When I consider the topic of new beginnings, I think back to several years ago as I was trying my hardest (and failing miserably) at getting my next book deal. I’d already published sixteen novels at that point. But that didn’t make things any easier. I think, in some way, it actually made it harder, because I had that pressure behind me. (Was I never going to do this again? Was I done in the business? Was no one wanting to read my work anymore?) In a way, it felt as though I’d been fired from a job I’d had for sixteen years.
Over the course of a year, I ended up starting and stopping several projects, feeling frustrated and defeated, and meeting rejection at every corner. And so, I ended up taking a break, stopping myself from chasing trends, from trying to predict what editors wanted. Instead, I tried to think about the story that I really wanted to tell. What was my intention in telling my next story? Why was I doing this? What was the point?
It took me a while to find that intention. During that time, I read a lot, spent time with friends, worked out, went for long walks, took on other work, baked too many cookies… And, all the while, I kept reminding myself to be kinder to myself – to stop beating myself up, to give myself the time I needed. It was only then, after about a year off from writing, that an idea stuck. I knew exactly the book I wanted to write. My intention was set.
The main character in Jane Anonymous hides her identity under the guise of “Jane Anonymous” as she writes about the seven months she spent in captivity, having been taken by someone she refers to as “the monster” and locked in a room with a bed and adjoining bathroom. “Jane” received meals and toiletries through a cat door, never knowing if it was day or night. The story is told on two timelines – then (during her time in captivity) and now (after she gets back). We see how the traumatic experience (and the losses incurred from it) changes her. Not only does Jane lose seven months of her life, but she also loses friends, relationships, and a sense of self.
When trauma strikes, we’re typically given an “acceptable” amount of time to heal and “move on,” but what happens when that allotted window of grieving time closes and the individual simply can’t move on? What happens when one feels as though she’s disappointing those around her for not being able to readjust quickly or radically enough, and so the trauma deepens, while emotions of guilt, anger, and alienation grow?
I was so motivated by that intention, I was able to write the novel fairly quickly. As I was trying to sell it, I had someone in the business telling me to take it in another direction. I considered the idea. I even toyed with it a bit. But in the end, I said no, because I felt straying from my intention would be betraying the story I wanted to tell. Happily, I ended up finding an editor who shared my vision.
I’m not sure I’ll ever approach a novel differently; from now on, I think I’ll always be solid on my intention before I begin. But more importantly, I learned that sometimes one needs to start anew, even sixteen books, sixteen years, and a million copies sold later – and that that’s okay. It doesn’t make one any less talented or worthy. And, as an added bonus, I perfected my vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe and re-learned what I love most about writing.