National Novel Writing Month!
Many of you are starting NaNoWriMo today. I wanted to share my story, hoping that it will inspire or encourage those of you who are hoping to write that first book this month.
When I was 37 I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl we named Emerson Blythe. I decided not to go back to my corner office job and stay home with her and my three-year-old, Ella Caroline. It was a bold decision financially, but in my heart, I knew it was the right thing for the girls and for me.
But there was another thing. One I could barely admit to myself. Secretly, I hoped to write a novel in between the exhausting, beautiful moments of mothering. I’d written a few plays, even won a local contest, but my dream was to write the kind of novel I liked to read.
I promised myself I would have one finished by the time I turned 40. I didn’t dream of publishing or becoming a bestseller. I just wanted to write that one book. That one damn book I thought was in there somewhere.
Maybe to prove to myself I could. Maybe because I believed deep down I was talented and had something to share. Maybe because no one thought I could. Definitely because of a deep need for creative expression.
I wrote during the babies’ nap times. I wrote in the early mornings. I wrote in fifteen-minute stolen moments. I hired teenage girls to babysit for two-hour chunks. Whenever I could, I worked on that manuscript. I also devoured every craft book I could find. I worked with a writing coach who provided harsh feedback but also pointed out my strengths.
When I had a complete draft, I sent it to friends and a few agents. They provided feedback. Gut-wrenching, cry in the bathroom type of feedback. I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote.
By the time I turned 40, I had a book. That book was Riversong. To my surprise, a small publisher put it out into the world. It became the #1 Nook book for like three weeks in 2012 and went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies on Amazon and the other retailers. That little book I fought so hard to write launched my career as a novelist.
Yesterday, I completed my 21st novel. There have been a lot of ups and downs in the time between now and the first words of that very first manuscript. As far as sales go, I’m high and low and somewhere in the middle on any given day. I make a decent living, which I’m proud of and grateful for. I made the USA Today list last year, thanks to a Bookbub. Do I still hope to make the New York Times and other lists with a new release at full-price someday? You bet I do. Do I get down sometimes and compare myself to writer friends who do so much better? I hate it about myself, but yes I do.
However, I’m proud of something that has nothing to do with money or sales rankings. To me, this is the key to a satisfying writing life. I focus on the writing. Always. Because of my absolute dedication to craft and hard work, I’m a better storyteller now than when I started. No matter the flux of the industry or sales rankings, I have a clear intention. I want to be a great writer. I want each book to be better than the last.
I will never stop learning or challenging myself. I still read craft books. I attend workshops. I read authors who are better than me. (There are so many of those.) I’m never satisfied.
So, all this to say – if you’re staring at the blank page today, just write something, anything. The more you write, the closer you’ll be to finding your voice and your story. Steal those fifteen minutes and write a few sentences or a paragraph. Believe in yourself enough to make time for your dream. Be unapologetic in your pursuit.
For those of us struggling to find our readers in a flooded market, just keep writing great stories. Keep digging deep into the well of your talent and creativity. Readers will come.
Don’t give up. Don’t give in to your fears. You can do this.
For more inspiration, I’ve included a link to a letter from the iconic Anne Lamont on this first day of National Novel Writing Month.
To each of you starting out on this courageous journey of self-expression, I salute you. I believe in you.
Comment below if you have an inspiring story of your writing journey to share with us. Or if you just want to ask me to cheer for you, pray for you, or to simply send snacks and water. Much love. xo
Photo by Dustin Lee on Unsplash
Marilyn D Fye says
Hi Tess, Just wanted you to know that I have kept up with you since Riversong and read most of your books which I have thoroughly enjoyed. I’m so happy you have found such success in your writing and happiness in your new family. Marilyn Fye
Kim Terry Schwarz says
I loved your plug for NaNoWriMo. Except for, maybe, twice, I’ve finished a book within the thirty days! We never know what wonderful stories we have in us until we try. I’m on the finishing end of a sequel, myself.