About eight years ago (!), sitting in my literary agent’s kitchen sipping on a glass of wine, I slowly revealed the workings of a new book project. She’d successfully sold my third nonfiction book though I knew the agency also handled fiction. Still, I was nervous (hence the glass of wine). Anyway, as she prepared dinner I broached the subject. “I have an idea for a novel,” I began. “Tell me,” she answered. So I did.
A few minutes later after I’d stopped talking, she said, “Normally, I don’t encourage my authors to make that transition from nonfiction to fiction. It’s very difficult, but your story sounds compelling.”
That was all I needed to start writing. That little bit of encouragement lit not a fire exactly, but it did prevent me from giving up. Once I’d let that cat out of the bag I began to tell a few more people, sometimes to gauge their reactions but occasionally to extract some useful tip, because honestly I had no idea what I was doing and as I write this today I still, to some extent, have no idea what I’m doing. But the novel—the 433rd draft at least—is done. My husband, always my first reader, reviews a chapter a night on the train ride home. He’s asked that I refrain from giving him pages on Fridays. He wanted a day off.
As for making that transition to fiction it has never really felt as if I were replacing one kind of writing for another. But it hasn’t always been easy either. Yes, it’s been difficult to keep everything straight. For instance, it seems that I unintentionally gave some characters two different names. That happens when it takes years to write a story . . .
And while I haven’t always been kind to myself during the process (“Why is this taking me so long? What is my problem? Who am I kidding?”) I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. And the funny thing is: once I finished this particular draft those pesky voices suddenly stopped.
It occurs to me, as my son gets ready to graduate from high school and my daughter prepares to move out of the house, that I’ve been raising a family and making an income and preparing countless dinners and, and, and . . .
And although that phrase—raising a family—seems very un- “Lean In” like (vis-à-vis Sheryl Sandberg) it is the truth. And if I can live my truth and attempt to tell a good story as well, that’s good enough for me.