I’m writing a book

An inside look at writing a book, from a first-time writer. // by Michelle Hickey Design

May 7, 2020

I’m Michelle.
A modern maker with a classic approach to design. Ever in search
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I’ve dreamed about writing a book for years. In this post, you’ll hear what I’m doing to make it happen.

An inside look at writing a book, from a first-time writer. // by Michelle Hickey Design

I’m writing a book.

It has taken me nearly a year to get comfortable typing those four words. I first broke the news that I was taking on this new endeavor late last summer, in Episode 36 of A Podcast for Creatives. As you can see in this clip, I can barely get the statement out, and quickly go on to redirect the conversation.

Since then, I’ve been working on overcoming imposter syndrome and showing up to do the work, while trying to figure out how this part of my personal creative journey fits into this brand. I still don’t have it figured out, but I thought that maybe if I started talking about it, the answers would eventually show up. Oddly enough, this has been my approach to writing, and it’s working out pretty well so far.

While I haven’t made an official statement, those of you who follow me on Instagram have seen me talk about writing a lot. The positive feedback has meant the world to me. If you’re one of those people, thank you. I’ve also received a lot of questions slide into my DMs, so I thought that now might be an appropriate time to answer them, all in one place.

What kind of book is it?

It would make sense for me to write about something like design, or entrepreneurship, or introversion, right? I thought so too.

That’s not what this book is. It’s a fictional story. I am in no way qualified to write a novel. Yet here I am.

What is it about?

At the beginning of the book, you’ll meet a young woman who is forced to decline her acceptance to Yale University, when her family faces an unexpected financial situation. The story is about the year she spends at her safety school, while she obsessively works to secure a transfer to Yale, where she (thinks she) belongs.

Along the way, she faces the challenges of an average college freshman: being away from home, making friends, boy problems, and annoying professors, with the addition of navigating a major national crisis: the 9/11 attacks that occur two weeks into the school year.

It’s part rom-com, part coming of age, with a lot of snappy dialogue and some old-school AOL Instant Messenger convos mixed in.

Is it autobiographical?

No, with an asterisk. I moved away from home and started college in late August 2001. Two weeks later, our country turned upside down. I’ve stayed fascinated by the way these two timelines converged and always felt like it would make for a compelling story.

The book is not a personal account of my freshman year, but many of my emotions and memories are certainly woven into the narrative.

I’ve read that authors inevitably spill their psyche into the pages of their books— a fact that is becoming apparent to me. It wasn’t my plan, but there are definitely underlying themes (and perhaps an agenda) that harken back to many of the topics that you’ve seen me write about on this blog, including creativity, overcoming judgment, and defining your own happiness. 

When will it be published?

At the time that I’m writing this post, I’m about halfway done with the story, and I’m on track to finish the first draft around the beginning of summer, mid-to-late June. After that comes re-writing, and editing that I suspect will take me to the end of the year (2020). Depending on whether I choose to self-publish, traditionally publish, or take the hybrid route, it could be anywhere from six months to three years after that before we’ll see it in print.

How will it be published?

I’m not sure yet. Right now, I’m trying to stay focused on the writing part. However, there’s a fact that I can’t ignore: the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks will take place next year in 2021! Part of me leans toward self-publishing or hybrid-publishing routes (at least to start) so that the release can coincide.

What has been the most enjoyable part of writing?

I’ve loved so many parts of this process so far. Writing is a fantastic activity for introverts because it feels peaceful, and everyone has to be quiet and leave you alone while you work. Work, that feels so much more like play.

Writing dialogue and developing characters have also been greatly enjoyable. A couple of years ago, my friend Laura Foote led a group of us creatives through the Strengths Finder assessment, and I discovered that my highest rated strength was “individualization”. People with this strength are particularly intrigued by the unique qualities found in each person. This fact has felt like such a gift in the character development process. I could write character profiles all day.

What have you found to be most challenging?

Overcoming imposter syndrome. I have no formal training in writing unless you count high school English and one college writing course. Yet, I teach that we should follow our dreams, no matter how outlandish they are, so now I’m eating my words, or rather, writing them.

I’ve also found it very difficult to write conflict, an essential ingredient for any story. By nature, I’m very non-confrontational. The fight scenes are hard. Oddly enough, the love scenes are equally as uncomfortable. Even though I’m the one writing the words, there’s a strange voyeuristic feeling that keeps popping up, and I feel like maybe I should just step away and let the characters do their thing without me getting involved.

I keep thinking of the line that Fred Savage’s character asks at the beginning of The Princess Bride. “Is this a kissing book?” Yes, there will be kissing, but so far, it doesn’t warrant more than a PG-13 rating.

What has helped you get more comfortable with writing? Are there any resources you’d recommend?

Nothing has helped me more than showing up every day. If you don’t follow me on Instagram, here’s where you can take a peek at my daily documentation. You’ll see all of the ups and downs that culminate into a general win overall.

Here are a few of the other things that have helped:

These three books:

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott

Save the Cat writes a Novel, by Jessica Brody

On Writing, by Stephen King

These podcasts:

The Beautiful Writer’s Podcast

The Writers’ Panel (More suited for tv writers, but I imagine that I’ll eventually want to adapt this novel into a tv series. Did I say that out loud? ????), a quarantine-inspired series cultivated by Amy Cuddy

I’ve watched a few sessions on from an array of writers, including Judy Blume and Malcolm Gladwell. 

I’ve used the Nanowrimo site to track my word counts each day, and it’s been encouraging to see the progress. They also have great pep talks that I often read before my writing sessions.

Additionally, talking about writing has helped me get more comfortable with the idea of calling myself a writer. I’m grateful for the session I booked with Christine from Asterism + Co, that gave me a primer on publishing, so I could stop wondering what to expect. My sister and I also had the opportunity to do a virtual writer’s chat with our uncle, who is a professional writer, and film + tv studies professor.

He gave us the most wonderful piece of advice: “Be unafraid to be bad.”

Nobody comes out of the womb, quill in hand, positioned to craft a masterpiece. It’s a process. And allowing yourself to write crap is an integral part of that transformation. I plan to keep writing poorly so that eventually, I’ll have something that I can go back and make beautiful. 

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  1. Gaaah! This excites me SO much! And I loved learning some new things: like the fact that writing runs in the family (your uncle sounds like a wise man). I cannot wait to dive into this tale and get to know these characters and their stories that you are bringing to life. No doubt I will find intersections of my own story in it (as is the way with stories)…but especially in light of my own college experience and being a freshman that fall of 2001 right along with you and your leading lady. So proud of you for taking this glorious leap into writing your first novel!

    • Michelle says:

      Best comment ever. Thank you so much for your enthusiasm for my latest project. I think that anyone who started college in 2001 will particularly connect with this story and I’m so glad that you are one of them. Always grateful for you!


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