One major lesson I learned in writing Private Lessons was that in order to finish it, I had to answer the questions I most avoided. Holes in characters, holes in plot, holes in setting – everything had to be answered.
What I realized was that the initial failure was not due to the quality of the work, or a misjudgment of style. Books either have their time and their niche or they don’t. Writers must stick to their gut feeling. Write from the heart, not with an eye on the market.
I really don’t think I’ve ever had a breakthrough moment, where I thought I’d arrived. I’m still learning, trying new genres, looking at new ways to write. I guess in a way, I hope I never have a breakthrough moment, because I don’t want to ever stop learning something new.
The result is the final version of Girls Need Not Apply, a book that looks at sexism, lack of belonging, and mental health issues in the armed forces. The reception so far has sparked conversation amongst other female veterans, but also men who have bought the book and said they want to be part of change. That’s what the book is all about: change.
I started one story, and then another, putting each one into the drawer about a hundred pages in and feeling like a failure. It took me years to realize that I needed to give myself permission to write badly and push through to the end of a draft. The real magic happens in revision.