Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Incredible Journey

Three weeks ago I did something that I believed I would never have the ability to do. Something that I fantasized about, daydreamed obsessively over but ultimately told myself I would never achieve. It was an unrealistic dream, one that the little voice in my head told me I would fail at. But three weeks ago I proved the voice wrong as I wrote those two magical little words at the end of my first draft: "The End".

I'm keen not to sound overly melodramatic but I can honestly say that that moment in my life provoked the most incredible sense of euphoria, one that I will never forget. There I sat in my poky little office on a gloomy Sunday night in a mundane little town while my husband watched the Superbowl downstairs. There was a lukewarm cup of team beside me and a half eaten chocolate bar. I was wearing tracksuit bottom and a hoodie with a blanket flanked around my shoulders. It appeared to be just another average Sunday night, yet such an ordinary setting ended up being the backdrop to the most extraordinary feeling that I have ever experienced.

Without meaning to sound too self-indulgent, I know that I've been fortunate enough to taste success in my life: I achieved the results I had hoped for in my Leaving Cert and was able to study my first choice course in Trinity. After four long years (and several existential crises wondering if I had made a disastrous choice in career) I graduated with an honours degree. I got a permanent job less than a year after graduating and 5 years later I still enjoy it. I found love very early in my life and we've already spent almost a decade together, a year of that married.

Overall, I know that my life so far hasn't been a failure and I've achieved a lot of things. And I was happy enough with that. But that incandescent feeling of invincibility that hit me as I typed those two words three weeks ago has been, and maybe will forever remain, one of the standout moments in my life.

It reminded me a bit of when I first came up with the idea for my novel. I say came up with, I didn't really. It just hit me (without meaning to sound too cliched, like a lightening bolt) from nowhere while I was in the shower and it popped into my head without warning. Queue frantic hair washing while I planned out the rest of the idea. I still vividly remember straightening my hair that night with shaking hands as my mind tried to keep track of the ideas that bounced around my skull.

Now I can look back with poignancy at that night as I look back at how excited I was. And I can smile at my naivety. The journey that I have taken with my novel from that night 6 years ago until the night three weeks ago has been long and multifaceted. But as Arthur Ashe said "success is a journey, not a destination".  There have been periods of the journey that have been immensely enjoyable but more often than not it has been painstakingly difficult. I have occasionally gone months without looking at it, almost forgetting its existence. Almost.

The plot itself has undergone many changes. It was originally intended to be a stand alone book but I swiftly discovered that the story could not be told within one book. Now it is a trilogy (or at least, I hope it will be).  The original plot had a very different story in mind for David but hindsight and reflection are two wonderful traits that I possess and I gradually realised that the story held more potential if I gave David a different role. And it took wings from there on.

The characters that strolled into my head six years ago have grown and developed so much and I wish I could give them some credit for that. They have kept me entertained for several writing sessions (and many daydreaming sessions between).

David himself has grown from a cliched, good looking, kind, thoughtful 27 year old (which let's face it, doesn't exist) into a complicated, tortured, courageous but slightly arrogant man with a huge battle to face. I also learned that David, while important on his own, is useless without his supporting cast. The major and minor characters in the story have each gone through their own journeys. I'm happy that my characters, for the most part, are believable and each has their own backstory, their own personal motivations and their own strengths and flaws. Particularly the antagonist to David's protagonist. S/he hadn't even entered my consciousness 6 years ago but now I couldn't imagine the story without them!

And finally, the other thing that has changed over the 6 years and throughout the journey has been, well, me. I think it's hard to devote 6 years of one's life to writing 90,000 + words and remain unchanged. Priorities have had to shift in my life, particularly my enjoyment of sitting down and relaxing after a long day at work. It's a luxury that I no longer afford myself (at least not every night). My discipline has improved and so has my motivation. I no longer (solely) depend on external motivation, I have had to rely on my own internal drive especially when I'm sitting at my desk feeling like the loneliest writer on the planet.

Identifying as an aspiring writer has been a key turning point. 6 years ago I would have been mortified to advise people that I was writing a book. Sure they'll all laugh at me. But now I don't mind telling people. I have to, particularly if I'm attending writing workshops or courses. And guess what, people don't laugh. Who'd have thought it?

My writing, as difficult as I find to accept it, has improved too. I've dropped the adverbs, honed my dialogue, avoided as many cliches as possible and learned how to write even when my head is empty. That's not to say my first draft is good - it's not! It needs a huge amount of work and I don't know if I'll ever be 100% happy with it. But I've done the impossible and actually finished it. Okay it's taken 6 years and will most likely require countless rewrites but I have finished it. I can proudly say the words I never thought I would say: "I've written a book."


  1. Congratulations, Sinead, finishing your book is such an impressive achievement. It must have been quite the journey for the last six years, so richly deserved.

  2. Well said, Sinead. The first leg of the journey is behind you. Now the real hard work begins. You can do it though. Good luck. We are all behind you.

    1. Thanks Mary. Now I'll definitely be ready for the advanced novel writing class at Writers' Week next year :)