The Year I Quit my Job and Finished My Novel
I wrote a book. This book had been brewing inside of me, clamoring to get out, for a couple of years now. I’ve been an avid reader since I could pick up a book so the desire to write stories like I had read, and were swallowed into, was strong. I aspired to move readers with my words, to make them laugh, cry, gasp, swoon, and soar through heart quailing adventures. To fight dragons and demons, to conjure with witches, travel new worlds, question the universe, explore all the many shades of the human condition, prevail over adversity, and succeed/survive/win against the greatest odds. In other words, to live and love through my images jumping from the page.
Of course, any writer will tell you that writing is easier said than done. I started my book with two prompts I found on my author Twitter feed a couple of years ago. For the novice, a prompt is a word or phrase created to nudge your creative juices towards a fully-fledged story. I started writing, feeling a bit daunted by the fact that a really good novel is at least 80K words and usually more. Could I actually get to that point? How could I possibly write 80 thousand plus words? What would I even say?
As with all creative endeavors, I tried to educate myself on the craft of writing. There are many excellent books out there about the creative process: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert; Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont; On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King: Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, just to name a few I delved into. No one can really tell you how to write, just as no one can really tell you how to paint, write a song, or act. But they can give you pointers, techniques or just plain advice on what worked for them. So I persisted. And my story grew. As did the number of websites, blogs and writer resources on my social media and in my inbox. In an effort to become enlightened and inspired on the craft of writing, I have linked into a mind-boggling number of resources that have become almost too much to process on a regular basis. What’s a novice to do?
One of the greatest moments I aspire to is having my book reviewed as the most “astonishing”, “amazing”, “exciting fresh voice”, “add your own adjective here” debut novel. I’ve read quite a few of those reviews this past year while in quarantine which tells me many people are on the same journey as I am; working on (and, for those authors, succeeding) getting their first novel published. How did they do that?
To say the amount of information on writing and publishing out in the world is massive would be an understatement.
I’ve watched tens of webinars, studiously writing notes and taking names. I’ve read too many blog posts on writing and publishing to count. I subscribe to The Writer and Writer’s Digest magazines. I joined a Zoom book writing group. I’ve connected with writers, agents, bloggers, and authors on social media. I’ve updated my author website. I’ve written blog posts, posted excerpts from my published articles and upcoming (aforementioned) novel on that website. I’ve tried to digest all of the information I’ve gathered and have attempted to pick out the nuggets of advice that works for me.
And yet…instead of clarity, the information has created more of a dilemma. Is my first line strong enough to hook the reader? What about the first 20 pages which is what grabs an agent? Did I write good characters and an intriguing story arc? Is there tension? A resolution? Do I go the traditional publishing route or self-publish? Find an agent, or do it myself? Query, pitch, or propose? Marketing, marketing! Who is my audience? What do I give out for free to build my reader list? Do I have an author website, Amazon page, 10k social media followers? Beta readers? Editors? Could I have wine with that, please?!
Is it any wonder there are days I sit looking at my garden, the creative and business process of writing leaving me drained and questioning? I am not new to the practice of trying to live a creative life. Many years ago I did the same with an acting career. If my acting resume looks somewhat impressive, it looks less so when spanned over a ten year period. And yet…
Denying the creative muse is not an option. I know this not only from my own experience but from other actors, musicians, authors, and artists who share their journeys. If I am not officially published or paid or no one buys my book, does that mean I am not a writer? Do I need validation from others to say I am an artist of any kind? If a tree falls in a forest…well, I think the point is taken.
A common piece of advice for every person who has wanted to be an actor, writer, musician, insert creative life label here, is to make sure they have something to fall back on. I always had the image of a great big bean bag at my heels, ready to absorb all of my hopes and dreams into its vast maw as soon as I tripped over yet another dead end audition or rejection notice. I decided I preferred failing and getting up again to tumbling onto a safer but creatively muted path.
As I write this, my book is in the hands of one more reader (thank you to all the readers who have read the previous drafts!), in what is hopefully the last and most complete edit of my 92k word manuscript. Yes! I wrote 92 thousand words! I am proud of the story I have birthed into the world and I have high hopes it will succeed in garnering some readers. Mostly it has been the glow of actually completing this endeavor that I am basking in. Am I a writer even if no one reads my writing? A thousand times, yes. Secretly, though, I am still waiting for that incredible debut review. And I am kicking that bean bag to the corner.