Here’s how I did it:
1. A Sentence a Day
Walking in the redwoods with my wife, Lynn, I complained that I didn’t really know how to write a whole book. I mean, how could I make the 9 year old voice authentic? What did I know about publishing? What was the point of writing the whole thing if only a few people (my mom and her book club friends, for example) would be the only ones who read it? Lynn smiled. She waited calmly for me to finish my tirade of self-doubt. Then she said, “What if you just write a sentence a day no matter what?” Yes. I was willing to do this. Lots of research shows that taking tiny little steps is the best way to reach a larger goal. SARK calls them micro-movements. Christine Carter says they are turtle steps. For me, sentence a day lead to 25,000 words.
2. Turn off the TV
Who knew that when writing a children’s book, “Breaking Bad” would be my greatest enemy? Well, it was. I dreamt about the characters (who was going to help poor Jesse Pinkman?!). I lost hours in the evenings and suffered interrupted sleep while mulling over somebody else’s plot that was literally consuming my brain. The more TV I watch, the less creative ideas I have of my own. Period. But I love well-crafted dramas that suck me in and give me a break from the real world! Twyla Tharp uses media-free times in her life to create and writes about it in her book, “The Creative Habit.” My solution? Turning the TV off for 6 weeks at a time. Suddenly, writing becomes easier. My brain has more space, not to mention more peace. After 6 weeks, I turn the TV back on, catch up on all my favorite shows until I need another TV fast.
3. Only Positive Feedback Allowed
As I wrote the first draft of Starring Celia, I was so proud to actually be DOING the thing instead of just talking about it, mulling it over, planning, analyzing, etc. I knew that fears and self-criticism were just around the corner, however, so I wanted to really protect my work from my own and other’s critical feedback. Not forever, of course! My writing had plenty of flaws that I knew would need fixing in due time. But sitting in that tender space between 1st and 2nd draft, encouragement was the only thing I wanted to take in. I enrolled in an Amherst-style writing class, where the model is that folks offer positive feedback only for early writing. I read samples to trusted friends and focus groups of girls, asking what they loved, what felt real and what they had questions about. I did not worry about grammar mistakes or plot problems…yet! I learned what my strengths were and what the book had going for it. That gave me energy and courage to keep going.
4. Make a Fears List
As much I wanted to stay in the land of celebrating my strengths, the truth was that my book had a long way to go. As I sought out more constructive feedback, and began the process of rewriting, rewriting, rewriting, I had lots of fears show up. Old habits of procrastination came right back. The TV was turned back on. I sat around knowing that my book needed editing. Finally, I booked myself a night in a hotel 20 minutes away with the intention of having a writing retreat to get back on track. I did write for a few hours in that Holiday Inn with a view of a brick wall. More importantly, though, I took space without any distractions. I ended up making a long list of all the big and little fears that were blocking me from moving forward. They were all over the map from “I’m not good enough” to other junky messaging that connected to all parts of my life. Pages and pages later, something heavy had lifted.
5. Find Good Folks to Help
As my book grew closer to publishable, I became more willing to engage help from caring, talented friends and professionals who could help me realize my dream. A mentor who’d published her own curriculum for kids and families advised me on which publishing site to use. (Create Space) Another linked me to a possible literary agent and brainstormed marketing strategies. Our graphic designer helped me find a wonderful illustrator. Another writer friend read my manuscript again and again, giving thoughtful notes to take things to the next level. The point is there were a million things that I did not know how to do myself. And I didn’t have to. I had to ask for lots and lots of help. It was amazing how many people wanted to help me. A village of folks helped birth Starring Celia.
It turns out that it really is possible to dream something up and than do it. No matter what- just keep writing.