Notes From a Desk (1)

PhotobucketI’m in one of those weird in-between places with my writing. After a roller coaster ride involving the loss of an imprint and three editors, and a dark-moment-of-the-writerly-soul retooling of a premise, I’m able to take a breath. I’ve turned in line edits and now I’ll wait to hear back about copy edits, and etc…

I’ve been fretting over this story since 2008. Now, I feel a bit like a bear coming out of hibernation. Blinking at the light. A little hungry, a little grumbly and disoriented and restless.

What should I do? I ask myself every morning, re-assimilating to not having to work on a manuscript. I can go to the grocery store. Exercise. Play games with my kids. Bake brownies. Exercise some more. Consider, for the 207th time, becoming a banker.

Most recently, I faced my desk. It was thick with the evidence of battle, strewn mostly with stacks of old printouts of my manuscript. I examined the stacks, deciding what I needed to keep, what I wanted to keep, and what I absolutely had to toss. (Retaining seven versions of a story is somewhat depressing, as I see it only as more evidence that I am so not a natural at this.)

Then I look at the notes. And I don’t have the heart to remove a single one of them.

After my dad died–at the far-too-young age of 56–my 16-year-old sister began taping notes all around her desk at our family’s home. She wanted to finish school, and she was struggling mightily. “You can do it!” “You are stronger than you think!” (And the like.) It was a show of her strength but also of her demons–a need for her strongest self to argue against all of the other parts, and hopefully be enough to shut those parts up so that she might succeed. I always felt vaguely uncomfortable faced with her notes, and half-turned away from them whenever I was near. They were just so real and raw.

After my debut sold in 2008, when I became petrified about writing a second book–the downside for me of a generous two-book deal–I too turned to notes. In the next few posts, I’d like to share them with you, let you in on the daily struggle I felt over this manuscript. These notes saved me, in a way, and maybe you’ll see something in them for you too. Or maybe you’ll want to half-turn away; that’s okay. At the very least, you may better understand my “I wish I were a banker” jokes.

In later posts, I’ll talk about one note at a time–what it meant to me, how it helped me to push on. But for now I want to close by sharing a single note that should need no explanation.


Write on!


About Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed in 2006. Her second novel, The Moon Sisters, was named a Best Book of 2014 by Library Journal and BookRiot. Her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, sold to Random House in a two-book deal in 2008, was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books, and was a Target Breakout Book. She's never been published with a lit magazine, but LOST's Carlton Cuse liked her Twitter haiku best and that made her pretty happy.


  1. Jeanne Kisacky says

    Beautiful post, Therese. The note is perfect–doubt is one of the most insidious tortures for creative souls. I’m so glad you are in a better place, notes and all.

  2. says

    Thank you Mama Therese. I will do just that. Your words and experience help me to believe in myself.

    For the record, you might not be natural at it, but you definitely can hook a person with the written word. Your post sounds like a scene from a novel. Every paragraph had tension in it and I just wanted to keep reading. (Where’s the rest?)

    Ah crap!

    See that.

    Now I’m late for work Therese. :O)
    Time flies when you’re enjoying a good read.
    Brian B. King´s last blog post ..I’d rather change a baby’s poopy diaper,

  3. says

    This great post made me look around my own desk and office area and really see again the notes and objects that keep me going, that inspire me. I think sometimes they start to blend in and become like wallpaper. Thanks for the reminder! :)
    Madeline Mora-Summonte´s last blog post ..Motivational Monday

  4. says

    I think what struck me in this piece was your parenthetical statement about not feeling like a natural at this (writing). I thought really? A published author struggles with those feelings? I know all writers wrestle with the process but that’s the first time I’ve heard someone name the exact feeling I have chewed on. Best to you as you regroup and refocus.
    julie luek´s last blog post ..Meet Authors Kym O’Connell-Todd and Mark Todd

    • says

      I’m glad others can take solace in knowing their experience isn’t so different from that of a published writer–at least not this published writer. Thanks for your comment, Julie!

  5. says

    Thank you, Therese. Each time an established writer confesses they struggle, I sigh and wipe an imaginary bead of sweat from my brow. We assume the process is easy for a writer who’s actually published volumes of beautiful words, who consistently shows their command over story and language. We novices think the daily grind to string eloquent words into something meaningful is only a challenge because we have no idea what we’re doing.

    It’s nice not to feel alone.

    I have similar notes posted around my office. I must finish this up so I can stop doubting myself and get to work.
    Kerry Ann @Vinobaby’s Voice´s last blog post ..Review: Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

  6. says

    I totally understand leaving the notes. They are hard-won battle trophies. I finally packed away a lot of stuff from the writing of the trilogy that cluttered my desk for YEARS. But I still pull it all out occasionally, as I did yesterday. Plus there’s the new notes. Today there are five for a blog post I am planning (that is not coming together at all).

    My only question is why the bank? You have to speak softly, they only play muzak, if anything. Let’s go work for the post office! We can wear earbuds, drive a truck with the door open, and, oh, the uniform choices! So glad to see you back here, and to hear there’s going to be MORE! Looking forward to future posts, and the book!
    Vaughn Roycroft´s last blog post ..A Sonic Summoning of the Muse

    • says

      You’re right, they are just like “hard-won battle trophies,” V. Or maybe battle scars?

      You will probably be sick of me and my notes by the time I’m finished with this series, but thank you!

      As for the postal worker idea… Dogs. Big, slobbering, biting dogs.

  7. Jayne says

    Great post. And thank you for being so generous to reveal that you, even with two books in your column, haven’t crossed the hurdle into lit mags. That’s very encouraging for me. Rejections or just never hearing = lots of doubt.

  8. says

    I love the bear coming out of hibernation analogy; it’s perfect.

    And the notes. It reminds me of my English/Women’s Studies undergrad degree twenty years ago. I too taped notes around my desk. They said things like, “The feminist theory paper is only worth 0.004% of your entire degree.” (And yes, the math was correct..).

    I also enacted something I still call my hit-by-a-bus theory, which was my way of saying just get a draft down, even if it’s crap. Then, if I get hit by a bus, I still have something to submit. I still use this now, except in writing and in deadlines for work.

    Thanks for the great post and the walk down memory lane!
    Leanne Shirtliffe (Ironic Mom)´s last blog post ..When Grammar Lessons Go Sideways

    • says

      Great comment, Leanne. Thanks for sharing your putting-it-all-into-perspective memory from English/Women’s Studies. And I love this bus theory. Whatever works to inspire!

  9. says

    Fantastic post, Therese. I think a few of those notes might have been handy through my own revision process. I look forward to seeing the rest.

    A bank? No, I can’t picture you there. Just remember that you have all sorts of folks who believe in you, even on those days you don’t believe in yourself.

    I can’t wait to get my hands on your new book.
    Kim Bullock´s last blog post ..Calling Me Home: Kim

  10. Denise Willson says

    Sincerely, Therese, thank you for baring your soul. It makes each and every one of us know we are not alone.

    Oh, and here’s the note, from Margaret Atwood no less, that kicks my butt into gear…

    “You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.”

    Great, huh?

    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth

  11. says

    It’s okay, Therese. We get it. I’ve an inspiration board–yes, I need a whole board–to the right of my desk. Row three, column two: Banish doubt. I think it’s a myth that anyone is a “natural.”
    Lorrie Thomson´s last blog post ..Hello world!

  12. says

    I love every word of the note on your desk, Therese, but my favorite word is “Today.” I’ve found that concentrating on the present moment–instead of regretting the past or worrying about the future–removes 99.9% of the doubt.

    Thank you for reminding us to think about the task of the moment!
    Kate Klein´s last blog post ..Sweet and hot: almond cayenne biscotti

    • says

      Kate, yes, that is key, and I’m so glad you noted this. Today. Write those pages. Today. Do not give in to the dark stuff. Just put your head down. It’s only for a day.

      Then do it again tomorrow.

  13. says

    Therese, I love the fact that you have gotten over the bump and aren’t letting things hold you back. I usually print off inspiring posts (like this one) and tape them up in my office as a reminder that I am not alone in this writing community. As a friend of mind recently said to me…roll on words, roll on! ;~)

    Donna L Martin
    Donna L Martin´s last blog post ..It’s That Time Again…Calling All Authors!

  14. says

    From what you’ve said about your process, ours sound virtually identical, which gives great hope to this today-feeling-permanently-unpublishable writer. You make it appear effortless, Therese.

    My notes are in two piles beside my desk right now. I designate weekly time to put them into virtual folders because I work better in clear space. One trick I’ve done on occasion, to keep the gestalt of the note without real-life storage? Take a photo of them.
    Jan O’Hara´s last blog post ..It’s Only Paranoia if the Buddhists Aren’t Out to Get You

    • says

      “You make it appear effortless, Therese.”

      If this is true, then I am a big Appearance Fraud, trust me.

      I do better in a clear space, too, yet I am constantly creating a mess around me. Freud would have a field day, I’m telling you.

  15. says

    The vulnerability in this post is beautiful and inspiring. God bless your sister’s 16 year old self. I’m so sorry for your loss, and wish you huge success with your second book, (and third, and so on, and so on).

  16. says

    Sometimes the only thing left for me to do is get out of my own way. It’s amazing how much control I give to the inner thoughts that come unbidden. Small notes meant to inspire, up-lifting words from friends–bits and pieces of emotional support–are the road maps back to my dreams.

    Great post, Therese. I’m glad you keep at it, you have a poetic gift for shaping words into imagery that resonates.
    ddfalvo´s last blog post ..KILLIAN

  17. says

    I think quotes and notes are a part of all of us. I have been a collector for quite some time. Yours is a new one, and will be added to the ones I turn to when I need to hear it from someone else.
    Jon Jefferson´s last blog post ..The Morning After

  18. Ronda Pauley says

    What a poignant lesson. Yes, your post will help others. If writing were easy, everyone would be doing it. You can, you do, and you will meet success!

  19. says

    This was a bit of tear-jerker for me! Beautiful post. I had no idea your road was as long and hard as it was. ((Hugs))

    The doubt has to be the worst part of being a writer. We measure our talents by what others say about us, our work–isn’t that the same thing? It makes those sparkling, brief moments of elation and confidence that much more stunning. There’s no question you’ll follow your heart and get back on that horse! Bankers, pssshawww.

    Now, fill the creative well and get plotting! ;)
    Heather Webb´s last blog post ..Where’s the Love? Blog Hop

    • says

      “The doubt has to be the worst part of being a writer.”

      If you can figure out how to manage it, how to shut it down, then that is a huge battle won. I’m convinced of it.

      Thank you, Heather!

  20. Carmel says

    “I am so not a natural at this” and “seven versions of a story” come from hard places, but they were such an encouragement to me! Thank you for being honest.

  21. says

    If one of the purposes of WU is to help us feel we’re not alone, reading about your ups and downs and your desk made my heart so happy. Not because you had to go through such ups and downs and fears, but because I’m not the only one who considers becoming a banker! Well, that requires math, so never a banker, but…. Thank you so much for sharing this! I have a fortune cookie note taped above my screen that says “Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.” Exercise and brownies and kids sounds like a good way to spend your in-between time. Enjoy it!

    • says

      I’m glad that you know you are not alone, Carleen. Absolutely not.

      Maybe we need to be bakers instead of bankers. That has serious potential, don’t you think?

  22. Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says

    Beautiful. The post and you. I am taking your first note and pinning it on my bulletin board. It is a much needed motto. Thank you, for all you do to light the way.

  23. says

    Thanks so much for the shot of inspiration, Therese!

    Sometimes, I think pre-published writers believe it’s all smooth sailing after the first book deal, so it’s so valuable to read evidence that the doubts remain, the struggles remain, but the true heart and soul of the process lives in all of us: “don’t doubt; just work.”

    So true, and so timely! Thank you again.

  24. says

    Love, love, love the idea for this series. Thank you! Got my first YA editor’s rejection this morning, and I need to post a “Don’t doubt; work” on several surfaces in my home.

    Thank you.

    As for being a banker, is that because they have those little butterscotch hard candies at each little station? Because too many of those, and you’ll get canker sores.

    Sarah Callender´s last blog post ..Scary

    • says

      Hugs on the R, Sarah. Someone had better get with it and pub your book already, because I am dying to get my hands on it. Seriously!

      As for those candies, I like the strawberry kind with the goosh in the center. Myum.

  25. says

    great post, as usual, and great sticky note. I interviewed for a part-time nonprofit gig this morning. I have thrown in the towel on climbing farther up the ladder for my old career, because now that I am on my second draft of my first novel, I am sure this writing life is what I want. But a little work that inspires me and pays in the interim is just what I need.

    You were one of the first published authors who encouraged me. Knowing you still have some trying moments as a novelist and are willing to share that info with all of us actually makes me admire you even more.

    I didn’t realize you had lost your father. Mine passed away two years ago and I still miss him dearly. I’m am becoming awfully sure that not even death can break our connections with those we love. I’m sure yours is so very proud of your writing and mentoring.
    Cerrissa Kim´s last blog post two

    • says

      Cerrissa, this note really touched me. I’m so sorry for your loss, which is so recent compared to mine. And you are right about death not breaking connections. It’s been fifteen years since my father died, and you know, I can still remember the last time I hugged him. I really can. Hold tight to your memories; no one can take them from you. And write, write, write all of that out to preserve it, too. That’s what I do. Two books down, both with death themes central to the story; I wonder why. Sending you encouraging vibes, and gratitude for all you’ve said here.

  26. Patricia Grayson says

    Your desk and mine – Scotch tape and little waving flags, like a curtain of confetti.
    Smile of recognition.

  27. TR Edwards says

    Reading this post and all the wonderful comments, lead me to move aside that flat monitor I got last year and rediscovered my little pin-up board. I had all but forgotten some of these words of wisdom.

    We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit. -ARISTOTLE

    Diligence is the mother of good luck. -BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

    Anything I’ve ever done that ultimately was worthwhile… initally scared me to death. -BETTY BENDER

    Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence. -HELEN KELLER

    If nothing changed, there’d be no butterflies. -I HAVE NO IDEA

    And as for my characters and the ones I have found in other’s works:

    If you walk in the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew. -POCAHONTAS

    So keep walking in those footsteps to find the magic I never knew could existed.

    I think that board needs a new home and some more additions.

    Don’t doubt, just work. -THERESE WALSH

    • says

      Thanks for sharing, TR. I love all of these, but especially this: “Anything I’ve ever done that ultimately was worthwhile… initally scared me to death. -BETTY BENDER”

      Write on!

  28. says

    Therese, first of all, congratulations on the completion of your manuscript, Hooray! But I know it’s a bittersweet kind of joy. For me, coming to the end of writing a book is very much like coming to the end of reading a book. You can’t believe you have to move on with your life without your characters and your friends. The ones you’ve invested so much in or the one’s you cheered for and cried for and celebrated with or even feared. Puff…(or is it poof?) they are part of yesterday. Hold onto the profound impact they’ve made on you and celebrate that. Then… in a short while or maybe longer, you’ll meet someone who’ll get you thinking about a character for your next project!
    Eva Lesko Natiello´s last blog post ..Fashion Designers Microbe-Manage NY Fashion Week

  29. says

    This is so beautiful, Therese. I, too, have notes all over my desk and I can understand why they’d be bittersweet–they help us hang in there but are also reminders of our most difficult moments.

    I can’t wait to read your next notes. I thought the one shared here was so powerful in its simplicity.
    Natalia Sylvester´s last blog post ..Why Writing Requires Trust

  30. says

    Therese, I love this post.
    I began my project in 2010 and just recently pulled out all my previous versions of my manuscript and reviewed and discarded as many as I had the heart to shred. I still have 5 left.
    I was surprised at how attached I had become to them. Some days I wonder what am I doing? Why did I start this? And then I re-read some part of it that brings me to tears again and I know that I have no choice because it is personal. That I have something to share even though there are days when it is scary to put so much of myself out there.

    Stick with it.

    As soon as I get to the next break I will read your first book!

    Good luck.

  31. says

    I love the honesty, and the note. I can spend a lot of time on doubt, so this definitely resonates with me. I’m sorry the last few years have been such a rollercoaster. I’m glad that you are seeing the end, and I’m VERY much looking forward to your new book. I still have scenes from The Last Will locked in my imagination, and I read it several years ago. I think your next sticky note should read, “I am a kickass writer, and I won’t forget it. Ever.”
    Lisa Ahn´s last blog post ..Wing-Feather Fables: Naiad Dreams

    • says

      Steven, I still struggle with it, to be honest. If you can, give yourself permission to experiment. Open a new file, tell yourself it’s just to play, and then write. Many of my novel’s scenes came about like that. Writing first thing in the morning or later in the evening when your analytical mind is a little slow might help too. Wishing you the best.