Baby steps & meltdowns: lessons and anecdotes from writing a book

. 3 min read

When I first launched my website, I was sort of (okay, really) an obsessive little lunatic. I wanted everything to be done right away. I wanted my About Page done, 10 posts published, a few guest posts sprinkled in, a series of e-books to be downloadable—the works. Frankly, I'm thanking my lucky stars I hadn't discovered fiction yet or I would've probably wanted that book "figured out" quickly too and elegantly synopsized, all before launch.

(Are you feeling anxious right now, too? Sorry.)

One day, I was looking at my list of To-Dos regarding my websites when I must've had a look of terror crawl across my face because my friend, who happened to be with me, put his hand on my arm and said something to the effect of, "Whoa. Breathe."

"Why does this have to be all done now?" he went on to say.

I rambled.

He waited.

Then finally he said, "No, really?"

And I had to think about that.

(Answer: it didn't. I was just being classic Mackenzie: anxious, obsessive, neurotic — oh my!)

I share this story now because I only just published my About page. 11 months later. And I feel fine about it, which shows me something interesting. In the span of a near-year I've grown a touch. I believe a lot of that is owed to my lovely community, but a lot of it, too, is owed to my novel and everything its taught.

Life lessons learned from writing a novel

Writing this book has taught me the art of a wonderful mélange I call persistence-meets-patience. This summer, I remember sitting in the library, feeling like,

"I have no idea what I'm doing. I don't know what this story is about. I don't even know if I like it. Is this my writing voice? Maybe this is Lewis Carroll's. It's too witty to be mine. Shit. It's not my voice. Is my voice more like Patti Smith's? Alice Hoffman? Whitman? Hah. You wish, kid."

It was around this point that I had to take a giant step back from my manuscript and look at it in full, consider my fundamental tale and be honest: was I honouring it? In essence, was I writing something that was 100% ME?

See, I'd come to craft this story that had people asking me, "How did you come up with that? What a creative idea!" No, I'm not clapping myself on the back, because the thing is, in spite of the idea's merit in the eyes of my writerly community, it wasn't right. It wasn't Mackenzie-enough. In short, someone else could've written it if I'd given them the synposis.

I then had to suck it up and start all over, scrapping everything except my main character. Though, I nearly pulvarized her too when I flipped from third to first person, and brought her out from the shore on which she was standing into my heart.

In the end, that old book I scrapped returned. Or, pieces of it did, rewoven. And that new fabric became a huge piece of the quilt, that is the story I landed on. In fact, it's essentially the hallucination Scarlet finds herself in, when she exits reality. But I never could've understood it properly, nor picked it back up again and threaded a more grounded, personal tale if I'd been unwilling to part with what I'd spent 7 months crafting.

(Read more on that psychological journey here.)

In sum, this book has forced me to grow up, to see that those QUICK results, are rarely the results one should be after, especially not if the goal is high quality work. Avoir tout à ce moment précis may seem lovely in theory, but it's not realistic.

Baby steps on the other hand?

Those are the name of the game.