In 2017, I wrote the first draft of a novel. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, so I am proud and happy that I finally translated an idea in my head into a story on paper. This little book of mine is not yet ready for prime time. It needs a lot of work before I’d be comfortable sending it out into the world. Still–the fact that it exists and contains (I hope) little morsels of beautiful potential, is enough for now.
Since finishing the first novel, I’ve written the first few chapters of a second book. While I’ve stalled a little lately, I haven’t stopped thinking about it and the characters are alive and well in my imagination. They just need my help in bringing them to life. I haven’t written a single word about one of the main characters, but I can see her clearly in my mind’s eye. I know the way she stands, the way she smiles. I know what’s in her kitchen and her handbag. I sense her growing impatient with me. She is so real, but nothing at all. Yet. That is the exciting thing about a new project– it’s full of potential.
The reason I am telling you this is that the writing process itself has been extremely rewarding for me and I feel like it’s taught me a few things along the way. Whether you’re a writer or not, these lessons may be relevant to your life as well. Some of them sound clichéd, but, hey, sometimes clichés are clichés are a reason. I find myself learning clichéd lessons all the time until they finally start to sink in. Maybe I should have learned them years ago, but in the words of George Eliot, ” It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”
- Trust that the next step will come. One of my fears about writing a book was that I wouldn’t be able to hold that much information in my mind at once. And guess what? I can’t. A novel is usually 60,000+ words, and it’s not possible (at least for me) to predict every one of those words–every description, every scene, every piece of dialogue–ahead of time. I knew the plot from the start and wrote notes about key points. I knew the beginning, middle, and end, but did not know exactly how everything would unfold. But that’s okay, perhaps even a good thing, because it allowed for my characters to surprise me. Sometimes I would write a scene and step away, not knowing exactly what to do next. But almost without fail, the next idea came to me when I needed it to. Was it always perfect? Of course not, but it was enough to give me direction.
- Enjoy the process. To be honest, finishing the manuscript was pretty anticlimactic for me. After hours and hours of work, I wrote the last sentence and stepped away from my laptop thinking, “Huh. I guess that’s it.” The joy really wasn’t in the destination– it was in the journey. It was in letting each sentence emerge and exploring new ideas.
- Take one step at a time. The idea of any big project can be daunting. I squeezed in writing during free moments throughout my day. I wrote 20 minutes here, 30 minutes there. As it turned out, this wasn’t the optimal way for me to write. In order to immerse myself in an imagined world, I need a longer stretch of time to really do a good job. But, sometimes 20 minutes was I had, so I took it. Maybe I only wrote one or two sentences during that time, but that’s okay. Baby steps add up over time. Bit by bit, you can create something bigger.
- It feels good to be creative just to be creative. If nothing else, this is a great hobby for me. People have hobbies, right? Somewhere along the way, I think I gave up on hobbies–on doing things for fun without a clear goal in mind. It has been years since I’ve really allowed myself to use my imagination. It feels wonderful to me to re-engage this part of myself.
- I need to get out of my own way. This is a big one for me. Probably the biggest. I find over and over again that I am my own biggest obstacle. I was so inhibited was I started writing that I couldn’t write anything without telling myself that no one would ever read it. I need to tell my Inner Critic to put down her red pen and go take a nap or something. She can come back and do her thing with the red pen later, but that Inner Critic of mine is a real party pooper. If she had her way, I would never have any fun at all. And I can’t have that. Putting the fun first is what I’m after. Also there is a qualitative difference in what I produce when I am in a relaxed, flow state compared to when I’m trying to force something to happen. I am simply better when I am allowing the work to come from a deeper place. I haven’t learned to harness this very well yet, but it would make a huge different if I could.
If you’re still with me, thank you for reading. As a fun side note, should I use a pen name? Discuss. xx Tara