Well, it's here. The time has finally come.
I am a "professional" writer.
Let me tell you—thinking about myself and my work that way still sends me into a freak-out spiral. This is my job now? I get to do what I love for a living? That's madness. It's impossible. Whoever's trusting me to write books on proposal for money is crazy.
SHY GIRL AND SHY GUY was the first time I'd outlined a book prior to writing it with quite that much detail. But I needed my co-author, Amber J. Keyser, to approve the outline (the story, the flow, the ending, the characters) before I spent all that time writing the book itself, so the outline had to be good. It had to be detailed. And once it was approved?
I had to stick to it.
To be frank, that was the scariest part. As an amateur writer, I could free-float. I could write the skeleton of an outline and fill in the pieces as I got deeper, letting the novel explore itself, reveal itself, throw me curveballs and deliver fun surprises. And a lot of that freedom, a lot of that in-motion creativity, had kept me going while writing previous novels.
But with SHY GIRL, I didn't have that freedom (though the book still came out with some themes I didn't expect, and some of the characters developed in exciting, unanticipated ways). I didn't have that little burst of creativity between each scene where I could brainstorm what came next, and let that enthusiasm carry me.
Having that outline as my master taught me some things about myself, as a writer, that I didn't know; it showed me I could do things I didn't think I could do.
How I was forced to learn to "just write"
I left town for a month to write SHY GIRL. I needed a change of scenery to focus; and in another city, in another state, I encountered far fewer distractions than I would at home. (And I slept in a tent, and charged my devices via solar chargers, but that aside.)
But even that first week, I didn't accomplish much.
I remember how disappointed I felt in myself. I'd gone through so much to arrange my month-long getaway—I'd purchased this massive, cabin-like tent, set up my solar charging routine, acquired groceries to hold me for a few days, and had a standing desk assembled under a sweet-smelling tree, all ready to rock and roll.
And yet, I still couldn't write.
I don't really know how I spent that time. Goofing off, somehow? Walking around a lot, thinking, talking to myself, changing my music, re-arranging the solar panels. Making fruit smoothies. Playing with my friend's dog.
Everything, essentially, but writing. Writing the very book I had gone all the way down there to write.
I don't know what changed. I wish I could tell you in really concrete terms exactly how to get from that hopeless point, to the point where I ended up. To the point where I finished writing a book and even got to drive home a day early.
But I don't. Here's what I can tell you:
Don't wait. Do.
I kept waiting to "feel it." Waiting like a damsel in distress and no prince on the way. It was like WAITING FOR GODOT where the guys are hanging around expecting God to show up and, surprise, he never does. Because he's freaking God, guys. Come on.
At some point, it occurred to me there wasn't a magic lightning bolt just hovering around, striking people randomly with inspiration. And if there was, clearly it wasn't my time to be struck by it—and I still had a book to write. If I kept waiting, I'd wait forever. Nothing was coming my way of its own accord.
I also considered that somehow, out there in the world, other writers were getting their stuff done. Other writers were churning out books. What magic had they tapped into that I hadn't?
As unremarkable and cliché as this sounds, here's what I discovered:
I needed to be my own savior.
I also realized that I absolutely had the agency to start writing, with or without a lightning bolt. Because in the end, isn't writing little more than tapping on keys? Putting words to a page? We put words to pages when we write our grocery lists, so why was it so much harder to put down words that would eventually make up a book? (Especially when I had such a detailed outline waiting in the wings to guide me through it.)
The piece that made it come together for me was that—knowing that as long as I did the work, as long as I created each individual piece of the puzzle the best way I knew how, even if it didn't all fit together perfectly, I'd end up with the shape of it. Whatever I created didn't have to be perfect in that first go-around; all I needed was to fill in the loose structure of a story I'd already built the skeleton of with words and details and dialogue. Then, like a magic quilt, it would all stitch itself together.
That confidence was what made me write.
The trick, though, was to stop waiting. It was to stop hanging around hoping that I'd "feel it," that the words would somehow, magically, come out of my fingers even if I didn't put my fingers to the keys. To take my work, my agency, into my own hands, and tell it right then and there what to do. To stop passing off responsibility to some unseen force, buck up, and take it as mine.
And you know what? I felt really, really powerful after that. But that leap, that canyon, is hard to cross alone. It's easy to say; more difficult to actually do. So here I've tried to narrow down my own process.
How to Write
The first step is easy: Put your fingers to the keys.
The second step? Write words with them.
The third? Accept they don't have to be good words, or pretty words, or for heaven's sake, perfect words. Just words.
The fourth? Know that no one else can do this but you. Nobody.
If it gets done, it's because you did it. If it doesn't, well... You get it.
It's so easy to hand off responsibility to a muse, or to a "zone," or to saying, "I just need to feel it!" It really is easy to do this. It's alluring. I understand. Trust me, I do. I spent a whole lot of time doing it, and not writing.
But don't do that. Don't make excuses for yourself.
It's easy to wait in a tower, hoping to be rescued. But the moment you rescue yourself, the moment you pass yourself your own agency, you can write. And I know it's so easy to just sit here and say it, but I promise: you can do it, too.