The Seed of Every Action is a Thought

(Originally published Nov. 22, 2006).

Every day I receive a motivational e-mail. Today’s message began with the words, “Every action has its seed in a thought and every thought is a creation of the thinker.” I started to consider how a single thought had triggered my new career as a writer.

It’s like this. One fateful afternoon three years ago, I announced to my long-suffering husband, “I’ve been thinking!”

A man of few words, he merely quirked one eyebrow in a manly display of interest, or perhaps it was encouragement. Or scepticism. Or heartburn.

“I have a brilliant idea,” I burbled. “I’m going to leave management consulting and write a novel.”

And so it began. Always an over-achiever, I quit my day job to attend a five-day seminar entitled How to Write a Novel. After all, how hard could it be to write a novel? Thousands of authors did it every year, some of them more than once. I read a couple of how-to books, joined the Ottawa chapter of RWA, rolled up my sleeves, and plunked myself down in front of the computer. As I stared at the blank screen, I held onto that thought—I will write a novel.

One year and 101,167 words later, I finished my first draft, dusted off my hands, and announced to my critique group, “There! It’s finished.” After the laughter subsided, they pointed me to a book entitled The Basics of Editing Your Novel, and I realized the fun had just begun. I re-worked that sucker several hundred times, cursing the thought that had spawned this monster.

Another year slipped by. Finally, I was ready to unveil my new baby and submit the cherished manuscript to a lucky editor. I formulated a new thought. “I’m gonna sell my novel.” After the first five, or maybe it was six, rejections, I admitted to myself, to God, and to my critique group that there might, just might, be a teeny, tiny problem with my writing. I hit on the brilliant idea of entering contests. At least, I thought, I would receive feedback on what I was doing wrong.

Boy, when I’m right, I’m right!

Learning can be humbling. I soon discovered that the only way to survive the crushing blows of constructive criticism would be to treat the entire process as an academic exercise—an advanced degree in novel writing, so to speak. So each time the contest results arrived, my first priority was to consume my entire body weight in chocolate. Then, I shoved my ego out of the way, analyzed the judges’ comments, and absorbed the critique. After all, I had paid for this punishment and I wanted my money’s worth.

Turns out I had made every beginner’s mistake in the book. For the next twelve months, I removed all head-hopping; I chopped the dreaded back story from the first five chapters; I ridded my book of pesky adverbs by making each verb as punchy as possible; I switched from passive to active tense; I threw away my first three chapters and started the story at the beginning of the action; I trashed some of my favourite scenes because they didn’t move the plot ahead; I addressed all five senses; I anchored all conversations to specific actions so there were no ‘talking heads’; I made sure I described the location of each scene; I switched to deep third person point of view. I nipped, I tucked, I tightened, and I never stopped learning my craft.

Little by little, the comments grew more complimentary. On August 18, 2006, the moment I had been dreaming of for three years arrived. Twenty-one rejections, six tons of chocolate, six hundred and ninety-seven re-writes, and one first prize later, I received ‘The Call’ from Lachesis Publishing for my first book, The Jaguar Legacy.

And it all began with a single thought.