The Very Good Best Friend

Pursuing Complication

The ideas that served as the foundation for my first novel came to me in glimpses. It started with glimpse of something that intrigued me, something I wouldn’t forget, and then later a glimpse of something else would haunt me. Sometimes they were actions. Sometimes traits. Other times I saw a place. Suddenly I had layers. Layers I could hold on to and complicate. Over time I found myself thinking about these images and feelings and places and about how they connected, if at all. Soon I thought I had an idea for a novel, and it turns out I did.

If only it was so simple and romantic. Daydreamer starts thinking more detailed about her regular daydreams, opens laptop and out comes a story in short hour-long writing sprints. This was not how it went for me.

Writers often talk about how to get that first draft of a novel. The idea being that if an aspiring writer can concentrate enough to get all the words on paper then the hard part is done. While I agree that getting the first draft on paper takes dedication, the subsequent drafts are even harder. Writing is about making decisions. Each draft is about validating those decisions or reworking those decisions into something different. For The Very Good Best Friend, I wrote at least seven full drafts and that doesn’t include the substantive editing process happening now with my publisher, Now or Never Publishing.

When I think about the state of my first draft and what the story has become over the last four years, well, it’s completely different. Interestingly, those foundational glimpses I first experienced that inspired me to tell this story and then used to layer my initial ideas together are all still there, but I needed to make them sharper. I wrote, rewrote, cut, and wrote, rewrote, and cut so many chapters that the small book has a million ghosts embedded in it.

Writing the first draft, even with the help of a high-level outline, felt like walking down into a dark, cluttered basement with only the dim light of my phone to illuminate where I was. I couldn’t see beyond my nose. I wasn’t sure if what I was seeing was actually what I thought I was seeing. Everything was hazy, nothing fully formed or looking right. This is all to say I had no idea what the heck I was doing and why on earth I had attempted to do something that. Write a novel? Me?

Regardless of how challenging it was, I gave myself the permission to pursue it, despite how complicated and exhilerating the process was. I feel good about that.

My Writing Takeaways

I’ve been thinking about the process I went through and thought I’d share a few takeaways I will remember as I approach future projects. Here they are:

  • Make an outline: I know there are brilliant people out there who can “pants” it, but I am not that way. The direction is helpful even if I end up changing it down the line.
  • Set word count goals: Mine are always a little ambitious for the time I have, but it gives me something to strive for and keeps me on track. And when I do hit the goal, which is more often than not, it feels great.
  • Give yourself a break: As noted above, I like to have writing goals, but I found that when I really didn’t have the energy to write, I still urged myself to do it. This resulted in writing that was mostly entirely chopped. If only I had used that time better! Listen to your body.
  • When the draft is done, put it away: This is a common tip from established writers, but one that can feel ambiguous when you’re just starting out. How much time? I’d say at LEAST a month or two after each draft, if you can. This allows you to come back to your work as a reader and not the person who just spent every free moment they had trying to tell the story. Giving myself time away was invaluable when it came from the editing process.
Motherhood The Very Good Best Friend

Living for A Dream

Ahead of Mothers Day, I’ve been thinking about what it takes to be a caregiver and writer, not to mention a worker and all the other roles we assume over our lifetimes. There’s always lots of talk about the sacrifices that women make when they work and parent. There’s the never ending load of attempting to make the seemingly impossible possible. I understand this and I live this.

It’s a whole other level when it comes to being a parent and a creative person because for most people the time to pursue creative projects takes place outside of regular work hours and when you are a parent those outside of regular work hours are reserved for time with family, who you love more than anything. So when do you get time to dedicate to your passions? To your dreams? The math doesn’t add up favourably for anyone.

This month I have been proofreading the galley of my first novel, The Very Good Best Friend. I started writing it in August 2020, when I suppose a lot of people began writing their “one day” novels because it felt like it was now or never, the world showed us how fast it could change. Seven complete rewrites and several years later, and I’m here, now, with a book that will be printed and in the world next spring. I’m proud of myself for pursuing my dream, but it wasn’t easy. I’m also charmed by the fact that Now or Never Publishing were the folks who took it on!

There were definitely days where I wondered if working on a novel was worth the sacrifice of time. Since it’s not published yet, I guess I don’t know! My hope, as any writer’s hope is when they create something, is that I’ll find readers who will resonate with the themes of the book. More on those themes later.

An odd thing happens when pursuing a dream and then achieving it. I have an urge to do it all over again. For people who need to write, who love to read, who want to be in worlds of words, the process never ends. I don’t think it means the struggle of how to manage and spend time gets any easier. Who knows, maybe one day.