A terrific quote that pretty much sums up writing my debut novel, Ten Days In Paradise, which I started many years ago on a trip to Sanibel Island. More or less on a dare to myself. You see I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could not write fiction, I wasn’t smart enough or talented enough and I lacked the creativity to describe the sunset in sixteen different ways using colors that nobody has ever heard of.
I love the island, and it wasn’t until Day Four when I finally willed myself away from the irresistible pull of the ocean to go inside and open the equivalent of a ‘writing fiction for dummies’ book. Though I’d been a writer for years – first in journalism and then in PR – I was convinced this was an exercise in futility. Too many unlimited possibilities, too many pages to fill. My talent, my spécialité, was the one- or two-page news release, for which I was the Queen of the Realm.
Yet the challenge taunted me. So on that day, sitting at the dining room table of a rented condo, much to my amazement, a mere three hours later, I had completed an exercise from the “how to” book and had, in fact, written several pages of fiction. I had characters, dialogue and a beautiful setting. Little did I know that afternoon I had written the opening chapter of my novel. Little did I know that I would spend hundreds if not thousands of hours over the next decade seeing it to completion.
Some reflections on the lessons from this journey:
Life happens in the small moments, pay attention. I never even thought about writing a novel until well after my fortieth birthday. I grew up wanting to be Lois Lane (for those of you who remember Superman), not an author. But about fifteen years ago, someone asked me a fairly innocuous question that literally changed the direction of my life. “Have you read any good books lately?” At the time, all I read were news magazines. But the question haunted me; after all I’d spent my childhood devouring Nancy Drew. So I went to the library, started reading fiction again and haven’t stopped since.
Follow the dream in your heart even when you don’t know where it’s taking you. If I had invested the time I put into writing and publishing this book, I probably could have 1. Started a small business; 2. Finished a doctorate; 3. Raised another child. But for some unknown reason, once I started this project I just kept going … as if some unseen hand were moving me forward. Unlike many authors, I never thought I had this amazing story to share with the world; I just wanted to finish what I’d started. There were periods of time when I didn’t work on it for months, but then I got back to it, again and again and again.
Challenges and brick walls keep us vibrant and alive. I learned about writing, editing and how a cover can make or break a book. I took classes on Adobe InDesign and Photoshop, and devoured everything I could find on indie publishing. I learned that when things in my life weren’t going well I could get lost in this project, plotting chapter after chapter, editing and revising, trying to get it right. I learned about the thrill of doing research and finding some little detail that enlivened a character or scene or gave my words greater authority and credibility. I learned that your first bad feedback can be brutal and when you find a champion for your book – someone who encourages you well beyond what you’d ever expect – you thank good Lord for sending them.
In December 2014, after years of tedious work, overcoming fears of rejection and months of delay because my “day job” always got in the way, I clicked through the sales channels that would create the Amazon page, and voila, three days later there it was. The idea that I had the power to tap into a powerful global platform like Amazon as an indie author was exhilarating. At that moment, it didn’t matter whether my novel sold or not, or what people were going to say about it. What mattered was that I wrote and published a book. I felt so proud of myself for an accomplishment that was well beyond my comfort zone and certainly beyond anything I had ever imagined doing.
Thank goodness I didn’t let fear kill this life-changing opportunity for personal growth and, much to my surprise, success. Since I published, I’ve sold thousands of ebooks and hundreds of print books on Amazon and in Sanibel Island bookshops. (I never, ever, expected to sell more than 50 to 100 books to friends and relatives!) Many readers have left great reviews, and others have personally reached out to tell me how much they loved my novel; oh my gosh if there were more than one reader who did this I would have been happy : ) I’m writing the sequel to Ten Days In Paradise and very excited about publishing it because I’ve learned so much about writing, publishing and promotion.
The key takeaway is this: when that little voice in your head tells you that you can’t do something, don’t listen. Each and every one of us is capable of so much more than we can imagine. Advice to would-be writers: Go for it, and enjoy the journey. There’s never been a better time to be an indie author!
Linda Abbott is the author of Ten Days In Paradise.