(or…Why it took me ten years to write, and find a publisher for, my novel)
When my son was born almost thirteen years ago, I loved being a stay at home mom. Truly I did. And yet at the same time, something inside of me felt restless, like my creativity was slowly drying up.
I read a lot of novels the first year of Elijah’s life; I figured out how to nurse him with one hand, and hold a book in the other. Fifteen minutes times six times a day (or whatever it was depending on his age and mood) equals over an hour of reading time, all while bonding with my sweet baby. To this day I equate certain novels (Jewel, Someone Else’s Child) with nursing. Weird? Probably. But it worked for me.
One evening I caught a news story on TV about a high school girl who gave birth in the bathroom during prom, put the baby somewhere (I don’t remember where) and went out to dance again. The birth experience was still pretty fresh in my mind and I thought how in the world does someone do such a thing? What kind of home life does she come from? What was her mindset? What would become of her? For some reason this sad story haunted me and prompted a lot of What If questions—a great place to start for a writer.
Sometime later, I told my husband, “If I were ever going to write a novel this is what it’d be about” and after a few weeks he grew weary of me talking about it and said, “Great. Write it.”
So I did. During naptime I clicked away on our gigantic computer by our bay window in our trailer house. I’ll admit, writing a novel began on somewhat of a whim. I had a fabulous beginning… and that was about it. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this method, because in the end it takes longer and you create problems you later must fix, but the plus side is since I had no idea how hard it would be, how many conferences I needed to attend or writing books I needed to read, how many rejections I’d endure, I wrote under the blissful spell of ignorance. If I had known, (and I’m really not trying to write a sob story here) I might not have begun in the first place.
So while my baby napped—and, in time, stared at Blues Clues—while I could have been (should have been?) scrubbing my floors, I wrote and wrote and wrote and it was so fun, so satisfying, just to pour out a story, and at the end of about six months I had a…. skeleton. The beginnings of what could be a great story.
My characters were as flat as Popsicle sticks. My dialogue was didactic. I had no rhythm. It’s not that I couldn’t write, I could. I had a degree in English and had even made the Dean’s List several semesters. But knowing how to write an A paper and knowing how to write a book—particularly a novel— are two very different things.
I sent my manuscript out to a few publishers, and actually got some encouraging feedback, but ultimately rejections. Two years later I finally bit the bullet and paid to go to a writer’s conference, to “find out what those experts know” and learned that I really had no idea what I was doing. The professional who looked over my manuscript both encouraged me and shot me down in a single sentence: “You are on to something and I see that you can write, but boy you have a lot of work ahead of you.”
I went home, reworked scenes, fleshed out characters, asked for honest feedback, prayed for wisdom, got a few articles published, read a ton on the craft, and seriously considered quitting before I was in too deep.
But the story had already gripped me and I couldn’t shake it. I couldn’t just leave my characters half-baked. They needed me and, in a weird way, I needed them. So I’d write, shelve it, read it over weeks or months later, groan, re-work parts, and life carried on.
We moved into a different house. We encountered secondary infertility. We considered adoption. I put my story away and didn’t look at it for at least two years.
And, ironically, providentially, it was during this time I journeyed through some experiences that would prove to be crucial for my story….
I’ll save the rest for next time. Back to editing. And the puppy needs to be let out. Again.