they couldn’t send themselves, those who sat by her bed, read her books because she lost her vision, we said goodbye at the proper time and now struggle to move on.

But I’m afraid. Afraid when I do move on it will be as if she never existed, never counted.

Yet she did and she does.

With her middle-grade mysteries and women’s fiction novels, her great scarves, white flowers, and endless cups of grande lattes, she brought her warmth and light and laughter to a new home. An act that has left our home darker and colder and quieter.

And I will continue writing a novella that she loved and believed in yet is suffering under the weight of my sadness and loss. She was my critique partner and head cheerleader. Without her wisdom and wit, I’m desperately making deals with God.

I’m determined to finish my novella but I want to read it to her, let her know how much I valued her attention and insight, let her know she was loved. I’m struggling with the hard.

“More cookies?” my daughter mumbles with a mouth filled with sugar and pink frosting. “Peesh?”

Assuming that was a “please” surrounded by pink sprinkles, I hand her the second plate and take another tray out of the oven unaware of the imminent danger.

One of the cookies is crooked, a bit overdone, and the frosting is smeared. And for some reason the frosting looks more red than pink.

“Eww!” My son points at this anomaly. “It looks dead. It’s a bleeding heart! Gross!”

They are heart-shaped cookies because that was the only cookie-cutter I could find. The others are probably hiding in the piles of laundry or empty flower pots that have yet to be filled for the season.

“I’m not eating it,” the other boy says.

“I dare you!” My daughter, the fearless one who wants to attend Hogwarts, be picked as a Tribute, and join the Dauntless Faction all at the same time, waves it in front of her brother. “I’ll give you my time on the Xbox.”

“No way,” he says, grabbing the milk container. “If I eat it, my heart might break too. And I haven’t even fallen in love yet!”

“You’re too scared to fall in love.” With a shrug, my daughter smiles, takes a bite, and leads her tribe of three girls back outside.

Left alone with my son and his friend, I say, “Don’t believe your sister. You’ll fall in love when the time is right. And when you do, you’ll feel no fear. All you’ll want to do is fly.”

He nods, but I realize I said the wrong thing. Where his twin would take off without wings, he would want to know ahead of time there was no risk. And he’d want that reassurance notarized and posted in public.

I apologize, but he just looks at his buddy and says, “It’s cool, Mom. But when I fall in love, I want it in writing that I won’t get hurt.”

He and his friend pack up the rest of the cooled cookies and leave for the part of the house as far away as possible from the girls.

And for the second time that day, I stand there with no words to offer.

If I can’t explain the benefits of love–and why it’s worth the risk–to my own son, what business do I have writing romance novels?

Suddenly, my daughter reappears. “Where is he?”

“Upstairs,” I say. “You hurt his feelings.”

“I know,” she says. “That’s why I’m giving him my Xbox time anyway. And tomorrow I’ll make his favorite pancakes.”

I am not surprised by her sudden reversal. It seems to be a teenage thing. But I am happy she’s making amends.

“And Mom?” She pops her head around the corner of the kitchen. “I’m also scared to fall in love. But don’t tell him. He’ll think I’m weak.”

She disappears, leaving me in the center of the kitchen with a dirty mixer, pink-stained cookie sheets, and a dog who would love to lick up all the dropped sprinkles.


Is that how my children see falling in love? As a weakness?

My heart breaks a little. How can I prove to them that falling in love–and staying in love–takes a lifetime of compromise, kindness, and courage? That falling in love is the antithesis of weakness? If talking to teenagers has a fifty-percent chance of penetration, how do I explain that falling in love–in spite of the dangers–is the most important thing they will ever do?

I look over at my desk covered in manuscript pages, note cards, highlighters.

Why is this so hard?

Why did I have to say goodbye?

Why can’t I finish this novella?

The birds outside my window fight for seeds in the feeder, and I realize the truth. Life is hard because it’s a struggle to meet basic needs. Loving one another is hard because it counts on two people being vulnerable, taking risks, willing to lose the other to a breakup, debilitating disease, or death.

But writing about love? It’s more than hard. It’s devastating.

Love stories are written in the midst of the tears and suffering of real life. And while living through these emotions is difficult, reliving them through your characters is nothing more than a brutal reminder.

So why do I do it? Why do I force myself to sit down every day and throw words on the page? Because of the Happy Ending.

Yes, all romance novels have happily ever afters. And yes, I know, real life doesn’t. But that’s where the beautiful comes in.

Reading love stories, with their Happy Endings, allows us to revisit the most horrible of emotions in a safe, secure way. In a way that teaches us not just to survive, but to thrive. In a way that helps us heal, maybe even enough to try again.

And that means something.

Our words, our characters, our stories, mean something. This alone propels me back to my computer, my notes, my charts. If I finish this story with the care and passion it demands, I’ll find words of comfort for my friend and teach my children that love is not a sign of weakness.

That love, especially after a loss, takes enormous courage.

That love, if you’re willing to take the risk, allows us to fly.

All photographs courtesy of Sharon Wray.


Sharon Wray is a librarian who once studied dress design in the couture houses of Paris and now writes about the men in her Deadly Force romantic suspense series where ex-Green Berets meet their match in smart, sexy heroines who teach these alpha males that Grace always defeats Reckoning.

Her acclaimed debut book EVERY DEEP DESIRE, a sexy, action-packed retelling of Romeo and Juliet, is about an ex-Green Beretdetermined to regain his honor, his freedom, and his wife.

EVERY DEEP DESIRE is available on: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | iBooks | IndieBoundKobo|  Google

Her second book ONE DARK WISH is available for pre-order here: Amazon


Fear, Resistance, and Zombies: A Cure For All Your Writing Woes

Photo courtesy of Sharon Wray

E. B. White (author of Charlotte’s Web) said he admired anyone who “has the guts to write anything at all.”

I’ve always loved this quote because I’m a writer easily paralyzed by fear. Fear of success. Fear of failure. Fear of zombies. I guess you could say I’m afraid of  just about everything. Added to that basket of worries is a horrible propensity for  perfectionism. So it’s not surprising that when I sit down to create something out of nothing that my stress about writing  books my readers will love turns into a paralysis that I have to fight daily.

Photo courtesy of Sharon Wray

Fear is a terrible thing. It prevents you from writing the books that’ve been pressed onto your heart (or living the life you want) and steals your joy. Add in the struggle with needing to be perfect, and a writer can send herself into a whirlwind of procrastination and sense-of-failure. And that’s just during the drafting phase!

While I’m no where near qualified to talk about these things in a professional way, I thought today I’d offer a few of the resources I use ALOT to get myself out of these cycles of fear-perfectionism-procrastination-perceived failure.

All of these resources are available in book, e-book, or podcast format. There are also YouTube videos and websites. And some of these sources are free!

Photo courtesy of Sharon Wray

Hopefully one of these resources will help, especially if you’re like author Cynthia Ozick who has to talk herself “. . . into bravery with every sentence, sometimes every syllable.”


The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

First published twenty-five years ago, The Artist’s Way is the seminal book on the subject of creativity. Perhaps even more vital in today’s cultural climate than when it was first published, The Artist’s Way is a powerfully provocative and inspiring work. In it, Julia Cameron takes readers on an amazing twelve-week journey to discover the inextricable link between their spiritual and creative selves. This groundbreaking program includes:

–  Introductions to two of Cameron’s most vital tools for creative recovery–The Morning Pages and The Artist Date
–  Hundreds of highly effective exercises and activities
–  Guidance on starting a “Creative Cluster” of fellow artists who will support you in your creative endeavors

A revolutionary program for artistic renewal from the world’s foremost authority on the creative process, The Artist’s Way is a life-changing book. This 25th anniversary edition includes a new introduction from the author.


Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives. Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work,  embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.

The Courage to Write {How Writers Transcend Fear} by Ralph Keyes

In The Courage to Write, Ralph Keyes, an author who has taught writing for more than thirty years, assures us that anxiety is felt by writers at every level, especially when they dare to do their best. He describes the sequence of “courage points” through which all writers must pass, from the challenge of identifying a worthwhile project to the mixture of pride and panic they feel when examining a newly published book or article.

Keyes also offers specifics on how to root out dread of public “performance” and of the judgment of family and friends, make the best use of writers’ workshops and conferences, and handle criticism of works in progress. Throughout, he includes the comments of many accomplished writers — Pat Conroy, Amy Tan, Rita Dove, Isabel Allende, and others — on how they transcended their own fears to produce great works.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

What keeps so many of us from doing what we long to do?

Why is there a naysayer within? How can we avoid the roadblocks of any creative endeavor—be it starting up a dream business venture, writing a novel, or painting a masterpiece?

Bestselling novelist Steven Pressfield identifies the enemy that every one of us must face, outlines a battle plan to conquer this internal foe, then pinpoints just how to achieve the greatest success.

The War of Art emphasizes the resolve needed to recognize and overcome the obstacles of ambition and then effectively shows how to reach the highest level of creative discipline.

Think of it as tough love . . . for yourself.

Whether an artist, writer or business person, this simple, personal, and no-nonsense book will inspire you to seize the potential of your life.

Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield

The follow-up to his bestseller The War of Art, Turning Pro navigates the passage from the amateur life to a professional practice. “You don’t need to take a course or buy a product. All you have to do is change your mind.” –Steven Pressfield TURNING PRO IS FREE, BUT IT’S NOT EASY. When we turn pro, we give up a life that we may have become extremely comfortable with. We give up a self that we have come to identify with and to call our own. TURNING PRO IS FREE, BUT IT DEMANDS SACRIFICE. The passage from amateur to professional is often achieved via an interior odyssey whose trials are survived only at great cost, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. We pass through a membrane when we turn pro. It’s messy and it’s scary. We tread in blood when we turn pro. WHAT WE GET WHEN WE TURN PRO. What we get when we turn pro is we find our power. We find our will and our voice and we find our self-respect. We become who we always were but had, until then, been afraid to embrace and live out.

Do the Work by Steven Pressfield

“There is an enemy. There is an intelligent, active, malign force working against us. Step one is to recognize this. This recognition alone is enormously powerful. It saved my life, and it will save yours.” — Steven Pressfield Could you be getting in your way of producing great work? Have you started a project but never finished? Would you like to do work that matters, but don’t know where to start?The answer is Do the Work, a manifesto by bestselling author Steven Pressfield, that will show you that it’s not about better ideas, it’s about actually doing the work. Do the Work is a weapon against Resistance – a tool that will help you take action and successfully ship projects out the door. Picking up where The War of Art and Turning Pro left off, Do The Work takes the reader from the start to the finish of any long-form project—novel, screenplay, album, software piece, you name it. Do The Work identifies the predictable Resistance Points along the way and walks you through each of them. No, you are not crazy. No, you are not alone. No, you are not the first person to “hit the wall” in Act Two. Do The Work charts the territory. It’s the stage-by-stage road map for taking your project from Page One to THE END.

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

With insight, humor, and practicality, Natalie Goldberg inspires writers and would-be writers to take the leap into writing skillfully and creatively. She offers suggestions, encouragement, and solid advice on many aspects of the writer’s craft: on writing from “first thoughts” (keep your hand moving, don’t cross out, just get it on paper), on listening (writing is ninety percent listening; the deeper you listen, the better you write), on using verbs (verbs provide the energy of the sentence), on overcoming doubts (doubt is torture; don’t listen to it)—even on choosing a restaurant in which to write. Goldberg sees writing as a practice that helps writers comprehend the value of their lives. The advice in her book, provided in short, easy-to-read chapters with titles that reflect the author’s witty approach (“Writing Is Not a McDonald’s Hamburger,” “Man Eats Car,” “Be an Animal”), will inspire anyone who writes—or who longs to.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Advice on writing and on life from an acclaimed bestselling author:
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our  family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

On Writing by Stephen King

Immensely helpful and illuminating to any aspiring writer, this special edition of Stephen King’s critically lauded, million-copy bestseller shares the experiences, habits, and convictions that have shaped him and his work.

“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it—fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande

Becoming a Writer recaptures the excitement of Dorothea Brande’s creative writing classroom of the 1920s. Decades before brain research “discovered” the role of the right and left brain in all human endeavor, Dorothea Brande was teaching students how to see again, how to hold their minds still, and how to call forth the inner writer.



Websites & talks

Author Jeannie Hall’s (yes, of my Sisterhood of Suspense sisters) website Writing in you Jammies provides links to articles and podcasts that help you work through fear, procrastination, and anything else that might be holding you back. Seriously, her podcasts are the best! 

Author Steven Pressfields website offers wonderful daily articles about how to defeat Resistance and finish the book your meant to write.

KM Weiland’s website Writers Helping Other Writers has great articles on everything writing related, including Fear and Resistance.

JK Rowling’s famous Harvard Commencement speech on the benefits of failure:

Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on Your Elusive Creative Genius:

I hope if you ever worry about things like fear and failure, or if you’ve ever hoped for the zombies to show up so you don’t need to finish your current WIP, these resources will offer some hope. And maybe a few laughs along the way.

Now I’d love to know if you have any go-to books or advice to help you get out of the fear-induced funk.

(Book covers and blurbs courtesy of Amazon)

Sharon Wray is a librarian who once studied dress design in the couture houses of Paris and now writes about the men in her Deadly Force romantic suspense series where ex-Green Berets and their smart, sexy heroines retell Shakespeare’s greatest love stories.

Her debut book EVERY DEEP DESIRE, a sexy, action-packed retelling of Romeo and Juliet, is about an ex-Green Beret determined to regain his honor, his freedom, and his wife.

It’s available on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo | IndieBound

Adding it to your Goodreads TBR list is also always appreciated!

You can find Sharon on:

Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram | Goodreads |  Bookbub | Amazon