Many people have asked what my next book will be. The assumption that I’m worthy of writing a second book took me a few months to accept as a compliment, but I wasn’t all too serious about writing a second book. The first book, I figured, was like the 5K I ran in 2011–good to know I could do it, good to know I finished not last, never gonna do it again.
(Except for that one time some former students convinced me to do the Color Run with them. That 5K doesn’t count, right?)
Anyway. I started thinking about writing a second book and how ridiculous it sounded, because I had nothing else to write about. I tried for six months to write about this project I’m doing with my parents, to collect their life stories. My parents are pretty great, and in the beginning months of interviewing them, I started to realize we have more in common than I thought. It could be a bit of a riff on “Tuesdays with Morrie,” I thought.
So I set about to write a draft. And after six months of half-hearted writing, I stalled out at 3,300 words.
Two things to note here: first, six months is a long time. Second, 3,300 words is not a lot of words. I wrote the first draft of “Lies Jane Austen Told Me” in 30 days. It was 50,000 words. So the writer’s block I’ve been feeling this summer reached acute status last week.
On Sunday, I sat at church, half-listening to talks about family councils, when I thought a better use of my time would be to write anything. I took out my journal and started scribbling my frustration with not being able to write, and in the middle of that rant, a sentence of a daydream I had months ago came back to me.
In the dream, I am telling a story at a Moth StorySlam. I love the variety of stories I hear at The Moth, and I’ve even heard single Mormon women tell stories on this show. But all the stories I’ve heard on The Moth are about how these women left the faith. Never stories of how they stay. And in the daydream, I take the microphone and I say, “I was 19 the first time I tried to leave the Mormon church.”
That’s as far as I got in the dream. But Sunday, that sentence struck me again, only this time an outline came flooding after it. I scribbled and scribbled in my messiest handwriting, trying to keep up with my brain, and by the time I had to play the closing song on the organ, I shook with adrenaline and excitement.
“I think I have my next book,” I said to myself as I played.
Since Sunday, I’ve written 3,500 words–200 more than six months working on a story that wasn’t going anywhere.
So here’s my writing advice for today: sometimes, a story isn’t quite ready to be told. And you can power through and try to find a way to tell it, and maybe feel like a complete failure with the accompanying writer’s block, or you can try to figure out if there’s a different story that needs to be told first.
I think I found my story.
I think I’ll be able to hit 30,000 words before school starts, if I focus and work hard.
I think I might be a writer.