I could see stories-to-be-told in everything - in the infuriating mismanagement and decline of the newspaper industry, in the colourful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists of the start-up world, in my own family (perhaps that’s a given) - and I often found myself daydreaming about opening lines, quirky characters and surprise endings.
Still, writing a book seemed like a silly thing to do. After all, I know actual real writers who have published actual real works of fiction. A former colleague has even become an international sensation complete with thirteen bestsellers and a movie deal. Who was I, an untrained wannabe, a business grad for god’s sake, to presume to join their ranks?
But then, during the last few months leading up to the sale of my start-up Shopcaster, as I was entertaining a girlfriend with yet another story of yet another bizarre start-up world encounter (this time with a delightfully idiosyncratic VC), she changed the course of the next year of my life with nine words.
“God! I hope you’re writing all of this down.”
And there it was, that old familiar tickle in my stomach. Only this time, I knew I would do something about it.
As the story grew more insistent, poking at me at night as I tried to fall asleep, I soon found myself sneaking into the den at four in the morning to make notes. I didn’t have a choice. My novel wanted to be written more than I feared writing it.
I’d read that telling people that you’re writing a novel can mess you up (rendering you overly confident or completely demoralized), so I kept my friends and family in the dark. Only my partner John knew what I was up to.
Upon completion of my third draft, when I finally started to tell people about the novel, I was pleasantly surprised. First of all, they took me seriously. Even the real writers.
And then, many of them said, “I’ve always felt I had a book in me but…”
“...I’ve never had the time.”
“...I don’t have the discipline to do it.”
“...I don’t want to risk putting that much effort into something and then not get it published.”
And to those people I say: Bullshit. Do not let fear cause you to miss out on such an extraordinary experience.
Writing a book has been one of the scariest, but also one of the most joyful journeys of my life.
Sticky notes and index cards were transformed into a plot (with several eight-point story arcs of course). And after a couple of clunky false starts, I got into the flow. By the fourth week, I could sit and write for five hours or more without noticing the time go by. I averaged about 1,000 words a day for four months (my record was 3,272 on March 26th - yes, I tracked).
I had planned my book rather meticulously, with a 40-page outline. Yet, as new characters emerged, unplanned, but who would later become essential to the book’s resolution, I had the eerie feeling that I wasn’t the one actually writing the story; I was just the scribe. When I finished the first draft and was forced to put the manuscript down for six weeks (the minimum amount of time recommended by Stephen King - who am I to argue?) I actually missed those characters. They felt like real people who had left my life.
When I read the work in preparation for my second draft, I was horrified by how bad some of the writing was and amazed by how good some of it was. As I handed the third draft over to a few close friends, I felt nauseous and didn’t sleep for several days. And when the feedback was truthful and helpful, I felt grateful for having such wonderful (and willing) people in my life.
Personally, I changed as well. I now look at people, particularly strangers, differently. I’m fascinated by them. I want to know their private hopes and struggles, what motivates them, who they love. I stare at them a little too long on the subway.
Having developed a deeper understanding of their literary achievements, I’ve grown a new appreciation for my favourite authors. Mordecai Richler was always a hero, but now he’s reached deity status (I pray to him when the words don’t come).
Okay, it’s not all rainbows and fluffy bunnies. While writing the first draft was magical, killing my darlings in the second and third was scary and yeah, the fourth draft (where I am now) is a slog.
Soon, I’ll start down the path to publication with the full knowledge that the odds that my book will ever been seen by people who don’t actually know and love me are infinitesimally small. I’ve heard all the tragic stories: the woman who worked on a novel for five years and then couldn’t secure an agent, the guy who got an agent but never sold his book and, worse, the guy who landed a rare and illustrious two book deal only to have the publisher go under a month later.
It doesn’t really matter if I publish or not. I’m ready to venture back into the real world and a real job. My year of creative indulgence has had a rejuvenating effect, delivering me from the exhaustion of three grinding years in the start-up world. I’m looking forward to a new challenge (and a pay cheque).
But, at the same time, book number two is starting to keep me up at night as new characters and new plot lines begin to form. It’ll be harder to write while working full time, but I like doing difficult things. I get bored otherwise.
So it turns out, among many things, I’m also a writer. Perhaps you are too.