TLDR: I’m a first-time author writing a picture book, and I’m taking readers along on the journey.
I don’t recall much of June.
I know it happened because I see the calendar now says July, and I no longer have to haul my kids out of bed for school. But June is a blur.
I received several unanticipated freelance assignments last month, and as every freelancer knows, this gig is feast or famine – you can’t afford to turn down anything during the feasts.
So June consisted of a lot of 12-hour-plus workdays. I wrote about elevators and orthodontics and Game of Thrones and lottery games and diabetes self-care, and by month’s end I had churned out more than 70,000 words. My brain was fried. (I am not complaining; as I’ve mentioned before, my hobbies include eating and paying my quarterly taxes on time.)
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I typed exactly 0 of those 70,000 words in my book manuscript file. And that turned out to be for the best.
My month of words was a welcome palate cleanser following a month of woe where I tried way too hard to harness the bookish muse and “find” my characters. Apparently my book is the plot of every Hollywood rom-com. When I stopped chasing it, it came to me more easily.
One day, as I composed copy about why to choose X Bank for your financial services, I suddenly imagined a scene from the book that had given me trouble: When President Chester Arthur unexpectedly comes to call on my main character, Julia, right after her large family has eaten dinner.
I had been thinking of it as a serious scene, when Julia fulfills her dream, but it occurred to me there were potentially comic elements I’d overlooked.
What if the illustration for the scene showed Julia’s entire family crowding the president as she tried to grab his attention? What if I portrayed Julia as annoyed instead of star-struck? And what if I then used Julia’s frustration as a mirror for the frustration of the entire nation trying to get this noncommittal man to take a side in a political debate?
This led me to another “what if” – what if I made the whole book a little more fun? I’m writing for kids, after all.
Dang, that would work much better, I thought to myself. I was tempted to ditch the financial copy assignment and write all this down, fast.
But I didn’t. I had a deadline.
I figured if the idea had come unbidden into my brain while I focused on something else, it would stay there for a few days, until I could give it proper attention.
And I was right. I mused over the idea between bouts of proofreading and posting social media updates for clients. And when, a couple days ago, I finally opened my manuscript file and fleshed out the presidential visit, it flowed better than any other scene in the book.
Taking the month off from the book granted me needed perspective.
Pursuing a dream is infinitely easier with privilege. I have the resources and time and support to write a book. Not everyone gets to indulge their dreams. I know I’m lucky.
The best thing about pursuing my particular dream, I realized during my busy month, is that it doesn’t have a timetable.
I originally envisioned my book as the feel-good antidote to Trump-era cynicism. Certain parallels between our current president and Chester Arthur make this a timely tale.
Yet I’ve come to see that an idea worth pursuing only for a finite period won’t stand the test of time. And I don’t want my character’s story to come with an Election Day 2020 expiration date. While it would have been nice to pitch an agent based on the political climate rightthisminute, I can find other ways to make a case for publishing the book a year from now. Julia’s story will still be relevant.
So here’s to getting back on track. But here’s also to being thrown off course from time to time. We never know where it will take us, and sometimes we find just the right path.
So, where am I on my book today? I have:
- Conducted a half-dozen interviews with historians, authors and professors about the era I’m writing about. Why didn’t I do this earlier, I thought every time I hung up from an interview. I have a much better feel for my characters
- Committed to joining a writing critique group recommended by a writer friend. I’ve never done this before.