I would like to welcome the fabulous Laura Chapman to the site today, where she will discuss her path to writing and how exactly she got to where she is today.
When I was 23, I packed up my car and moved to Houston. At the time, it was the hardest, bravest thing I’d ever done. One year later, I packed up a U-Haul and drove it – with my car chained to the back and my cats in their carriers on the passenger seat – back to Nebraska. That was even harder.
[Blogger’s Note: The former safety publication writer feels compelled to mention that I was not actually operating the vehicle when this picture was taken. Carry on.]
This time, instead of feeling brave, I felt like a failure. I’d made gamble after gamble, but none panned out. So I was headed home to regroup while I figured out my next move. After driving through the night, I pulled up in front of my new apartment in Lincoln. Despite my disappointment at having to come home sooner than planned, I had a brief spurt of pride. I’d driven a U-Haul 1,000 miles by myself. And I’d arrived in one piece, without even a dent in my car or a broken glass.
It was small consolation, but at that moment – when I needed to prove I wasn’t a complete loser – I instead felt like a total badass. It gave me hope. Maybe I would be okay.
My adventure in writing and publishing Hard Hats and Doormats began a few months later. And the experience was a lot like my move to and from Houston. Sometimes it was hard. Sometimes I had to be brave. And often, I felt like a failure.
Still reeling from the disappointment that was my life, in Fall 2010 I signed up for National Novel Writing Month at 9 p.m. on Nov. 1. For years I’d talked about writing a novel, and I’d even started a couple back in college. This time was going to be different. Hard Hats and Doormats was a story that had been weighing heavily on my mind since before my move to Houston, and it seemed like the best novel to tackle that month.
Making that decision saved my life. Maybe not literally, but it saved me from giving up on my dreams or hope. It gave me a purpose and a mission at a time when I was at my all-time low and heading even lower. That November, I stopped drinking as a coping mechanism, because I found that unlike Hemingway and Fitzgerald, I couldn’t write drunk. Eventually, it was something I stopped doing for myself.
Instead of sitting and dwelling about what I didn’t have and where I wasn’t, I kept my mind focused on where my story was going and what needed to come next. Even on days when the words wouldn’t come, I didn’t give up. I’d set a goal, and I was going to reach it.
The first time I cried that month – and crying had become a regular pastime for me – was when I surpassed 50,000 words on Nov. 30. I’d done it. The novel wasn’t finished and had a long ways to go, but I’d reached my word goal. I’d met my goal. I’d proved I could do something.
A couple of months later when I typed “The End” on my first draft, I cried again. Like I had when I drove the U-Haul back into town, I felt like I was a big deal. I’d written a written. That meant something. Reaching this milestone now seemed like the greatest feat I’d accomplished – even more impressive than driving a huge truck halfway across the country.
My writing and publishing journey had barely begun at that point. The journey was more arduous than I ever imagined it would be. I kind of figured you finished writing a book, and then you found an agent who sold it to someone who would publish it. But it’s not that simple.
I still had a few more drafts of the novel to write. I still had dozens of queries for agents and publishers to send out. I still had lots of rejection and disappointment. But through it all, I could remember where I’d started. Then I remembered how far I’d come. Hearing a “no” or “we’re not interested” didn’t seem so bad. Having to rewrite a scene was tough, but it wasn’t any harder than writing it in the first place. Constantly putting my story and my heart out on the line for rejection or approval was now the bravest thing I’d done.
Now that I’ve reached the destination for this novel – finding a home with Marching Ink – I can look back at the journey, the good and bad, and appreciate it for bring me here. I might never have had the courage to write my full novel if I hadn’t needed to prove something to myself and the world. Those highs and the lows of our past are necessary to make us appreciate our present and keep us moving toward the future.