If you read “About Me,” you know that one of my favorite bands recently inspired me to change my life in a very tangible way. A reminder of the perpetual dedication of the guys in Pearl Jam to working their craft lit a fire under me to get up and pursue my dream. I took a risk similar to theirs (of many years ago). I decided to write a novel and quit my job to devote my full attention to it.
I had no idea what to expect. You hear stories about it taking authors years to write a book, so I set a reasonable goal. I thought, if I’ve got a couple of chapters by the time I leave for my long-planned trip to Amsterdam to see Pearl Jam with my best friend Shannon, I will reevaluate but keep moving forward. If I don’t get that far (my fear was that I would procrastinate and accomplish nothing), then I will probably start thinking about another job.
I resigned my position working on law and policy for a Texas government agency on May 2. Over that weekend, I researched writing software, thought about where and how I’d like to write, performed some genre research and made a plan. I already had the general framework for my trilogy in mind, but I mind-mapped the plot of the first book as well as the first four chapters. I had intended to outline the entire book, but I later decided to let it develop after the first chapters organically. About a week after I quit my job, I sat down to write.
The words poured from me. I had to force myself to stop writing to sleep or do something else. I didn’t want to burn out so I set up breaks every day. Often, I’d write a scene or two then go sit by the pool for an hour or run some errands. On my breaks, I would think about the next few scenes, running them in my mind like a movie. Then I’d return and write a few more scenes until the chapter was complete. I generally wrote a chapter a day although I didn’t write when I visited my parents in Houston (my father is ill). After particularly draining chapters, I would sometimes question what I was doing. My friend Christine would talk me down and convince me to take a day off. After I did, I was always ready to dive in again with a fresh perspective.
I knew where I was headed, I just wasn’t certain how I would get there. That worked well for me. The characters’ words and actions would sometimes surprise me in the thick of things, and I was glad that I hadn’t tried to limit their options by shoving them into a preconceived box.
I’ve read about varying approaches to soliciting feedback throughout the writing process. I needed the support and encouragement of friends and family, so I had a select group to whom I’d send my chapters as soon as I finished them. Mom, Christine and Correy–thanks so much for never making me wait to hear what you thought! You’ll never know just how important that was to me. Others saw drafts at different stages, but it wasn’t until the draft was complete that I received substantive feedback. That was probably a good thing. I was so scared of getting derailed somehow that positive reinforcement was what I really needed. I was confident in my ability and in my story, but the doubts that surfaced when I was burning out were stressful. I learned that when I started feeling stressed, it was time to take the rest of the day off.
When I realized just how quickly the process was moving, I resolved to finish the first draft by the time I left for my Amsterdam trip on June 13. I finished on June 9! I couldn’t (and still can’t) believe it took only a month to write my novel. And it’s good. I’m very proud of it.
So that’s the beginning of my story. In future posts, I’ll talk about the really karmic thing that happened in Amsterdam and about the writers’ conference I attended soon thereafter. Thanks for reading!