They Said Don’t Do It!

They Said Don’t Do It!

By Karen Harmon

If I Can Write a Book Then You Can Too!

In 2009, an unexpected event took place. A business that I had been working very hard on dissolved. It was a successful company six years in the making. It did well until it stopped doing well.

Then my mother died.

After the collapse of my career and my mom’s unexpected death, I packed up and moved away from the small town I had lived in for twenty years. My daughters were grown and succeeding independently, so I uprooted my eleven-year-old son and moved to an entirely different community. My marriage was on the rocks, and everything felt impossible.

Why I started writing

After moving away from friends and family, broken dreams, and what felt like wasted blood, sweat and tears, I found a place to live and enrolled my son in a new school. Much to my dismay, my husband and I temporarily separated.

The place we moved to was in a forested area on a hill overlooking the city. Every morning after dropping my son off at school, I went back up on my hill, wrapped myself in a blanket and sat outside in the back yard on my favourite lawn chair. It was late Fall. There I rested. I pondered, prayed, and weeded out the tangled gnarly bits in my brain and began the process of healing, taking some time to breathe.

We had two cats who marvelled at their new surroundings. I loved watching them explore. Sometimes brown bears would venture into our yard from the forest and sun themselves. I went inside during these times, but I took great pleasure in watching them frolic in their natural habitat, which just happened to be my back yard.

Eventually, I needed to work, so I applied and started teaching fitness at two local community centers. The exercise and oxygen to my brain assisted in helping me form new-found happy thoughts. I also began working for the school district as a teaching assistant.

Employment gave me a livelihood and a vocation gave me purpose.

As I sorted through the problematic aspects of this current disarray, I felt the insistent nudges of new beginnings. I began telling my son colourful and exciting stories about his grandfather, my dad, who had died before my son had a chance to meet him.

My father ran away from home during the Great Depression in the 1930s. At the age of thirteen, he rode boxcars to a different province. Tales of his adventures enamoured my son, and we grew closer through the storytelling. One day he said, “Why don’t you write a book, mom?” My response was, “Okay, I will.”

My Writing Process

We all know that writing a book is easier said than done.

I chose not to look at the big picture. The enormity of such a project could surely be overwhelming. I instead decided to write a story. One simple three-paragraph story. I wrote what I knew, my dad’s decision to run away. I dissected how a thirteen-year-old boy might feel, and then went on to describe the setting and his appearance. I enthusiastically researched the life and times in the 1930s. Times of poverty, hopelessness, and panic.

Before long, my three-paragraph story turned into what could be an entire chapter.

Initially, the purpose of my writing was to create a keepsake for my three children—a gift and a history lesson of where they came from. Never professing to be a literary genius, I threw all caution to the wind and kept writing.

Side Note—I did not think of myself as a writer. I disliked school, and through insecurities and low self-esteem, I assumed that I was not smart, at least not academically. Everyone in my age group, my grade, seemed brighter than me. However, I did not dwell on this observation because I had something else—I could be fun and funny, and because my father told me his life story many times over, I became an avid storyteller. The gift of imagination is a beautiful child-like quality. This was instilled by my father and has served me well.

Continuing with the process, I wrote and wrote. My computer skills were not the greatest. Everything about technology frightened me. Hence, those old feelings of not being smart arose. In sharing this with a dear friend, a woman who had already written and published a book, I was given some excellent advice. She said, “E-mail me.” I started to E-mail her all of my writing; she encouraged me and made suggestions, but mostly her reassurance is what propelled me forward.

Eventually, I learned how to make attachments and save my work. However, I needed to write all the steps down on a piece of paper, which I kept next to my computer as a reminder.

The writing process became therapeutic. My memory grew. Therefore, my recollections expanded. Sometimes I was driven to tears and, other times, laughter.

I felt a closeness to my lovely deceased parents. I cherished my time with them, telling their story. Surprisingly, I grew to relish life’s complexity, family dysfunction, nostalgia, trials, tribulations, and most of all, the healing aspects of self-discovery through my writing.

Overall, writing recharged my batteries and gave me a zest for living. Instead of watching television at night, I could hardly wait to get to my writing.

In the midst of this beautiful time, my husband and I were able to work out our differences and get back together.

How I Published

Being a novice writer and “not a literary genius,” I had no clue how to get my work published. Optimistic and somewhat naïve, I assumed I would send my manuscript off to Penguin Books, Harper Collins, or Simon and Schuster.

Not so fast…

After I wrote and wrote about my father, before I could even think about publishing, I realized the content was not enough. I needed more material. So, I delved into my mother’s struggle with mental illness. Subsequently, I healed some more.

In the meantime, my son became YouTube famous. I will save that story for another time, but practically overnight, he became a world traveller. This was all to enhance his YouTube career, meet fans, dance, make videos, and create brand deals.

Only thirteen years old, he needed a chaperone. Of course, I as his mother, was the perfect person for the job. We travelled, he performed, and I continued writing.

On a trip to Santa Monica, California, he had meetings to attend and much to my trepidation, he asked if he could go by himself. Other YouTubers had invited him to film and network, so I said yes. He was older by then. I gathered that no fifteen-year-old wants their fifty-year-old mother traipsing after them in sensible shoes and a bedazzled backpack.

Therefore, I had a lot of time on my hands. Instead of accompanying my son, I ventured out to various coffee shops and set up my laptop alongside cool hipster people drinking coffee, and I kept on writing. Alone, surrounded by strangers, I convinced myself that I was ready to publish.

Having no idea about Algorithms and how the vast arena of search engines work, I started to get advertisements on my iPhone, primarily on Facebook and Instagram, about self-publishing. This, to me, was like divine intervention. How remarkable, I thought; seemingly mystical in the theme of, “Wow, publishing my manuscript is meant to be, look at all the signs!”

Since then, I have discovered how the internet can be a friend, foe, and wealth of information. It is often confusing and sometimes scary. Falsehoods and too much information can certainly be a deterrent when trying to make a decision. Now I laugh about those sneaky Algorithms.

Yet, in that Santa Monica coffee shop, sipping a cinnamon-laced Latte, there came a dull roar in my brain that chanted, go for it, publish, publish, publish.

Advertisements for Tellwell Publishing kept appearing, asking me if I wanted to fill out a questionnaire. No strings attached, just a form to see if I was a writer in the making and someone capable of possibly publishing a book—with their assistance, of course.

I liked the idea. It reminded me of those quizzes some of us filled out from magazines when we were younger—questionnaires designed to help us discover personality traits, career paths, or if the man we had chosen was the right one.

Shortly after completing the extensive form, I was emailed a response. It stated that my story is worthy of being published by the information that I submitted. I was asked if an agent could contact me to discuss my options. I instantly became wary. But I said yes to a phone call.

After the phone call, the representative emailed me a list of three publishing packages without any expectations or pressure—the cost of each and what they all entailed.

There was an option for a monthly payment plan, and what stood out most was their promise of step by step publishing assistance and support. A design team would help me with the front and back cover. Also included was the interior and exterior layout, an ISBN and a marketing plan. They pledged to answer my questions in a twenty-four-hour time frame. I was ensured they would list my book on all the major bookselling sites.

Choosing the cheapest package, I told no one about my endeavour. I said yes, and the book publishing process was set in motion.

I recommend choosing two people you highly trust, mentor types to share your thoughts and publishing plans with. I went at it alone for fear of being judged. Now I say, who cares what people think.

There will be naysayers along the way. There always is. These are the people you might want to steer clear of when sharing your hopes, desires, and dreams. They will only squelch you. Wise, supportive people are best. And try to narrow it down to just a few. No sense in spouting off all your book writing ideas to every contact on your email list. At least not right away.

Why You Should Get an Editor

The best source of guidance came from my editor. Please do not think of publishing your book without one.

Looking back, I could not have written and published two award-winning books without her. I would never have made all of my invested money back, which did eventually happen.

The difference between hiring an editor and not hiring an editor is, in my opinion, monumental. An editor will ensure that your book is readable, professional, marketable and acclaimed. Plus, they pick up things we as astute over-zealous writers may miss.

For example, would you hire a plumber to clean your teeth? No, of course not! A plumber is needed to fix a drain, among other things, while an editor is required to improve a manuscript.

I visualized my book as a beautiful house I was building, my dream home. My editor was the city planner that said, “This needs to go here, and that needs to go there.” She also became an interior decorator and a housekeeper. Without her expertise, I am sure my home would not have been presentable and may have been reduced to rubble.

Your manuscript is your baby. Just like you would interview different daycares for your child, make sure the editor you choose is the right fit. Tell them your vision and be open to their suggestions. Professional editors know what to do, and they will not lead you astray. But as I said, it is your story, so do not be afraid to speak up.

Stop Thinking and Write It!

My best advice is to try what I did. Think back to a memory or an idea you have and plan to write three paragraphs about it. That way, you will not overwhelm yourself. Start with a topic you are familiar with. Afterwards, go back and add detail.

You may want to write a memoir, fiction, non-fiction, sci-fi, children, self-help…your options are endless.

Libraries are still an excellent source for research. They are inviting and somewhat forgotten in this age of Google, Reddit, YouTube and various other sites. The library near my home smells of books and coffee. They have comfy chairs and proper desks to work at.

My favourite place to write is in my bed with my dog curled up beside me. I usually write on Sundays. Pick a day and time that works best for you.

You have to start somewhere. Break it down and do not look at the big picture. At least not at the beginning.

When my daughter Emma was a little girl, she had a terrible time cleaning her room. She would look at the mess and give up even before she got started tidying.

I came up with a strategy. Breaking down all the room cleaning tasks, I wrote every job on slips of paper. Put books away, pick up barbie dolls, fold clothes, bring dirty dishes to the kitchen, make your bed, dust, etc.…We then folded up the pieces of paper and put them in a hat. One at a time, she took out a piece of paper, read the task, did what was written on the paper. Voila, in less than an hour, her room was spotless.

The first piece of paper I would put in your hat would be, open up your computer and write three paragraphs.

Sometimes I am over the top optimistic, but I genuinely enjoy helping others, so please feel free to check out my social media sites, website and email me. I would like to hear your story, and I am willing to offer you suggestions and encouragement that may help you bring your writing dreams to fruition.

I know you can do it. Happy writing!

Looking for Normal and Where is My Happy Ending? A Journey of No Regrets

karmon70@gmail.com

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12 Replies to “They Said Don’t Do It!”

    1. Phew! Thank you Bonnie, I was a little nervous to share so I really appreciate your validation. And great to hear from you. You know, I write quite a bit about car street in my second book, Where is My Happy Ending. I think you would could a kick out of how I describe the party line back then HAHAHA!

  1. Thanks for this Karen. Generous and kind of you to share this. Maybe the kick in the pants I need to get started.

  2. Great tips for hesitant writers thanks for sharing your journey! Great success will manifest with your honest approach in writing your life stories! So proud of your accomplishments Karen! Wtg

    1. Hi Betty, Thank you! Networking and making connections with others is surely an excellent experience because that is how I met you! I thoroughly enjoy your poetry book “A Little Bit of Betty,” and your music and art inspire me. I am so glad we met!

  3. I am so happy that you listened to your own voice, and not those who said ‘don’t do it!’ The writing comforted you, and you have inspired others to write their own story. Thank you for sharing this Karen!

  4. What a great post Karen
    The pictures were wonderful
    The advice was solid
    Emma’s room was such a nice touch but an awesome example to explain what you are saying – don’t get overwhelmed – break it down to smaller manageable pieces 🙌 perfect
    Your generosity to share is inspiring
    Thank you 🙏🏻❤️

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