Five years ago, I stumbled across a Stephen Hunter article. It asserted that you didn’t need luck or talent if you wanted to write a novel. All you needed to do was write every day.
I’ve always loved books. I used to read all night and smuggle books into school, reading as I walked through the hallways. I read in the car, at the dinner table, and when I was supposed to be hanging out at social events. Books were so much easier to get along with than people. They offered a helpful ladder I could use to climb out of my boring, painful, awkward life and escape into a place of joy, love, and adventure.
That’s why I wanted very much to be an author, someone who could write a book that offered other weird kids a way out of their boxed in lives and expose them to my kind of magic.
I’d always written–poems, journals, essays, plays, screenplays, magazine articles, blogs–but I’d never had an idea that could carry the weight of a full book. And I didn’t display any particular talent writing short stories or flash fiction.
What story would I tell?
That idea haunted and paralyzed me. It kept me from beginning more times than I can count. One of my professional mentors at a magazine used to tell me all the time that as soon as she retired, she’d finally write a novel. I didn’t want to wait that long. But my twenties and thirties passed and no one offered me a cabin in the woods where I could hide out until a novel was born. I had to work long and hard to support my family, and very little energy was left for creative work.
During an improv workshop with the brilliant comedian Susan Messing at the Funny Women’s Comedy Festival in Chicago, she told us, “God isn’t so cruel that he’d give you the desire without the talent.”
I have the desire to write. Do I really have the talent?
I floundered for years after that–writing business books, history books, thousands of articles, but still no fiction novels.
Then I read Hunter’s article. “The most important thing is habit, not will,” he wrote. He wasn’t the most talented or gifted, but he would finish his novel while thousands of other writers’ books would wither and die. Because he was committed to showing up. Every. Single. Day.
So five years ago, I sat down and made the commitment to just begin. I wrote. Every day. It wasn’t brilliant stuff. But the act of showing up was keeping me connected to the story in a way that made it easier to write. I’d go for a run and realize that a character wanted to go in a different direction. I’d take a shower and figure out a thorny plot point that had been irking me. Suddenly, I wasn’t ‘writing’ I was channeling the story and letting it take me to unpredictable places. Five months later, I had my first draft of NEURONET, the story of a woman who’d figured out a way to keep people from dying, only to realize that she might be sentencing them to a fate worse than death. While I was querying that novel, I started a second book that I could work on every day, THE TIGHT FIVE. That one, inspired by women I played rugby with in New York, was about a insecure cadet placed with a heroic all-female space squadron who learns how complicated it is to do the right thing.
Neither of those books has been published yet. Writing them taught me how to write, so I want to polish them before you read them. But they were important works of art because they taught me how to show up every day to do the work.
I was disciplined. I’d finished two books! But I still wasn’t a published author.
In the fall of 2021, I was ready to take the next step. Shopping NEURONET for four years had left me disillusioned with the traditional publishing industry. I didn’t want to be one of those writers with a drawer full of unpublished books.
If I want to be a published author, do I need to do it independently?
The prospect terrified me.
“2022 will be the year that I publish my first book,” I promised myself. Because NEURONET was in good shape, I thought that would be the one to go first. But I enrolled in an Akimbo workshop called ‘Writing in Community,’ (WIC3) and discovered that I wanted to use my daily writing time to tell a different story. SONG OF LYRAN is the story that dripped out of me day by day. I began writing every day on the WIC3 platform in October 2021. By January 2022, I’d finished the book. Thankfully, WIC3 was designed to walk people through the self-publishing process. They gave me a calendar and structure that made the act far less daunting. From February through May, I did developmental and line edits and worked on the cover design. In June, I uploaded the book to IngramSpark to lay it out and by June 7, I’d published the hardcover and ebook through that channel and the paperback through Amazon. It wasn’t as hard as I thought. Hunter was right. I just needed persistence and the will to show up. Every. Single. Day.
So don’t give up hope! You, too, can achieve your dreams. You never have to do it all at once. Just take the time to do something every day that gets you closer to your goal.