In July I sat on a panel at Regis University with two other authors and was asked the question, “What advice do you have for writers just starting out?”
I thought for a second, leaned into the microphone, then whispered, “Finish a book.”
Was my response flippant? Not in the least.
I remember writing my first book, it was a contemporary adult family saga. I remember writing slowly, I remember taking chapters to critique group, I remember having no particular thoughts about publication.
I remember not really believing I would ever finish it.
But one day, years after I had started, I typed The End and took a deep and satisfying breath. I had done it. I had finished writing my first book. The feelings were amazing; such a sense of accomplishment, such a wave of relief. Up until The End my book was a huge project I had taken on for reasons I didn’t understand, and every day, week, month, and year that it sat unfinished felt like a broken promise to myself.
There were many days I wished I had never started writing that book, never made myself such a big promise that was then making me feel like such a huge failure for not doing it. It was a commitment I considered never making again because what if I was never able to make it to The End again?
I tell that story a lot because that first book was enormously important to my writing career in a way I wouldn’t understand until many years later. The first book was the hardest for me—true. And it taught me a lot; about writing and about myself. All lessons I’m grateful for and that I continue to grow and build from as a writer and a human being.
But the most vital insight I clawed out of the hours I spent tending those four hundred pages is the single greatest influence on the writing career I’ve had since my first The End.
It’s the belief that I could do it.
It was hard, and there were many, many doubts along the way. But I finished that book. I. Did. It. From that moment forward, my entire perspective shifted. I became, immediately, a person who had finished writing a book! A whole book that made sense.
(Well, it mostly made sense. But that’s another blog topic, really.)
The point is, when my next book idea came to me, I may have hesitated diving into that pool again, but I did eventually jump because I KNEW I could swim.
Last week, I published my fifth book.
Next week, I begin writing my sixth.
There will always be more books, I believe this now and it’s all because of number one. So when I’m asked which of my books is my favorite, which book has had the greatest impact on my career, the answer must always be “my first book” because with out it, there wouldn’t have been anymore.
So if you are just starting out, the best thing you can do for yourself is finish a book.
From there, you will always know you can do it again.