Three. Long. Years.
That’s how long I went between publishing my first book, THE GOOD LUCK GIRLS OF SHIPWRECK LANE, and the one coming out now, THE MATCHMAKERS OF MINNOW BAY.
Not because my publisher jerked me around—they’ve been wonderful. Not because of an agent switch—do not be crazy. Not because I wasn’t writing. I was writing. Because three years is how long it took to bring my absolute best to press. And I’m here to tell you, no amount of self-flagellation was going to change that. Trust me, I tried.
In that time I wrote two really really crappy first drafts of other books. The ideas had no legs, the characters had no eyes, and the settings had no heart. I was writing, and I was learning, but I wasn’t making a book.
In that time I got divorced from a very sad marriage. I cried a lot; I tried to put on a brave face. I gave myself pep talks about being better off on my own that I didn’t quite believe. I was surviving, but I wasn’t making a book.
I took care of a beautiful baby who became a beautiful toddler and then a beautiful kid. I showed him enough love for seven parents. I fed him organic quinoa which was probably unnecessary. I was a making a great human, but I wasn’t making a book.
I said goodbye to my father, who died of liver cancer. I cried a lot and didn’t even try for a brave face. I kept my mom close and hurt when she hurt, and then over time started to feel better. But I wasn’t making a book.
But these events, and there were a lot of events, are not the real reason this book took so long. The reason this book took so long is because the whole time I was doing all these things, I was also yelling at myself. “Write more! Write faster! Write better!” And my self looked back at me and rolled its eyes and simply said, No. I fought and I fought and I fought but nothing good came out. I couldn’t fake it. I couldn’t push through. I gave myself lots of strong talks about how other writers COULD push through, but this did not actually help, it turns out.
Finally, at some point, a friend told me to write something on a post-it and put it by my bed. It said, “It takes as long as it takes.” I made lots of protesting noises about tautologies. But of course she was right. When I gave myself permission to take as long as I needed—not to quit, not to slack, not to go work at the Home Depot as I often fantasize about—but to just to settle in for the long haul, a book came along. And as I wrote, the book got better and better and better, until one day, I was proud enough to share it with my amazing agent, and my wonderful publisher and my incredible readers.
And when will my next book come out after all this?
I guess it will take as long as it takes.
Hopefully it takes fewer than three years.
What’s your default self-talk when your life and your writing stop getting along? Do you have any useful mantras for these moments?
Kelly Harms is celebrating the $2.99 promotion of her first book, is halfway through a new book she’s thrilled about, and is proud mother of a little boy who swims like a fish and fishes like a bassmaster. Her new novel, THE MATCHMAKERS OF MINNOW BAY, comes out August 9th and is available for preorder now.
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