What It’s Really Like to Be a Hallmark Holiday Writer

Ever wonder who comes up with those sweet stories of snow, St. Nick, serendipity, and soulmates? It's authors like Barbara Hinske, who told us what it's really like to have your novel turned into one of these instant classics.

The Christmas Club Book CoverCourtesy Barbara Henske

The path to writing and romance

For many, the schmaltzy seasonal fare that fills the Hallmark Channel’s programming slate between Halloween and New Year’s Eve is as much a part of getting in the holiday spirit as baking cookies, decorating the tree, sipping eggnog, and listening to carols. This year’s batch of fresh feel-good films includes The Christmas Club, premiering on November 27 at 8 p.m. ET and starring Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost) and Cameron Mathison (All My Children). The plot? Two busy strangers help an elderly woman find her lost Christmas savings and are brought together by fate time and again until they, of course, fall in love.

It’s based on a book of the same name written by Barbara Hinske, a Phoenix-based corporate lawyer who changed her own destiny by penning novels in her free time and eventually becoming a full-time author in 2019. The mother of six (who has a son, a daughter, two stepsons, and two rescue dogs) and recent grandmother of one chatted with us about what it’s really like to change careers later in life and to be a professional writer whose characters are brought to life in a Hallmark movie. Can’t get enough of these seasonal romances? Binge-watch the 20 best Hallmark Christmas movies.

barbara hinske on set of the christmas club hallmark movieCourtesy Barbara Hinske

A childhood dream

Hinske, who grew up in the Cleveland suburbs, wanted to be a writer since she was a child. That dream that was bolstered by her father, who told her stories every night before bed. “My remarkable father was a gifted storyteller,” she says. “His example set my feet on my current journey as a novelist.” She was also inspired to put pen to paper by a famous author’s story. “I fell in love with the idea of being a writer when, as a child, I read that Louisa May Alcott wrote plays for her sisters to perform,” she explains. “I wrote plays for my brother and his friends, but they didn’t share my vision.” A dream has to start somewhere, right? Here are 10 “dream big” quotes that will motivate you right now.

From the law to a laptop

She first went the responsible route and became a lawyer. In fact, Hinske was an attorney for several Fortune 500 companies until July 2019. Writing was her side hustle for years, and she eventually published her first novel in 2012. Even though she authored six installments of the best-selling Rosemont series and had The Christmas Club turned into a Hallmark movie, quitting her day job was not a change she took lightly. “I loved my lawyer job and was reasonably proficient at it, so it was a difficult step to take,” she explains. “I worked with my long-term life coach for almost a year before I allowed myself to step away from that job to fully embrace this new author career that brings me great joy.” Hinske was lucky enough to have liked both professions. Many folks can’t say the same. Here are 9 signs that you need to shift career gears.

Barbara Hinske filming hallmark movieCourtesy Barbara Hinske

Practice makes perfect

Though the law and fiction may seem worlds apart, Hinske believes her years as a legal eagle helped shape her life as a literary beast. “My experience as a lawyer has stood me in very good stead in handling all of the business aspects of being an author,” she says. “My tenacity and ability to force myself into my chair to write was definitely honed by my years of practicing law. I’m a proficient legal writer, and that skill affords me clarity in my fiction writing.” No matter what field you’re in, these are the things wildly successful people do every day.

From pew to paper

The Christmas Club came out in 2016, but the inspiration for the book is far older. “The idea came from a sermon I heard more than 30 years ago,” reveals Hinske. “The message was to do kind things in nice ways—that one shouldn’t expect recognition for doing a good deed. That hit home because I, like most of us, love a big ‘thank you’ when I’ve done something generous. Anonymous acts of kindness are their own reward. I took this idea and fluffed it up with intersecting storylines and a budding romance.” It’s not hard to bring a smile to someone’s face. Here are 35 random acts of kindness you can do in two minutes or less.

The Christmas ClubSteven Ackerman/Courtesy ©2019 Crown Media United States LLC

Source material

Of course, not all of her ideas start with divine intervention. Hinske finds bits and pieces of characters and stories out in the wild. “I’m curious—some would call it nosy—by nature,” she confesses. “Many of my story ideas come from observing people and places in real life. Airports are always interesting for people watching, [as there’s] lots of human drama. Places where people run into others they know are good, too, like the grocery store. You can tell a lot about someone’s life by what’s in their cart.” In fact, this is what your favorite foods say about your personality.

Notes to self

When inspiration hits, wherever that might be, she jots down ideas on any available paper. “If you dumped the contents of my purse on the table, you’d find a fistful of paper scraps containing notes that I’ve made while out and about,” she says. “Some I can decipher; others, not so much.”

Barbara Hinske's dogsCourtesy Barbara Hinske

Where the magic happens

When it’s time to work, she holes up in her office, which has windows that overlook her garden and a fountain. Her coworkers are of the furry variety. “My two dogs, Abby and Sally, usually curl up on the bed by my desk to provide me moral support as I soldier on,” she says. “I write on a laptop in a big, cozy chair by a sunny window with my feet on a needlepoint footstool.”

She falls somewhere between neat freak and slob. “My office is what I like to call medium clean. I have papers about, but they’re contained in trays and organized in neat stacks. I worked in a paperless environment as a lawyer, but my author self hasn’t embraced that.” That’s actually not a bad thing since science shows that if your desk is a mess, you’re probably a genius. (Seriously.)

What an average work day looks like

Writing the perfect romance takes a lot of hard work, of course. One of the secrets to Hinske’s success is creating a routine and sticking to it. It also happens to be one of the things creative geniuses usually have in common. “I adore routine,” she admits. “I get up very early—I’ve had my first cup of coffee by 4:30 a.m.—and attend to email and social media first. Then I walk my dogs before my first two-hour writing session. I’ll take a break for an hour or two to eat lunch, practice piano, or run an errand before settling in for another two-hour session.”

Meeting daily goals

Being organized keeps her on schedule to meet her goal of having a solid first draft in eight weeks. She says, “I work from a detailed outline. It makes the writing process much more efficient and eliminates figuratively painting oneself into a corner. I’ll spend two to four weeks outlining before I begin writing. I write one book at a time and aim for 2,500 words a day. But I can be revising or marketing other works while I’m working on a first draft.” Here’s what else you need to be successful working from home.

Unfortunately, she can’t plan and organize away writer’s block entirely. When it strikes, she walks it off. “I go for a walk. Something about the oppositional motion of the arms unlocks the brain. I think there is respectable science behind that notion,” she explains. “That works 90 percent of the time. If that fails, I’ll turn to my outline and write a scene that I’m looking forward to writing.”

Another pair of eyes

Hinske does the heavy lifting solo, but she values the input she gets from her writing coach, Linden Gross, who has worked with her since book one. “We hammer out the outline together. Then I write like mad for two weeks and send her what I’ve done,” she explains. “We discuss, and she provides spot-on insights into what’s working and what’s not. I make the necessary edits. Rinse and repeat.” It’s not always easy to hear that your work isn’t perfect, and that’s true in any profession and any situation. Here’s how to handle criticism from anyone—the right way.

The Christmas ClubSteven Ackerman/Courtesy ©2019 Crown Media United States LLC

When she realized she’d made it

Hinske recalls a fan encounter as the moment she first realized she had become a successful author. “I’ll never forget the moment,” she says. “I was walking to my seat at an NBA game and a woman approached me to ask if I was author Barbara Hinske and could she take a picture with me.”

Having her book turned into a Hallmark holiday movie was yet another career high. “Seeing words that I wrote being voiced by actors on the screen was incredibly moving, and I still choke up thinking about the experience,” Hinske reveals. “I love the focus on the generosity of the human spirit and the irresistible pull of love in my novel and am certain that its depiction on the screen will bring comfort, hope, and joy to millions. My book becoming a TV movie has opened many doors and afforded many lovely surprises. I can’t think of one bad thing about it!”

Do you wish you were this excited about what you did for a living? You need to read these 10 surprising ways people found their dream careers—and you can, too.

Adapting to adaptation

Many authors struggle when someone takes their creation from the page to the screen. It’s often because they are unable to let go of the original work and make peace with the changes made by a screenwriter. Hinske, however, came through unscathed. “Sometimes you have to let go and have faith in the people who are taking over for you. It’s sort of like sending your child to school for the first time,” she says. “I trusted that it was in the right hands to bring it to life on the screen. It turns out my blind faith was rewarded. Screenwriter Julie Sherman Wolfe did a genius job, even incorporating a new twist that I wish I’d thought of.”

Lights! Camera! Action!

Hinske and her husband spent a week on location in Winnipeg, Manitoba, during filming last summer. She felt for the actors who had to portray wintery scenes in July. “It was hot, hot, hot,” she says. “The actors shed their coats and scarves as soon as the cameras stopped rolling. The women then had curling irons plunked on their heads!”

Outerwear misery didn’t stop her from jumping at the chance to make a cameo: “The directors put my husband and me in as extras in the scenes filmed at Baked Expectations. Look for me at the table with Gertrude. I got paid for eating cheesecake!”

Add Winnipeg to the list of TV and movie filming locations you can visit in real life.

barbara hinske hallmark movie setCourtesy Barbara Hinske

Behind-the-scenes secrets

Despite the sweltering temperatures and the long days, Hinske is happy to report that she didn’t witness any diva behavior while visiting the set. Quite the opposite, actually. “I expected tempers to flare and people to get impatient with each other,” she admits. “Not so! Every cast and crew member was kind and generous. No one ever treated my husband or me like we were in their way.”

She was particularly struck by how kind and helpful the lead actors were to the other actors. And none of it was put on for her benefit—it was all genuine. She had a prime place in video village with headphones, so she could hear the side conversations between takes. “Cameron spent a lot of time and energy with the child actors who were getting tired and bored, keeping them engaged,” she says. “We didn’t know it at the time, but he did all this while he had cancer. Remarkable. I also heard Elizabeth talking to one of the young extras. The little girl was scared, and Elizabeth related to her, comforted her, and mothered her out of her fear. I believe this movie will shine with all the goodness of the people who brought it to life.” Don’t miss these 19 powerful kindness quotes that will stay with you.

The hallmark of Hallmark

Hinske’s deepest wish is to encourage and uplift readers and, soon, viewers. Her ethos lines up with the Hallmark brand. “Hallmark Channel’s content, both Christmas and otherwise, allows us to immerse ourselves in the kind and gentle worlds—where people and communities pull together to support each other—that we all want to live in,” she says. “These shows inspire us to be our best selves.” Because it’s the most wonderful time of the year, make some time to watch the 40 best Christmas movies of all time (or at least a few of them).

The Christmas ClubSteven Ackerman/Courtesy ©2019 Crown Media United States LLC

What’s next

Hinske’s next book, Guiding Emily, will be released in early 2020. She hints that it’s a love story between “a guide dog and his handler, who loses her eyesight on her honeymoon. The novel tracks their separate journeys toward each other. I adored writing this book and I’m donating half of my profits to the Foundation for Blind Children. It has a very real and worthy mission.” If you’re not experiencing this level of fulfillment, you can do something about it. Here are 15 more stories that prove it’s never too late to change your life.

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Carrie Bell
Carrie Bell is a Los Angeles-based writer who has been covering travel, entertainment, food, and other culture/lifestyle topics for nearly two decades. Her work has appeared in Reader’s Digest, People, Yahoo, Cosmopolitan, Fodor’s, and Bridal Guide and she is Southern California specialist for TripSavvy. She earned a BA in journalism at Humboldt State University in only three years and co-authored The Bathtub Reader: An Amusing Miscellany for the Discerning Mademoiselle.