Community & Current Events

A year of firsts: Kate Hilton

By: Canadian Living

Author: Canadian Living

Community & Current Events

A year of firsts: Kate Hilton

By: Canadian Living

As my 40th birthday loomed, I found myself juggling a full-time job, kids, marriage and a host of volunteer commitments. My life was wonderful and rich, yet I felt a nagging sense that something was missing. It showed. "You look stressed," people would tell me. "You look tired."

I started to notice that many of my female friends were taking on ambitious self-improvement projects: training for marathons, learning new languages, starting businesses. Their willingness to reimagine themselves and their own possibilities was contagious. "What have I always wanted to do?" I asked myself. "Who have I always wanted to be?"  

I already knew the answer: I wanted to be a writer.  

But how? My schedule was packed with obligations. So I started slowly, scribbling ideas in a little pink notebook that I carried around in my purse. I wrote ideas down on the subway on my way home from work and in front of the TV after the kids went to bed. Soon, my notebook was bursting with ideas. At that point, it was clear I needed some uninterrupted time if I wanted to write an entire novel.  

I told my family I wanted their support, that this was very important to me. My husband gave me a laptop for Christmas and encouraged me to hire a babysitter for Sunday afternoons. I guarded that time ruthlessly, and for the most part my kids respected it. I shut myself in a room with my computer and refused to be distracted by the laundry pile or the grocery list or the sounds of kids squabbling. It took a lot of discipline. Sometimes I was tired, or uninspired, but I didn't have the luxury of waiting for the muse to descend. Every Sunday afternoon, for three hours, I wrote.

Eighteen months later, I had a first draft. With shaking hands, I gave it to a few trusted friends. The two weeks it took for them to read it felt like months. But when the verdict came, it was worth the wait. "You can write," they told me. "Keep going."  

I produced a second draft and gave it to more friends. My hands still shook, but it was easier now. The book was better, and the reaction was overwhelming. Friends called to say they were dreaming about my characters, that certain scenes made them laugh out loud.  

It was the validation I needed. I reduced my work week to four days and dedicated Friday afternoons to writing. I hired a professional editor to give me some guidance, and a year later I had a final draft, one that felt ready for publication.

I selected 17 agents I thought might be interested and sent them pitch letters. Most of them never wrote back. Several sent polite rejection letters. Two requested the full manuscript, which was thrilling, but their enthusiasm turned out to be short-lived. I was terribly discouraged and began to doubt whether I had any writing talent at all. I no longer felt I could trust my own instincts or those of my friends. I put my manuscript in a drawer and gave it up for dead.

Then, on my 41st birthday, I pulled it out again and read it with fresh eyes. To my surprise, I still loved it. It felt fresh and funny, and I knew it could find an audience. But this time, I would take matters into my own hands and self-publish. (I used Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing. The uploading instructions are clear and it has reams of information online.)

The Hole in the Middle is about an overburdened working mom, so I decided to time the launch for Mother's Day. I planned an extensive social media campaign, and it exceeded my wildest expectations. Within a month, my book was downloaded more than 13,000 times. It caught the attention of Toronto agent Beverley Slopen, and within a week of signing with her, I had a book deal with HarperCollins. The Hole in the Middle is now in bookstores. My boys can hardly believe I wrote a real book, and some days, neither can I.

"You glow when you talk about your book," people tell me now. "You look so much lighter." Fear of failure was a terrible weight that prevented me from pursuing writing earlier in my life. Now that fear has been replaced with wonder, gratitude and anticipation. I'm writing my own story, and I can't wait to see what happens next.

Read more inspiring stories about Canadians embracing a year of firsts.
                                               
This story was originally titled "A Year of Firsts" in the January 2014 issue.
           
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A year of firsts: Kate Hilton

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