It’s always been my true and fervent belief that we all have at least one novel inside of us, waiting to be written. But a few short years ago, I wasn’t sure that my own novel would ever get finished. After all, the roadblocks seemed high and wide: I never had time to write, I wasn’t sure if what I was writing was any good, I was constantly starting projects and not finishing them. And overshadowing all of these was the nagging fact that if by some miracle I actually did get my first book completed, I had no idea if I could ever get published. And if my work wasn’t published, how was I going to live with that disappointment?
Ultimately I realized that my love of writing was larger and more powerful than all the things that were stopping me from writing, and that if I wanted to reach my destination, I had to first be willing to set out on the journey. Although there were many little jaunts in between, and more than a few rest stops, here are the five major steps I took on the road to completing Homesong, my first novel!
1) Decided to just finish it, and worry about publishing later.
I remember the day I had this epiphany: “A book that hasn’t been written can’t be published!” In retrospect it seems very elementary, but hey, sometimes I’m downright obtuse about stuff like that! Write first, worry about publishing second – ahh, the light dawns!
Simplistic though it may be, getting these priorities straight was extremely liberating for me. So I set my first goal, which was just to get the darn thing done. I decided that I would write the book that I most wanted to write, finish it, and to heck with whether or not anyone wanted to publish it!
2) Joined a writing group and went to my first writing conference.
Having decided that I wanted to finish my first book, my very next thought was that I had no idea how to go about doing that! That was when I realized I needed the support of my fellow writers. Soon afterward I saw a flier in Starbucks for a the Washington Independent Writers convention. I joined the group (which has since become American Independent Writers) and attended the conference a few months later.
That first writing conference was a real eye opener. I attended an agent’s breakfast and actually had a chance to talk to a literary agent (a nerve-wracking experience until I realized how nice she was!), who said she was interested in seeing my work when it was finished. I went to several lectures about the publishing industry and got a glimpse of what a kooky, cloistered, exciting field it can be. I also realized that there were thousands of other writers in the DC Area; and far from seeing these folks as competition, I immediately felt more secure, because for artists, there’s always safety in numbers! And most of all, that conference was my introduction to Marita Golden. That in and of itself made the whole thing worthwhile!
3) Attended Marita Golden’s “I Want to Write” workshop.
A lot of you have probably heard me talk about Marita Golden before. She’s the bestselling author of over a dozen books. She’s also an extraordinarily gifted teacher. After hearing Marita speak at the AIW conference, I knew that here was a person who could help me get where I wanted to go with my writing. I took her workshop, “I Want to Write,” and, well, WOW! It’s difficult for me to describe exactly how she did it, but the one thing I can say for sure is that Marita’s workshop gave me the tools and emotional fortitude to really BE who I already was: a writer!
4) Found a writing buddy.
One thing that Marita stressed was the importance of having a good support system, especially in the form of a writing buddy(ies) and critique partner(s). I was lucky enough to meet Kathryn Harris, my first writing buddy, at the workshop itself. At her suggestion, we began to meet once a week until our novels were finished. Without that collaboration, and the “enforced accountability” of having to give Kathy new chapters of my work every week, I might never have finished my first book!
5) Wrote, wrote, wrote.
As I said above, having a critique partner really forced me to write steadily. Sometimes I would write over my lunch hour, knowing that I would be in big trouble if I didn’t have any pages to show my friend that night! Writing is hard work, and you have to be willing to start out writing garbage, knowing that you can go back and clean it up later. Usually I have to write three drafts before I settle on what I tell people is my “first draft.” And then I’ll go through three or four revisions before settling on my “final draft,” and even that one usually gets picked over quite a bit!
On the subject of writing and re-writing, there are two quotes that have helped me tremendously. One is from Ernest Hemingway (although I’ve also heard it attributed to Oscar Wilde ): “The first draft of anything is sh*t.” And the other is from Nora Roberts: “You can’t fix a blank page.” What does that tell me? That even the cleverest and most prolific of writers agree that in order to write well, you must first write, period. (And you can quote me on that, LOL!)
People sometimes ask me, “How long did it take to finish your first novel?” I worked on Homesong off and on for about five years, which is not an uncommon lenghth of time. The majority of the writing was done during the last year, when I was really pouring the coals on. My second novel, Still Waters, is slightly shorter and took about two years to write.
Looking back on my journey from “Will I ever be able to finish this?” to “I’m a writer!” the thing that seems so remarkable is how one thing led to another. It started (as does every journey) with the decision to do it. That led to the realization that I needed a dependable route, and hopefully some good traveling companions. One writing conference, one writing workshop, one writing buddy and a lot of plain old writing later, I finally reached my destination.
So what about you? Whether you’ve completed that first novel or not, what have you found helpful (or not so helpful) on your writing journey?