In September 2021, I self-published my first book, Where Is Home? A Memoir. It was a time of celebration and a great relief to publish it, and since then, I’ve had some time to reflect on the process.
My first reflection is that I did it! I researched, wrote, and revised my writing for three years. There were times when I was uncertain if I’d written anything with any depth or meaning. As I moved into self-publishing mode, my thoughts were more like rumination – deep, dark, and depressing. Was my little collection of stories terrible? I hadn’t thought so when I’d written them, but the self-imposed pressure of publishing was almost too much to bear. Was there a way to redeem my work in some way? It turns out my collection of stories was just fine the way it was.
My second reflection is that I did not do it alone. I had to humble myself, throw out ideas, write them down, and present them to my writing group. What had started as a hobby for me soon became a type of regular group therapy. I transitioned from creative writing into deep, contemplative thought, which has ultimately made me a stronger writer. I honestly feel that through writing my memoir, I have healed deep wounds within me. I continue to do work in this area through a newfound activity, guided meditation. I am also very grateful for the talented editor, proofreaders, and designer I invited in to help me. That’s a huge achievement in and of itself.
My third reflection is that writers use particular muscles unique to the creative process, and when I’ve used mine regularly, that “writing frame of mind” can happen more quickly. I can fall into a rhythm of writing with fewer rituals to get me started. For example, as I’m writing this piece, my desk is cluttered with work projects, unfiled papers, a book I’m studying with my prayer group, my opened purse, a dirty tissue, and a hair tie. It’s unusual for me to have this much stuff in my writing bubble. Also, I’m writing in the middle of the day, which I never typically do. Yes, I’m slurping down hot coffee, but most times, I’ve completed my entire workday and cleared my desk so that I can switch gears and fall into my writing rhythm easily.
My fourth and final reflection is that I’m passionate about writing and have been for a long time. During a recent meditation, I recalled that as a child, I was often writing. I had a diary with a yellow plastic cover and yellow-lined tablet paper inside. I’d stuck a sticker of Tweety Bird, a Warner Brothers cartoon character, on the front. I wrote in that diary for years. In high school, I transitioned into writing poetry and song lyrics in spiralbound notebooks. In college at the University of Nebraska, I became a staff writer for our school newspaper and published an article in a book.
So, with all these reflections, I’ve decided to continue to challenge myself by writing and submitting articles and stories to my regular writing group and beyond. In October, I submitted a non-fiction piece for The Writer’s 100-word contest. In November, I’m participating for the first time in NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is an acronym that stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that promotes creative writing around the world. The challenge is to write a 50,000-word manuscript during November. That means I’m writing creatively every day this month, even on the weekends, even on Thanksgiving.
Last weekend, I attended a webinar about NaNoWriMo, hoping it would answer all my questions and leave me feeling inspired. It did.
One of the best things I learned was a piece of advice from New York Times bestselling author, Emily Pan. She’s best known for her debut novel, The Astonishing Color of After. She said to treat the month of November as a “sacred writing month.” That resonated with me. She has participated in NaNoWriMo and described it as “CrossFit Writing.” By that, she meant that writers are training uniquely, and they have to be fully committed and not fearful. She also said that after 30 days, we’d have a beautiful rough draft. She said that just like sculptors, we have to dig up a lot of clay to have something to sculpt afterward.
She also recommended writing a love letter to ourselves, reminding us of what we were most looking forward to getting out of the experience. I did that. And at the top, I wrote, “YOU CAN DO IT! YOU WILL DO IT!”
Halloween was the day before the NaNoWriMo start date. I organized all my research into a segmented 3-ring binder with dividers labeled “characters,” and “setting,” and the like. I knew I’d be getting up early every day during November and using my prayer and meditation room for my sacred writing space. I’d sit on the couch and use the piano bench as my makeshift desk.
That night I lay awake all night long, my mind racing, worrying about writer’s block. Wondering how long it would take—thinking how difficult it would all be. And guess what? It was! So much for engaging my meditation! I was disappointed that I spent very little time sleeping the night before NaNoWriMo was scheduled to begin.
I got up early, let my dog out, and fed her. I went into my sacred writing space, set up my laptop, and stared blankly at the screen. Where should I start? I pulled out my outline, turned to the character sketch of my main character, and started typing.
This is crap, I thought. <Backspaced over entire first paragraph.>
I took a deep breath. Okay, you can do it. What’s his name? Type that. What’s he doing? Type that. Where’s he headed? Type that. And so on and so on and so on. This was exhausting and not as much fun as I thought it would be.
But it’s like CrossFit Writing, I reminded myself, and the commitment and habit would be invaluable to starting this good habit. It took me two-and-a-half hours to type out the required number of words.
Each day since then, I’ve gotten up early and done it again. And, just like physical exercise, it’s getting easier. I’m flowing faster. And I’m enjoying myself. This writing exercise will be complete one day, and then I can start the editing process to overhaul it, shape it, and call it a story.
Breathe in, breathe out—type one line, then another.
I can do it! And I will.