I watched Lord of the Rings on a flight from Curitiba, Brazil, to Houston, Texas. It was 2015, and I had spent a week in Brazil for work. I forget which of the three films I was watching, but as the confined space on airplanes enables both focused attention and wandering, something creative unlocked within me. This became the first draft of the novel Cornerstone.
When I returned home, I jotted notes about writing a novel. The idea for a book stayed with me until I wrote a rough outline for Cornerstone on a napkin in a Raleigh coffee shop in January 2017. I’m naturally a planner and during a review of my goals early in that year, I committed to writing a novel. I didn’t know when I would finish the book, but this childhood dream to write a novel had resurfaced.
During weekends from January until March, I went to different coffee shops and mostly stared at the outline I had written. The outline was rough—basic plot points, the beginning and the end of the complete Cornerstone story. My planning tendencies urged me to write a detailed outline and check it again and again until the story was ready to be written. Maybe I should research instead, I thought. So for two months, I read many books, then sketched the character profile and journey of the male protagonist.
In March, I began to write. Whatever came to mind, I typed. I was excited when I had reached 60,000 words and thinking this manuscript could turn into something. Courtney, my friend, and alpha reader, agreed. Maybe a novella or a novel. Throughout 2017, I wrote about ten hours a week, mostly during the weekend and an hour or so after work. Something was missing, however. I could’ve researched writing lessons online, or bought a book, or joined a writing club, but I didn’t.
I wasn’t shy about asking friends at the 60,000-word count mark to read and provide feedback; in fact, I shake my head today at the suffering the friends must have endured reading the first Cornerstone drafts! I thought it was magnificent—with some improvements, of course, needed. But it was so good…
I don’t recall how I asked my friend Robyn to be my writing coach. I knew she was a writer, had published several children’s books, and chaired the Winston-Salem writers group. Maybe she would be interested in reading and providing feedback?
I don’t know if she thought this project would be a one-time review or a longer journey, but she walked with me along the way until she could no longer walk. After several reviews, I became frustrated that she provided one writing lesson at a time. Only later did I realize the wisdom of her approach, teaching me one lesson at a time, applying one lesson to each draft review. Writing is the greatest teacher, she taught. Writing is the greatest substitute teacher, the greatest tutor, and the greatest coach. Only by writing and writing again and writing some more would I become better. This trial-and-error process proved long and tiresome, but I’m grateful today that Robyn taught this way.
This back and forth with her continued from 2017 until October 2019. In 2018, I fell in love with the writing process and more so the creative process, the feeling of being in the zone, and seeing what sprung from my internal well. I wrote about twenty hours a week, and the hobby started to feel like a part-time job. But I loved doing it. I looked forward to the hour or two after work and the hours at a coffee shop on the weekend. Believing the manuscript was ready for the next step, I wrote a query letter and submitted it to agents during the summer of 2018.