My First Year as a Published Writer: Thoughts & Reflections on Dreams vs. Reality
A powerful dream
My earliest memory is telling people I wanted to be writer.
All through my childhood I read avidly and wrote stories, poems, even a terrible novel or two. I read literature at two universities in Britain and Canada, and never for a moment doubted what I was born to do.
And on October 1st 2016, my dream came true: I published my first novel “The Woman Behind the Waterfall.” I was 38 years old.
Why had it taken me so long?
Life is never a straight line, however shiny your dreams are. And the older you get, the less straight the line becomes. By the time I finished university, I was living in New York, working for the United Nations and then a law firm, married, then pregnant, and then moving to Ukraine. For the first time in my 20 years, life was far, far more exciting than the books I loved to read. And so I forgot entirely about writing, and jumped wholeheartedly into the business of living a whirlwind, stimulating life. This excitement lasted throughout my 20s, and it was only when I celebrated my 30th birthday – the perfect opportunity for reflection and evaluation of goals – that I remembered about the dream I was meant to be fulfilling.
At that point, I was living in Ukraine, speaking Russian (and Ukrainian), running a business I had founded, with two children and a very exciting life. But it was time to start doing what I had been born to do: write novels.
Over the next seven years, I left the business I had founded, passing on my job of CEO to a co-founder and friend, moved in part to Barcelona – the most creative city I know – and wrote my first novel “The Woman Behind the Waterfall.” It was during the process of writing it that I realized how valuable the experiences I had gained over the last 10 years were to my writing dreams. I had gained a lifetime’s worth of adventures. Now I had all the material I needed to spend the rest of my life developing my skills as a writer, and fulfilling my dream.
The First Novel
“The Woman Behind the Waterfall” is a literary fiction novel filled with magical realism. It is set in a village in Ukraine and is about 3 generations of women, and their search for happiness. It is not a commercial novel, it is intended to be something different, beautiful, strange, challenging and provocative. It is meant to appeal to readers (as I had been) who love something new and eclectic and brave and raw. Something where you can feel the emotion of the writer and the pain of creation.
So, you can imagine, not many publishers jumped at the chance to publish something strange, beautiful, and not-very-commercial by a debut author.
However, I had an agent who loved the book and valiantly tried to sell it. After a year, she hadn’t found a publisher, and I had read enough about self-publishing to decide to release my novel into the world myself.
The road to publishing
It was a hard journey learning about all the different aspects of independent publishing. Cover design, structural editing, copy edition, proofreading, typesetting, distribution channels, a launch strategy, a sales plan, and so much more. Luckily, my skills as an entrepreneur came in handy as I was used to having to deal with multiple issues of different kinds and finding solutions. But it was a lot of hard work.
“The Woman Behind the Waterfall” was launched in October 2016 in a London bookshop. I was surrounded by friends and family who had shared my dream and who had come to celebrate the day it came true. My oldest friend wrote a Facebook post entitled “Dreams can come true – now I believe anything can happen,” and wrote about my story. It was one of the most incredible days of my life. I truly felt that every minute of my existence had been leading up to this moment – looking out at the group of people who had shared my life and believed in me. I will never forget this.
The childhood dream
My childhood dream took 38 years to come true.
If I could condense those 38 years into a nutshell, I would say there were 20 years of reading and scribbling, 10 years of life experience, and 8 years of learning to write a novel. I would say, with retrospect, that this is a solid formula. And now I have the next 38+ years of writing novels that (hopefully) get better and better.
Lessons from fulfilling a lifelong dream
Here are some things I have learned about dreams:
• Dreams are never fulfilled in a straight line.
• True dreams will never disappear from your heart (even though I forgot about my dream for 10 years, when I returned to it, it burned as fiercely as ever).
• Dreams will rarely come true exactly as you imagined they would. Most often, they will be better and more suited to your particular life (when you dream as a child, you often base your dreams on what you see other people have accomplished. You do not yet know what you are capable of accomplishing).
• Dreams coming true are the most incredible feeling you will ever experience (for this feeling goes to the very depths of your soul and your heart, which has nurtured them for year after year).
• Dreams make you generous (the intense and deep joy of your own dream being fulfilled makes you passionately want to help other people with their own dreams).
It has been a year since the publication of “The Woman Behind the Waterfall”. In that year, I have received wonderful reviews, been stocked in dozens of bookshops, made friends with writers, editors, publishers and many more people from the book world, and learned an enormous amount about independent publishing and the publishing industry.
While fulfilling my dream was incredible, it was also merely the first step on the path of a brand-new career – one that will challenge and amaze me for the rest of my life. From now, I can truly say that I am happy, and that I have done what I was born to do.
If any of you have a dream – especially if it is a dream to create – then know that it is possible. Keep believing. Keep working. It will come true.
Leonora Meriel is the author of “The Woman Behind the Waterfall” (published October 2016, Granite Cloud), called “an intoxicating world” by Kirkus Reviews; “a timeless and universal novel” by Goodreads reviewers, “a strange and beautiful novel” by writer Esther Freud. Her second novel “The Unity Game” (published May 2017) was called “an ambitious and thought-provoking” by Kirkus Reviews.