It’s been a year since I quit working full time to become a writer. More specifically, to focus on writing my novel. You know, THE NOVEL. “The book of my heart,” the piece of fiction I gave up dental insurance for. The thing that I was sure would come together easily once I could devote all my headspace to it. The creative word baby that could only be fed by time.
Well, I got that time. Lots of it. And one year later, my book is still not done. I hate writing those words, it kills me. I never dreamed it would take me so long. I thought I’d be talking to agents or querying publishers by now. The good news is I’ve written over 90,000 words. But there are still scenes in my head that aren’t on paper. Underdeveloped characters, plot holes, messy phrasing, and a manuscript littered with notes like ##ADD METAPHOR.
What have I been doing for the past year, I ask myself. Have I been lazy? Did I fritter my time away? Too much 90 Day Fiancé trash TV and not enough takin’ care of business? I’m certain that’s not the case. But what did I do? I thought I would spend a moment breaking down my year of writing, month by month, to answer that question.
MY CREATIVE YEAR OFF
OCTOBER 2017: I can’t believe I did it. I actually quit my job! To write! It still feels surreal and like some other person made such a bold move, not me. I spend the first two weeks of my new life sleeping and staring blankly at the wall. Now that I have the thing I wanted for so long, I’m not sure what to do with it.
While attending a wedding, someone asks me what I do for a living and I stutter and stumble over my words, saying, “I’m between jobs.” I don’t know if it’s true.
NOVEMBER 2017: I’m getting nine hours of sleep each night and feel good, physically. Mentally? Still adjusting. I don’t feel like a writer, I feel like a fraud. I’m doing a lot of research on cryptozoology, and become quite taken with the Wampus Cat. I try to do NaNoWriMo and it’s a huge fail. I decide I’m not a word count person, and focus more on time-based goals — two to four hours a day of time with my book.
DECEMBER 2017: I take a short online course on building sexual tension through LitReactor. We share parts of our work for critique, and someone in the class randomly sends me a private message saying she really liked my scene and wanted more. Yay!
I read in a writing book how in fiction, the stakes must always be death (physical, psychological, or professional). Even though my book is not about vampires, I decide to add more vampires.
JANUARY 2018: I’m struggling with spending too much time researching, which is also a fancy word for procrastinating. I’m not happy with my world-building (or lack of) and everything feels thrown together without any cohesion. I am comparing myself to world class fantasy writers and coming up short. Despite this, I have a day where I started writing at 11:00 a.m. and don’t look at the clock again until 2:00 p.m. Whoa.
FEBRUARY 2018: We go on a trip to New Zealand to see family and friends. I don’t get much writing done and feel bad about it. Stateside, I have an experience with several people telling me really personal, TMI stories directly after I first met them. This was terribly unpleasant but it gives me an idea for my story that’s really exciting.
MARCH 2018: A friend and former co-worker approaches me about doing some subcontracting work writing grants, which I accept. I’m now a paid writer! I listen to a Smart Bitches, Trashy Books interview with author Lorraine Heath and her advice to “take every opportunity offered to you” resonates.
I also develop plantar fasciitis in my left foot. The most likely cause? Working at home = not wearing shoes the majority of the time. I’m averaging four hours of writing a day.
APRIL 2018: I have the opportunity to take an eight-week novel writing class. I’m not sure if I should, I’m concerned that I will fuss too much over the pages I have to submit for critique and it will impede my progress.
The instructor is also a man, and there are three male students in the class that I worry will sneer at my genre. I remember Lorraine Heath’s advice on opportunities and sign up. The men in the class are supportive and receptive (with the exception of one guy who sneers at every genre but his own). I’m pleased to get feedback on what’s working and useful criticisms on what’s not.
MAY 2018: I go to the RT Booklover’s Convention in Reno, NV. This was a mixed bag, more about that here. I feel guilty and disappointed in myself for not having a completed manuscript that I could pitch to agents and editors. I come home more inspired to get busy and finish.
JUNE 2018: I start selling old clothes on Poshmark for extra cash and make more money than I imagined ($150). I go over some of the scenes I wrote a year ago and realize that all this writing has actually made me a better writer. Go figure! I’m at a steady clip of two hours writing, a break, then two more hours writing every weekday. Some loose ends are starting to fall into place, plot wise. I have a great critique partner who keeps reading everything I send her, and telling me she likes it (thank you, Bethany).
JULY 2018: I go to the Romance Writers Association (RWA) conference in Denver. This is different from the fan-focused RT, this one’s for the pros. The last time I was in Denver was for a writing retreat in 2016. I arrived there feeling completely adrift with my writing, and left with the realization that I wanted to write romance.
As we walk through the airport terminal, I realize that two years later, after quietly admitting to myself that I wanted to write romance, I’m in Denver again to attend the national convention for professional romance writers. Tears ensue.
AUGUST 2018: A speaker at RWA inspires me to do more goal-setting. I start a Kan-Ban board listing all the things I want to do (on Post-Its) with To Do, In Progress and Done categories. I love it. I set three big goals for the next three months: finish my manuscript by November, expand my freelance writing work, and build my writing community.
On the less exciting side, our bank account takes a huge hit. My husband breaks a tooth, the treadmill desk dies, our cat develops asthma, we have a death trap outlet that needs an electrician, and our vintage van fails the emissions test. Copious hand wringing about how I’m not bringing in much money follows.
SEPTEMBER 2018: I organized a writing workshop for my local RWA chapter and it goes off without a hitch. I see a job posting for a cats only pet-sitting service and decide it could be the perfect part time job for me. I get hired.
My classmates from the spring novel writing class meet up for drinks and we decide to keep exchanging work on a monthly basis. The men in the group point out how I incorrectly used the word “shotgun” instead of “rifle” in a scene, which I never would have noticed on my own. My goal to build my writing community Post-It moves from “To Do” to “In Progress.”
OCTOBER 2018: I’m much busier with pet-sitting than I ever expected, and it’s cutting into my writing time. I decide that if I want to keep my goal of finishing my manuscript by November, I need to put aside plans to build my freelance writing career for the moment. I stop taking breaks from writing on the weekend. I reexamine my word count reluctance and set a goal I can achieve — 500 words a day. I keep writing, always writing, except for when my brain is completely full and fried. It feels like filling up a bucket of water one drop at a time.
NOVEMBER 2018: I figure out that a busy day of pet-sitting can also be a busy day of writing if I stop to work at a coffee shop between appointments. We take a trip to the Bigfoot museum and I get positive confirmation on an element of my story that I wasn’t sure was believable. My novel completion date comes and goes, and I have not finished. I am disappointed, but not surprised.
However, I go to another wedding and when a guest asks me what I do I say, without hesitation, “I’m a writer. I do a little freelance work, but mainly I’m working on a novel.” And I don’t feel like a fraud. I feel like me.
DECEMBER 2018: More goals! More writing! More TCB-ing! More finishing? Probably not.
I think 2018 was really the year I learned how to become a writer, not finish a book. Will 2019 be the “finish the book year?” For the love of Mothman, I hope so.
But although my progress has been slow, I’m happy with what I’ve written. I love it most days. It’s a better book than I had envisioned a year ago — more complex, there’s more characters, and it has the potential to become a series. It may end up being one of those thick, doorstop fantasy books instead of a zippy little paperback, and I’m OK with that. It will be something I’m proud of, I have no doubt. And that takes time.