Story time… it’s a long one
I am nearing the end of the writing process for my first book manuscript. It is a historical fiction novel aimed at middle readers (typically defined ages 9-12, although I’ll admit that the vocabulary is rather more advanced than most 9-10-year-old children). The novel is the first in what I’m planning to be a series of five—covering each year of World War II as the story follows the adventures of codebreaking children.
Earlier this week, as I was doing my morning pages practice (per The Artist’s Way), I whined about my fear that I wouldn’t be able to finish the first draft. I complained about how I had the inspiration to guide the initial idea, the motivation to start writing, and the self-discipline to keep going. But in the final quarter of the work, I was feeling the dread that I might not be able to wrangle the project to its finish line. How terrible would it be, I kept thinking, if after all this time of talking about writing a book, I can’t actually bring it to completion. What if I never get it into the hands of an editor, an agent, a publisher? What if the people for whom I’m writing this story never enjoy its storyline and never have the chance to connect with its characters?
Then, I decided to voice the fears by sharing with followers on my private Instagram account what I was experiencing while also acknowledging that I was choosing to move forward with the confidence in the fact that this project was never about me to begin with. I needed to worry less (or not at all) about my ability and trust the process that if a project is being handed to me, I will be given the tools to finish it.
Allow me to explain.
Five years ago, if you asked me what I wanted to do with my career I responded confidently “write books, I just don’t yet know what about.” It was a sad truth that I was very interested in becoming a published author, but I didn’t know how to start or what to write about. I had around 16,000 words written about the year I lived in Paris, plenty of blog posts and was working as a communication manager—so I had a good amount of writing experience, but I felt unsure if I would ever find actual inspiration to channel into a manuscript.
Fast forward a few years and I was still in a communication career, but one that wasn’t bringing me much personal fulfillment. I didn’t mind writing on behalf of an organization or doing editorial work, but I was growing antsy for a change and really wanted to use my words to write my own stories.
Last spring, I had an epiphany one night. If I wanted to be an author, I needed to write. As I was already doing that, I was in fact an author. One doesn’t gain the title author after publishing a book or article—but as soon as they write something. I love one definition pulled from Cornell Law School which says, “An author is a person who creates, comes up or gives existence to something.” To be an author, all I had to do was give existence to something. Already done!
Once I let myself embrace that title instead of viewing it as purely aspirational, I got to work outlining a personal narrative of my 20s. I wrestled with the structure and the theme throughout the summer, anticipating that I would make good headway on the manuscript on a personal retreat I had scheduled to take last July. I was wrong… sort of.
I arrived to my retreat (really a summer family camp in the north woods Wisconsin which I was attending as an individual) a day early, so I was left to my own devices the first morning and early afternoon. I had slept very fitfully the night before. I don’t watch many horror movies, but I know that scary things always happen to people who are alone in secluded cabins in the woods and I was truly filled with fear that night. I did a lot of breathing exercises, praying and singing worship songs to survive. When I finally made it to the early morning hours, I got ready, did a light yoga flow and then found an Adirondack chair in the yard in which to sit and just be.
I went on the retreat to disconnect from my busy life and to reengage in my faith. I wanted to reform my understanding of who I am and what I’m meant to be doing. As I previously mentioned, I anticipated I would work on writing my memoir on my retreat, but that first day, I instead pulled out a notebook in which I had written a few poems. I hadn’t really tried to write poetry since I was in high school, but I had just finished World of Wonders and I think I was inspired to try to write out of my comfort zone.
Curled into the wooden chair outside of the cabin, which now seemed picturesque in the morning light, the words flowed out so effortlessly. Being immersed in nature provided endless observations for me to discover. I watched a bee flit from clover to clover and gazed up at the awesome heights of birch trees that have probably already spanned the lives of a few generations. I closed my eyes as streams of sunlight poured through the woods to wash over my face and I smiled as I listened to loons call to each other across the lake. Something new awakened within me. I was a poet.
Great, I thought. I will write poetry and work on my personal narrative—both of which I did over the following days. Every morning after breakfast and a morning service, I would get a fun coffee drink at the camp’s coffee shop and sit down to freely observe, write and just be. Occasionally, I would strike up conversations with some of the families who were camping, but most often, I would sit quietly alone in the midst of others. I went late to the lunch buffet and would sit with my nose buried in The Woman Who Smashed Codes before heading back to the coffee shop patio to write more or going down to do yoga or journal on one of the docks on the lake.
One lunch midway through the week, a woman who I had briefly met earlier in the week interrupted my lunch reading to ask about my reading choice. She assumed it was fiction and when I explained it was actually nonfiction, she explained that she rarely read modern fiction anymore because of the proclivity of content that crossed what she deemed to be helpful creative writing. I had to agree. Then she said, “Someone in your generation needs to rise up and write as C.S. Lewis did in inspiring people toward the tenets of Christian living”—or something along those lines. Then she wished me a good lunch and walked away.
In that moment I very much felt that I was receiving a Divine word and challenge. So, I finished my lunch, went to the coffee shop as usual to buy a cup of coffee and sat down to consider what I had just been told.
For whatever it’s worth, I have experienced other moments in life in which I’ve distinctly heard from God. Usually they’ve been moments of silence in which I was asking something of God. This was admittedly different, having been spoken to by someone else, but what I’m sure felt like a casual quip to that woman truly felt like a directive from a higher power to me.
So, on July 25, I started outlining ideas for a novel (which quickly turned into a novel series). Inspired the story of Elizebeth and William Friedman I was reading that week, the works of C.S. Lewis that had defined my own childhood, the intrigue of Sherlock Holmes and A Series of Unfortunate Events, the adventures of Indiana Jones and Nicolas Cage in National Treasure, and the pure sweetness of The Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and La Guerre des Boutons, ideas poured out of pen into my journal with very little effort. Having spent years hoping I would have a concept with which to write one book, the ease with which I suddenly had 3 book ideas was astounding, overwhelming and humbling.
My process for writing has been to carve out intentional time and space to devote to writing, but I’ve done little more than research and write. The story is still unfolding in front of me as I’ve been open to letting it evolve as the creativity comes. I am committed to maintain historical integrity in terms of major events and real people. This book is written in a way that the story could have happened, even though as a work of fiction it did not happen.
My personal hope is that readers would discover lesser known historical circumstances and important figures as they encounter prevailing truths about life that transcend generations and the boundaries of time.
I will continue to testify that while I’ve done a fair amount of work on this book, it was not my idea. I feel distinctly as though I have been commissioned to write the story by something much greater than me for a purpose far greater than my grandest dreams. It’s been a wild season of creative discovery, but I feel like the best is even yet to come.
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I am reading this while walking to our local grocery store. Always grateful for your willingness to share your journey. Thankful for your vulnerability and creativity. Looking forward to reading more. Praying for your process and all those who Your writings will and are impacting. 💛
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You are remarkable! I am constantly impressed by your willingness to be open to others about your work. The Lord bless you and keep you.
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