Finishing My First Novel: M.J.’s Story

Author M.J. Pullen and Family at The Marriage Pact Book Launch
Author & Draft Queen M.J. Pullen, pictured here with her biggest supporters and a huge cookie cake.

When I started my first novel, THE MARRIAGE PACT, in 2010 (or, I should say, when I started the first novel I actually completed) I had been tinkering with writing for years. There were probably six beginnings of novels on my hard drive in which I’d begun a draft, made it 20,000 or even 45,000 words in, and then abandoned the effort for any of the following reasons:

1. I got busy.
2. I got tired of the story or realized it wasn’t going anywhere in its current state and set it aside for “later.”

Most often, however, these two reasons were actually the following in disguise:
3. I gave in to the negative voices in my head telling me I couldn’t be a writer, I’d never finish a novel, and that even if by some miracle my writing wasn’t universally hated, it still wouldn’t be a viable career choice.

Still, I’d had this vague idea that I would write a novel by the time I turned 30. In my early 20’s, 30 felt enormously far away. I had plenty of time. And then life happened: I got married, I moved to Portland, I lived in San Francisco, I moved again to Austin, I got a job, and then another more demanding job, I lost my mom, I started a second Master’s degree, I got divorced, I moved back home to Atlanta, and when 30 came, I was busy resettling into life and pursuing Judaism and the degree I’d set aside. I’d met my second, permanent husband by then and we were making plans. I was always writing, but the novel-by-30 goal slid way onto the back burner. The way, way back burner.

By the time we had our first baby, I was in private practice as a therapist on a part-time schedule and home with Skywalker (my first little Padawan) the rest of the time. I found myself with snatches of down time – while he was napping, in the hour I’d set aside for the client who cancelled, during those sleepless wee hours that seem more frequent as I get older.

So I started tinkering again, picking up the chunks of text I’d written in the past few years. Most of it was terrible, of course. But pursuing my passion was far more appealing than folding laundry or trying to be a Pinterest mom. (Oh, I tried. And I am SO not a Pinterest mom).

Now that we had a family, I have to be honest, one of my big concerns was that I’d be wasting time that was no longer mine to waste. What if Skywalker really needed me to teach him sign language and make organic popsicles? What if Hubs really wanted to be married to someone who actually folded laundry and put it away when it came out of the dryer?

Lucky for me, Hubs knew what he was getting into when he married me, and he had more faith in me than I did in myself. When we talked about my writing, and I floated the idea of investing some of our hard-won nanny time and nap time into actually completing a novel, he didn’t hesitate.

“Do it.”

“But…” [this is my whiny voice that makes him question his sanity on a regular basis], “What if nothing comes of it, and we look back and wish I’d spent this time productively?”

Hubs is the antidote to all my self doubt. “What if something does come of it? And even if it doesn’t, if you finish a novel, put it in a drawer and only take it out to show our kids and grandkids one day, that’s worth it. ‘Your grandmother wrote a novel,’ I’ll tell them. And that will be worth it. Because then they’ll know they can do anything, too.”

I need to say how fully aware I am of Hubs’ exceptional goodness at stuff like this. If you are considering writing a novel or doing anything else difficult (scaling Mt. Everest, starting an exercise regimen, opening a business), I hope you have someone like Hubs in your life to encourage you. For me, that has been invaluable.

But you may not. Your support system might not be around, or fully engaged yet. Sometimes it takes a while for non-writers to understand our need to spend hours holed up with our laptops, playing with imaginary friends. And that’s okay, too.

Let me be that person for you today. You can do this. It’s worth it. If writing a book is on your bucket list, if you have a story you’ve been dying to tell or a message you want to share, it’s worth it. Whether you become a NYT bestseller, or you sell 14 copies to your friends on Amazon. It’s worth it. Even if you stick the whole thing in a binder and put it in a drawer, finishing a book is something most people never do, though many of us dream of it.

You can do this. You are worth it.

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