Of course the damsel wrote again. Her knight in shining armor was the creative pen and like any woman in love, she always finds her way back. That damsel was me. Soon after my husband and I got married, we finally settled into a regular schedule and regular jobs. Something started to itch. I wasn’t sure what it was at first. I fidgeted. I bit my nails (figuratively). It wasn’t until someone I worked with told me he was divorcing his wife of over ten years and my imagination sparked that I finally remembered what was missing in my life. During the next few days, an entire story formed in my head, complete with characters, a premise and a plot. And that’s when I remembered I used to be a writer.
Too Much to Say to Be Short
This time, short stories weren’t enough. How could I explain the details of a divorce in just a few thousand words? How would I show their struggle in a few thousand more? How could I get them to fall in love again in only a few pages? It was a crazy idea. Ridiculous, even. Only famous people who had degrees in creative writing and comparative literature were allowed to write novels. A simpleton like me who hadn’t written in years had no business attempting to write a novel. I didn’t even know where to start.
So I didn’t call it a novel. I called it a fictional blog. Although, I did fumble around with Word and format it to look like the pages of a book. But it was not a book. I couldn’t write a book. I picked out actors to play my characters and I had all kinds of ideas on how to write the story and when. I made it to an entire 6,000 words but apparently, I really wasn’t ready to write a book because that was as far as I ever got.
Finding Myself in Others
I don’t know if I got discouraged or I just didn’t have another good idea for an entire year but after my husband I moved I got an idea struck me for a novel. Like many beginning novelists, it stemmed from a real life experience. This time I had a rough outline for the beginning but I realized if I ever planned to actually do it, I might need help.
It started out as an excuse to make more friends. I’d moved to a small town where I didn’t know anyone and I spent my days at home, trying to harness a floundering at-home career. I needed a reason to get out of the house. The only thing I could think to do was to find other writers. It would be a relief, actually. I’d never known anyone else who had the same crazy dream as I did and the idea of validating it by proving to myself I wasn’t the only one was exhilarating. I scoured the local newspaper and found a group and after a nerve-wracking phone call, I had a date for the next months meeting.
I was right. It was exhilarating and suddenly, I started to write again. I wrote short stories, I wrote non-fiction narratives, I wrote fictional blogs. I joined online writing communities to post and get feedback on my work. People loved what I had to say and I loved their comments. I had ideas coming at me so quickly I didn’t know what to do with them all. I shared these ideas with my new writing friends and read them my work. Their smiles when I finished made all the time I spent writing them completely worth it.
I finally got the courage to start that novel. I was too excited about writing and my ideas to not write. It plowed into me like a runaway train. I passed 2,500 words, the length of my longest short story to date. I passed 6,000 words, the length of my first novel attempt. I just kept writing and writing until I’d written 14,000 words when I realized maybe I could write a book.
A Little Help From My Harshest Critics
I’ll never forget the day I shared my first chapter with my writing group. I’d printed it out–enough copies for each member–and strolled into that coffee shop ready to blow their minds. I was writing a book. Not many of them had even attempted it. I was so clever and witty as I read it out loud. I had to stop myself from laughing at my own jokes. I finished reading it and waited for their praise. A couple of them gave me non-committal smiles. One suggested a couple of improvements I could make. And then, the feedback every writer dreads assaulted me for the first time. One of the members didn’t like it. In fact, she said that my voice was immature and if I continued to write that way, it was something she would never read. I was devastated. I practically choked out an excuse to leave early so I didn’t have to look at her anymore and I could go home and cry.
I didn’t go to a meeting for months. I didn’t even write for months. Every time I thought about sitting down in front of the computer, nausea rose in my throat and that woman’s words rung in my ears. I didn’t think I would ever write again. All of the praise and good words felt like lies and her criticism the only feedback I’d ever gotten that was true. Looking back now, I should have realized that was the first sign I really was a writer. Writers always hold closer to their negative criticism than their positive. But at the time, it felt like the end of the world.
Who Do You Want To Be?
An idea came to me. It was rough and scary and I didn’t have the faith in myself I had the first time around. I knew that if I dared try to write a novel again, I couldn’t go into it blindly like I had before. If I ever wanted to share my writing with others, I’d have to respect that there were certain rules that needed to be followed. One night, I finally decided I was a writer, deep down in my heart. Not because I loved to write–I think I always would have considered myself a writer, even if I never wrote another word again–no, it was because of the way I looked at the world. I never took anything for face value and always, always, I fantasized about the stories of what could have happened or what might have happened in the lives of people around me. What if? This “what if” spoke to me in a way that made me so sure I could do it this time.
I dove into the craft of writing voraciously. I read blogs, I bought books, I took a writing course and yes, I returned to my writing group. I consumed every resource I could find and created an outline for a novel, front to back. Six major characters. Subplots, even. I had everything I needed but it wasn’t until one night in July of 2008, while browsing the internet, that I came across this little thing called National Novel Writing Month. Maybe you’ve heard of it? I was fascinated! Thousands of people from all over the world writing novels and not just famous people with degrees but everyday people like me. And what incredible motivation to keep me going until I finished it? Maybe that’s why I’ve always cherished NaNoWriMo. It breathed fresh life into my writing heart and guided me home like a lighthouse. I signed up that night and I started my novel. I couldn’t wait until November.
And that autumn, on November 28, 2008 to be exact, I finished my first novel. It was one of the most glorious moments of my life. I’ll never forget it. I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be at exactly the right time. I knew it was no longer a question of if I would write for the rest of my life but how.
Since then I wrote half a novel for NaNoWriMo 2009 and a half a novel for 2010, which I intend to finish in the coming months. I’ve written more short stories, more fictional blogs and with every new piece I feel like I grow as a writer and as a person. I don’t know if publishing is in my future. For now I’m just enjoying where I’m at. What I do know is that every step of my journey has made me into the writer I am today so the next time I face a writing challenge, I’ll embrace it and let the rest of my journey turn me into the writer I can be.