The community of readers who frequent this blog probably have noticed my lack of productivity recently. Earlier this year I was publishing twice a week consistently. The last few months, not so much.
It’s not because of laziness or a lack of interest in writing, although at times, just like any other challenging job, it’s easy to find ways to distract oneself from the task at hand.
The reason is that I’ve spent the past few months finishing my first novel. Writing a book has been a goal of mine for many years and I’m pleased to announce that I plan to release it early next year.
I thought it might be helpful to share a bit about my journey because it connects with many of the themes I write about in my blog.
I’ve spent too much of life on trains and planes. The one upside to a long commute and lots of travel was that it gave me time to read. I enjoy reading thrillers. And over the years as I read various authors in the genre I thought, “this is a best seller and the book blows. I could do better.”
Every once in a while, I would jot down ideas, and even sometimes start writing. But it didn’t take long for me to realize I had no idea what I was doing. To paraphrase Roosevelt, there’s a big difference between the critic and the one standing in the arena.
Writing fiction is hard, especially if you’ve never done it before. Constructing a plot, creating interesting characters, writing dialogue – none of it comes easy. Staring at a blank page can be very scary. It didn’t take too much effort to talk myself out of it. After all, I had a hectic full-time job and family responsibilities. There was always a valid reason to put it aside.
But the dream never totally died. So rather than write, I read books about writing. I listened to podcasts about writing. It made me feel like I was working towards my dream, but in truth after a while reading about how to do something can become an excuse for not doing the thing itself.
Once I stopped working in the city last year and the pandemic shut down travel, like many people I had extra time on my hands. I figured if I don’t start now, I never will. No more excuses. It was my first sustained attempt and I made decent progress. But being a full-time writer was not my goal. I enjoy being a marketer and was fortunate to land a great new job early in the pandemic. While I was working remotely it didn’t take long to find a new set of excuses to fall behind on the book.
It turned out the real obstacles to me pursuing my dream were not external – a busy job, long commute, etc – but came from the inside – fear of trying something new and challenging, fear of failing.
During the Christmas holiday break last year, I had a heart-to-heart with myself. Yes, my job can be busy and demanding at times, but I no longer was spending more than 3 hours a day commuting. Also, since our kids were largely grown, I benefitted from being at a life stage where my weekends were no longer consumed with family activities. I realized I needed to plan and approach the task like I would a project in my professional life. If I couldn’t figure out a way to structure my time while I was working remotely to accomplish this goal, then I would regret it later.
I returned to waking up at the same time I used to when I commuted. I wrote early in the mornings and in the evenings. I set a goal for the number of words I wanted to complete each day. And I tracked my progress daily. Basically, I treated it like a job. Many times, I didn’t meet my goal, but the structure and process I implemented kept me going. (That and the support of family and friends.)
I finished the first draft in July and put it away for a month. A small handful of family and friends provided invaluable feedback. I finished the revisions around Thanksgiving.
I reached out to a few literary agents, but a middle-aged, first-time novelist with no fiction writing credits isn’t exactly the type of new writer they’re lining up to sign. And as much as it would be amazing and validating to have an agent and be published by a known imprint, that really isn’t the point. The point was to finish and prove to myself that I could do it.
So far, the small number of people who have read it have been very complimentary. While they are my friends and family and have my best interests at heart, they are also the kind of people who would tell me if it sucked. It likely won’t climb the best seller charts or be optioned by Netflix for the movie rights, but that’s ok. Writing a work of fiction was easily the hardest project I’ve ever attempted, and I did it. And I’m going to do it again.
My plan is to self-publish, otherwise known euphemistically as “independently publish,” in January and will be sharing more details shortly. I hope you check it out.
But in the meantime, hopefully learning a bit more about my experience is useful for those toying with their own dreams, especially if you’re later in your career. Don’t let fear prevent you from trying something new. Dull contentment, or the acceptance that after a certain age you must admit that your current state is all you can or should expect from life, will corrode your soul. That’s why I believe having a side hustle is so important. Even if it’s just a hobby and never turns into a commercial endeavor, mentally it’s critical not to put all your intellectual and creative capacity into one basket. And it helps you keep your edge.
My thanks to everyone who has visited my blog this year. I very much appreciate it. I will return to publishing more regularly at For What It’s Worth in January. Best wishes for the holidays.