He looks tired, but he is endlessly wise. His face glows on the screen in front of me. I’m Skyping with my writing mentor.
“What is the long-term goal here?” he asks. “What’s the thing you’re most passionate about?”
There is not a second of hesitation before I answer. “Books.”
“Good,” he says. “Now tell me, in your fifteen-year career as a writer, how many have you written?”
“The novel,” I mutter. “It’s taken six years to write.”
“Has it?” He sits back on his chair and smiles. “Were you working on it every day for six years?”
Sam, my husband, is on the sofa watching something on his iPad. In two days, we are headed to France with friends for a lazy summer holiday. I motion for him to take his earphones out and tell him about my crazy plan to write dozens of books on freelancing that cover every aspect of the work I’ve done for the last fifteen years, showing others how they can do it too.
I’ve written hundreds of blog posts, recorded hundreds of videos, answered thousands of questions. I’ve got enough material to last me a lifetime. It’s all there. I just need to organize it, put it together coherently into a series of books. Add to it, rewrite it, polish it, make it something that shows other freelancers how to make it work, too.
“I have ideas for 90 books,” I say. “As I write, I’ll either get more ideas and add more books to the project or realize that I don’t really need that many. I can shift things as I move along. But for now, the number is 90. And I think I should do it in 3-6 months.”
I expect him to tell me I’ve finally lost it.
“It’s a fantastic idea,” he says instead. “You should do it. Can you wait after we’re back from holiday to start, though?”
My British visa is up for renewal. The Home Office no longer considers valid the documents on the basis of which I was allowed to enter this country and so I maniacally run around in an attempt to prove that I do, indeed, meet all the requirements. I’m asked to unearth documents that neither my British husband’s family nor mine have had to use for decades.
On an Internet forum, someone talks about the 800 pages of documents they had to submit. There is no reason your British husband and you can’t set up a life in your own home country, another immigrant is told, even though her British husband’s children from a previous marriage are here. I wonder if I’m in line for the same rejection letter. Another, who’s been waiting for a decision since April, tells me to cancel my travel plans for next year. “Can’t leave until you have a decision and then perhaps leave forever?” he jokes. It’s less funny when my five-year-old’s life is involved.
The paperwork takes weeks to put together. I’m required to pass a basic English test. I sit in a small room with a middle-aged English woman. “Can you place this pen next to your passport?” she says. I do. “Now on top of the passport.” I do that, too.
She points to a picture of three girls swimming. “Are they running?” she says. “No, they’re swimming,” I reply.
I’m stressed beyond belief. I research schools for my son in Delhi, which is back to where I fear we’re headed.
In the days when I’m not running around trying to create a plan B for my life, whilst also doing everything I can to make sure plan A works out, I sometimes write.
I’m now weeks, if not months, behind on my 90 Books Challenge.
Life throws random shit at you when you commit to a big project. The Brits call it Sod’s law.
It will not go to plan.
It never goes to plan.
I know this. I have lived this. Yet, when it happens again, I am always surprised by this.
Sam and I are in bed watching Netflix. “I should have completed at least 30 books by now, per my schedule,” I say.
“How many have you done so far?” he asks.
“Eight are done and ready for publication. Seven more are almost there.”
“You’ve finished eight books in two months.”
Those words, without the context, without the expectation, without the 90 Books challenge. I just take in those words without any judgement.
I have finished eight books in two months.
That’s more books than I wrote in fifteen years of being a full-time writer.
And it finally makes sense, what my father always taught me: Set a target so high that even if you fail, you’ve succeeded.
The point is not success. The point is not failure. The point is that you do.
I’m doing the 90 books, not for success, not because I don’t want failure, but because I want to. I want to DO.
I’ve set a target so high that even if fail, I’ve already succeeded.
I’ve succeeded because there is work I want to do and I’m doing it.
The next time my writing mentor asks how many books I’ve written in my fifteen-year writing career, I don’t want to mutter an incoherent answer.
I want to tell him proudly that I’m passionate about writing books. And that I’m writing them.