New York was on my turning 30 list, along with writing a book.
In October 2007 I was 30 + 6 months and I’d done neither. The prods were getting stronger – not least of which was an ironically-titled writing commission; ‘Things to Try Before You Die’. It was big – 5000 words – and it paid the most I’d ever received from one commission. So on the Thursday when I was paid, I promptly spent the entire thing on a return flight to New York which left the following Tuesday.
At that point, I had some weekly columns with a newspaper, and a few regular feature writing gigs, so I knew I’d be able to earn money when I got there, which made me feel (slightly) better about having a grand sum of about $800 left in my account to take for spending money. But this is the thing; if you wait for everything to be perfect before you take a leap, you’ll never jump. I was petrified, but exhilarated too.
New York was overwhelmingly fun, scary, frightening, illuminating, and weird. I made a lot of mistakes; I accidentally stayed in a Harlem hostel and had to sleep in a t-shirt despite sub-zero temperatures and snow outside, the clanging radiator set on sauna and the Spanish-speaking ‘Super’ unable to understand me.
I stumbled head-first over a rat the size of a small wallaby while lost in the Projects one night and got retrieved from the pavement by some (thankfully) friendly rappers. I got invited to a party with Cindy Lauper, I went dancing with a bunch of strangers in the meat-packing district, I accidentally sneezed on Billy Crystal while queuing for a Broadway ticket, and I got drunk on one glass of wine in a rotating bar where the view changed every few minutes. And of course, I sent lots emails with all of this to my friends and family (well, I didn’t mention Harlem, dancing or the Projects to my mum).
Then one day, I received an out-of-the blue email from a major Australian publisher who’d read some of these emails (forwarded from a friend), asking if I felt like pitching her a book on my exploits.
I’d only been in New York for three weeks, but how often does an opportunity like this arise? After momentarily falling off my chair, I holed up at the New York Public Library for two days and had three sample chapters and a synopsis to the Publisher by the Monday. The pitch was along the lines of ‘Australian girl takes Manhattan’ complete with shopping, New York quips, and plenty of dating references to safely slot it into Carrie Bradshaw territory. It sort of made me feel a bit ill to write, which is never a good sign, but it’s what I thought she wanted, what I thought would sell, what I thought everyone wanted to read.
After I returned to Melbourne, the Publisher got back to me with her feedback; she liked my writing style, but didn’t think there was enough plot to sustain a whole book.
I was quietly relieved.
By then I knew that despite desperately wanting to write a book, I didn’t want it to be any book. I didn’t want to write what someone else wanted me to write. Articles are different; short reporting doesn’t ask you to mine the depths of your psyche. But to live with a 100, 000 word story in your head and your heart for months, perhaps years, you need to love it.
So I kept it a secret.
In mid 2008, I started secretly working on what was to become Love and Other U-Turns. I started by writing an intention for the book, which served as an anchor every time I felt myself swimming in tangents and possibilities of where the story could go.
I wrote before I’d spoken to anyone each day, piecing the story together from journal entries, emails, and phone calls to Jim. Here I learned an interesting lesson for me; finding your voice can take awhile, but once you’ve found it, the writing flows.
In the beginning, Jim was the only person I told about the book. I didn’t want others’ fears, expectations and doubts to come into it. And besides, it was really just for me anyway. This was my big goal, my lifelong wish, it wasn’t something that I expected or needed anyone else to understand. I was going to do it anyway. Why complicate that with others’ expectations? Eventually, though, when I was almost at my first draft, I told some close friends and my family. I couldn’t really keep it a secret any more as I was in that crazy writing world where you think its Tuesday and its Saturday. And I hadn’t left the house for weeks.
I know it sounds corny, and many people say you need discipline to write, but for me, it’s more about love. Discipline is easy if you love what you’re doing.
Think about when you’re in love; no matter how hard (or insane) it looks to the outside world, you don’t really care what other people say, you look forward to every day, your life takes on this magical, synchronistic tone. I’ve heard athletes speak the same way about running races. How to go faster, they must ‘relax’.
I wrote Love & Other U-Turns every day for about 7 weeks, until I had a first draft of about 110, 000 words. Then I left it for a month or so and started editing and re-writing. That whole process took about five months, and by 2009 I had a book contract.
In 2010, Love and Other U-Turns was published, spine and everything, and I still marvel that something that started in my head is now a tangible, physical, thing.
If I had to give one tip on writing a book, it’s to fall in love with the story you want to tell.
Let it coax you out of bed like a secret friend, waiting to be met.
And chase it onto the page, as fast as you can.
Thank you for being this week’s Guest Blogger Louisa! You can find out more about Louisa and her book, Love and Other U-Turns on her website: www.louisadeasey.com