How time flies, doesn’t it? I don’t remember the exact date off-hand. (I’d have to search through my emails.) But last April was the first time anyone other than myself (and my wife) saw the draft of my novel.
I had begun writing in secret – telling no one, not even my wife – a few months earlier to prove to myself I could do it. After decades of reading what others produced (mostly non-fiction, but some fiction too), and thinking often that I could do it at least as well, and maybe better, I had decided now was the time to try it to prove it. I figured as well that, yeh, if I finished it I would put on Kindle and make it available via print-on-demand. Some people I know would buy it for a laugh, and that would be that.
James Fenimore Cooper wrote his first novel on a dare from his wife. She challenged him that he couldn’t write something better than the book she happened then to be reading. Uh, he did. And as we know, eventually he accomplished a bit more than that….
* * *
When I finally had a full draft, and after also revealing to my wife what I had been doing, suddenly reality hit: I now had to share it with someone else. After she had read it (“Have you known a French au pair?”), she pronounced it excellent. (“But you’ll never believe me because I’m your wife!”) When I asked her who she thought might be the best initial person to show it to, she blurted out a certain friend’s name immediately: she loves fiction, would read it critically, and knew how to give “negative” feedback without causing offense.
We were then here in the Catskills (as we are now). I gulped, wrote that friend and emailed the manuscript to her in England. Suddenly, this was no longer about just me. I told her I wanted total candor. If she thought it was not publishable, I wanted her to tell me that. I desperately needed “the truth.”
She came flying back at me within just minutes, writing she was stunned to hear what I had done, and that she’d love to read it. About a week later, she wrote again, this time in detail. One word in that second email will stay with me forever: she called my book – my book! – “brilliant.”
It had some “flaws,” she added; but she also wrote that nothing’s perfect, and that she was dying to help me out. She said she loved the story and the characters. She joked also that she was keen to find out who all of these people – especially the young women – were or are? I wrote her back with a😉 that maybe someday I’d fill her in. (Tragedy caused me a couple of months ago to reveal here who is partly an inspiration for one of them.)
I was thrilled at her overall positive reaction. Her take gave me the guts to pass it around more widely. Others’ responses were similar. I received yet more useful suggestions. I couldn’t believe it. One person told me she had printed out the entire file and bound it herself in order to be able to relax on her sofa with a glass of wine and read it like a proper book!
When you are trapped in your authoring bubble, unsure of yourself, hoping what you are tapping, tapping, tapping on the keyboard is at best “passable?” To have others eventually tell you it is better than you had thought? Learning that latter is a relief of the highest order.
I could breathe out: I had done it. Whatever its ultimate fate out there “on the market,” the book exists forever. I’d proved to myself I could write what others considered a good novel. Although what I had written was not mayhem crime drama like he writes of course, I had done what my “publishing house”-contracted novelist uncle had done for years.
I felt I could do it again. I realized I love doing this. Maybe I’m strange, but I love awakening at 5 AM and asking myself as I turn on the PC, “Okay, friends [on these pages], so what’s going to happen to you today?”
* * *
I see as well that the book is being bought by quite a few beyond just friends/ family who’d been “in the know,” and I couldn’t be more pleased by that. (If you happen to be one of them, I hope you’ve liked it.) I also know now what I have to do to get from start to finish. I no longer need to be secretive either. However, because of the book’s (and increasingly “books”) biographical and autobiographical inputs (such as story “inspirations” from the likes of my uncle), my American relations in particular remain completely in the dark about my novelist efforts.
I read other authors who suggest you tell everyone you are writing. Shout it to all around you! they advise. The argument is if everyone knows, that gives you the encouragement to finish.
But my own experience has been different. As word spread about my literary effort, I found myself a bit embarrassed when discussing my “writing a novel.” However, I so wanted to create one I would be proud of and – more importantly – others would enjoy reading. In the end, though, you have to write for yourself. If you can’t motivate yourself to finish, no one else will motivate you.
I plan three books with these characters. If anything, in others knowing now of the first book and the continuing story, I feel not motivation to finish writing the first sequel so much as pressure to produce on the same level. Obviously having done it once, everyone’s sure I can do it again! Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!