WHEN I started writing my book I was so excited. I’ll finish this thing in no time, I thought. I’ll go to a quiet cabin and wake up at 6am for “writing days.” I’ll wear cute glasses and type into the night and drink chai tea from a ceramic mug, then voila! A book! A beautiful book!
It’s not quite how it happened. Instead, I found myself with my forehead pressed to the keyboard on the verge of tears, wondering how I was ever going to complete this thing, certain I was the wrong girl for the job. It took me about a year and a half to write my 237-page memoir about growing up with my very large dog. But I did it, and Gizelle’s Bucket List: My Life With a Very Large Dog is now on the bookshelves.
If you’re thinking about writing a book, here are a few things I learned that may help you.
There is no one way to do something.
At first, I thought for sure there was some magical instruction manual that all authors used to make books. I even googled things like “how to write a book” and “how to finish a book.” But then I felt like a total failure when I couldn’t for the life of me wake up at 5am to write like some of my role models did, that I worked in sweatpants and never “dressed for writing,” and that my desktop was collaged with disorganized folders of hundreds of documents in no particular order.
But eventually, I realized that there is no single way to do anything. Maybe everyone is making it up as they go. So perhaps I didn’t have to stress about following an instruction manual or if my way was right or wrong. Maybe I could just keep writing until I figured it out.
Learn from your setbacks.
I threw away about 1000 pages writing my first book. Writing 1000 pages that didn’t see the light of day may seem like an enormous waste of time. But I know it took every single one of those pages I didn’t use to get to the pages I would. Today, I try to convince myself life works the same way. Maybe I needed to sleep with the wrong guy or send that stupid email to my boss or get that speeding ticket to eventually discover my best self.
Be patient with yourself.
On some days, I’d sit in front of my computer, overwhelmed by the ten different documents I had going for one possible chapter, thinking, how will I ever make this work? Shit! This is never going to work! But as time passed, I decided that if I sat for long enough and told myself I would never quit, the pages would form. Of course, sometimes they still didn’t form. Refer to the previous point and chalk it up to life lessons.
Try not to stress about what people think.
I sometimes worry what people think. I can’t help it. I’m the type of girl who sends an email and then worries that I’ve said the wrong thing and that person might be mad at me. My biggest fear is rejection, with a close second being “fear of screwing up,” and, running third, “whatever I do, it better not be less than perfect.” But writing a book has helped me with that. I’ve learned that there is no way I will ever please everyone and I will never be perfect, so who cares? (Okay, okay fine. I do still care. But I’m working on it.)
It doesn’t matter where you are.
“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word to paper.” ~ E.B White
It took me forever to finally realize this one. I loved to convince myself that I needed ideal conditions for writing. A quiet, hipster cabin in the redwoods! With a fireplace! Filled with old, dusty books and old, dusty book smell! While those ideas were lovely, they weren’t necessary.
I feel that life is like this. Sometimes I think that if only I could keep up with my laundry or clean out my car or lose five pounds or organize every drawer in my house, and have ideal conditions for living, then I’d let myself be content. Not only will I never achieve that level of organization in my life, but even if I did, I probably still wouldn’t be content. If I keep waiting for perfect conditions to be happy, I will always be waiting. So I might as well just try and enjoy where I am.
Don’t worry so much about calories.
My brain wasn’t meant to write and do math at the same time. Plus, research shows that dark chocolate makes you smarter. Duh.
Don’t date your laptop.
If my laptop were my boyfriend, he probably would have broken up with me by now for being too clingy. Sometimes I am too obsessed with work. I bring Laptop into bed at night, to restaurants where I eat a burger gazing into his pretty, bright screen. Thanks for the concert invite, Real Human Friend, but I’m going to stay in and work on my relationship with Laptop! Okay, I know dedication is a good thing, but if I don’t ever part with my dear, sweet computer, where will I find inspiration?
Put the phone away, too.
Speaking of inspiration, it’s not in an iPhone either. Which sucks, because sometimes I find myself spending a great deal of time on my iPhone without even realizing it. Sometimes I pick up my phone and the next thing I know 20 minutes have passed and I’m somehow deep into watching some video of Taylor Swift’s cats (that Meredith is so cheeky!). But, why? Why do I do this? I wish I didn’t do this. Inspiration lives around me, not on the screen.
There will always be a list.
Well, after a lot of hard work and dedication and patience and dating my laptop and trying to stop watching those videos of Taylor Swift’s cats, I did it. I finished the book. And one afternoon it came in the mail and it was the proudest day of my life. I went out with my human friends and we popped champagne and I crossed “write a book” off my bucket list. And I used to think once I crossed that off, I’d be content, then I would finally know who I was. Well — surprise, surprise — I still don’t have a clue. All I know is that there are now a dozen more things on my list. So perhaps it’s not always the act of crossing things off my list that really counts, but making sure I enjoy life along the way.