Ever since I was 11 years old I planned on writing a book I and never quite got around to it or had the nerve to. Now I finally did it.
Writing a Book is Easy …
Writing a book was easy – and not. Easy because the story came to me, the characters developed their own lives and personalities without me doing very much thinking or planning. I never made any chapter outlines, never thought about the story, never made list with how the characters look and what they like for breakfast. I just wrote it. The characters felt like friends and it was either obvious what they wanted for breakfast or, if I didn’t know, it wasn’t important. The books describes in two intertwined plots 10 years apart which got quite complicated after a while and so, eventually, I actually had to crack open Excel and start listing chapters so as to not completely confuse the time lines. After all it wasn’t a scifi with time travel.
In the end, I was surprised how easy it was to write.
… and so Very Hard
But then it was also very hard. I found the rule I once read, namely that if writing a book one has to write for at least one hour every day to keep things flowing, very true. If I let myself be distracted doing other things, not spending at least one hour every day it was hard to get back into writing, the characters all of a sudden felt less like friends and more like unruly relatives one struggles with.
And distracted I was – or rather let myself be. Coming from a background that values hard work, ideally of the physical kind, sitting at a desk – or worse the couch – and hammering into a keyboard (not communicating with paying clients) didn’t feel like work. It felt like an indulgence, like some luxurious or pretentious hobby, a pipe dream, a bout of insaneness – but like work it felt not.
So I constantly fought the demons that were nagging in the back of my mind that I should get up now, this very second, and do laundry, or cook an elaborate dinner, that I should go shopping because we were out of fresh mangoes or soy sauce or some such crucial staple, that I should make a bigger effort to acquire more clients for my real bread-and-butter business, or maybe work on the tax return. Anything but the foolishness of writing a book.
I let the demons get to me for a very long time. I let them distract me, let them make me jump up sometimes in the middle of a sentence to fold socks, or send an email to a client or water the garden.
The Demons of Self-Doubt
Then there was another type of demons to be fought: those of self-doubt. They whispered different messages into my ear which all boiled down to one consistent message: “everybody is writing books why the hell do I think anybody would ever read anything you write”. Images of publishers buried under huge piles of manuscripts appeared unbidden in front of my mind’s eye, rejection letters that clearly showed that whoever had printed them out had not even read the summary of my book or -worse – had read it and hated it. Frustration and ridicule were awaiting me and an accusing statement along the lines of “just think of all the things you could have done in the time it took you to write this book” kept reverberating in my mind in an endless loop.
The demons slowed me down, brought my efforts to a screeching halt for long periods of time. The manuscript lingered somewhere in a rarely used computer folder under an inspiring title such as “writing exercise 1”. I took it out for a quick glance at times, reread a few chapters and made myself the promise to start working again on it tomorrow, or absolutely no later than the day after tomorrow.
You know the rest. Tomorrow and the day after came and went and Writing Exercise 1 did not progress by a single word.
Fighting Back the Demons
But now I finished writing the book at least to the point where I let some friends and family read them to seek their feedback. So what changed? What enabled me to fight those demons back?
A simple realization: I wanted to write all my life and I just had to do it. I had to give myself permission to make it a priority, to write my first book, to finish it and to be able to say: I always wanted to do this, now I have, another experience for me! I told myself that it was an important experience for me regardless of whether anybody ever reads it (other than the friends I forced) or it becomes a bestseller (a girl can dream). I did it for myself, and damn the weeds I didn’t plug, damn the elaborate dinners that were scrapped in favour of a pasta dish, damn the dust in the corners and the client who didn’t get a response within 30 minutes of emailing me.
I also told myself that I couldn’t let big dreams get in the way. I doubt anybody who ever starts writing a book thinks “I’ll just write a little book that few will read and which will languish in the book stores until its sold for $3.99 at Walmart and the Kindle version is available for free.” Every writer has big dreams, if not of fame and fortune than at least of touching people’s hearts and minds.
But setting out to write a Noble pricing winning novel is intimidating. It’s like going to the lab one day and saying “this week I’ll cure cancer”. It won’t happen however much you want it. So I took a friend’s advice to not overthink, to not plan ahead all the details down to the color of the dress I am going to wear during the Noble Price ceremony in Stockholm. I took a step and then the next, finished a chapter and started another. I still think I’ll wear black or maybe red but I no longer need this to be a Noble Price winning novel. I just need to finish it.
I finished my book and it was gratifying. I am happy I finished, whatever happens next I’ll know soon enough. And even if it is nothing more than some friends saying “I didn’t know you could write” I will feel a very strong sense of accomplishment by just being able to say “I have done it, another thing I always wanted to do.”