Doing Hard Things

Cara Blaine

10/26/20223 min read

As a kid, many things came easily for me. School, for example. I was a little shy, but I could make friends, and academics were rarely challenging - at least before high school and AP classes. Everyone likes doing things they are good at, so I liked school. I loved to write, and became fairly good at writing poetry and short stories early on. But more on that later.

There were definitely things that didn't come easily for me. I really enjoyed drawing, but I wasn't the best at it - at least compared to some talented friends. I still spent some time doing it, until 7th grade, when my middle school art teacher said I should stick with writing as my art form. I didn't try to draw or paint again until I was an adult. (Turns out with some practice and education, I'm decent at it. More importantly, it brings me joy!) I played soccer into middle school, but when it came time to play it in high school, I realized quickly that I wasn't that great at it - again, compared to others - so I quit. Obtaining the skills to be able to keep up with my teammates seemed way too difficult. Drawing and soccer were both things I enjoyed, but once it got hard or I thought I wasn't good enough, that was it, I was done.

But writing. I was always good at writing. As soon as I learned how to write, I began writing stories, and declared I would be a writer when I grew up. Then I grew up, and got scared. I was accepted into excellent schools - with decent grades and superior writing skills. But, when it came down to choosing a major in college, I chose Psychology, with a minor in Creative Writing. By that point I was mainly a poet, and didn't intend to starve, so I sidelined it. Because even the thing I was good at - that was going to be too difficult. It could be a hobby, I assumed.

Then life happened. A social work career for a few years, then having my own children. Then came postpartum depression, as well as other long term health challenges. I barely wrote a line for years and years. I felt like my dream of "being a writer" would never come to pass; it was an opportunity I had missed. I was in my late 20s when I had my two boys. In my mid 30s, I realized that I still had time left. The kids got bigger and less dependent, I improved my health, and realized I could still accomplish goals in my life, if I wanted to put in the work. Just because I hadn't done it at 25, or 30, didn't mean it couldn't be done. I enrolled in a poetry class at a local community college, and started writing again.

I wrote some decent poetry and had a few pieces published. I told myself I would set a goal of publishing a collection of poetry by my 40th birthday. (Spoiler: I turned 40 in May 2022, do not yet have a full collection - but I haven't given up. It's just going to take some more time!) In the mean time, at one point between age 35 and 40, I also sat down intending to write a YA fantasy novel. The kind I would have loved when I was younger; something like so many of the books that had a huge impact on me during those formative years. I wrote about 8 or 10 pages, then I googled the typical amount of words a YA novel has (50-80k, FYI)... and promptly said, no. Nope. That's too many words. I'm a poet. I like expressing myself in a very small amount of words. I can't do this. It was hard and intimidating, and I quit.

Cut to summer of 2022. I had read a ton of fantasy and other fiction throughout the pandemic, as my coping mechanism for escaping the pervasive stress. I had thought a couple times that maybe I should try again to write a novel. I've always been such a total bookworm; writing my own book would be pretty amazing, if I could do it. I also had some feelings about turning 40, with thoughts along the lines of "what have I accomplished?" (Birthing and homeschooling two children didn't seem like enough, somehow... but my kids would probably disagree!)

Scrolling through one of our streaming platforms for TV, I saw a title that intrigued me. I'm not even sure exactly what it was now, but it inspired an idea. I read the show description and didn't end up watching it. But I took my own idea that just the title had inspired, and within a month, I had a first draft of Queen of Broken Dreams. Somewhere along the line, I guess I decided that I could do hard things. (Credit to Angela Duckworth's book Grit for helping with that realization. Talent isn't enough, you also have to put in the work.)

When I finished a second draft and was waiting for feedback from my beta readers, I started a second novel. Neither of the two have been easy. It's not easy to keep all of my timelines straight, or to figure out certain characters, or to be vulnerable and share my first attempts at novel writing with other people. But I have discovered I absolutely love it - and I can do hard things.