Want to tell a story?
We all know someone who says, “I want to write a book”. Or maybe you’re that person. Though not everyone wants to be a writer, I think it’s safe to say we all have a story inside us. You’ve taken a major step in committing to tell a story.
It’s not always a smooth ride. Sometimes we get stuck in neutral.
Maybe we’re too shy to tell it. Perhaps we don’t have time to write. Sometimes life gets in the way. There are a lot of reasons why we don’t write that story. Or finish. But sometimes, these stories and characters take on their own life. They nudge us. They persist because they want their story told. People out there want to read it. They need your story.
OK, so we have a story, we want to write, we’re busy, but the story continues to call us.
What do you do?
I’m one of those people. You may be shocked to learn that I’ve been working on my novel for 8 years. In fact, today is my manuscript’s 8th birthday. I’m a writer. I love my story and my characters. I want to share this story with the world.
So, why am I spinning my wheels?
Happy birthday to my story
On this day, 8 years ago, I started writing my novel, called FINDING ELEFTHERIA. On November 1, 2012 I started this journey. I know many writers who crank out a story in 6 months, a year, 2 years. But 8 years?
Yes, the story is long overdue.
I’ve had hit some roadblocks, some challenges, but I’ve never given up on my story. My protagonist, Eleftheria, wants her story told. And even if I do have a day when I want to give up, she whispers in my ear and prods me along.
“You could be working on the story. Come on! We have work to do. Let’s go!”
Yes, she whispers in my ear. And if I don’t listen, sometimes she honks the horn—loudly. Our characters not only take on their own lives—they have their own minds. Sometimes they lead us down roads we never imagined. I started with a map of sorts, but the story took several detours over the years. And I went with it. I liked where it took me.
I think about 8 years and it’s daunting. On the surface, 8 years seems lazy. Did I run out of gas? Become frightened? Disillusioned? Stuck in neutral? I’m sure you may be asking some of these questions. Maybe you feel like that too.
But I liken it to a road trip. The road’s not always paved, sometimes there are detours, obstacles; sometimes the road is wide open and you hit the green lights all the way.
Keep reading to learn about my twisted journey.
Plan your trip
The inspiration for the story came years earlier. I met a woman who left a lasting imprint. Though I didn’t know much about her, the impression she left stayed with me. I thought about her over the years, wondering what happened to her. In my quest to understand her and our interaction, I decided to write her story. But it would be several more months until I came up with details like the story’s setting, era, premise. And several years before I started to write it.
Get in the car
Just get in the car. Write the story. Easy to say, not always easy to do.
Fast forward to October 2012. I’d heard about NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write a novel in 30 days, beginning on November 1. I even knew someone who did it.
Time to hit the road!
Charged up, with an outline and an idea burned in my brain, I sat down to write. About 5 days in, life got in the way.
I’d been dealing with some lingering health issues. Then my mother’s health took a sharp turn. My kids were 5 and 3. Life hits you fast. My focus shifted. One roadblock after the next. I had to put the brakes on this project.
In January 2013, I ended up in the hospital with a torn vertebral artery. Sitting at my desk for more than 15 minutes at a time became a challenge. I spent brief stints at the computer struggling to complete writing assignments for my day job. We moved twice that year. Then we almost lost my mom, and she had her first extended stay in a rehab center. As her advocate and principal caregiver, this required a huge chunk of my time.
What did I say about life?
Every once and a while, I opened that file, and wrote some more. In the right lane, I chugged forward at low speed, a grabbing a few moments whenever I could to write. Eleftheria wanted her story told!
Swerve through the challenges
We skidded off the road. My health improved, though my mother’s worsened. In 2014, after another brush with death, she moved into a nursing home. The doctor said if she returned home, she’d die. Dad came to live with us, but then he exhibited changes. The challenges mounted and I took him to his doctor. Diagnosis: Alzheimer’s Disease. My dad told us he didn’t want us to see him “that way”. He asked to move in with Mom. Six months after Mom moved into the nursing home, Dad became her roommate.
Swerving in and out of life’s challenges, I wrote, a few moments here and there. The story took on its own life, setting its own course.
In Greece in 2015, I wrote. There, I realized I needed to move things along. At this rate, I’d be writing it for 20 years and it would take 10 to get to the punch line. LOL. So, I hit the gas.
That year, the newspaper I worked for shuttered. Another magazine I contributed to closed. Then in September 2015, I launched a digital magazine called WindyCity Greek. This venture, though a labor of love, required all my energy. With only 24 hours in the day, something had to give. My novel’s engine sputtered. I accepted it and did my best.
One day, I lamented this fate to a dear friend, a published author. She reminded me that she didn’t publish her first book until she was in her 50s.
Because she had a son. And she didn’t want to miss anything and look back with regrets.
“There’s plenty of time,” she said. “Just keep going. Write when you can. Enjoy your kids. It’ll come together.”
My mother died in November 2017. Realizing that life is short, and with renewed purpose, I proclaimed it time to finish the manuscript. Grabbing whatever time I could, even 15 minutes a day, I got back on the road. I got my butt in the car—er chair—and wrote.
Fast forward to November 2018. Inching toward the end, momentum grew. I rose early and wrote on the weekends. One Saturday morning, in my zone, I’d lost track of time. Had to get the kids ready for Greek school. It killed me to leave the computer. The last chapter approaching, I desperately wanted to write. As the kids ate their breakfast, I jotted down some notes, an outline for the ending.
My husband drove them to school. Alone at last, the words flowed. The hours escaped me. Time to pick up the kids. Darn! I wanted to continue. I ached to. But well, I’m the mom. I threw it in park.
After dinner, I asked my family if they minded if I went in my office to write. The kids played. Hubs watched a movie. The story took another turn I didn’t anticipate. I liked it better than my earlier plan. Then I thought—do I need another chapter? Maybe 2? Is this a good place to end? The voices in my head competed for attention. I sought a sign. Which direction to go? Then Eleftheria rose above ruckus.
“You’ve arrived. Go ahead. It’s OK. It’s time. Type the words.”
T H E E N D
Never did two words ever bring so much joy. I jumped from my chair hooting and hollering.
I danced around my office. Then opened the door and pranced around the great room.
“I did it!”
“What?” my husband asked.
“The novel. It’s done. I just finished it!”
He hugged me. Praised me. But I couldn’t stop. I skipped down the stairs to see my kids. I danced some more.
“What’s going on?” one asked.
“I finished my novel! Isn’t that the best news ever?”
“Sure Mom,” the other said.
They looked at me like I lost my mind.
No one could spoil my joy. If you’re a writer, you know the exhilaration of which I speak.
People warned me but I didn’t believe it. I’d later learn that was the easy part. I’d only reached the rest stop. The final destination waited miles away.
Pause at the rest stop, then continue
Though revved up, I took the advice of my author friends: Leave the story rest. Wait a while to go back to it. Clear your head.
In January 2019, I printed a copy. My first read through—the entire story. I discovered a few surprises along the way.
Because I’d written in a series of starts and stops over the years, I had duplicate chapters. Some disconnects. Characters changed names. With red pen in hand, I made corrections, notes. After that first pass, I didn’t know what to do next. I read about editing. I’d been writing and editing articles and blog posts for years, but this isn’t like anything I’ve done before. It’s my first fiction. Does the story make sense? Will people want to read it? The questions mounted. I didn’t have a road map, and no GPS.
I took another pass at the edits. Then I sent the first few chapters to an author friend. The first thing she said: “Did you know that you used the word ‘dance’ 18 times on the first page?”
I didn’t. I cringed.
She had a few other notes. Uggh! Flat tire on the highway. I didn’t have a jack. Now what? She reassured me.
“If you’d seen the first draft of my first novel, you’d think I was crazy. That I didn’t have a clue. You can do this.”
I love her novels. And I respect her opinion. But I still didn’t know which way to go. I tried again. It got better, but still not where it needed to be. So, I tried yet another edit. I did shave 30,000 words. Progress!
Take a detour
On December 31, 2019, I shut down my magazine. It had been tough on my family and we all needed a break. Time to take a different route. I wanted to focus on family, and my writing.
In January 2020, I took a detour and went back to school. I took a fiction writing course. Then an editing course. I devoured books about editing. Watched webinars, read articles. I took another pass through. Then I tweaked the first 3 chapters, sent them to another author friend.
“You’re on to something, but you can do better than this.”
She offered constructive criticism, but I wasn’t ready for it. Or prepared.
Feeling like I had 4 flat tires, I fought back the tears. Got angry. Defensive. How could she say that about my hard work? And then Eleftheria whispered in my ear.
“Settle down. She’s trying to help you make the story better.”
I’m grateful for my friend’s words of wisdom. Oh, and thanks, Eleftheria for the pep talk.
Time to pull over. I printed another copy and sat down with the red pen. In my prior editing zeal at my laptop, I introduced some other errors. Plus, this method utilizes the other side of the brain and I found other issues I’d missed. A woman can’t live to be 125. 😉
With a new set of tires and a trunk loaded with the knowledge from my courses, I marked up the pages. It took several months to get through that.
Slam on the brakes
The world turned upside down. My dad caught it at his nursing home. He died 2 weeks and 1 day after receiving his positive result. Feeling paralyzed, I didn’t get any work done. I couldn’t concentrate. Some days I used all my energy getting out of bed. We thought we had a few more years with Dad. Why did this happen? I tried hard to hold it together and keep going.
Then about a month later, I heard a voice in my head. Not Eleftheria’s—my dad’s. He valued hard work and had a “no excuses” attitude. His message:
“Enough! It’s time to go back to work.”
Back in the driver’s seat, I began my 5th draft, making all the changes from the last marked up copy and reworking other things I’d found along the way. But the engine still knocked. About 50% through this version, I knew it still needed work. But how?
Don’t go it alone
I shared my plight with a writer friend. She invited me to join her writers’ group. Every Tuesday night, 5 women writers meet for goal sharing, pep talks, cheerleading, free write, and of course, critique.
I found my carpool!
That first week I submitted the first 3 chapters, reworked yet again. At first, their criticism stung. What? I worked so hard on this! And they told me to make a U turn back to page 1, to slow down and not rush it.
I’m grateful for their feedback. And the gentle prodding. You see, I saw this story so vividly in my head, but I hadn’t transferred it all to the page. My readers had a foggy windshield, and no wipers!
For days, I mulled over their suggestions. Suddenly I felt the engine purring.
Shifting into 2nd gear and on to 3rd, I started to add missing details. The fog lifted and things became clearer. The road opened.
OMG. I felt it!
The next week, I submitted those chapters again. They loved it! Loved the characters, could see them, their world. With the green light, I proceeded to the next chapter.
Each week, I submit something new. Their critiques have paved the way. It’s like I drove in the dark and couldn’t see the road. With new headlights, I see better. I can now see inside the story to layer in those finer details that make it feel real, to resonate, to make people want to read more. I’m cruising along at a good speed.
Refill your tank often
It’s not always a smooth ride. Sometimes roadblocks still arise. There have been weeks when the critiques are “Fabulous! I love it!” and other times I get the red light: “I’m not feeling that.” “The dialogue doesn’t fit the character.” That was too easy”.
And then I let it sit, idling, and wait til the road opens again, and I can see where to go.
This work is fulfilling, but it’s emotional. It takes a lot of energy. And motivation. You must refill your tank often. Take time for you. Self-care is imperative!
Now I’m about to reach the halfway point of draft 5, V2. I must admit, this week’s feedback has me spinning my wheels. The previous week’s submission needed a major tune-up.
I reworked, rewrote, then submitted it. The feedback: “much better but needs some additional tweaks”.
Eleftheria’s gone silent. But I’m sure she’ll be back soon, to clean the bugs off the windshield and send me back on the road to next week’s submission. Tuesday is coming!
Stay the course
This is the hardest part of this journey. Some days I feel like I’m in the roundabout and I can’t make the turn. But the progress is steady. And it fuels me. My goal is to finish this draft by the end of the year and then hand it off to a professional editor, so we can polish this baby and get her ready to roll.
I can see the final destination.
This fall, another author friend published her first novel after working on it for 15 years. I’ve read that many first novels can take 10 years to come to life. It’s disheartening, but it doesn’t have to be.
My author friends tell me the first one is the hardest. And brings the most learning.
Then the subsequent works take shape faster, easier. It’s always going to be a challenge because good things take time and work. But it’s worth it.
Continue to your destination
Can you relate? I share this story with you to let you know that you aren’t alone. The struggle is real.
And I want to urge you to keep going.
Get that story out of you, no matter how long it takes.
Remember, it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get there.
Just shift it into drive. You owe it to yourself and your story to keep going, all the way to your destination—published!
If you feel like you’re out of gas or lost your way, be it months, years, even decades—don’t give up. When you keep going back to a story, if it calls to you, then it’s one that must be told. Keep your eye on the prize—the published work in your hands.
You have the keys.
Taking your story from concept to completion isn’t easy. In many ways, it’s like a road trip. You may have a map, suggested places to stop, but sometimes there’s a detour, the GPS can’t get a signal, a construction delay, or some other roadblock. Sometimes we just run out of gas.
But you must put in the time, make the sacrifices, and do the work.
There are days you’ll spin your wheels and others the road’s open wide in front of you and you’ll churn out pages and pages of brilliance. It’s all part of the journey.
You aren’t alone.
Keep writing. Keep going. Let your story be told! Your story’s ultimate destination is waiting. It’s just down the road.
Now, get in the car. Your destination awaits.