Like most writers I know, I collect inspiring/encouraging quotes and keep them where I can see them in my office. Somehow, these quotes and thoughts are shortcut reminders of various attitudes and qualities we need as writers: determination, persistence, fired up creativity, the courage to dream big, making course corrections, and so on. You probably have a list of your own that matches what you need to make a life in the creative life possible.
Right now, I’m starting something new, a type of writing I haven’t done before. It’s all fresh ground to cover and explore. Because other books were ahead in line, I’ve let this old idea-project slide down on my list of priorities for years. No more! It’s time to put it in the top ten—maybe the top three. If I don’t get on with this book, which I believe in for all kinds of reasons, I am 100% sure I’ll regret it.
So, now is the time for Mark Twain to pay me a visit and give me a boost with a gentle reminder:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore…Dream…Discover.
Since I spent a lot of time sailing at one time in my life—decades ago now—the idea of “throwing off the bowlines” arouses something in me. A sense of adventure, a curiosity about what’s around the next corner, a feeling that something special is waiting for me to claim it. You know what I mean. But our friend Mark Twain was also right about regretting what we don’t do.
As for me, I wish I’d started writing fiction sooner. I was steeped in nonfiction, the source of my income, so it wasn’t like I was slacking off. But the longing was always there. Story ideas written in journals and spiral notebooks twenty-five years ago made it onto my to-do list and many are still waiting patiently today. Some one or two line notes eventually became Greta’s Grace or Girl in the Spotlight or any of my other books. One idea also became this new book I’m inching my way into.
I don’t want my new idea to be one of those “wish I’d done” projects. Pushing ideas under the rug, ignoring snippets and flashes, and delaying the start of a project costs too much. Mentally, I mean. When I used to ghostwrite books, the clients knew (or thought they knew) the price of procrastination. They measured it in lost income and delayed professional prestige.
We novelists usually can’t calculate a financial cost. Maybe we’d be better off financially if we took up some other line of work. Wait, I was only kidding. I hear you hollering at me at the very suggestion. Not every project is weighed the same, of course. I’ve let a few ideas shrivel up and die and that’s okay. They hadn’t merited enough passion to keep them alive.
My new project is different. If I don’t write this book, I’ll regret it and the characters will hunt me down and haunt me forever. That’s the only guarantee I have. So, I’ve sailed away from the dock.
What about you? Do you have one or two or ten of those book ideas that call your name—even in your sleep? So do you hear Mark Twain urging you on?
I’m grateful for my WisRWA friends for many reasons. They understand the way ideas grab me and why I can’t or don’t start them immediately. But they gladly turn into cheerleaders when I say I’m finally plunging in. And I’m here doing the same for them. The gifts we give each other are truly priceless. Let’s all sail away into great new writing adventures and see how far we can go!
A member of WisRWA since 2001, the same year she moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin, Virginia McCullough writes women’s fiction and romances for Harlequin’s Heartwarming line. A FAMILY FOR JASON, book one of her new series, Back to Bluestone River, is scheduled for an August 2019 release. Her award winning novels tell the stories of everyday people struggling with everyday life issues in settings that often include oceans, lakes, rivers—and boats. A past-president of WisRWA, Virginia has also enjoyed a long career as a ghostwriter and editor of nonfiction books and novels.