The Six Hard Truths of Writing a Book (or Sacrificing your Pigeons)
I've been thinking about this post for a few weeks, debating whether or not I wanted to share it. For most of my life, writing has been an intensely personal thing. It's been there, my constant companion, as long as I can remember. As a little girl, before I could really even write, I would squiggle meaningless, curvy lines on paper and tie the sheets together, calling my squiggledy creation "my book."
Writing an entire novel has been my ultimate goal at least since elementary school. Throughout high school and college, the writing I undertook was intensely personal. Not diary -personal, but letting others read what I had created felt incredibly intimate and raw. I felt that I was offering up a portion of my deepest, most secret, inward part not only for others to see but for them to judge and use. I had a few poems published in our college's journal. They were met with positive reception; yet I found myself still feeling embarrassed about it. As if the words on the page were a paper form of me blurting out something loud and intense and rather impolite into the room.
Last November, just a few short months ago, Mark and I sat down and had a long talk. We decided that it was "now or never" for me to write my long-dreamed-of book. He had just been offered a new job in the district, and while we certainly would not be rich, we'd be able to cover all our bills on his salary. "I want you to be happy and accomplish your dream," my husband told me. Yes, ladies, he really told me that-- and yes, ladies, he's all mine.
So, in December, I started writing full time. I pulled out all my old manuscripts and ideas and compiled the mess into an organized outline. Now, two months later, I have a coherent story line beginning to form, with about twelve chapters to show for my efforts. It's not finished by any means-- but it's a definite start. It hasn't been an easy process so far-- and I'm pretty sure I still have a lot to learn-- but actually working toward what's been my lifelong goal has left me filling more fulfilled than any other career or job I've ever pursued.
So, in the spirit of full authenticity, here are a few truths I've learned on my journey (so far) to becoming a writer:
1. It requires sacrifice.
And I don't just mean time and effort. I mean literal sacrifice. Each morning, you must catch and offer a small white dove, wrapped in ceremonial blue ribbon, to the elusive Muses. Then and only then can you proceed with the pen. ..Yes, yes, of course I'm kidding! Don't get your panties in a wad. Although, sacrifice-- in the sense of doing without-- is a real thing. Mark and I knew that while I was writing, we wouldn't benefit from a dual income. We wouldn't be flush with cash or able to spend money frivolously just because we wanted something. We would have to live according to a very real budget and in some cases do without. But the funny thing about doing without: sometimes it makes you realize that you had a lot to begin with. It's not always easy-- sometimes I find myself whining about it, I'll admit it-- but focusing on what we do have and what I plan to accomplish makes it worth it.
2. Support is nice, but you have to do it for yourself.
I've been so blessed to have the support of my husband in this entire process so far. He has shouldered so much to make this dream possible for me, and I love him all the more for it. But recently it hit me: you can't rely solely on others' emotional support to push you through the process. There's always going to be someone who says or implies that "what your doing isn't a real job" or that making extra money is more important than pursuing a dream. I wasted so much time being afraid that people would see me as a spoiled little wife or as someone taking advantage of her husband-- only because they couldn't see the hours spent at the computer, cranking out page after page from nothing. Eventually, I had to learn to let those opinions--most of them admittedly imagined by own paranoia-- go in one ear and out the other. People are always going to have opinions-- but what matters if what you think of yourself and what your loved ones think of you. And that is all. Do it for yourself, not for others.
3. Realize your writing is going to be "out there."
Perhaps partially due to the above issue, I had a hard time admitting to others that I'm writing a book. It sounded frivolous to me, like code for "oh I'm staying at home, poking around on the computer" or "oh I don't have a job, you know me." Yet, I shouldn't be ashamed of it. It's what I do. I'm creating something: a work of literature. Plus, acting ashamed or bashful about it just isn't good marketing strategy. Eventually, the book is going to be finished and "out there," so I may as well own up to it now.
4. Figure out your process.
Originally, I expected to crank out 8 hours a day, 5 days a week of solid writing. Only to realize that my brain absolutely turned into bruised mush. Then, I remembered a tidbit learned during my time pursuing a graduate program in teaching. Imaginative thinking--creating something entirely new out of nothing-- is some of the most strenuous exercise our brain undertakes. It is considered very high order thinking. Thus, it can leave you quite tired and drained. After realizing this, I decided to work in what I call "brain breaks." Now, I make sure to take some time to paint artwork for my Etsy shop or to work on this blog space. Redirecting my thinking not only avoids that "bruised mush" feeling but actually reinvigorates my creative writing later.
5. Get it done.
All the above aside, sometimes you just have to put your nose to the grindstone, stop dilly-dallying, and write the dang thing.
6. Be willing to undo it.
The worst part about this whole process: realizing an entire segment you wrote (and loved!) doesn't really work in the anymore. Then, I have to be willing to unravel the story-threads I've so painfully woven. However, a former professor of mine once shared that those unused story segments aren't wasted-- if nothing else, they help us get to know our own story and characters a little better.
I'm sure there is much more I have yet to learn as I begin editing and revising, but the process thus far has been a learning experience I've enjoyed. Although I wouldn't have been able to do any of it without my husband. He's been by my side the whole time, the biggest support I have. He believes in me more than I believe in myself. And for that I'm grateful.
I know this was a long post-- but this topic is near and dear to my heart. Thank you for reading!