Two years ago in July, I gave birth to a baby. It was a crazy time, as adding a baby usually is, and the other kids (2,4, and 6) were a handful on their own. Tessa was born three weeks early, then the school year kicked in, we travelled for a wedding, and life ploughed ahead as I panted to keep up.
I was exhausted and thrilled and… restless.
So…two years ago in November, I started writing a novel. It was a crazy time, with the baby and the homeschooling and the reality that running a house isn’t exactly one of my premier talents. But there was something in my stirring, some sort of creative energy that I wanted to get out. I heard about National Novel Writing Month, an international event where people try to write 50,000 words during the month of November. I had a vague idea of a story, a stash of DP 10, and nice slot of time in the evening between baby feedings where I couldn’t quite go to sleep yet. So I dove into
NaNoWriMo, writing with a hushed sense of curiosity and nerves.
Two years later, that manuscript has taken shape into a 83,00 word document. But I would say that those two years of writing didn’t shape a book; those two years of writing have shaped me.
There is so much I could say on this topic. There’s the timeline and actual book writing and the logistics and heartaches. But I’ll try to simmer it down, to tell you the things that have deeply affected me in this journey.
So here’s a few things I’ve learned in two years of trying to write a book.
|Printed copy- April 2013
1. My husband is amazing.
Everyone says that kind of thing, right? In Oscar speeches and book dedications and TV interviews, the supportive spouse is a given, practically a cliche. But if you knew, if you could see the ways that my husband fed this flame in me, I think you would be astounded.
Somewhere early on, I’m not exactly sure when, Garrett saw that this “book thing” was more than a “book thing”. He could tell, long before I could, that I wasn’t killing time or finding a hobby: I was coming alive. But the hard thing was, I couldn’t seem to put it into words. I couldn’t explain to people how important it was or where I was going or why I was doing it- I just kept going because I felt like I had to. And my lack of being able to articulate it, the total absence of this “book thing” in the conversations that I had each day, that confused me.
But he knew, that husband of mine. He got it. He could see me floundering and fighting and feeling all these new things. And he kept saying that it didn’t have to make sense and it didn’t need to go anywhere and if no one ever read it, it still wasn’t a waste of time. It was good for me just to write it, no strings attached.
I can’t tell you how many times I told him I’m quitting. I’m done. I’m kind of over this whole write-a-book nonsense.
“Like hell you are.” was his typical response. (Another of my favorites is “Shut up and write.” That’s a good one.) He didn’t say it to be rude; he said it because he knew that it wasn’t my heart speaking, it was my fear. And living in fear, making choices in fear, running from lifegiving things because of fear- well, that is no way to live.
He gets that. And he gets me. And he has believed in me so fiercely that it makes me cry to think of it. And I knew those things about him, but this whole writing process has made me vulnerable in a different way, and allowed him to love me in different ways.
This book was written at the corner of My Uncertainty and Garrett’s Confidence in Me. That crossroads has become a familiar place, a sacred meeting point, a place I return to frequently.
Through most of the process, he had enough confidence for both of us. But it’s a confidence that comes without pressure. A willingness to help without the expectation of results. Maybe that is the most amazing part.
And his patience, oh my word, that man’s patience. I am humbled by the things he has taken on and put up with so that I (ME!) could work on a book.
2. It’s hard to talk about my book.
I alluded to that already, but I think it is worth explaining. I learned, through this process, that I don’t often bring up the things that are really important to me. But why?
I think sometimes it’s hard to articulate something that feels close, feels big, feels scarey. And if I don’t have the words, I’d rather not stumble through it and fight it out.
I think for a long time, I was kind of (and still am) embarrassed about the whole venture. It sounds silly to say that, but there’s something that seems so bold, so self-important, so having-your-life-together about looking someone in the face and saying, “I’m writing a book.”
I expected people to gag, swallow, maybe spit out their iced tea at that preposterous idea that I would try to write a book.
You? You, stay at home mom? You, who can’t seem to blog regularly? You, who pick up projects and lay them the down at weeks end out of boredom? You, with your messy house and your herd of sticky kids and your pages long list entitled “Things I’m Not Quite Getting To”? Really? You are writing a book?
Of course no one said that. But I imagined that they were thinking it. And that kept me from saying it, from spreading the word, from really conversing much about it.
3. When community steps in.
When that first NaNoWriMo came and went, I set the book aside and went back to “real life”. Sometime in the next spring, maybe March-ish, I had a conversation with my small group where we were answering the question “What energizes you?” I was afraid of that answer, afraid to bring up writing, but I did anyways.
And, friends, these kind people were so gracious and gentle and encouraging to me. They asked about the book- about the plot and the setting and how the superpower actually worked and what were the implications of all that. They asked where I was in the process and how often I was writing and why not more?
One friend said she was proud of me.
One friend said she couldn’t wait to read it. When it was published.
One friend kept asking, kept checking each week.
A year after that conversation, one friend reflected back on that talk and said he had long felt like this book had some kind of substance to it, like it wasn’t a fleeting thing, like it was something important I had to offer.
I took all those words and wrapped them up and kept them. There is nothing quite like genuine encouragement to battle self-doubt and fear. These people stepped in and heard me and spoke against my inner critic.
And though they hadn’t read it at that point (some have since), they couldn’t tell me how great it was or wasn’t- they gave me, in that moment, what I needed at that moment: permission to keep going.
They didn’t think it was crazy or stupid or irresponsible: they thought it was bold.
4. Criticism is not the enemy.
I’ve mentioned before that I have a hard time taking criticism. I can’t seem to let it be what it is: someone else’s ideas. It feels so personal and so all-encompassing and so hard to hear.
So as the project progressed, I began to ask a few people to read the manuscript. Almost all of the feedback was positive, though there were a few things that several people noted as weaker points of the story.
I’m ashamed to admit that even after all the time, the steps to let people read it, things going so well- it is still incredibly hard to look someone in the face and say those four impossible words, “What did you think?’ (Thankfully, facebook and email and texting have made it mostly unnecessary to actually look someone in the face. Kind of a sad reality.)
There is something completely vulnerable about putting a manuscript out there. It’s not like “Here’s this wreath I made” or “Look how I painted my dining room” or “Here’s my best attempt at pie”. It’s like “Here’s Me. Here’s what I have poured myself into. Here’s a chunk of my creative life for you to judge.PLEASE, OH PLEASE, BE GENTLE!!!!!”
Yeah, I know. It’s basically a relationship that borders insanity and teeters on the brink of flat-out-driving-ya-crazy. And when people only say nice things, My Crazy Self thinks, “It can’t be that good. What are they afraid to tell me? What are they not saying? It must be really bad.”
5. It’s really OK to do something just because you love to do it.
Somewhere along the way, I bought into this strange idea that I should do things that are helpful, meaningful, productive. At all times.
But what about space to do something because you just enjoy it?
You have that space, wherever you are in life. The amount of space isn’t always the same (sometimes I think, “Why didn’t I write this thing when I was in college????”), but it’s there for the taking.
That’s new to me. And I’m so thankful for that discovery.
Statistically speaking, it’s unlikely that I will actually publish this book. But that doesn’t make the effort a waste, it doesn’t make the hours meaningless. I have value, not just in producing something, but in being someone. And this process, this journey, has helped me to become.
And that’s no small thing, for any of us.
So where is it now?
Well, as of right now, the manuscript is still in progress. In October, I rewrote the beginning and am so pleased with how it came out. Now I’m focusing on the ending, which never really sat well with me. It needed a little more kick and a little more closure. So that’s what I’m up to right now.
As far as the agent who requested pages back in May, she wrote in early October and requested more! That was exciting.
I’m hoping to wrap up this draft, give it a good clean up, and send it out to a few other agents. I had hoped to have this done by the end of the year, but we shall see.
So there you have it. My manuscript is 2! Like most two year-olds, it has a mind of its own, cannot be hurried, and has me in tears at least once a week.
I would be remiss to sum up this whole process without thanking you- all of you who have commented, asked, sent your cheers and applause via facebook, and gone out of your way to be in this with me. I am really thankful for you and for the chance to write this book and for the way we all intersect somehow.
I hope that this week, no, TODAY, you will steal some moments to do something that makes you feel alive. Then bring that new life right back into the everyday, and just see if it doesn’t start to work itself out.
Thanks for reading. See ya Friday.
If you’d like to read more about the book writing journey, you kind find more ramblings on that subject: