Roughing it in Africa
The first draft of everything is shit.Ernest Hemingway
It’s true. I started writing a story about my travels through Africa many years ago. I started and stopped, abandoning everything due to lack of talent, drive, and whatever else you can blame failed stories on. Ultimately, I wasn’t ready. But the important thing is that I wasn’t done trying. Everyone needs to start by roughing it a little…
In 2009, I started a blog after a gentleman in a coffee shop asked me what I wrote every day. He had seen me day in and day out, head bent, pouring my heart out onto the pages of a journal. He suggested I share that passion via a blog. I knew nothing of these things, but thought “what the heck!” I was ready for change. That change helped my writing take a leap forward. Leap is a kind way to word it for those early days though. I was rough around the edges and needed to whet my chops in the writing game. That process took a while.
As I learned about the world of blogging and began to make contact with other bloggers, I went from posting occasional posts to creating a steady stream of them. My first blog was filled with poetry, social commentary, and the occasional flash fiction. On a whim one day, I decided to write a short story of a different nature.
Once upon a time, a young woman sat waiting for the call. Eyes downcast, she poured her heart into the journal on her lap. Tear drops dried on the page as she wrote…
I know. It’s a little melodramatic, but vestiges of that early rough draft still exist. The rest of the story has come a long way since then. As Hemingway noted, first drafts are shit—mine not excluded from that. Well, maybe it wasn’t all shit.
I did hook readers into the tale from the beginning. They wanted to know who this young woman was, where she was going, and if the story was true or fictional. Those comments fueled me and encouraged me to write another chapter, then another, until eventually I finished the tale, many moons later. The problem though was, all those blog posts were loose pages needing to be woven together. That was when the real work began.
There are some writers who can bang off a novel in a matter of weeks or months. They are dedicated to their craft and arrive in their chair ready to write their tale. They bleed words onto the page and shine brilliantly at the end of the process. I am apparently not one of them. Not yet anyway.
At the time, I applauded myself for capturing my journey to Africa from beginning to end, but knew that was not the end of it. Those dismembered chapters needed to be pieced together for a start. That still did not make them a book though. Even adding segues didn’t help. A full edit was in order to improve flow. And then I realized I was decidedly lacking in dialogue. Good grief! That required another round of edits from the start. At times, it felt like my rough draft would be stuck in writing purgatory forever!
From Solo to Group Efforts
This time those pages weren’t in a blog and didn’t have readers cheering me on from week to week. Now the journey was solo, and motivation came in fits and spurts, or less. The book languished in fear of never getting the attention it deserved to make it whole. It was time to bring people back in for the journey. Not surprisingly, that really helped.
So, while writing is a solitary journey, it isn’t really. Even as I type this, my writing group is (virtually) clustered around me working away at their own projects. We meet up, build responsibility to ourselves by announcing what we plan to work on, then compare notes at the end of our session to see how we all fared. These stalwart characters encouraged me to write every week and my book moved forward once more.
I needed one more person to convince me it was time to stop editing though. That just so happened to be my new publisher. A friend introduced me to Marcia Allyn Luke and I sent her the first 30 pages of my long-suffering tale of my trip though Africa. She was immediately hooked and wanted more. She convinced me that my words were more than just sentences strung together, that my paragraphs were better than flimsy prose on the page. And this month, she is publishing my travel memoir 25 years after I returned home from Africa!
It didn’t happen overnight, over weeks, months, or even years. I needed time. I needed to practice my craft. And ultimately, I probably needed more maturity to lend a proper tone to the book. I am still afraid of what people will think and if some might be offended or disappointed. It doesn’t matter though. I am finally ready to be brave and present this work to friends, family, fans, and the wider world. Not everyone will love the tale and that’s okay. I know that it has gone through several drafts and the words now own themselves. They need to be told. No more editing.
Beyond the Rough Draft
If you have ever heard me mention my Africa story before, get ready for the chance to finally read it yourself. I spent 10 months travelling through 10 continents across Southern Africa. I met family, made friends, went on safaris, and managed to escape several sometimes treacherous spots. The good news is that I am still here to finally share the tale!
So please join me on launch day — June 24th, 2021. The link to the launch event will be on my Facebook page closer to that date. Plus, you will find the book on Amazon in paperback or kindle format. Since I am supposed to be my biggest cheerleader, I will assure you that you will love it. Hitchhiking, white water rafting, lions, cheetahs, baboons, and people from all over the world—what’s not to love!