Picture me, dancing around in my basement (ahem, alone) and singing “Timber” at the top of my lungs at 1 o’clock in the morning.
That’s where the story ends, but certainly not where it began!
But it did end there: the night I typed the last sentence of what would later be known as my very first novel. I was all by myself and wearing a still slightly-damp swimsuit underneath a pair of LuLu shorts and t-shirt. It was the happiest night of my life. Weird, huh?
I’ve talked about my wild journey with writing here and here, but I thought that today would be a good day for the longer story of how this all went down, because trust me, becoming a writer was not always part of the plan! I got my degree in Theatre (which I now teach), but when I graduated from college my options were woefully limited (cue a quarter-life-crisis that was the stuff of legend). Grad schools wanted me to have more experience acting, and acting jobs wanted me to have a graduate degree. My closest friends were engaged or headed off to grad school themselves, and I was planning to schlep my way back to my parent’s house after graduation to wallow, and like, die.
I really did feel like my life was falling completely apart. I felt like I was never going to be happy or feel successful ever again.
Then, I started writing my book. It happened because of these three things:
- Our commencement speaker at graduation was a writer, too. My graduation felt different than I thought it would anyway, because I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do next. But I’ll never forget our commencement speaker telling us how he’d graduated with a degree in computer science, got bored with it, and started writing graphic novels instead. Now, he’s a millionaire author. And while I’m not about to write a graphic novel, it really got me thinking. I’d been making up stories in my head since I was a little girl, and I was just lost enough that actually penning some of them didn’t feel as crazy as it always had.
- I didn’t have much else to do. I was making a meager living teaching dance classes to pre-schoolers, and didn’t work full-time as a result of the weird schedule that comes with that line of work. So, for the first time in my life, I actually had some time to devote to something like writing.
- I wished that there was a book that felt like what I was going through. I’d had the same set of characters on my mind for awhile; five childhood friends who’d grown up on the same street in an idyllic Connecticut town. I had dreamed up some things about them (I knew that they were four girls and one guy thrown in the mix), but suddenly I knew what story I wanted to loop them into, and it was mine: life after graduation. The perils of post-grad life. I basically started writing the book that I wished existed.
(I soon realized that no one really wrote books about post-grads, which made me even more determined.)
So, I started writing. I picked up a stack of books at the bookstore, a mix of novels as wells books about writing books, and I read a lot. I started thinking about my characters and taking notes about them constantly, and when I got an idea for a scene, I wrote it. I once got a sudden picture in my head of two of my characters sitting on a kitchen floor eating peanut butter straight from the jar, so I wrote that. Before long I had pages and pages of random scenes, and I was able to start piecing together what would happen to all of these characters.
In the middle of all of this I up and moved to Boston to be a nanny, because I wanted to.
Being in a totally new (and beautiful) place where I knew absolutely no one gave me lots of inspiration, and left me with lots of time to write.
Remember that I had huge stack of random scenes about my characters? Well I put them in chronological order, and then figured out what scenes I needed in between them all. This when it started to feel real. I had a book outlined, and now all I had to do was write it.
So I wrote constantly. I wrote while my nanny kids were at gymnastics, on my favorite bench by the ocean, late at night after work, and I would park myself on the futon in the basement all day Saturday and write my way through every single season of Pretty Little Liars (rough, I know).
I still remember the weekend when I knew I was going to be finished. There were maybe six scenes left and I couldn’t wait to power through them. By the time it was about 9pm on Sunday night I was practically cross-eyed but I kept writing, and when I wrote that very last sentence I burst into tears, jumped up off of the futon, and had that spontaneous Timber dance sesh that I previously described.
I’m serious, I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy, or ever felt so accomplished.
No one had me do this or even told me how to do it, but I did it anyway. And along the way I figured out that there wasn’t much else that I wanted to do with my life except to keep writing books, and have 45 more basement dance parties.
Finishing the first draft was only part of the journey, of course. I hired an editor that I absolutely adore, and we started combing through the manuscript, doing 4 full-scale edits. We are actually revising the first and last chapters for the 5th time right now, and it’s been two years since I originally completed the manuscript.
Writing a book is an extremely long and involved process. I believe you have to love it and you have to want it badly in order to make it a reality. If you’ve got a book in you, I’d recommend starting by writing whatever scenes or conversations or even characters come to mind. Let the idea grow and take root, and then once you’ve got more material you can start pulling it into one cohesive story.