I wrote my first “novel” at the ripe old age of twelve. I have no idea what happened to that “book,” but I remember it had something to do with middle school girl friendship and was set in New York City, just like Claudia, my favorite book at the time. I’d never been to NYC, but that didn’t stop me. For one entire summer, I sat in my favorite spot under the birches near the swamp on the edge of my parents’ Montana property and wrote a book. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t write it, that there were “rules” like “write what you know.” I had an idea based on my favorite book, and I wrote it.
Write what you know.
Later, the rules stultified me. When I had an opportunity at age twenty to write for Harlequin, I choked. Back then, Harlequin romance novels were always set in exotic locations a long way from Montana. Though the sex happened off the page, more of it happened than I’d experienced at the time. “Write what you know” meant I had nothing to say. It never occurred to me that my reading life counted for what I knew. How I’d understood that notion at age twelve and lost that understanding by age twenty is a mystery best explained by having learned the rules in the interim. So, instead of spending the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college writing a novel, I worked sixty hour weeks at an A&W drive-in and the local swimming pool. In the fall when I returned to college empty-handed, the professor who gave me the opportunity shook his head in sadness and disappointment. I understood that disappointment even better than he did because in making the choice not even to try, not to take a risk and write something, I gave up my dream of writing novels.
It took me nearly thirty years to confront my disappointment in myself and to figure out the truth about the rules. One of art’s greatest rule-breakers, Picasso, said, “Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.” Write what you know isn’t confined to what events, jobs, places, people, etc. you’ve personally experienced. Write what you know is what you’ve learned however you learned it—reading, watching movies, hearing other people’s stories, feeling emotions. The emotions are the “what you know.” Once I came to terms with this idea, I discovered I had all kinds of novels inside me, so I started writing and doing the work to realize the dream I’ve had my entire life.
Fear is a terrible obstacle. It holds us back from the things we know we can do, the things we know we want to do, the things that have the potential to give us the greatest joy. A few years ago, I read Sarah Knight’s Get Your Shi*t Together, which was a first step toward reaching my writing dream. That summer, I had a conversation with the GorgeousGirl about goals and goal-setting. During our conversation, I recommended Knight’s book to her, and we talked about what was the goal of her heart. Afterward, I did a little soul-searching. If I was going to talk the talk, it was time, maybe, for me to walk the walk.
Fast-forward to November 2019
GorgeousGirl closed on the home she dreamed of, the one she now owns with a fenced backyard and room for a garden, the goal of her heart. I copyrighted Talisman.
Sidebar: if you’re looking to overcome that terrible obstacle, may I recommend you read Knight’s book too? Perhaps with a friend with whom you can discuss it and encourage each other to take that risk you know is going to net you exciting results once you overcome your fear of pursuing it?
Here it is
Okay, so the point of this post is this. On January 25, 2020, the biggest moment in my writing life happened at the annual Park County Library Winter Gathering. For the last ten years, I’d been dreaming about being one of the authors signing books during this event, and on this day, I reached that milestone. I thought I’d prepared myself for how it would feel to sign that first book, make that sale, see that reader excited to read the story I’d dreamed up.
I had no idea how heart-poundingly nervous, thrilled, and humbled I’d feel at signing that first book. I had no idea so many people wanted to support me in pursuing this dream. I had no idea how desperately I don’t want to disappoint them. I wasn’t so naïve as to think this new career as a writer wouldn’t change me, but I truly hadn’t thought about the ways in which it already has changed me. Before I published Talisman, when I thought about writing to entertain others, the words that came to mind were joy and fun because writing is joyful and fun for me. Now when I think about writing to entertain others, the first two words that enter my head are gratitude and humility. Gratitude for how excited and genuinely happy people are to read my stories and humbled by that excitement and happiness.
So how does it feel to realize a dream?
Pretty. Damn. Good.
And gratifying and humbling and joyful and fun.
What’s holding you back?
Yours in taking a risk (or thirty),
Tam DeRudder Jackson
P.S.: update for the year—the book signing was #31 of my 30 new things to try, and my year doesn’t end until April 30, 2020. It’s the first time I’ve hit thirty in the four-and-a-half years I’ve been doing this, let alone exceeded the goal. It’s been a good one so far!