I remember it fondly. It was a beautiful day and the other children were outside at recess (which we call ‘play time’ in Scotland), and I was sitting beside my teacher as we formed each letter on the page, transferring the story in my young mind onto the crisp sheet of paper before us. There were finger spaces between the letters, and I’m sure the letter themselves were untidy, not unexpected since I was perhaps five or six at the time. This was my first story.
I have no idea what the actual tale was, nor how well it was received, but the memory of the teacher’s patience, and my determination to tell my story have lived with me ever since. And I’m still trying to tell the darn story.
When I moved to the USA, I had a nugget of an idea, and perhaps a dozen chapters of an almost-story I’d started after college. Both were sitting unfinished as I’d lost confidence in the project. Adventures about magic, it seems, aren’t ‘Christian’, so I held onto that as the excuse to no longer continue.
It was at a friend’s Christmas party in Malibu that my new friends found out I was a writer. My wonderful hubs blabbed. They knew I was an actor and had done theater my whole life. They knew my beloved had proposed while I was performing in a show in Balloch, Scotland. They knew I’d moved five thousand miles for love. But they had no idea this half-started book and this knot of an idea still lived inside me, till my darling spouse told them all at the party. And therein started the journey through taking this idea and actually turning it into a novel.
Full disclosure: it’s almost finished. There are only a few chapters to go, and I’m very excited to write it. I’m also terrified and intimidated to write it, but it’s too good not to finish. I owe it to myself to at least get to the end of the last chapter. Not to mention, I owe it to my hubs and the many, many wonderful friends who have cheered me on as I have planned, mapped it, written, re-written, and edited all the chapters so far to within an inch of their lives. I’m so in love with my book that I can’t believe it’s actually mine.
The funny thing is, some of the most wonderful changes have come from taking the things I’ve learned in acting. When we break down a character to understand what they’re feeling, why they’re acting this way, what the relationship is with each of the other characters in the scene…. all those things translate to the written word too. When I was working through the core of the storyline, and pushing my character into and out of different scenarios, I tried to stay anchored to her drive. What was her purpose in this moment. What was she feeling over there. Why is this important to her? All the things we do and decide when we take a script and try to tap into the authentic person we’re wanting to represent.
Sometimes it’s easier to create a character on paper because you are in full control of all the scenarios and emotions that you want to showcase in the moment. Sometimes being a character on stage is easier because you have other cast members pushing the narrative with you. For me, both are similar yet different, and both require a great deal of being able to connect and react to emotional, challenging, or extraordinary situations. And, I can tell you, it’s wonderful.
Across the road, lanterns glowed like blurred suns against the inky blackness, their burnt-orange aura easing a finely drawn path through the narrow, cobbled streets.
A dear friend of mine asked to read the chapters I had so far, and the feedback came back that I had “major writing chops” but they didn’t know where the story was going. This wasn’t unexpected since I was writing every chapter on a whim, and trying to work out where it was going as I did. That doesn’t work when you’re trying to engage readers. So the re-write began.
At that time, he suggested I also start posting extracts online, to garner interest as well as accountability for finishing the story. The feedback was wonderful and – with a lot more rewriting – I finally reached the point where the finale was right around the corner.
Then I stopped.
In all honesty, it was a massive panic attack that stopped me from writing it. What if it sucked? What if it was disappointing? What if it was a letdown to all those wonderful friends who had invested all that time and effort into reading it?
And on the flip side: what if it was actually any good?
I think the latter was the hardest to grapple with. Having grown up the way I did, I struggled with a fear that all good things are temporary and therefore will disappear. So would I lose my book? Would it be swindled away from me, or somehow accidentally deleted from my computer so that it no longer exists? What if they wanted another story? What if this labor of love is all that I have?
Just so you know, anxiety sucks. It’s the hardest thing to battle because it’s all inside your head and your imagination, writing one “if only” on top of another until you are literally too scared to leave your house in case something tragic happens. It’s easier to stay quiet, resign yourself to living in the smallest space possible, hug your dogs, and will the world to leave you alone. Facing the anxiety is like trying to slay a dragon that refuses to die, while it insults you and and tells you all the things about yourself that you’re trying to forget.
So this is me standing up to the dragon.
I have four chapters to go till my book is done. I’m posting the new, fresh, beautifully revised chapters on a site called Patreon that any and every budding creator should check out. People can pay to read your work, and having people actually wanting to pay to read your work is surprisingly humbling and exciting. They give feedback if they want to, or they simply ‘like’ your work. It tells the anxiety dragon to be quiet. It tells you that you’re not half bad. And it persuades you to keep going.
Everybody has a story in them. I truly believe that.
Now, go write it.