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.