I used say I was a writer without a story, and then, the story found me.
That was back in 2012, when I learned an astonishing family secret that would change the lives of so many. It launched a two-year journey, a deep dive into challenging the truths my family thought it knew, upending legends and unestablished facts that would change how we saw ourselves.
And during that time, I lived a story.
I tried to write a book about it. I tried for five years. And then, I lost the story.
Call it writer’s block. Call it life interference — I went back to working full-time at a high-stress public relations job, we welcomed our third child to the world, a global pandemic — but eventually, I walked away from writing a manuscript.
I couldn’t do it. I had to admit to myself that writing a full book, it just wasn’t in my skill set.
Although letting go of aspirations felt wrong, I thought I had to do it. I thought it was better for my mental health. Shake off the burden, feel free, move on.
It’s true, I did feel okay about it. For a while.
Then I realized what actually prevented me from writing a full manuscript. It wasn’t the job. It wasn’t parenting three children. It wasn’t a once-in-a-century global pandemic.
Sure, we can all forgive ourselves.
Some days we’re so stressed out that all we want to do at the end of a day is pour a glass or two of cab out of a pouch of wine wrapped in a creatively marketed box. Then deteriorate on a couch into a pile of exhaustion. Maybe watch an episode or two of Caribbean Life on Hulu (try it). Then pass out. That’s a typical Monday-Friday.
But what truly prevented me from bringing to life this remarkable, personal story about how far someone would go for a beloved family member, it wasn’t external factors. All of those were excuses.
You know what I’m going to say next. Yeah, it was me.
I stood in my own way.
All the years I tried writing a full manuscript, I allowed — cliche alert – perfect to be the enemy of the good. If my writing sucked, I would stop, trash the draft, then start over again.
I also stopped looking for inspiration. I stopped doing the things that used to light a fire under my ass, get me in front of a keyboard, and manically start typing sentences, paragraphs, whole chapters sometimes.
I gave myself permission to give up, to walk away, to believe it was for the best. And maybe it was. Maybe I needed a writer’s vacation.
But things changed.
About two months ago, I read a blog post about how people could start reading more books. It wasn’t all that revelatory. But it did inspire me to question some of my bad habits.
Maybe instead of every night listening to records, drinking wine, and then falling asleep as a means of decompressing from a stressful day, which is every day in 2020, I should instead read. Duh.
And not just read. I admitted that there are genres I actually enjoy reading. No more reading books from my shelves merely because they were there. Memoir? It’s okay. True crime and novelized history? Ding! Ding! Ding!
I also started working out. Shocking, I know, that generating endorphins through long walks, lifting weights, and swimming might just get you in a positive mood.
Then came the inspirational flash of lightning.
I was having one of those life discussions with someone, one of those we like to call “State of the Union” talks when you assess and take stock and ask ourselves just where in the hell do we think we’re going with our existence. Heavy, heavy stuff.
Out of nowhere, like a box unexpectedly falling off a shelf and spilling forgotten contents all over the floor, I remembered something.
I remembered how long ago I plotted a pathway to publication for my book. That pathway, I’ll simply say for now, challenged some of the status quo of the publishing world. It was a little rebellious on my part. And a little rebelliousness feels good.
That’s when I started rebelling against the inner walls of my own creativity. That’s when I started challenging my own status quo. There’s a story inside me. A story I lived. A story that can help others in their own investigations of family secrets and upending long-accepted truths.
I rebelled against my own subconscious, which had been sabotaging me for years with thoughts of how my writing was terrible or I didn’t have enough talent and commitment to write a whole book.
Now here I am, 5:30 in the morning on a Saturday, writing and plotting again. It’s honestly better than a third cup of coffee.
At Pidgeon’s-Eye View, I want to share with you this new journey toward writing a publishable manuscript. I want to document not just what the experience is like — the ups and the downs, which there will surely be many — but also the lessons learned along the way that might help you on your own journey.
I also hope to chat with others who have successfully gone from idea to published book, who have built a business around their writing, and share their insights here.
If you’ve struggled with yourself or with barriers that keep you from realizing your potential, that seem to prevent you for years from writing a manuscript, share in the comments below or tell us about how you overcame.
Dave Pidgeon is a writer and photographer who used to be a pantser but is now a plotter (writer terms). He lives in Lancaster, Pa., with his wife, Alison, and their three sons. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.