April 30th was a big day for my family. We had a 16-foot long inflatable water slide parked in my backyard, 20 kids running around, and a cookie cake that was over an inch-and-a-half thick if you include the icing – all to celebrate my son’s eighth birthday.
That was also the day I finished my first novel.
I was laid off from my dream job at the end of 2016, and even though I’ve applied for lots of jobs, I haven’t gotten hired anywhere. With lots of time on my hands, I did what all writers dream of doing:
I set out to write a novel.
Granted, it’s a children’s novel, which means 30,000 fewer words, give or take. But being shorter doesn’t make it any easier – in fact, it made it harder – so hard that I found it difficult to actually write it.
Oh, I’d sit down at my kitchen table every day, open my laptop, and declare to my wife, “Today I’m going to work on my book.” And most days, I wasn’t a complete liar.
But there were plenty of days that I perjured myself – days when I stared at my computer screen as if words were going to tumble out of my brain, roll down my nose, and jump into the screen like tiny dancers forming a clever line.
There were also days when I hated writing. Utterly hated it. As in, dear-God-strike-me-dead-I-don’t-wanna-do-this-any-longer capital-H hated It.
On those days, I blamed my chair.
The Butt Knows
You see, on those days when the words wouldn’t flow, when the magic wasn’t happening and my sanity leaked like the Exxon Valdez, I found my greatest enemy was my chair. Specifically, my hard, wooden, kitchen chair that served as my regular seat.
I don’t have a writer’s desk. I don’t have an office chair. I have my kitchen table and its firm, unforgiving, loveless chair.
Now, I should know better. Charlie Wetzel has been my mentor for two years, and he constantly tells writers, “If you’re going to write, you’d better have a comfortable chair, because you’re going to spend a lot of time in it.”
I’ve spent a lot of time in that kitchen chair over the past two years as a staff writer for John Maxwell. But it wasn’t the same when I sat down to write my novel. You see, an uncomfortable chair isn’t so uncomfortable when you’re getting paid to write.
But when you’re not getting paid? When you’re writing for your own passion, your own fulfillment, with no guarantee that what you pour out will be any good?
Even the most inviting of chairs becomes a torture device. My kitchen chair was no exception.
Once I began my novel, that chair became a literal pain in my butt. I’d settle down to sit and stare for hours, or sit and type for hours, and in no time my butt would begin to hurt. I’d stand, I’d stretch – hell, I even tried yoga for a brief three days before age and common sense took over. But I knew if I wanted to get my book done, I had to face that chair day after day after day.
Because I couldn’t write from my couch. Too squishy.
Couldn’t write from my bed, either. Too comfy.
No, the only place I had in my house where I could reasonably plunk my unemployed, dreaming rear end was on that unyielding piece of furniture I once thought of as a nice addition to my home.
It was hell.
Things were going so slowly that my wife made me promise her I would finish the book by the end of April. Like a fool, I agreed. Granted, this was in late February, a scant seven weeks after I’d begun working on the manuscript. I was still foolishly optimistic.
“I’ll just crank out a thousand words a day, and I’ll be done in no time,” I assured her.
No lie – I wrote and rewrote the same paragraph for the next three days.
Then there were times when I found a good rhythm. My wife would walk by at the end of a long day and I’d exclaim, “2.400 words today!”
She’d walk by on other days, and I’d ask if 7:12 in the morning was too early for absinthe.
Writing is hard. Not because words are hard. All writers have words. Some of them have bigly words that are the best words. Some of them have words that are so stunningly precise it’s as if each phrase was machined. Others have words that paint pictures of realms undreamt of by the average mind.
It ain’t the words that betray aspiring writers. It’s the butt. The butt makes writing hard. Your rear end gives out long before your vocabulary. There’s not a thesaurus around that can soothe an aching tuckus.
So it was that I found myself on April 30th standing in my backyard, watching my son’s friends slide endlessly down a long white vinyl slide, my novel – and my promise – nearly broken. I watched as these children ran to the top of the slide, flopped on their butts, and rocketed down into the splash pool, only to stand up, scream, “THIS IS AWESOME!” and repeat the process again.
They did this for hours. They did this until their butts became sore. And then they did it some more, because they loved it. It took a handful of rowdy second graders to show me that my heart was bigger than my butt.
After everyone left, after the pizza and cookie cake vanished, after the slide was picked up by some very nice old people in a panel truck, I tucked my family into bed and made my way to my kitchen table. I put my butt in my chair. I opened my laptop. I began to type.
And at 11:23 PM, Eastern Standard Time, I punched in the final word of my novel. Thirty-seven minutes before my promised deadline (and my son’s official birthday), I kept my word. Or more precisely, I kept all 35,142 of my words.
Is my book finished? Heck no. Now I have to revise the stupid thing. But I did something I’ve long talked about: I wrote a book. From start to finish. I’m going to shop it to agents and see where it can go. I have a strong feeling that it is something I was meant to write.
And if it does find an agent, and that agent is able to place it with a publisher, and I’m somehow able to fulfill my lifelong dream of getting paid to have someone else publish my book, I know exactly what my first purchase will be.
A comfy chair.
Because there are far more books still in me. And they need writing.