Bigger 2016 personal writing

And Then He Asked, “How Does One Become a Novelist?”

July 18, 2016

Novel Writing Office EG

This past winter I found myself seated at a table of strangers while waiting for Christian & the rest of the band to come out on stage. I was used to going to these things by myself and it was pretty typical for me not to talk to whoever was sitting next to me. By the time I’d usually make it to my seat, the show would soon begin and I’d be saved from the dreaded small talk. (You all know by now that I am not a fan.) But somehow I’d found my seat earlier this time and the man and his wife sitting at the same table, probably both in their mid-fifties, encouraged a toast as they took note of my glass of wine. Okay this is the kind of small talk I can do. It was such a nice gesture and we clinked glasses, but then he asked me, “So what do you do?” It’s always that question, isn’t it? Small talk starts one of two ways: the weather or the ‘what do you do’ question. (I get it. It’s a safe place to start.)

I took a big gulp and then proudly responded with an answer I’d only worked at claiming without hesitation for a little over a year:  “I’m a writer.”  His eyes got wide and his wife leaned in, clutching his arm. “Oh! What do you write?!” she’d asked. I went into my typical spiel of “I’m a blogger” “What kind of blog?” “It’s a lifestyle blog geared mostly towards women, although I do think my dad reads it” – (which always renders a chuckle) – “mostly about my own life but I try to inspire and encourage along the way.” They both smiled and she took a big sip of her Merlot and said, “That is so cool.” She was kind, but he just kind of looked at me. I could see he was skeptical. (The men always are whenever you mention the word “Blogger” – especially the men who come from earlier generations that don’t really believe that’s a real thing.) There was a brief pause and then suddenly I realized I was still talking… and the following words came out of my mouth: “But… I also just started writing my first ever novel.” Oh my god. It must have been the wine. I couldn’t believe I’d just admitted that to a couple of strangers who surely were just entertaining themselves before the show began, but yes- I had gone there. I’d only just started sharing that bit of info with others, it was still fresh in my daily agenda… I was still trying to figure out what the hell I was doing. They both put their glasses on the table and leaned in further, and then he asked:

“How does one become a novelist?”

Little did he know, he’d just opened the gates. I silently prayed the lights would dim and the show would just start and the three of us could give a little laugh as we sat back in our seats as if to say, “Oh, ok next time!” I sat there for a second and thought about where to even begin. How does one become a novelist? I mean, I could give him the long version…

Well, you can start with throwing out any routine you once knew. You must find a new routine, one that is allowed to change at the drop of a hat. You will most certainly pull all-nighters, as you try desperately to get the feeling you have in your heart out into the words that might even begin to do it justice. Sometimes you don’t write for days and it can really start to mess with your head like, what am I doing?? but other times, your fingers can’t type fast enough and you feel totally high as you finally get into the writing groove. You might allow yourself to finally get some sleep, only for the groove to be jumbled up again when you awake the next day. You spend a good 45 minutes to an hour each day, simply getting that groove back, but oh yes – it’s worth it every time. Like a new love, it’s a story you can’t go a day without thinking about and everything about it is so interesting. You begin to not just fall in love with the story itself, but with the characters you’ve only just begun to develop and yet feel like you’ve known each of them your entire life.

You try to convince yourself, especially at the beginning, that you’re not wasting your time. Because you’re not seeing a weekly paycheck or getting any kind of feedback, and you’re not used to this part of it. You make character boards and study and practice the ways of writing in different voices, even though your fingers have only ever just known your own. It’s choosing to be brave and to not give up, especially when you ultimately decide to delete pages of words you’ve just worked thirteen hours on. It’s choosing to push away the voice in your head that whispers, dude, you like, kinda don’t have a “real job” right now. Because that voice is a liar: this is most certainly a job, the hardest one you’ve had so far in your 32 years of life, and it’s also the best one. So you continue to lock yourself away in your guest bedroom you’ve claimed as ‘your office’ while you type and work through it, all the while no one ever sees or knows about any of it. There are no pats on the back when you’ve gotten through a ‘writing breakthrough.’ There are no lunch hour breaks, venting with coworkers so that when you go back to your desk to put in 6 more hours you feel a bit more encouraged and empowered. There aren’t any meetings with your boss where he tells you, “You’re doing a great job.” No, instead you have your incredible spouse who gives so much patience as you work through all of this, because while he may not know much about the story, he believes in you. And yeah – your heart is grateful and it’s because of that though that you must say no to any guilt that starts to pop up on the hard days. (And it does always pop up on the hard days. It does.)

It’s about trusting the process, learning to love the journey and to not just be doing it for a successful end result. It’s about retraining your brain so that you can once again believe that success can also be found in the middle too. Like, remember when we were children and did something simply because we enjoyed doing it and for no other reason for that? Yeah… it’s like that! It’s more than just writing the overall story; it’s all the little stories within the big one. Because it’s also about living and experiencing life as someone else would. And actually, that might just be my favorite part: being able to become all of these different people.

It’s equal parts excitement, terror, elation, pain, and 100% hard work, and you just hope that by the end of it all, the story has come to life the way you always intended it to. That at least one other person who reads it feels the way you do when you finish a great book –  ‘What now?!’ And it’s basically like the absolute greatest adventure you’ve ever had, writing this novel. It’s mostly crazy – the entire thing – and this is what keeps you going, of course, because you’re a little crazy. You know? I mean, we’re all a little crazy.


No. I did not give him the long answer. Even though my heart really wanted to, especially as the skeptical tone in his voice as he’d asked the question was still ringing in my ears. Instead, I looked him dead in the eyes and said,

“You write the story. And you just don’t stop, until you’ve reached The End. And it’s as easy and as hard as that.”

He leaned back in his chair and took a sip of his wine as he said “Oh. Okay.” He was still looking at me, giving me a curious look and I wasn’t sure if it was because of the long pause that had come before I gave him my answer, or if it was the answer itself and maybe he really was catching on to that whole “I’m kinda crazy” part. Or perhaps he was expecting more, the long answer. But it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if he agreed or even believed in my writing abilities based on this 4 minute conversation. I realized in that moment that I believed in this story, in this journey. Even on the days when I doubt myself and my own abilities to “pull this off.” The story is bigger than all of those things… the hope of the journey of it all has to be just enough to keep me going. To be worth the crazy. And dude, it is.

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  • Love this Em! You’re right about it not mattering what this stranger thought based on your short convo. I also love that you’re able to really put into words what this process is like for you.

  • Everything about this. I love it.

  • This is just what I needed to start my Monday! I personally think your response was amazing. Just keep writing my friend. I can’t wait to see where it leads you. XO

  • I LOVE this. it’s so hard to explain to people what you “do” and it’s even more hard when they ask pointed questions. This was beautifully put!

  • It’s insanely hard to explain to people what you do. I don’t consider myself to be a writer, really, even though I blog. I just started up again, so it’s no where near a full time gig. But I’d like it to be in the future, and that’s absolutely what I’m working toward. It’s difficult to explain to people why I put so much effort into something that isn’t giving me any $$$ at the moment. And men especially don’t understand! My boyfriend has no idea. I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m wasting my time, but that doesn’t stop me. 🙂

    • Whatever it is you long for is never a waste of time… I think the journey you get out of it, whatever it may be, is always worth it!

  • Oh, that conversation – it is dreaded here as well! I love your answer though. Just keep writing 🙂

  • I love that you’ve found the words and the voice to say all of these things in-spite of the uncertainty and doubt. Thank you for sharing your strength with us. I can’t wait to hear more about this story that you are nurturing and creating. And don’t worry – all of us are our own kind of crazy. 😉

    • Slowly but surely- it’s only taken me a few years! 😉

      It’s just easier to let the flag fly, you know? ha!

  • I love this. I have struggled so much with feeling inadequate when someone asks me what I do. I’ve even had a guy laugh and mock the fact that I was attending a webinar (to support a friend) as if what we did wasn’t a “real job”. I love your response! I will take the skeptical looks over the 9-5 any day because it is so much more fulfilling than any “real job” has ever been for me!

    • It’s so interesting to me that, most of the time, it’s the men who don’t get it. And I totally agree with you – I’ve done the 9-5 and loved that time in my life but we don’t always need to stay in a place just because we’ve done it for so long or because it’s what is to be considered the norm.

  • This is wonderful! I’ve just started working on my first novel, and I completely agree with your long version. It’s hard! But I love what you said i the end: you write the story.

    • Congratulations!!!!! I get so excited when I find other writers who are working on their *first* novel. It’s a magical time 🙂

  • My day job is writing so I often tell people that I’m a writer. Then I have the option of going in depth that I blog/work on a novel, too. It’s scary to tell people you’re a writer. If I were to say, “I’m a doctor” no one would immediately question my career choice and think, ‘Well are you a good one?’ I think that’s the major skepticism with writing. It sucks, but it’s really just a test of our own self-confidence. I’d say you passed with flying colors! I seriously can’t wait to read your novel some day!

    • YES. I always think about this: if a guy tells another guy he’s a musician, rarely is he drilled or asked a million questions so the person can figure out if he’s “successful” or not. (Yet, a musician and a writer travel similar paths.) There’s a crazy amount of skepticism that arises when you tell someone you’re a writer – you’re so right.

  • Jae

    I meant to tell you this shortly after you announced that you’re writing a book. I had a dream, and in my dream, I wrote a book. An autobiography of sorts, and that I was inspired by friends who believe that I have a gift in writing. Although not as bold as others, I’ve been following your journey through your blog, and it’s inspiring. Maybe one day I will. 🙂

  • I so love (and am so envious) that you are a writer. The fact that not only is it your job, it’s your passion, your lifestyle, your heartbeat. I hope to one day be in the same boat as you!

    • I’m always excited and happy for others who have found their passion, so thank you Kel. XO

  • chall1018

    I love both the short and the long answer! You are so cool. And I am so happy that you have found and are living out your passion.

    • oh Crystal, you are making my morning over here! Thank you for the love! XO!!!