Late blooming

(Submitted by The Art of Living team)

This is about my book. The book I always wanted to write and the writing process. Oh geez, you say. Boring. The writing process? ZZZZZZZZZ. I'm going to delete. And you may. But for any of you who have struggled to realize a dream or long held the notion that there is a finite time line for what you want to accomplish, hang on a tick. Stay with me. I am here to say that anything, really, is possible.

But this is also about realizing dreams. It's about second acts. And if you want it badly enough, you WILL find a way to get it done. Whether it's getting your pilot's license or doing your first stand-up gig or composing a song. I'm living proof. And I'm certifiably over 50. Fabulous freaking fifty.

The truth is I stopped and started my novel a number of different times. There were points I didn't believe in my ability to weave a tale that anyone would want to read. This is a roundabout way of saying that at one point I thought the book sucked. But then all of a sudden it didn't. Last summer I found myself with a stretch of time and I got busy. Instead of writing in the corners of my life, on airplanes, in hotel rooms, and occasional early weekend mornings, I got a little serious. I wrote whatever was coming out, and out it poured, rushing headlong into a decent story, with characters I'd come to care about.

And while the result still required some shaping and pruning, my friends at the publishing house saw the possibilities. And so we shaped, we pruned. And we clipped a little more. One whole character's voice was scalpeled out. This is where you trust your editor like a lover. This is where you become partners and go to couple's counseling.

Writing a book for me was a lot like giving birth to a baby after 40. In fact, in some ways it's much harder. First you mess around a little, hunt and peck and see what you've got. And then when the stick hasn't turned blue, when nothing much is happening on the pages, you get serious. You come up with a plan.

Suddenly the writing process needs to be plodding and methodical, a bit like taking temperatures for ovulation and shot for hormones and doctor's appointments and monitoring and ... well, you get the drift. Writing a book is a lot like that. But there are moments of unbridled joy. You can feel it occasionally when the story is coming, when a line or a paragraph sings out to you like the buzz of a zip line. Every writer has experienced those tracts of time, those beloved fugue states, so much better than a chemical high. If only we truly knew how to conjure them up on demand.

Indulge me the tired old "giving birth" analogy as a writer. I've finished a damn book. I'm elated and cautious all at the same time. And as I move past the moment without celebration, without popping the sparkling apple juice at the dinner table or crowing too loudly on Facebook or tweeting, (OK, I posted it once) I am conscious the whole time that this process is a marathon, not a sprint.

I am still struck by something the writer Anthony Horowitz told me. He is the officially sanctioned British author for all future Sherlock Holmes novels and the beloved Alex Ryder series for kids. When I asked him what he did to celebrate completing a book he answered, "I take one full day off before I begin the next."

And so forgive me if I return to the next book, which is already tugging at my sleeve. I hope we always have an appetite for stories. Stories, after all, are the things that connect us.



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