Although it seems impossible to believe now, Drinking Scotch with Strangers actually started as a self-help book back in early 2006. Its first title was Manifestos of Master Manifesters. Has a ring to it, doesn’t it? I interviewed six highly accomplished people for that book, which was going to be about how to set a really big goal and then achieve it. I, myself had two really big goals at the beginning of 2006 that I’d hoped researching and writing that book would help me accomplish: the first was to become a published author, the second was to find the answer to how I could recreate my life and be happy as a newly single mother who had just turned forty.
It never occurred to me, back in the early months after my husband left, that I could take my experience and turn it into an entertaining fiction. Partly because I was still too close to the pain of it all, but also because I wasn’t a fiction reader! I’m an avid non-fiction reader and writer. Writing a book not based on research felt akin to my standing up and claiming to be a singer just because I know the lyrics to lots of songs.
But, by the end of 2006, having blogged about a handful of the 24 men I dated that year, I jokingly stated in one of my last blog posts, “I’m going to write a book. It’s going to be called, My Lava Life: A Year of Dating Dangerously.”
The idea stuck. I couldn’t get it out of my head. But I wasn’t quite ready to write the stories yet. I tried. They sounded sad. I sounded pathetic. I wrote thousands of words in the first person, blending lessons from the interviews I did for Master Manifesters with my own dating experiences. That work should never be shared! I was still too angry and hurt and — this was the part that disturbed me most — wanting to humiliate every man who’d ever left me, from a high school boyfriend to a university lover to my ex-husband to the Lavalife man who had dumped me two weeks after he proposed to me.
I shelved the whole idea of writing a self-help book and focussed on earning a living, which, ironically, included writing a first-person, health column for a monthly magazine, starting with a piece about my own sad libido, called “Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’? Rekindle the Fire in Your Loins.”
In January, 2010 a dear friend asked if I’d like to be part of an Integral Coaching training program. I’d get a coach, for free for five months, to help me wrangle with one important question in my life. In exchange, I’d provide the coach-in-training with a real, live challenge to practice her new skill on. I needed to give my coach a brief synopsis of my challenge. I sent her a list of eight creative projects I’d started in the last decade (films I’d spent hundreds of hours researching, websites I’d purchased URLs for and written pages of copy for, my Master Manifester interviews, and my plan to write Drinking Scotch with Strangers). I stated my challenge as:
I would like to address whatever issue it is that stops me from completing the projects that are most close to me; the ones I don’t get paid for, but do for love.
Five months later, with the support of my inestimable coach Julia McLaughlin, I had 50,000 words of Drinking Scotch with Strangers written. One commitment I had to make as part of the program was to share those words with others. I held my breath and solicited feedback from people who’s opinion I respected, like my former editor at Shared Vision magazine, a CBC radio journalist, an independent publisher, and a couple of friends.
The feedback was nothing but encouraging. “Keep going!” “Write more!” “I couldn’t put it down!” “I could totally relate to your main character”… the feedback, in fact, was so positive, I froze. Oh no, if I finish writing this book, I thought, I might actually have to publish it. And then it’s possible that lots of people would read it…
I didn’t write another word for almost a year. In March 2011, my partner Dave asked, for the hundredth time, “Donna, when are you going to work on your novel again?” Paid contracts were slow so I dedicated three weeks to the project and got my word count up to 97,000. The story was eighty percent told. And I liked what I’d written! What happened next was sadly predictable. I froze. Again. I didn’t write another word until…
The first weekend of December 2011, Dave and I went away to Whistler for three days and three nights, to celebrate the five year anniversary of our first sleep-over date. While he skied, I wrote. And wrote and wrote. I completed the first full draft of the manuscript on December 22. I printed ten copies and gave eight of them to friends who are avid fiction readers — many of whom thought it was ridiculous that I, a career technical writer, had written a fictional story!
Many of those friends had wiped my tears during that first year after my divorce — my own year of drinking scotch with strangers — and they immediately recognized the memoir qualities of the novel. I’d written a fictionalized non-fiction story! A hybrid.
With the hardest audience I’ll ever share the story with now having copies of my first draft in their hands, the next step was easy-ish: figure out how to polish Drinking Scotch with Strangers. I applied to – and was accepted in – the Vancouver Manuscript Intensive where the stellar Cathleen With worked with me to turn my first draft manuscript into a publishable novel. It took several months (both of editing and, predictably, freezing and not writing a word) and three revisions, including, much to Dave’s dismay, basically rewriting from page one, but the final manuscript is done. As of this update, it’s November 3rd, 2012.
So, the next step is to figure out how to get this blessed first novel off my hard-drive and into readers’ hands. I hope that step doesn’t take six more years…