Don’t Let Someone Else Write Your Novel 

I held the idea in my pocket too long. For at least two decades, I had grand dreams of writing a biography that no one else had attempted.

I intended to write the definitive account of the life of Thomas Meagher – Irish nationalist, escapee from an Australian penal colony, Union Army general in the American Civil War, first territorial governor of Montana, and possible murder victim on a steamboat.

If Meagher’s story was told in a movie, it would seem too fantastical. But if done right, a written biography would be a big talker in bookstores. With a fast-paced but detailed recounting of Meagher’s accomplishments – overlaying historical strife in Ireland and America – I could set the foundation for a long career in publishing.

Or so I thought as I consistently dreamed of one day starting my first book. Amazingly, no one had penned a mainstream biography of Meagher’s life; only a few offerings from small publishers appeared on my occasional Google search.

Convinced that I could write the ultimate tale of this Irish rebel and American hero, I was similarly convinced I’d join that exclusive club of authors who uncover unfamiliar stories so rich and exciting that no one can actually believe those tales had never been written before.

I’ll have to find another way into that club. Timothy Egan beat me to it. This month, Egan, a National Book Award winner and New York Times columnist, put out a 384-page offering on Meagher.

I nearly let loose a battle cry when I spotted Egan’s work sitting on a front display table at New England Mobile Book Fair in Newton, MA. It felt as if a musket blast blew apart my worth as a writer. I was shocked that someone had pried free my literary dream and would now be the celebrated expert on Meagher and maybe even the Civil War and Irish history.

But after stumbling around the store for some time, I realized it was all my fault. I gripped the Meagher dream like a lucky penny but ignored the reality that luck is the residue of design. I never put in as much as an hour’s worth of research.

My favorite excuse had been that as a newspaper reporter for 15 years, and now a marketing content writer and freelancer journalist, the last thing I wanted to do with my free time was embark on a massive book project. When I reconciled my lack of progress with the truth, I knew that I simply had been lazy. Too many nights and weekends chasing good books, good movies and good times with friends, and not enough time chasing the dream.

I don’t begrudge Egan. I’ll even read “The Immortal Irishman” someday. But not before I write my first book. I don’t know yet what the subject will be but understand that I better stop fantasizing of being a successful author if I don’t actually try to be one. Meagher certainly didn’t make excuses.

No more dreaming, no more talking. Getting beat to what seemed like my pot of gold has stirred the fight in this Irishman. Never again will I let someone else write my novel.