So I Wrote This Book Once…

True story! I wrote an entire novel over the course of what must have a couple of years, in my spare time. I don’t think about it much, and I’ve done bigger and better things with writing since (though not a lot), but every once in awhile I walk into our home office, remind myself that the closet needs organizing, and notice, again, the pile of printouts and pages occupying a sizable node of the office closet built-in. “That’s my book,” I think, and I speculate that I might get back to it some day, finally finish that second draft, and see if it’s something worth learning about the publishing world for.

The thoughts don’t last, and today’s the day I formally accept that I am not going to re-write the book, get it published, see it adapted for the big screen, or become independently wealthy from it. I’ve known it for a long time, but it never seemed kosher to accept that those things aren’t in the cards.

It’s a fine story. I’d do a lot of it differently today, and I’d definitely adjust the message, but fundamentally I told the story I wanted to tell. It has commercial appeal. There’s even some good writing in it, some interesting female characters (and one super-one-dimensional male one — take that!), and a moment or two that might make a reader gasp.

For whatever reason, today it is suddenly okay for me to acknowledge and accept that I did not write the novel because I have a burning passion for telling stories in print. I did not write it even to make money or to become famous. I wrote it because I needed to. I needed to write it, finish it, and have that as part of my life experience, and I needed to do it at the exact time in my life that I did it.

I was on my own, for the first time, leaning way too much on friends as lifelines, and struggling through family-of-origin issues in therapy. I was in a job I needed but despised, and I didn’t understand where my life was heading (though I was beginning to see, and despair over, how it had started down that road). I had finally proved, at least, that on my own I could manage to maintain my home and mortgage, and keep my dog and myself alive in the wake of my divorce and from bouncing pretty readily from one relationship to another, seeking a level of validation I was not equipped to give myself. I think I had also done a show, and proved that I could keep theatre in my life even without a partner to pick up the day-to-day slack of getting through the years.

I had a dream one night that triggered a story idea in me. I am not a story-generating machine by any stretch and always thought that if I were to write, I would be best served on a series, putting complicated characters through various situations and seeing what happens rather than trying to generate new ideas for new books. I was not great at plotting from A to B and I am still not. But this story idea from this dream seemed simple enough from A to B and I thought, maybe I could write this. I should credit Stephen King’s On Writing here, because I’m sure my initial read of that book was around this time and there’s no better source for making writing stories seem like something a Person Could Actually Do. Highly, highly recommended.

I started writing. The words and characters flowed more easily for me than ever before but I was still plagued by old patterns — stopping, starting over, trying to get it perfect. As a kid I started a million “books” that I never finished. Something about starting was too attractive to ignore, and finishing seemed far too boring and difficult. I was stuck in that starting over place for a long time (not just in my writing, either).

As more ideas wove themselves into my storyline I continued along in that stuttering vein until something clicked. It wasn’t that the writing became easier, but something happened inside the story and it became impossible to move in the opposition direction of the story. That magic thing happened where even though you’re typing the words, the characters started doing and saying things of their own accord, leaving me, baffled and overwhelmed but excited and engaged, to figure out how to get them out of the mess they’d gotten themselves into. I couldn’t always do it. Not all of them survived.

In the meantime, and I didn’t really notice it happening, I went from spending long nights weeping, lonely and mystified in front of the television to making myself dinner, reading books, and hanging out with friends without smothering them. Going to plays or for long walks with the dog, cleaning the house. Not lamenting the life I’d lost in the wreckage, or worrying about spending the rest of my days alone. Wondering what I could do to make my life at my job better instead of complaining about it to anyone who no longer wanted to listen, and assuming that if I gave it my all and it was still miserable, then I could actually leave and go work somewhere else if I wanted to. Because why wouldn’t someone else want to hire me? Strange thoughts for a girl who spent most of her life convinced she should just settle for whatever she could get, and when got something good she should pray no one would notice that she didn’t really deserve it.

I took a few days off of work one summer, right around my 35th birthday, to spend my mornings at the coffee shop, finishing the book, and my afternoons enjoying my space, my time, my friends, my dog and my own company. I gave the book to friends and relatives to read. I got good feedback. I dreamed of a second draft and even started writing it, but I had already stopped needing to write it. It had already done what it needed to do; it had helped me through depression and loneliness in the aftermath of things I never thought would happen to me. I say all of this in hindsight because I had no idea it was happening at the time.

I chose my friends wisely. They were the exact mirrors I needed at the time, encouraging me to give all that energy I had been using to flay myself into creating something that had meaning for me. My novel’s heroine only got what she wanted when she finally allowed herself to believe she deserved it. Maybe my friends saw this, maybe they only saw that I had finally latched on to something positive, it doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t matter that I never finished putting that second draft down on paper because I have spent the last eight years turning my life into that second draft. I can be my own heroine now, and I can accept that anything is possible, good or bad. I won’t always get what I deserve, but I will be able to handle what I get.

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