It’s no secret to anyone who follows me here that I’m a writer. That I always have been, even as a kid. But in high school, I turned to journalism because it was safer (and easier) for me to. Writing about other people? I could do that. Creating my own characters? SO MUCH HARDER (and far more revealing), not to mention I always felt I could never come up with any great ideas. Recently I read an interview with Mad Men creator Matt Weiner where he lamented about his teenage years, “I’m a very conventional person … I’m middle-class … I kept wishing I had grown up interesting so I could be a great writer.” Boy could I relate! Until my 30s, I let that sentiment drive why I’d never tried to write any fiction of my own.
For years, I chased journalism instead: Writing first for newspapers and now, at my day job at Ball State, penning feature stories and press releases and articles for our alumni magazine. With the exception of photography, my jobs have always centered on journalistic writing—and I continue to love doing it, every day—but still, I’ve never quit wanting to write fiction. A while back I resigned myself to the idea that it would be a hobby I pursued someday. Like, when my kid(s) were grown. When life calmed down. When I actually had something (anything) worth writing about. When I was old and gray, I told myself, I could fulfill this dream, indulging in it while relaxing with a cup of coffee inside that other dream of mine: the Airstream Nick and I intend to buy in retirement, driving it cross-country, stopping here and there, but parking most often along the scenic overlooks of northern California.
That plan changed on me when, last fall, and totally on a whim, I decided to “sign up” for Cathy Day‘s novel writing course at Ball State. Cathy’s an English professor at the university, someone I’ve come to know and appreciate immensely in recent years, having worked with her on a number of projects. When she posted to Facebook that she was going to experiment with sharing her course materials online, and that those of us ambitious enough could follow along, I looked at her words and thought, “Oh hell … why not?” I didn’t have a preexisting idea for a novel, hadn’t a clue where to turn for inspiration in finding one, and was naive in my belief I could pull it off, but I jumped in anyway, giddy as the girl who picked up a camera six years ago telling herself, “You love this, why don’t you stop thinking you can’t do it and start believing you can?”
It’s been a long winter, friends, but here’s why it’s been such a good one for me: Because the seed of an idea that germinated in Cathy’s class has turned into a true novel in-progress. An accomplishment that carries even greater significance knowing that, after all these years, it’s finally given me the confidence to believe I can actually do this: I CAN WRITE A BOOK. Had you sat me down a year ago and said, “Gail, next year at this time, you’ll have 275 pages of a novel written,” I would have laughed in your face. But now? Now I wouldn’t dare because slowly, one word at a time (all pounded out wayyyy past my bedtime), it’s what I’ve been doing.
Why share all this with you for my March self-portrait? Because it’s the month that, in many ways, I finally decided to stop pussy-footing around, to be honest with myself in believing that I am a writer. Not just of other people’s stories, but of my own. Two weeks ago, I sat in a manuscript workshop where the book I’ve been working on was critiqued by published authors in front of nearly two dozen of my peers. It was scary, it was nerve-wrecking, but also? Immensely satisfying. I felt like I had arrived, found my tribe, belonged with those people who were there. And that felt so so good. So while I have no idea where this current novel of mine will end up, I know a few things about my intentions as they relate to it:
1) I intend to publish it. I’ll try traditional routes first, ones that, autiodidact that I am, I’ve been researching all about in equal parts excitement and trepidation. Because I’m a pragmatist who, at the same time, is equally committed to her main characters, if and when those doors close for me, I’ll turn to self-publishing instead and here’s why: I really, really want you all to meet Emily and Adam. I hope you come to love them as much as they’ve grown on me; I might cry when I finish this book because that’s how hard it’ll be for me to part with them. Eight months is a long time to spend with anyone—fictional or otherwise—and imagining having to say goodbye now? It’s already getting to me and I haven’t even written their ending yet!
2) I intend to keep writing. Writing this first novel of mine has been such an incredible journey. I’ve enjoyed the process immensely—and learned so much about myself along the way—that any plans or aspirations I have for publication are secondary forms of accomplishment. It’s true what they say about writing as much as anything: When you commit to it, practice it, live it, the ideas start to flow. And so I already have several more in mind for future story material. I’ve gotta say, it’s SUCH a thrill to think the mental wall I built up for myself all those years ago (the one with the whiny ‘But what will I write about?‘ graffiti written all over it) got delivered a take down Kool-Aid man style in all of this.
3) I intend to inspire others along the way. If that sounds arrogant, please know what I really mean is this: That if I can do this—a mother of a toddler who holds down a day job but makes the time to write (because you’re never going to find the time), then you can do it too. And maybe your passion isn’t writing but baking, or knitting, or making jewelry or graphic posters or homemade jam and selling them on Etsy, but whatever it is, you deserve to chase it every bit as much as I do. Damn the excuses we keep telling ourselves. Am I right or am I write?
Also, for anyone who may have wondered why I’ve blogged far less as of late (if you even noticed!), just know it’s been because of this book of mine!