by Emily Conrad

At 12:12 PM on Saturday afternoon, I typed the last line in my most recent work in progress. A few minutes later, deciding the moment needed to be punctuated, I added the words THE END. Just like that, all caps.

I shot off an email to a writing friend that went like this: Woot! I finished my draft today! But, well, shoot, I think it’s a romance after all.

She’s the only one who’s been reading it, and she assured me that yes, the novel’s a romance.

Well, shoot.

Up until now, my work has mostly been women’s fiction. Granted, I usually incorporate a strong romantic element, so writing all-out romance isn’t that much of a stretch, but there are some differences, and I was really, really committed to being considered a women’s fiction writer.

Now that it’s time to give the label up (in part, anyway), I’ve been questioning why it was so important to me to begin with. And what I’m learning applies to so many areas of life beyond writing.

I watched a crime show where the lab analyzed back of tape that had been used on a murder victim. Sure enough, the adhesive had saved the imprint of the killer’s fingerprints.

Well, now it’s my turn to play CSI. Labels have adhesive on the back, too, and when I peel up the label marked “women’s fiction” from the cover of this new book, I find fingerprints on the back, and they’re not Jesus’s.

I find the fingerprints of people-pleasing. Back when I first labeled my work women’s fiction, I had one or two specific readers in mind, readers who might go for women’s fiction but whose tastes veer away from romance. I respect these readers and wanted them to be my target audience, but they weren’t as fooled by my label as I was: in all honesty, my writing hasn’t resonated with them in years. They’re simply not my target audience, and that’s okay. I need to stop trying to prove myself to them and start writing for the readers who are my target audience.

I find the fingerprints of stereotyping. The romance genre has a bit of a stigma for being shallow and predictable, but of course it has a lot more to offer. A few of my favorite critique partners write romances, and I enjoy their work. I’ve been changed for the better by good Christian romances. And for the record, though I’ve also been changed and inspired by women’s fiction, not all of it is my cup of tea, either.

I find the fingerprints of pride. I was taking myself so very seriously that it was hard to admit my new novel is about a rock star. Double that when the plot involves a romance. I’m clearly writing a fantasy world with this one, right? But all novels are fantasy worlds. And I had so. much. fun. writing about Gannon Vaughn and Madeline Greene. And someday, I hope, you’ll have so much fun reading about them.

I mean, come on. A rock star and a church secretary/food truck vendor? How could that not be entertaining?

This journey of exploring how I’ve labeled my writing, why, and what I’ve nearly sacrificed to fit the label has inspired thoughts about other labels I’ve applied to myself.

I may not go crazy with a label maker around the house, but I’ve stuck them on pretty much every intangible: the roles I take on, the way I spend my day, my personality, maybe even my faith.

Blogger, novelist, classic literature lover, quiet, introvert, leader, reader, bookish, road trip enthusiast, hiker, nature lover, wife, sister, friend, success (in one area), failure (in another).

Many of these are helpful and inspire healthy actions, but there’s a problem any time we get too attached to our labels. When we know what to expect of them and have started to wear them as a badge of pride, we keep pressing the edges back down when Jesus has started to loosen the corners to make room for something new. Or we start sticking them to situations where the label was never meant to apply

Take that quiet label, for example. I’ve caught myself not speaking up when I ought to and the real reason for it? The fingerprints on the back of the label in some cases? Pride. I don’t want to say the wrong thing or be looked down upon for my opinions.

The process of releasing labels can be scary. It can mean reconsidering our identities, but our identities were never in the label, anyway. We are who God says we are, and as followers of Christ, dearly beloved and redeemed, our identities are always, always safe with Him, so much deeper than our labels.

So take a gander at your labels. Get out the plastic scrapper and pitch in when Jesus asks you to loosen one. And before you replace it with something new, identify whose fingers hold the label you intend to apply next. Learn to recognize the hands of pride and people-pleasing and fear before they stick a label where it shouldn’t be.

I’ve learned from my journey to becoming a romance novelist is that Jesus is better at label removal than Goo Gone. He can loosen up labels we’ve stuck where they just don’t belong and slip them off for good–for our good.

#Jesus can loosen up labels we’ve stuck where they don’t belong and slip them off for our good via @emilyrconrad

Title image photo by Matt Briney on Unsplash, text added on
Card catalog photo by Sanwal Deen on Unsplash
Tape photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash