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Get Your Next Book Done – Give Yourself Permission to Write

Perseverance. Commitment. Belief in yourself. A Deadline.

 

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Giving Myself Permission to Write

By Janet Garber

For most of my life I’ve been scribbling here and there which resulted in lots of scraps of paper and no finished product. I used every excuse: I was a single mother; I had a long commute; my job was too stressful. I was also lazy. I’d come up with lists of great titles but be too lazy to flesh out the stories.

And then three years ago I retired. I’d run out of excuses. I knew I had to gather up all my notes and finish the novel I’d been dreaming of. A terribly hard task but I tied it all together, published my first novel and was named a 2016 Runner Up in the Best Indie Book Award and a 2017 Finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book award.

 

 

Would you believe me if I told you this novel took me twenty-five years to write? Well, that’s not quite accurate. Let’s say, three years writing on the commuter train to NYC, twenty years in the bottom drawer of my desk, and then another two years to knit all the pieces together and get it published.

This is not the route I would recommend for an aspiring novelist.

 

 

I retired.

There was no more procrastination to be done. As a creature who loves structure, I decided my new “job” was to finish the novel. I feared it wouldn’t be good enough, that I’d be wasting my time. What did I really know about writing a novel anyway? 

Then a friend said, “Even if you write a bad book, it’s the bad book only Janet Garber can write.” A funny way to look at it, but it helped me take the plunge. I enrolled in an online class; the teacher liked my story!  I joined writers groups; I hired a developmental editor who gave me hints on what to do to better the story; I glued my tush to the computer chair and banged it out.

That’s how I happened to write a novel at my age. Those of you who are readers and writers, in other words, all of you, must know that a novel doesn’t just spring fully formed from the author’s head.  A novel is not a collection of observations or meditations upon a theme, or a well-placed argument like an essay. An essay can be tossed off in a matter of hours, especially when your blood is boiling or when you have a stake in the game.  But a novel…

 

 

I’d always wanted to be a writer…

…but there were so many distractions.  When I moved to Westchester in 1990, I picked up a copy of Women’s News and said to myself, “Wait. I can do this.” I pestered the editor for a year until she finally gave me an assignment to cover a screening of On the Waterfront by a local film club. For some reason she chose not to publish the article. Undaunted I took it and offered it to a local free paper I normally picked up in the supermarket.

They were happy to have more copy. In the meantime, the Women’s News editor felt bad about cancelling my piece. I got another assignment from her. This one passed muster. For the next two years I wrote for them, covering everything from my afternoon at sea with Captain Lil, the only female Westchester, NY sea captain, to profiles of prominent women entrepreneurs and businesswomen networking over golf.

Restless, I took my clips, put an ad in the paper, “Have pen. Will travel” and started getting assignments from nationwide publications.

I wrote for Jewish Week for the several years. I approached a HR trade journal I subscribed to at work and offered to review new HR books for them. Instead, excited to hear from an executive in the healthcare industry, they assigned me an article on recruiting science majors straight out of college.

Before long I branched out to Wall Street Journal publications: National Business Employment Weekly, Career Journal, College Journal and the like. How did I learn how to write these types of articles? I emulated Ben Franklin: I dissected the articles in each publication and strove to emulate them.

In 2000 I was writing weekly career articles for the New York Post when one caught the eye of an editor at Barnes & Noble and she asked me if I’d like to write a how-to career book. I Need a Job, Now What? was the result. It did quite well and was reissued a few years later in paperback and on audiotape as Getting a Job.

 

 

But nagging at the back of my mind…

…was Melie, my heroine, crying out to me. She needed some air. Living in a drawer was getting old. And I wanted people to get to know her and to understand her troubles with men and her job and to cheer her on. Where was her work/life balance? Where was her life?

Back in the middle ages, I had been in a PhD program in English Lit and I knew that the only writing that really counted – for me – was fiction, was sneaking into the ranks of the illustrious writers that I had studied for so many years. In my 20’s I had tried writing stories and sending them off to publishers with no results. 

I abandoned all thoughts of fiction, turning to journalism because there was a quick payoff. Write an article on Thursday; see it in print on Monday.

Back to Dream Job: why this topic, this heroine, this setting? This title? One night I had a very involved dream, like watching a movie. So elaborate. I woke up and said, the Universe is trying to tell me that I can create a story – I just need to commit to doing it. I continued to have vivid dreams and the sensation that they were communicating truths to me. 

I used many of these actual dreams in the novel. Hence the title, Dream Job. And you know, dreams have continued to be a good conduit for me—several of my short stories arose from a phrase that was playing around in my head as I awoke one morning.

 

 

Like any good work of fiction…

…this story got its inspiration from real life. A very stressful job in HR. A ridiculous amount of stress. The gym, therapy, long walks, spending time with friends and family couldn’t touch the stress.  I started fantasizing about what would happen if I just stopped being so responsible and fell apart, got into worse shape than the employees I was supposed to counsel. I started working on scenes, funny little vignettes, taking some characteristics of people I worked with and twisting them for comic effect. 

I started really enjoying the time I was spending on this exercise. I felt I was taking revenge on my circumstances and particularly the people who were making my life miserable.

The hours I spent writing at my desk or on the train flew by. I was my own best reader, laughing at the contortions poor Melie had to go through and rejoicing with her over her triumphs. I dreamed up an exciting lover for her, based on an hour’s conversation I’d once had with an owner and his pet macaw in an antique store upstate.

And then, after 150 pages or so, I just quit and tucked the manuscript into that bottom drawer. I couldn’t do it anymore. I don’t remember why. I guess I hit a roadblock. Or I just ran out of steam. But as I said, Melie, Ted, her awful boss, Merry Terry and the others just kept haunting me, clamoring to be released.

I ignored them.

 

 

Retirement loomed.

“When I retire, I will get that novel published,” I told my husband. He was always a big fan of Dream Job and encouraged me to set a firm deadline. I decided the Society for Human Resource Annual Conference in June would be a perfect time to launch my book and find my ideal readers. We spent many hours at the kitchen table discussing Melie and Ted as if they were real people.  By the way we favor Mark Ruffalo for Ted and Mary Elizabeth Winstead for Melie.

In March 2016 I published Dream Job, Wacky Adventures of an HR Manager, and have been loving the comments and feedback I’ve gotten, the opportunity to meet my readers.  An arduous journey to reach this point, but one that, in the end, has brought me great happiness and fulfillment.

 

 

The keys to my success?

Perseverance. Commitment. Belief in myself. A Deadline.

When I wrote the nonfiction book, I was really under a time crunch. I had just started a new job, a career leap, and was desperately trying to learn the language of this company, how they got things done, worked together.  The book deal came at a bad time, but I wasn’t about to miss the opportunity. Every weekend I told my husband I’d see him for dinner and plunked myself down in front of the computer.

I basically wrote all day Saturdays and Sundays and the funny thing is I beat the deadline by two months!

When I decided to write the novel, I holed up in my office, wrote an outline and kept at it. Now I am in the midst of revising the first draft of my second novel about a New York girl and her French husband living in Paris in the 1970’s. Again, I’m forced to knit together pieces of prose that I wrote many years ago, adjust the voice to match that of more recent additions to the story, and have the novel emerge as one smooth read.

I know I will be successful in bringing this new novel to light. I have a good story to tell and only I can tell it. Most likely I don’t have another twenty years to stall.  I intend to keep at it until it’s polished and gleaming and ready for the world to read.

Perseverance. Commitment. Belief in oneself.  Super Glue and a Deadline.

What are you waiting for?

 

Janet Garber toiled in the trenches as a HR exec in NYC for years, using those experiences to indulge in her prime passion: Writing. In March 2016 she published her first novel, Dream Job, Wacky Adventures of an HR Manager. Dream Job was recently named a Runner-Up on Shelf Unbound’s Best Indie Books contest and a Finalist on Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Find out more at http://www.janetgarber.com

And now we’d love to hear from you: What gets in the way of you fulfilling your writing ambitions? How can you incorporate deadlines into your work? Let us know in the comments!

23 Comments
  1. Dennis Kelly says:

    Hello Janet.
    Thanks for sharing that wonderful story of procrastination and fulfillment. Sounds like it was an entertaining read to write fabulous fiction from a less than fabulous work experience. I love the authority and authenticity those experiences evoke and I suspect that comes through in spades in your story.
    Mine was 30 years in the making, or more correctly living it and 18 months composing it. My career has me in multiple capacities in the media department of both large and small and ultimately my own ad agency. Specialising in planning and buying ad space in all media for all sizes of budgets and industries gave me, I felt some credibility to say something.
    It began as a series of e-mails – 63 of them in fact. When it grew to nearly 40,000 words, I was encouraged to meld it into a book. The end result is 57 Media Spikes. Uncorking the Media Genie- 30 Years of Media Planning and buying secrets unbottled at last.
    Unlike yours, I did not make it into a story as much as a series of vignettes for new and seasoned advertisers of how to improve their advertising.
    It was printed ironically exactly 3 years ago today. It’s available on my website and through Amazon and I’m thrilled to have sold maybe two dozen copies. (haha).
    The next effort, the timing remains uncertain. I have 200+ new e-mails from a new series giving me about 100,000 words to sift through for my next title.
    So tell me if you will Janet, how do I best accelerate the interest and sales in the existing title and what can I do to make the process better for the next one? Many thanks. Be well. Dennis

    1. janet says:

      Dennis, congratulations on your books. We learn so much by doing and it’s such a pleasure to share and mentor others. As to marketing I’m afraid I am very much a novice and am constantly trying to keep up with social media and such. Technology is a tough stumbling block for me at times. I hope to finish my second novel in the next few months and will have to consider again which path to take to publication. write to me via my website please http://www.janetgarber.com

  2. Kate Findley says:

    Wow, your story sounds very similar to mine! I too was a lit major and have done the work of writing multiple short stories and currently almost finished with a novel, but have not put the same work in publishing them mostly out of fear that all the work will be for nothing. Like you, I gravitate toward article writing because of the instantaneous feedback. As much as I love many forms of writing, though, fiction is my passion. This inspired me to stick with it!

    1. janet says:

      Kate, good to hear from you. I do try to encourage/inspire/motivate others as I wish someone had done for me when I was a child. The world thrives on stories, can’t get enough of them, and it’s up to us to supply them.
      http://www.janetgarber.com

  3. Jim Garber (fictional cousin) says:

    Fantastic, Janet! I am glad to be around for the triumphant last section of your writing story. Keep up the great work.

    1. janet says:

      Jim, thanks for writing! My class read my entire 2nd novel and claim to have “loved” it! So I need to clean it up a bit and hopefully figure out how to approach agents.

  4. Danie Botha says:

    Janet,
    “… this story got its inspiration from real life. A very stressful job in HR. A ridiculous amount of stress. The gym, therapy, long walks, spending time with friends and family couldn’t touch the stress…”
    Love this!
    Real life—where much of our inspiration (and material) comes from!
    Thanks for sharing your journey of grit!

    1. janet says:

      Danie, good to hear from you. Glad you enjoyed the article and hope it helps you on your writing journey.

      go to http://www.janetgarber.com if you’d like to sign up for my blog.

  5. Linda Wilson says:

    This so resonates with me – I’m just at the ‘retired’ stage.

    My first career choice was journalism as I didn’t know it was possible to earn a living as a writer – stupid, really….who did I think wrote the books I devoured as a kid and adult?

    Then I ‘tripped over’ psychology and fell in love with my career as a clinical and forensic psychologist. 35 years later and confronting an abyss, I was compelled to write my first book to try to help a Ugandan charity raise funds – that was Christmas 2017. I’ve since written a further 3 books about the ‘story’ of the charity; started a series of children’s books narrated by a dog; written a book with my dog for dog lovers; started writing 2 books about a very special boat I’m having built; and have started outlining a fiction crime series loosely based on the work I did in my last career.

    Here’s the thing…nothing has been published yet.

    I’m in the process of negotiating a Hollywood film deal for the Ugandan story; fundraising for the build of the boat (a fully accessible canal boat) ; putting together a Kickstarter campaign; transforming my privately owned shop into a social enterprise ( nearly forgot…I’ve also written a book about setting up a community interest company); and planning the future takeover of all the food related businesses in our village.

    And all the while these stories keep pouring out. It’s as though I’ve been given a new set of eyes – everything I see is a story of some kind and whereas in earlier years they would have been copious notes in a jotter or scraps of prose on paper, now they’re fully fledged books. I need to find time to publish and monetize the flippin’ things!

    Thanks for the proverbial ‘boot up the bum’ by your article!

    1. janet says:

      Linda, what a powerhouse you are! Best of luck in all your endeavors. keep in touch!

  6. Sharon O'Connell says:

    One of these days I’ll pick up a pen and paper and write! Just need to know how to sit still for a while!! Thank you Janet for being such an inspiration…

    1. janet says:

      I know you can do it, Sharon. You just have your own way of getting too it. But don’t wait too long and be sure to be keeping a journel – it’ll come in handy later on.

  7. Jane says:

    When you have kids you tend to prioritize them above writing, which is fair enough. But mine are grown now so it’s write or die

    1. janet says:

      Jane, now’s your moment!
      keep in touch.

  8. Cary Richards says:

    I’ve struggled with the procrastination monster that is always lurking just around the corner of the desk. The only way I know of to beat him is by sticking to a daily schedule. and keeping to a word count.
    Great stuff, very inspirational
    thanks
    Cary Richards

    1. janet says:

      Cary, I feel your pain. I have not given myself a strict writing schedule. I tend to write in spurts. And I need to intersperse the main project with little side jobs I can work on that are comparatively stressless.

      Best of luck!

  9. Krystal says:

    Hello Janet, I enjoyed reading your article. In some ways, I have done what you have done. Wrote a little here and there. Almost finished and then stopped. There was so much I needed to learn, and I thought all I needed to do was write the book. Well, I have. My main issue is that, with two fininshed manuscripts sitting in my drawer, I find it hard to self-publish because I am not in the financial position to do so. Also, any other publishing avenue is a bit more complicated. I don’t have an agent. I keep finding publishing houses that are not accepting submissions. It took me years to actually complete a manuscript. Yet, now that I have, and more than one, it’s harder to get published than it was to write. I love writing. As soon as I complete one project I start another. I write daily and always have a new story or poem in my head waiting to be unleashed. Hopefully, with what I’ve learned and what I will learn, I’ll find some way to get published. I just want someone, other than family and friends, to finally read what I’ve written. Congratulations and thank you for sharing a piece of your journey. Here’s to hoping, here’s to success.

    1. Linda says:

      Krystal,
      Have you looked at lulu.com?

      It’s free up to and including publication. If I recall correctly, they take 30% and you get 70% of all sales. It’s print on demand, so no forking out for books ahead.

      Things like book covers can be done quite cheaply using fivver and similar sites. Not as good maybe as a bespoke one done by a graphic designer, but 10x cheaper!

      1. Krystal says:

        Thanks Linda. I came across lulu recently and am currently doing some research on it. I am editing my book and as soon as I am done I will be giving lulu and kindle a try. Thanks so much for the response! Hopefully I can direct you to my newly published book soon.

        1. Linda says:

          Go girl!
          L x

  10. janet says:

    Do not give up, Krystal. There are publishing houses that accept manuscripts from unagented authors. Network with other writers to come up with some solutions. Best of luck!

    1. Krystal says:

      Thanks. I won’t give up.

  11. Lisa Shore says:

    Hi Janet,
    It’s amazing how our protagonists keep calling for us to just dive in already!! My book is about believing in yourself and I couldn’t get past my insecurities to have it published for many, many years. Go figure… I truly loved the storyline, the characters, and the message and for years it haunted me. Finally, I had to share it with the angle it was not me that I was promoting but the message. The book is targeted to young people on the cusp of adulthood. It is a story of love, loss, forgiveness and redemption and the message is mandatory for middle-grade kids. So I went for it and, to my surprise, It was a hit!
    We as authors have to remain true to the reason we toil away. It’s all about the message. It’s not about us. Maybe that direction can help us overcome our fears that hold us back.

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