When I was a little girl, I would lie on our red shag carpet and make up stories. After writing down my tales, I would run to the kitchen and read them to my mom, so excited to share my make-believe world with another person.
Little did I know that was the start of my writing journey.
As my love for writing grew, I dreamed of penning the next great novel or becoming a famous journalist. But fears, doubts, and insecurities plagued my heart and mind. Rather than dig deep and fight for my dreams, I ran away from my creative imagination and searched for safer pastures.
Yet, the tiny spark flickered …
How it all began
Then, in 2006, while living overseas in China, I received a letter in the mail. It was a photocopy of an address card from one of my dad’s friends. She said she’d found the card in her late father’s belongings and didn’t know why he had it. She asked that the next time I was in Shanghai, would I drive to the address and take a picture of what was there?
Happy to help, I looked. After much searching, though, I couldn’t find it.
I hated not being able to provide an answer for that lady and always wondered what was at the mysterious location. Instead of throwing away the paper she’d sent me, I tucked it into my idea folder, thinking one day I might do something with it.
Eleven years later, I pulled out that piece of paper and decided to create a story around it using my current career as a professional organizer: a PO helps an eccentric client track down the location of a long forgotten business card, leading the pair on an overseas adventure.
While I knew the direction I wanted to go with the story, I had no idea how to write a full-length novel. Once again, I was scared, uncertain, and leery that I was even supposed to journey down this path. This time, however, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake I had as a young girl.
Rather than run away, I was determined to see this story through to the end.
Taking baby steps
First, I needed to gain knowledge. Although I had been writing organizing tips and ideas on my blog for over 5 years, that was nonfiction. I had no clue how to write fiction.
So I signed up for a fiction writers’ conference. It was a great week of learning, connecting, and writing. While I gained confidence from my time there, I still wasn’t sure what to do next.
Do I keep writing?
Do I take more classes?
Do I join a writing group?
Honestly, I was paralyzed by indecision. Finally, I chose to move out of my comfort zone and do the next right thing.
On December 1, 2017, I hired a writing coach and committed myself to the writing process. For 12 months I outlined, brainstormed, wrote, edited and rewrote my story, week after week. There were days when I wanted to quit and days when I had to pull myself away from the computer. When it was all said and done, I typed “THE END” on December 30, 2018, one day shy of my self-imposed deadline.
After 40+ years, I finally fulfilled my lifelong dream.
What I learned in the process
As with any major undertaking, there are always lessons to be learned. My journey is no different. And while the lessons I learned aren’t anything new, I know that sharing them with others is important.
Regardless if your dream is to write a book, lose weight, train for a marathon, or organize your home, these lessons can help you reach the finish line and sustain you along the way:
1. It seems impossible until you do it. Early on, I discovered I was really good at starting stories (about 150 words). Beyond that, I wasn’t sure what to do. How in the world did anyone write 75,000 – 100,000 words (the average number of words for a novel)? It seemed like an impossibly daunting task.
But each week, I set out to write at least 3,000 words (roughly one chapter). Little by little, those 3,000 words came together to make an 84,100-word manuscript. When I typed the last word, I realized it wasn’t impossible after all; it just seemed that way in my mind.
What seems impossible for your current dream? Tackling it a little bit at a time can turn the impossible into possible.
2. A guide is necessary for the journey. As someone who doesn’t like to ask for help, I was certain that I could complete the book on my own. Surely, if I read enough books on the craft of writing, took some online classes, and did the work, I could create the next NYT bestseller!
But it didn’t work that way.
Even though I read, studied and wrote, I really had no clue how to structure a novel that someone would want to read. So I asked for help and hired a writing coach.
Best. Decision. Ever.
My coach, Sandra Byrd, is the author of 50 books and knows about the writing and publishing process. She gently held my hand and walked alongside me the entire time. There’s no way I could have ever completed the novel without her.
Even the greatest athletes and CEOs have coaches helping them be the best. Why should you or I think we are any less needy as we try to accomplish our goals? Whatever you want to do, let a guide show you the way.
3. You have to do the work. While it may seem like writing a book is simple, I can assure you it’s not (or at least not for me). Yes, I had ideas that came easily to me, but there were so many other things I had to do to make the story the best it could be: write profiles for each of my characters, find pictures of my settings so I could explain them as realistically as possible, research places and things I wanted to include in my story, and outline all 22 chapters in detail. And that was in addition to my weekly writing and editing!
Not to mention, there were days I had to sacrifice sleep, friends, and fun in order to get the work completed.
But all that effort was necessary. Without it, the story would have been unbelievable, the characters unlikable, and the plot filled with so many holes no one would want to finish reading it!
Whatever you want to accomplish, you have to work for it. You will be stretched, pushed out of your comfort zone and work harder than you ever imagined. But that’s what it takes to make the dream a reality.
4. Setbacks happen. When I first started working with my coach, my goal was to finish my manuscript by August of 2018. After that, I would give it to beta readers, make the necessary edits and spend the month of December getting everything polished for agents and editors.
Then life got in the way.
In May of that same year, my husband and I decided to downsize. We sold our house, bought a farm, and moved in a span of 2 1/2 months. It goes without saying that during that time, I couldn’t focus on my writing. And with that setback, my goal of finishing my rough draft in August vanished.
I was disappointed, but I knew that sometimes setbacks happen. Rather than completely throw in the towel, I course corrected and got back on track once I was settled in my new home. Instead of finishing my novel in August, I finished at the end of December.
The world didn’t come crashing down because I completed my story later than expected. Regardless of the goal, setbacks can occur. It’s how we deal with them (face them or flee from them) that determines if we ever cross the finish line.
5. There’s nothing better than reaching your goal. Although I’ve accomplished a lot of great things in my life, nothing was sweeter than finishing my manuscript. For me, I not only accomplished the impossible, but I finally achieved the one thing I had always dreamed of.
By reaching my goal, I erased years of self-doubt and insecurity. Not only that, but I finally allowed myself to believe that yes, I am a writer! Now, I’m working on the sequel to my next book and jotting down notes for even more! I honestly don’t think I’d be able to do those things if I had never reached that first goal.
Looking back, these past 18 months have been a season of growth for me: I learned that you’re never too old to reach for the stars, that dreams come true when you step out of your comfort zone and work for them, and that with help and perseverance you can cross the finish line. My book may never grace the shelves at Barnes and Noble or reach number one on the NYT Bestseller’s List (although it would be great if it did!), and that’s okay.
Simply having the experience has made me a better person.
That may be the best reward of all.