April 27, 2013 by kristin
I got the idea for my historical fiction novel five years ago after I quit my magazine editor job to work from home. I stumbled across an obscure historical incident and decided if I tweaked it a bit, it would make a good story. I wrote an outline and 15,000 words or so.
Then I got bogged down in the research. I wanted everything to be as close to the truth as possible, and I froze.
Another major factor in my procrastination: this coincided with the time when we decided to adopt a child. I focused my energy on doing research for that, preparing our profiles, getting our house ready for the home study. Oh yeah, and obsessing and worrying myself to a frazzle every second of the day and night. That kind of thing takes up a lot of time.
Then I got pregnant instead and was busy making felt animal mobiles and registering for great heaps of baby stuff. When my daughter was born, I found it was true what all those people said – babies are hard work. Especially when yours only naps forty minutes a day. For a while, I abandoned my house blog, abandoned all writing and even reading, and did nothing but take care of my girl and work frantically on my day job (at my family’s online costume retailer).
Then came THE CATALYST. The spring before my baby turned a year old, I reconnected on facebook with two of my college friends, Dana and Jessica, who moved to California years ago to get in the movie biz. Turned out the two of them are still friends and also writing partners. They’d written a young adult novel (and were working on the sequel), and they had an agent. They were looking for beta readers for their current work, so I eagerly signed up and threw myself into it with gusto. I didn’t realize I missed editing until I was doing it again.
While happily working on my friends’ books, I admit I also felt jealous. My dream since childhood was to write novels … literally, after we read The Outsiders in eighth grade, I was convinced I was going to be like S.E. Hinton and write a book by the time I was 16. But then I spent my teen years writing such instant-classic short stories as the one about me and my best friend going on a Caribbean cruise with our imaginary boyfriends and wearing a succession of bikinis chosen from the pages of Teen magazine.
In college, I majored in journalism and minored in creative writing, which forced me to write, and I liked it. I had big plans to go back and get my MFA in creative writing one day, but after college, I got married to a local dreamboat and found a great job with a national business-to-business magazine published locally. I wasn’t brave enough or motivated enough to move away for grad school, let alone to NYC to be a book editor (dream job!).
I wrote fiction on and off, of course, and blogged about my Victorian house renovation. I wrote a terrible novel and submitted the occasional short story to literary magazines. Mostly, though, I did nothing to make my goal happen.
Unlike Dana and Jessica. They had day jobs and husbands like me, but they made their writing a priority, too. Jes and I were creative writing minors together and were on the staff of the undergrad literary magazine Marr’s Field Journal together. The difference: She was doing what she dreamed, and I wasn’t.
It lit a fire under me. I buzzed back to my chock-full “Writing” file on my desktop (chock full of half-finished stories and half-formed ideas, that is). The first one I revisited was a story about a prisoner-of-war camp in Alabama and the women who helped make it bearable, because it was the best formed and had the best potential.
I started working. I stayed up late after my daughter went to bed, writing like a fiend. I wrote while she was at Granny’s, I wrote between working on adding products to the costume website. I formatted the manuscript for my Kindle and took one of my old reporter’s notebooks on vacation to the beach and jotted notes, because I couldn’t stand to be away from my book that many days.
I researched as I went along, but I tried not to get bogged down in making everything perfectly, exactly like the past. The first-person accounts of that time and place (and there are many) all differed slightly, and I realized the truth itself was elusive.
I sought advice and support from my friends, who had done it, actually finished their book and polished it and found an agent. They said, “This is the first draft. Just keep writing. Just get it down.”
And I did. The book grew and grew, sometimes in 500-word sputters, other times in 7,000-word bursts. It got big enough that knew I would finish this time. I set the goal of finishing by my birthday.
The night before I turned 30, I had only a couple of pages left to write. My husband and baby went to bed, and I stayed up alone to nail down the final paragraphs in the blissful silence of the dark house. The words flowed easily because I’d already outlined what would happen. And then I was done with my first draft. I’d gone from 15,000 words to 106,764 in just over two months, and I went to bed glowing with the pride of accomplishment.
Of course, a first draft is only that. There was much editing to do (my favorite part!), and then I sent it, with equal parts terror and eagerness, to my own beta readers to get their opinions on whether my time was well spent. (I”ll write about that amazing process another time!) Then I edited some more, took an unanticipated break when I moved and got pregnant and had another baby, edited some more, began the querying process, and now well – editing some more. Because until the day an editor says “It’s done. Stop it!,” I will probably keep on having moments of inspiration in the shower (my idea place) and finding new ways to tweak my manuscript toward perfection.
It’s so hard to get distance from my own work that I am at times half-convinced it’s terrible and will never be published. But that other half is holding out hope that one day I might see a book, this book, on a shelf with my name on the cover. Even if it happens a decade and half later than I planned.
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