Write Now with Leslie Morris Noyes

How this writer was turned off by the typical romance novels and decided to write her own

Write Now with Leslie Morris Noyes
Photo courtesy of Leslie Morris Noyes

Typically the word “binge” draws up visions of lazy Netflix days. Not for Leslie. She writes in binges of 12 to 16 hours at a time. While this sounds like a lot, have you ever lost yourself in a project only to discover the day flew by and you forgot to eat? Just me? Ok.

Who Are You?

Leslie Morris Noyes here.

I’m a graphic designer by training and inclination. I’m also Jewish and grew up in small-town Vermont — an unusual cultural mix I still enjoy. After attending The Cooper Union in New York City, I stayed on to work as an art director for magazines. New York was a rough place in the 80s when I lived there. It wore me out — so, I returned to Vermont, although all these years later, my clothes are still mostly black.

What Do You Write?

When I was going through a divorce, I discovered romance novels. I needed to believe in Happily Ever After (HEA), even if my experience was the opposite; romance novels, with their HEAs, were the perfect therapy. But I eventually became allergic to naïve young heroines, and love scenes with heaving breasts, instant orgasms, and tumescent anything.

I wanted stories about women my age — in their forties — who were better at managing life than I was. How do we pick ourselves up after life slaps us down over and over again? How do we transform emotional pain into the energy needed to improve our lives? What makes us realize that no one is going to rescue us and we’d better figure out how to rescue ourselves?

Extremes don’t interest me — I don’t want to read about lost children or murderous stalkers. I want to understand how ordinary women find grace and joy navigating everyday tragedies and frustrations: rebellious teenagers, breakups, losing a great job, or surviving a hateful job they’re afraid to leave.

Novels about mature heroines aren’t easy to find, especially if you also want the story to include a romance, good writing, and some spicy sex scenes. I decided to write such a novel myself.

I write stories where intimacy between the protagonists drives the plot and reveals facets of the characters’ journey not observable otherwise. I don’t think it’s possible to write such scenes without being explicit. But the intimacy of a love scene is difficult to write. I am a child of the’60s and ’70s, when breaking taboos was the norm, but I’m also a Yankee, with the reticence that entails. These traits war with each other when I write love scenes.

Where Do You Write?

There is so much noise inside my head that I need a white room and a neat desk to lower the decimal level. I also require a window. I think really fast; staring into the distance slows my brain down.

Ergonomic perfection has been achieved by creating a desk from an 8-foot-long slab of blond wood and filing cabinets. During the pandemic, I accidently acquired too many houseplants — maybe the way other people acquired pets — that sit at each end of my desk. Happily, they flower — they became cheerful companions during the past grey Vermont winter.

I don’t write in longhand because I can’t write fast enough to keep up with my brain. I use a Mac — most designers do. Once I have a few pages down, I rewrite until I feel the text is coherent enough to move on. After finishing the first draft, I polish and polish and polish some more. I write quickly, but because I go over the manuscript so many times, I also write slowly.

When Do You Write?

I’m a binge writer, doing it 12 or 16 hours at a time. If I were to write during the week, my clients would suffer because writing is all I would do, so I save scenes in my head and write like crazy over weekends.

Why Do You Write?

The process of discovery is the most intoxicating thing about writing. Often, I’ll wonder where what I just wrote came from because I had no idea it was inside me. Writing is mysterious and thrilling, even when it is difficult. Or, maybe, especially when it is difficult.

Typically, a story idea just comes to me as a visual first. I flesh out plots in bed and during long drives. I see the pivotal scene first. Then, I work backward to the opening, imagining the nuances of the conflict that pulls my characters into crisis. Once I have that, I work forward to the end.

I cannot abide three words regularly found in romance novels: “tumescent,” “laved,” and “member.” I leave it to you to imagine how those words are usually arranged in a sentence.

How Do You Overcome Writer’s Block?

Performance anxiety is my writer’s block. I never had formal training as a writer. No surprise, I doubted whether I could write well. As a designer, however, I work with writers and editors who teach by example. Placing in a few contests and seeing the judges’ comments gave me some confidence. But getting started remains the hardest part, so I flesh my stories out in my head before writing anything. That way there are no excuses in the way of getting on with it.

Bonus: What Do You Enjoy Doing When Not Writing?

I’m not cleaning, that’s for sure! With the election and pandemic, I’ve had a hard time tearing myself away from The New York Times and The Washington Post. In 2021, I hope to keep my desktop tidy. That way I won’t have to spend hours organizing before my weekend writing binges!

A version of this article also appeared on Medium.