How Writing Romance Improved My Professional Writing by Rebecca Heflin

1446068_26421276Like so many authors, I have a day-job. In my case, it’s as an attorney for a large research university. My days are spent sending emails answering legal questions from members of the university workforce, reviewing or drafting contracts, reviewing new laws or regulations and putting them into a digestible format, and sometimes writing full blown legal memoranda. Of course law school taught me the basics of legal drafting, but it took romance writing to really hone my writing skills. Here are the top five ways writing romance novels improved my professional writing.

1. Even though writing romance novels calls for flowing narratives and descriptions, the writing still needs to be sharp. Don’t use five words when one will do. Using strong verbs, concise descriptions, and contextually appropriate words (see below) is important regardless of the type of writing, be it technical, professional, or prose. Sharpening the focus in my romance writing has spilled over into my professional writing. Also, if not completely ridding myself of passive writing — one of my bad habits — at least recognizing it more. Writing in active voice has strengthened my prose. And in the legal field, strength is always good.

2. Learning to plot my novels (loosely, since I’m a pantster), has changed the way I present the legal material to my client. I’ve learned to tell a story with whatever law or regulation it is that I’m educating them on. And a well-organized piece is clear and logical, which is what my clients need when dealing with a complex regulatory scheme.

3. Language or word choice. Using precise and accurate words adds clarity to writing. While fastidious may have many synonyms, not all synonyms are created equal. There’s a big difference between someone who is meticulous (positive) and someone who is fussy (negative). Finding the right word within the context of the piece your drafting is important.

4. Grammar and Style. I’ve always been decent with grammar and punctuation, but I’ve learned so much more since I’ve been writing books, and after edits and re-edits, I can spot an error (in someone else’s work) from a mile away. In fact, my colleagues call me eagle eye and often ask me to review their important documents before they’re finalized.

5. Sentence structure. Mixing simple sentences with complex, compound, and compound-complex sentences keeps the reader interested and engaged. And nothing needs a little pizzazz like a mind-numbing regulation. Continued use of the same sentence structure can turn a piece into a dull, plodding passage that soon puts your reader to sleep. And over-use of compound-complex sentences when you’re explaining a convoluted law doesn’t lend itself to clarity. Just like in a novel, simple sentences pack a punch. When there’s an important aspect of a law, like, say, the penalty for violating it, nothing gets that point across like a simple sentence: Failure to comply with the law is a felony. BOOM!

The improvement in my professional writing has paid off, because my boss says I am an excellent writer, that my emails and memoranda are concise, informative, and well-crafted.

Has writing romance changed the way you write in other aspects of your life? If so, how?



About Rebecca Heflin

I've dreamed of writing romantic fiction since I was fifteen and my older sister snuck a copy of Kathleen Woodiwiss' Shanna to me and told me to read it. Now I write women's fiction and contemporary romance under the name Rebecca Heflin. In case you're wondering, Rebecca Heflin is an abbreviated version of my great-great grandmother's name: Sarah Anne Rebecca Heflin Apple Smith. Whew! And you wondered why I shortened it. When not passionately pursuing my dream, I am busy with my day-job at a large state university or running the non-profit cancer organization my husband and I founded. I'm a member of Romance Writers of America (RWA), Florida Romance Writers, RWA Contemporary Romance, Savvy Authors, and Florida Writers Association. My mountain-climbing husband and I live at sea level in sunny Florida.
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11 Responses to How Writing Romance Improved My Professional Writing by Rebecca Heflin

  1. Misha Crews says:

    My day job is in accounting, and I never realized it before, but I do think that writing romance has improved my day-job writing. I love how you broke down the whys and wherefores of where that improvement comes from. What a cool post! Thanks! 🙂

  2. Beth Carter says:

    It makes sense that fiction writing has sharpened your technical writing. Mine has worked in reverse. My non-fiction writing in health care and banking helped me to write fiction more concisely and vividly (think attention-grabbing billboards, print ads and 30-second television scripts).

    I’m curious. Do your colleagues know you write romance novels?! Fun, unique post.

    • Hi Beth! Yes, many of my colleagues know. It’s funny though, there is one colleague who I didn’t think knew, and then she followed my on Goodreads! She loves my books. ( :

  3. Harriet Hale says:

    One of my favorite topics, Rebecca! I come from a legal/academic background as well, and I can see the improvement for all the reasons you stated above.

    I’ve also noticed it in my familiarity with different tools and platforms. If I’m promoting myself as an author, I’m learning things to promote my “other” employer. If I put together an email newsletter as part of my 9-5 job, then I’m not as nervous about doing an author newsletter.

    The other big spot is confidence. Good feedback in one area helps in both.

    – Harriet

    • Thanks, Harriet. It is amazing how the day-job helps with the writing and vice versa. Because I was so familiar with Word’s track changes feature from marking up contracts, working on manuscript edits came easily.

  4. Great post. I think writing, in any form, is one of those interdisciplinary things that benefits us in ways we don’t’ even realize.

    • Hi Catherine, thanks for stopping by. I completely agree. Even writing a simple thank you note or expression of sympathy can benefit how we express ourselves in our fiction.

  5. traceyawood says:

    Reblogged this on traceyawoodblog.

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