Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Yeah, I wrote a book.

Something strange happened to me over the weekend: I actually finished something.

Even stranger: It was something I wrote.

I've been a non-finisher my entire life. Honestly, it took every ounce of strength I had to finish college -- and that required an extra semester. After that, I spent many, many years not finishing things. Relationships. Books I was reading. Leases. Goals. Scrapbooks. You name it, I did not finish it. In 1999, I got my insurance license and it was huge. HUGE. Huger than it should have been, because it was an actual accomplishment for me -- something I had finished instead of walked away from. But don't worry -- that was the last thing I finished for a long while. I wasn't in any danger of becoming some sort of goal driven overachiever.

Sure, I had dreams. But they were just dreams. Dreams of having a book published, and dreams of writing something for the screen -- movie or television, I wasn't choosy. This was supposed to somehow make me rich, so I could travel the world and rub elbows with rock stars and movie stars. My dream self didn't get the memo that rock stars and movie stars don't hang out with the JK Rowlings of the world.

I've been writing my whole life. I mean, since I was old enough to actually write. So I've always thought of myself as a writer -- even when I was a nanny or a student and well into my years as an insurance agent, I never let go of thinking of myself as a writer. But I could never really finish anything. I wrote two novels in junior high -- horrible, terrible melodramas about figure skaters. Lots of teenagers making out and poorly written competition scenes, going on for hundreds of handwritten pages. I couldn't stop because I liked the act of writing them so much. My best friend wrote one too, and we would pass our pages back and forth to entertain one another. Neither of us ever came up with an ending. I'm not sure there was actually even a plot in either of mine.

I started another book my freshman year of college, about a cocaine addicted high school girl. It was based loosely on someone I knew. It never really went anywhere. I think I let my little sister read it, and she never forgave me for not finishing it. As a creative writing major, I had to write short stories all through school, and mine always ended up being the basis for what I hoped would turn into book length works. But I could never quite get there. And then my senior year, I finally turned in a story that wound up being a pivotal chapter in a novel that I worked on for years, through three major versions. I took seriously beginning around the age of 27 and worked on it till I was about 33, at which time I was too busy single parenting to continue struggling with it. It wasn't going anywhere. I had about half a book, and no end or character growth in sight.

And I didn't write for years. And I missed it all the time. So last November I decided to do NaNoWriMo. And I finished -- a little more than the qualifying 50,000 words. And I realized that I really liked the novel that I had begun, and decided to keep working on it.

And something crazy happened: I started to take it seriously. I started to think that maybe, just maybe, I could finish this time. And maybe something would come of it, though that wasn't at the forefront of my mind. I woke early every morning and put in at least an hour before work; I wrote on my lunch hours; I wrote well into the night more nights than not. I set some goals for myself: I wanted a first draft by the end of May, and I wanted a revision by the end of July.

I didn't quite meet those goals.

But I finished my first draft. This past Saturday, very quietly, around 2:15pm. I was exhausted, and went to take a nap without even telling my husband I was done. I had been certain that when I finished, I was going to just put my head down and weep. And I probably would have if I hadn't been so tired that day.

And Sunday night, I sent it out to a handful of friends who'd volunteered to read and critique for me. And that's when it actually hit me, what I'd done: I wrote a book. A BOOK. A whole book.

I mean, yes, it was just a first draft. A very rough one at that. But it was a book. Almost 300 pages, with a beginning, a middle and an end. And I was flipping out. In a good way. As soon as I hit "send" on the email, my heart started pounding and I thought, "Oh shit, what did I just do?" But then within twenty minutes, I had a reply from one friend saying she'd read a few pages and was hooked, and that made me feel better.

And the next morning, as I went into work, I felt so amazing. Like I could do anything. Because I'd written a book. A BOOK.

No one at work was impressed. Well, that's not entirely true -- two people were very impressed. Everyone else was like, "Umm, okay, you have a phone call..." It took me down a notch or two. But I wrote a book. A BOOK. And they can't take that away from me. No matter what.

Even if nothing else happens, it's really amazing to know I wrote a book. To know I finished something. At last.