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My Writing Journey by Holly LaBarbera

Today I would like to welcome guest writer, Holly LaBarbera. Enjoy!


At forty-six years old, I decided to write a novel. I’d written a few scenes for said novel about a dozen times over the past twenty years, and although I knew these characters, I never had a story to build them around.

A few months before I started officially writing, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and passages got stuck in my head, particularly the idea that when you are blessed with the magic of inspiration, you must not squander it. I also had in mind Anne Lamott’s and Brené Brown’s advice about not being afraid to write a shitty first draft. If I tried to write something, it didn’t have to start out good. That was freeing and empowering, giving me permission to try and to fail.

The next shift came when I bought a Passion Planner. The first step in using it was to “dream big” by making a Passion Roadmap, writing down in a flow-of-consciousness exercise my three-month goals, one-year goals, three-year goals, and lifetime goals. Writing a book had always been a lifetime goal, so that’s where I put in on my roadmap. The thing was, once I saw it written down there, out of my head and on paper, I didn’t want to wait my whole life. I wanted to do it right now.

The final push to starting writing came because my middle son was leaving for college. I was sad and grieving, knowing how much I would miss him. So, to cope with those big emotions, I started to pour them onto the page. I rewrote those scenes I’d written many times before, but this time they started to expand into a story. Supporting characters appeared. A plot emerged. I wrote and wrote, experiencing the “big magic,” the ideas coming from somewhere else—even if that was maybe just the corners of my mind—and finding their way through my fingers and onto the page.

I wrote a shitty first draft and sent it to one of my best friends, who didn’t tell me I was crazy and a terrible writer and should pack it in and never try again. She told me she liked it, which parts and characters resonated, and which didn’t and why. Her encouragement kept me working.

Editing sucks. I’ll just say that right now. I mean, I guess, it’s great when the story gets better, but the process of editing is arduous and tedious. I love the flow of the story coming through me onto the page. The work of molding it and revising it again and again takes discipline and commitment and desire because I don’t find that part fun.

Yet I do it because it must be done. I think this is where a lot of potential writer’s falter, committing to the hard, boring, frustrating work of editing. I think it was Steven King who talked about writing a first draft, then reading it and seeing all the flaws and fixing them, then repeating that process over and over and over. He added that he never necessarily thinks it’s good enough, he just no longer knows how to make it any better, so that’s when he’s done. I can relate.

After the wonder of creative inspiration and the hard work of editing, my next writing lesson was being open to help and support. I started looking for a professional editor and my mom said she had a new friend who was an editor and offered to connect the two of us. At other points in my life I might have said no. I might have had an attitude of “I’ll find someone myself,” combined with “I know what I’m doing, and I don’t need help.” However, I was old enough and wise enough to know that I did not in fact know what I was doing, and I definitely did need help. Mom introduced me to Joy, who absolutely has made me a million times better writer, not only because she’s a great editor—guiding and empowering me to learn and fix things myself while also providing some very specific feedback and guidance, being collaborative and respecting my ultimate choices about the story—but also because she introduced me to a whole community of writers.

She suggested I apply to the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop, which I did. I learned a lot there, but more importantly I met my Squaw Baes, a group of three other talented women who have encouraged me not to give up each time I get a rejection in the mail, who have read my manuscripts and given great feedback, who have become accountability partners in writing goals, who share information on conferences and contests and everything else about writing that I never knew existed. I also met gifted women who live closer to me than my Baes and who invited me into a writing group that has met monthly ever since. More amazing encouragement, guidance, constructive criticism, and accountability.

All of this was essential in my journey to become a writer. First, realizing you can start anytime, at any age, for any reason. All you need is a glimmer of an idea and some courage to start writing it down. Second, you must commit to a long haul of working at it. You can’t give up or stop short of making your story the best it can be. Third, you can’t do it alone. Writing is a solitary process of course. But I know I wouldn’t have finished two books and have a third and fourth in mind if I hadn’t found my tribe and accepted the support they’ve given me. I wouldn’t still be querying agents after sixty-something rejections. I wouldn’t still be hopeful that I will have a published book someday.

Each journey is unique, but this advice is universal. Create, commit, and connect. We can do this!



Holly began her creative writing career a few years ago, with a lightning bolt of inspiration for FIVE DAYS, which she is currently querying. She participated in the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Workshop in 2018 and attended the San Francisco Writers Conference in 2019. Holly is now editing her second novel, ALL I KNOW.


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