It started in Colorado when my daughter was little. We were at Lake Estes with my mom. My girl found a stick by the lake and picked it up.
"It looks like a gun," she said. Little indentations covered it like a curly design or intricate carving. Her eyes widened. "Maybe it's Indian writing."
My mom said, "Maybe it belongs to a cow girl. Maybe she's named Jessie Timberline."
All the way back to our cabin my wheels were spinning. The adventures of Jessie Timberline. She had to have a spunky voice and be a teller of tall tales. There had to be a bad guy and a wanted poster. There had to be Indians and a horse and a gun.
And I could write it as a gift to my daughter.
This is what she looked like when I started it:
This is what she looked like when I finished it:
She may never read it, but still it was a promise I'd made to her - one that I needed to keep. So with some quick formatting and a cover design, I uploaded it to Lulu and had it printed. I just needed to see it finished.
Here are some interesting facts about it:
- It's 253 pages/72,336 words long
- It went through 3 complete rewrites - with some sections being re-written over 20 times. At least.
- I outlined it 3 times.
- It took 7 years. SEVEN YEARS.
- Most of that time was spent doubting myself and whining. I should have just shut up and written.
- I wrote it by hand and then typed it in on the computer. Then I rewrote it by hand. Then typed in the changes.
- There will only ever be one copy.
- It's not the first novel I've written; it's the first one that's this finished.
- It's nowhere near what I wanted it to be, but it would take a lifetime to get it there and it's time to let it go.
Writing is the thing I most want to do, and the thing I'm most afraid of even though I do it every day.
Ironically (or maybe not), the story is about a girl who makes a promise to her dying pa. It haunts her and no matter what success she has, she gives up everything just to keep that promise. Some days that felt like what I was doing.
The final 20 pages were the worst. More than once, I told myself, "You know what? This just isn't worth it." Then I'd get back to work, telling myself it could be the worst thing ever written just as long as it was finished. Then as I worked, I listened to my own head as it told me how horrible I was and how worthless. But that's the way dreams go. You have to prove you really want them.
So finally, I'm free of it. Then the other day, my little guy was vrooming cars on the floor, when suddenly he said, "Paul Cactus."
I perked up. "Paul Cactus?"
"Yep." He looked at me with a faint smile like he was waiting to see what I'd say.
"Paul Cactus swallowed a cactus," I said. "That's how he got his name..." So who knows what adventure will come next.
Tennessee Williams said, "Make voyages. Attempt Them. There is nothing else."