Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him to the public.
– WINSTON CHURCHILL
On the forked road of life, there’s a sign pointing down a desolate track that will take you on an adventure so lonely and treacherous, that the screeching vultures overhead will begin to seem like a welcome means for escape. Writerville, the ominous sign says, and it shouldn’t be mistaken for a relaxing getaway destination.
I’ve always tried to avoid that path. I know how rough it can be. I’ve been warned … many times. Yet, here I am, a long way down that dusty road, clutching my book manuscript in hand, as I watch tumbleweed roll by and wonder: How the hell did I get here?
I began obliviously skipping towards Writerville just over two years ago. Late nights were spent tapping at my keyboard for pleasure and entertainment, as I built up a document called Untitled.txt. I had no idea what I was truly beginning until I renamed the document Book Draft 1.doc.
Writing at night turned to writing by day too, at which point my freelance job started to become an interference. I’d be in the middle of writing the best sentence ever and then –
“Hi, Torre, I’ve got a job here ready to send over. Are you available?”
My rational brain screamed: TAKE THE WORK! while my blinking cursor hung on the page part-way through an interrupted sentence, demanding: NO! NO! NO!
“Thanks,” I told my clients one after the other, “but I’m not accepting work right now.” I’d click down the phone, grinning at the sheer indulgence of it. I’m writing a book! I admitted to myself with glee. I’d scan over a paragraph of Book Draft 1.doc, and with a newfound sense of reality, my gut would sink with a thought: I’ve completely lost my mind!
No longer on the speed-dial of … well … anyone, my office was screaming with silence. I was lying to almost every person I knew about what I was doing with my life, afraid that if I exposed my vulnerable plan, it might get strangled by pessimism or broken by a careless handler. Since lying to people made socialising awkward, I pretty much stopped doing that too.
This meant that there was nothing else to do except focus my full attention on Book Draft 1.doc, which I did every day of the week. I’d plot out story arcs in my robe, slash up wordy paragraphs at noon, and giggle hysterically at my own jokes into the wee hours. Book Draft 1.doc got more attention than a new lover.
Which my real-life lover was tolerant of. He took on a new role of his own, doing everything he could to help. He offered encouragement when I’d had a bad day: “Hey, 12 words is more than you had yesterday, right?” He soothed me to sleep with gentle pats after I’d overdosed on caffeine and had grown uncontrollably giddy from a lucrative day. Best of all, he stood by my side so that together, we could swing baseball bats to fight off the swooping vultures.
My vultures came in all shapes and sizes. There was a four-foot-tall chunk of a woman with bristly chin hair and an upturned pig nose. “What do you think you’re doing, you self-indulgent girl?” she’d say. “You can’t be a writer – you went to a public school!”
There was a serious-looking man with eyes that strained to see through his inch-thick spectacles. “Where’s the tension in your story?” he’d ask. “What’s driving the reader to keep turning pages? You’ve just used another adverb, Torre – tsk tsk. And you’re mixing your metaphors.” His advice, though helpful, was overwhelming, and would sometimes confuse me for weeks.
The worst of all the vultures was an emancipated, anemic freak who rocked on the spot – hands clamped over ears – mumbling quietly at first but then eventually shouting: “You’re going to fail. You’re going to make an idiot of yourself. You’re going to fail! YOU’RE GOING TO MAKE AN IDIOT OF YOURSELF!”
There’s a term for what was happening to me. It is called: Going crazy.
Still, I pushed on. I hit the 50,000 word mark, which meant I was half way there. To celebrate, I fondled a beloved novel from my bookshelf, squeezing its bulky mass and inhaling the delicious smell of book paper. Half a book, I told myself. You’ve written half a book!
It was on this home stretch that I suffered a devastating setback. Reviewing my work, I could sense that something was off. Intuition told me my story needed two major changes: 1. Rework my memoir to read just like fiction (show, don’t tell) and; 2. Rework 150 pages of past tense narrative into present tense action and dialogue (to enhance the vicarious experience).
In other words: start from scratch.
So I did exactly that. I went back to page one and started typing, simultaneously swinging at vultures with my baseball bat to try and eradicate the neurotic self-doubt. Lucky for me, my furious determination to see this thing through to its end was winning out over the vultures.
After a year of part-time writing, one year of full-time writing and several full rewrites, I felt ready reveal to share my secret. I bought a laser printer, loaded it up with paper and bawled my eyes out, as I stacked the piles of pages. I distributed copies to family, friends and trustworthy strangers, eager to collect feedback. Then I rewrote it two more times.
Now, my manuscript feels ready for the world, but I have to patiently wait for the world to be ready for it. I’ve heard advice from enough veteran writers to know the hard work is just getting started. My trek along the lonely road to Writerville is far from over and I know that – even if I survive the hunger, the loneliness, and the vultures – there’s no guarantee of ever arriving anywhere on this dusty path.
But if I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s this: you’ll never arrive at an extraordinary new world unless you’re willing to leave safety behind and go on a daring adventure.
Are you on your own adventure? I’d love to hear some stories – please comment below.
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