[Repost from 4/11/2015 – still relevant after taking a 2-year hiatus from writing shortly after this originally posted.]
I remember writing (and illustrating) my first book at nine or ten years old. I wrote it on typing paper that I had cut in half then folded and stapled. I even drew the front cover. That was my first book, Lily the Lemon. Today, I don’t remember what it was about and the book has most likely been recycled into something useful. I’d given it to my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Lowe (I remember her well). She asked me to read it to the class then, afterward, I gave it back to her. It wasn’t a class assignment. It was just something I did because I wanted to. The “sharing with the class” part was the teacher’s idea.
As I grew older, about twelve years old, I wrote my first play. I even convinced some of my classmates to star in the play and it would have been performed on assembly day (the day the students performed and showcased our talents). Unfortunately, everybody wanted to play the same part. Because I had no “people management” skills at twelve — and my teacher told me to handle it — I scrapped the play. But, nonetheless, it was written. I don’t remember what it was about but it involved Charlie’s Angels and Starsky & Hutch.
Looking back, I’ve always written… just because I liked to. Not for a class assignment. Not for accolades. Just because something inside of me said I had to do it. As years went on, I wrote less and less. Eventually, my writing became something I had to do for school — an essay, book report, research paper. Each time, my teachers encouraged me to write professionally. Still, it never occurred to me that “writing” for a living was something I could do.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and I’m sitting in a corner office with the title Executive Director / CEO. I’m writing proposals and web content and public relations blurbs. I’d reached the highest level I could go in my field. Life was good. Life was great. And the last thing on my mind was writing a book. I had long since shelved the idea of writing a novel. As a matter of fact, in 1994, I tried my hand at writing a complex family saga (novel) — even solicited my ex-husband’s help in fleshing out a character who was a professional football player. The novel was a mess. It was over-written, somewhat disorganized, and the structure was flimsy at best. I abandoned that project and never looked back (although I often started, but never truly completed, other novels). Instead, I wrote short stories and poetry (which won some recognition).
Life has a funny way of making you do what you’re intended to do, though. In 2008, I lost my job. The economy crashed shortly thereafter. I couldn’t find a job. And slowly, one-by-one, I lost everything. I relocated back to my hometown, Chicago — some place I vowed I’d never come back to. It was time to redefine myself. Unemployment benefits were running out, I still had no job prospects in sight, so I went back to school to work on my doctorate. But even that was getting prohibitive in cost. So, I had to figure out what else I could do. I asked myself “what can you do right now — at this very moment — to earn some cash?” Write.
So, I wrote articles “freelance.” They paid pennies for the articles — it was what I called an article mill. I had to write dozens of articles a week in order to pay my bills. But I will tell you, the gigs got me writing again — and it sharpened my writing skills. It made me a more focused and organized writer.
After the freelance writing gigs dried up, the job market was getting better. So, I re-entered the workforce. But before I found a job, I discovered a little competition called NaNoWriMo (which was short for National Novel Writing Month). The challenge was to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days. Imagine that, writing a novel in a month. Writing a novel seemed so daunting to me because I’d written many before but never finished them. I never got the hang of writing them. But when I decided to try my hand at NaNoWriMo, I learned something about myself. I could write a novel — an organized, well-formed novel.
Then Prudence was born — the story about a woman whose life was very similar to mine in many ways. Her road to happiness seemed mired with potholes and detours. She’d been pushed and pulled in so many directions, she had lost her way. And just when she didn’t think she could take any more — life threw a few more challenges her way. But, guess what — it only made her stronger. And that’s what happened to me. Life’s challenges made me far stronger than I thought I could be.
I wrote a novel. Then I published it. Then people bought and read it. Holy cow! People read my book! It wasn’t stuffed in some trunk or left dusty on some disk or hard drive. It was published for other people to read. And for the most part was well-received. Of course, there were people who didn’t like it or thought it could’ve been better. Of course. It was my first novel. Yet, it somehow escaped me that I’d actually accomplished something that I never thought I could.
Then Wildflower was born. My next attempt at NaNoWriMo conceived Wildflower. It is a follow-up to Prudence, giving closure to the characters in Prudence and introducing new characters. Wildflower was another story about a woman trying to find her way — this time, after a divorce. Imagine that! After my third divorce, I shied away from relationships. I didn’t think I could endure the pain of another failed relationship, so I ran away as fast as I could. Wildflower was the re-imagining of what relationships could be. Unfortunately, I threw a situation at Iris, the protagonist, that would make her decisions about love a whole lot more challenging. Still… the big question of the story was, would she choose love?
After Wildflower, I was going to hang up my writing pen and rest in the fact that I’d finally written not one but two novels. And published them. There were too many things standing in the way of my enjoyment of writing. Mainly, the critics. It was harder than I thought to deal with the criticism, despite the overwhelming number of people who applaud the stories. But as I watched my readership dwindle, it began to feel more like a failure than an accomplishment. And no matter what I did to try to grow my audience, it continued to drop.
Why do I write? That was the question I had to ask myself. It’s the only thing that would decide for me if I’d keep going. Some of my favorite supporters encouraged me to keep going, to not quit. But, I didn’t feel it in my heart. I felt like maybe the Universe was telling me I was on the wrong path — that writing is not my calling. Then what, I asked?
NaNoWriMo rolled around again. There was a story I’d been working on but had tabled because I just wasn’t feeling like writing anymore. So, I dusted off the story and finished it. I didn’t like it. I put it away. Then months later, I pulled it out and read it. I liked it. It needed some work and some re-imagining, so I tweaked it. I rearranged it. I plugged the holes. I deleted chunks of it. Then, slowly, I began to see Dangerously In Love come alive.
I published my third novel, Dangerously In Love. It’s only been out a month. It has good reviews so far but it’s not selling well. Prudence, my first novel, still outsells the other two. Grateful that a two-year-old story is still selling, I smiled and hoped that maybe if they liked Prudence, they’d read Wildflower and Dangerously in Love, too.
Then something happened. I had an epiphany — a revelation. I WROTE THREE NOVELS!! And with each one I wrote, the writing became easier. The structure became more natural. The plotting became more instinctive. HOLY COW!! I’M A FREAKIN’ WRITER!! That was the revelation.
What it all came down to was — when you get to the bottom line — just do it. JUST DO IT! That’s it. Just do it — whatever “it” is. That’s all it takes is doing it. And it will be done. If it can happen for me, it can happen for you.