Three sounds are competing for my attention in my kitchen right now: the hiss of boiling water from the red teapot on the stove top, the steady drip of my kitchen faucet to assure that the pipe doesn’t burst, and the faint buzzing of the heater at my side- I’m sitting so close that I’m almost on top of it. This seat- and the bathroom- are the warmest spots in my apartment. And while I’ve considered taking my computer into the bathroom with me, I’ve decided to set up camp at my kitchen table instead.
It is winter, and it is cold. Really cold. With another Camino on my mind I’m itching to get outside and walk, and on most winter days I’ll bundle up and walk for at least 30-minutes around my neighborhood. But today? Not a chance.
So on these days, and on so many of the cold, short days of winter, I find I have lots of extra time on my hands. There’s a little bit of restlessness on these days, but mostly I’m content to stay in. Because it gives me time to do what I’ve been wanting to do for years: write a book.
Now, I haven’t actually started writing a book yet, except for maybe a few pages of rusty words cobbled together that don’t really have a direction yet. It’s more like I’m setting the groundwork for writing a book, something that I thought wouldn’t be that exciting until I actually started doing it. And I have to say: this is exciting.
Writing a book is something I think I always sort of knew that I would do, even when I was very young. Writing (and reading!) were interesting to me, and fun. Writing has been this thought in the back of my head that I’d sometimes pull out and make a few half-hearted attempts to do something about, but I always failed to be consistent. As anyone who’s ever tried to write knows: it’s so much more fun to imagine being a writer than it is to actually write.
Except now, I’m finding it kind of fun. I’ve decided that I want to stop worrying about all the ‘what-if’s’ of trying to write a book, stop worrying about all the other ‘stuff’ that maybe I should do first, stop worrying about whether I’m actually someone who should be writing a book, someone who could be writing a book… and I’m just going to write a book. It’s the most obvious thing in the world and yet it took me years to get here.
I came back from the Camino knowing that I wanted to write about this experience, knowing that I wanted to turn the story into a book, but I thought about doing everything else first. Building up this blog. Writing essays. Writing an e-book. Finding freelancing work. Researching agents.
I didn’t really realize it at the time, but it was all just a way of stalling. I mean, doing all of these things is and can be very important; I knew I didn’t want to stop blogging, and I’ve written a few essays, and will continue to. But mostly I was putting off the thing that I really wanted to do, thinking that I needed much more preparation than what I had until I could actually start.
It reminds me of the Camino, actually. I think about all of those months of preparation: researching the gear and testing out my pack and my shoes, going on as many training hikes as I could, trying to read up on albergues and towns, thinking I could learn Spanish. I wanted to do it all before I left, because what I was about to take on was really big, and really scary. It was intimidating, and all along I kept thinking, “Who am I to be doing this? Who am I to think that I can do this?”
But on the Camino, it turns out that all you need to do is show up and walk. You need a way to get to whatever town you’re going to start in, and you need a pack to hold your things and you need some decent shoes to walk in, but really, you don’t need much else. You just figure it out as you go, and there is nothing like the actual experience to understand what the journey is going to be like for you.
So did I need to do all the preparation that I did? The training walks helped me out so much, but honestly? I arrived in Santiago at the same time as so many of the people who’d started with me in St Jean. And we were all fit and happy and smiling at the end. I was more fit in the beginning than most, and better adapted to the walking, but other than save me some pain, the destination was the same for all of us. In the end, we all got there.
And when it comes to writing a book, it dawns on me that it is just like beginning a Camino: you need to have a very general idea of what you’re getting yourself into, you need a few of the specifics nailed down, and then you just need to begin. And the beginning might not be pretty… I might have the writing equivalent of blisters or bed bugs, of fatigue and a too heavy pack, of sleepless nights because of incessant snoring… but in the end, none of these things needs to prevent me from writing the book. Because it can get done as long as I begin, and as long as I can do a little bit every day.
I’m taking a writing class, though it doesn’t involve much actual writing of the book and instead has me starting more at the end, rather than the beginning (I’m learning all about how to eventually get someone interested in the thing that I’m going to write). But in a rather twisted way, I’m wondering if this wasn’t the best possible way I could have started. It’s forced me to think very specifically about the kind of book I want to write and the things that I want to say. Mapping out an annotated table of contents when I hadn’t given much thought to a structure or narrative arc was tough, but it made me see what my book could look like. It gave me a beginning.
This has been a quiet winter for me, but there has also been a lot of joy. I sit myself down at roughly the same time every evening, put on my writing playlist, and begin to chip away. This task feels more daunting to me than walking 500-miles did; this feels like I have thousands and thousands of miles to go before I get anywhere.
But there’s a lot to see along the way.
And it doesn’t feel impossible anymore.