Zero moment: that minuscule space in time before you do something that changes you forever.

I’m a writer, and I think of myself as always having been one. But it’s not true.

I have first, foremost and absolutely been a dedicated reader. I’ve got one, two, three or four books open on the nightstand at all times, six queued up in my phone/tablet, and audio books for when I’m walking or flying. Ramon devours CNN, political interview shows, or the finer points of American slang in an action movie; I just want a book.

I revered the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Cherry Creek, and used bookstores like Poor Richard’s in Colorado Springs. I loved Border’s in downtown DC, where I did a lot of my studying for a master’s degree, and ate a lot of cinnamon rolls. The bookstores with armchairs are the best; unless you count the ones with cats, which are even better.

My list of books to read grows in the night, like toadstools, a fecund swamp of titles and recommendations and Best Lists and new stars and heroes still writing. But still: there are some writers whose books I’ll read again and even again, because of the joy therein.

  • Still Life with Woodpecker, Jitterbug Perfume, or Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins
  • Bird by Bird, Traveling Mercies, Plan B and Operating Instructions, Anne Lamott
  • Cien Anos de Soledad, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Possessing the Secret of Joy, Alice Walker
  • Sometimes a Great Notion, or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
  • The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, Jane Wagner
  • The Milagro Beanfield War, John Nichols
  • Certain series: Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, Thursday Next by Jasper Fforde, and El Cementerio de los Libros Olvidados by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I have always written stuff for school and work, and people – authority figures! – said they were Good. So I figured I really could write, and I thought, “You know, I’d like to make people laugh and think and thrill like” [fill in the blank with most recent fave author.] I put pen to paper a few sparse times in my teens and twenties; from house move to house move, I come across those scraps (none longer than a paragraph!) as if digging up a fossil of my earlier self, my familiar pattern but trapped, twisted and screaming in the rock like Han Solo.

It wasn’t till 2005 when I came across National Novel Writing Month that I finally started to write. I decided I’d pen a novel of 50,000 words that November, like the other people were doing. I had a day job, family commitments (November is Thanksgiving month, after all) and a fading resolution to run every day, but I said, Yeah. The first of November approached, and I was overflowing with excitement: I even had an idea in mind for the story. I told all my friends. October couldn’t end soon enough. Once I started, I was sure, I’d Never. Look. Back.

Crucible time, my zero moment. 6:14 a.m. on November 1st. I got up early to get started. Just 1,667 words ahead of me, to start the day off right. My commitment was profound; I was resolute.

But I balked. I sat there at the little desk in the corner of my bedroom, all my tools around me, all my ideas still nestled safely in my head – I could see them, but damned if I could pick one and type it into my computer. 6:21. I clutched, I choked. I decided after less than one minute of this particular brand of discomfort that I could not do it.

6:29. I could not do it. Something in me knew I was not for this writing world, and it shut me down, saving me from future embarrassment and rejection and failure and scorn and loss of my free time and how many thousands spent on pretty journals. I could not do it.

But I’d been dreaming of this! I had ideas! I was ready! How could I stop myself so thoroughly before I had put ONE DAMN WORD on paper? 6:33. Tears were leaking out like escaping essence of confidence. My fingers were still on the keyboard, as if I were at the office, as if I were rapping out a page and a half of boilerplate report text for a client, as if I’d done this all my life. But they wouldn’t move. This was a bad idea, I told myself, and it was time I realized it. I had to stop this. I stared at my fingers like they were my worst enemies, traitors to my word, the word I had given myself. They lied, they obstructed, they… stopped.

6:35. All the preparation. I told everyone. It was the thought of that embarrassment that led me to type one word: Cass. She’d be my protagonist. Then I typed “walked in”. She was entering the place that served as the focus for my idea for this novel: a hot springs place I’d visited as a college student. Cass walked in, she looked around, she saw things, she felt them. It wasn’t long before I had 100 words.

6:55. Cass has a little brother who’s got developmental disabilities. I hadn’t known that twenty minutes ago when I started to type. Her mom works for the International Committee for the Red Cross and travels to humanitarian disasters, leaving the two kids along for long stretches in their trailer in northern New Mexico. That was news to me too. 500 words.

7:15. A few hundred words later, and I had to go to work. But I was begun. I was over the hump, and I was writing.

I became a writer that day. That first novel started and itched and skittered; I moved forward, but once it was begun that ceased to be a surprise. In thirty days I had indeed written 50,000 words, and in later NaNoWriMo months I’d write another three novels. In between, short stories, essays, journals, blog posts, screaming matches from inside my troubled head. My next zero moment is getting a book published. NaNoPubMo?

This post came from a writing prompt in an online class I’m involved with, called the DIY MFA