Chile Peppers, Trust, and Cutting Through: On Writing my First Book

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.” – Georgia O’Keeffe


I’m reporting in from New Mexico, where I am on a pilgrimage to write my first book Zest and Soul. Somewhere between drinking habanero fudge lattes, buying tin trinkets and knockoff turquoise jewelry, breathing chilly adobe air, and daydreaming of moving here, I have managed to write 15,000 words of my book.

(The beautiful part about having a blog for several years is that some of those words were already written – tucked in the crannies of my writing-related blog posts)

My book is about writing, abundance, and authentic creative expression. My generation hasn’t had its version of an Artist’s Way or Bird by Bird, and if no one has written the kind of soulful, guts-on-the-page, motivational-yet-real book for writers that I want to read – than I may as well be the one to write it.

After years of believing that I couldn’t handle writing a book to begin with, I finally feel like the possibility of a published book is within my grasp. But let me be clear that I do not know what I am doing. Even though my journals and blog brim with passion, my first impulse is to write this book robotically from the head – like a third grade book report about Writer’s Block that skips all the substance and skates on the surface of what needs to be said.

I haven’t been able to shake my own expectation that whatever book I write will be lukewarm – it will exist, but it will be a little vanilla… enough to help a few people but not really “WOW!” anybody or invigorate writers into action. I want to write an amazing book about writing that rocks readers with its rawness and familiarity, and I’m not there yet.

An image keeps popping into my head of a giant abandoned lot that is overgrown with enormous thickets of bushes and gnarled plants. Something is nestled in the middle of these bushes, but the act of getting to it is overwhelming – it clogs your throat into a panic with nowhere to start. So you work for hours, hacking away at these bushes so you can get to the treasure inside of them, sweaty and clueless and covered in burrs.

Then when you step back to admire your valiant progress, you discover that the whole scene looks exactly the same as it did when you started. Despite your efforts, there are still impossible bushes everywhere – with only minor hints that your labor has made an impact.

And you stand still for a moment and you want to cry hot tears of exhaustion, but instead you take a deep breath. Because you know, infuriatingly, that all you can do is keep going. Hack by hack. Bush by bush. Bird by bird.

The hope is that eventually something awe-inspiring will emerge beneath all those bushes – a clearing, an eclectic purple house, the book you are trying to write, whatever you originally wanted to discover. Something you couldn’t have gotten to without chopping away as you did, something you couldn’t discern at the beginning but that ends up being so much better than you could have imagined.

As writers, we have to trust this process. If we stop as soon as we are frustrated, we will never accomplish what we set out to do. Instead of writing a book, we will take one look at those dark bushes and hide instead. We will let our dreams fade, we will walk away and assure ourselves that there was nothing behind that thicket anyways – that we shouldn’t waste our time on such silly things.

I am in the throes of this right now. I can’t see behind the bushes, and I don’t know how my efforts will weave together into a cohesive whole. I don’t know why my chapters are organized the way they are, I don’t even know why I chose them, other than because had to start somewhere.

I take a deep breath and keep slicing at those bushes – a sentence here, a snippet there, a note to write about a specific memory in a spot that already seems too full. I let my first hazy over-generalized sentences lead me towards what I was really trying to say, and then I delete them once I’ve filled in the blanks. I trust that I will be dazzled by the finished product, even though today I question how I am going to pull this off.

I breathe into that sunny horizon, feel my angel wings thumping and expanding between my shoulder blades, stretch my fingers against this hotel desk, and keep hacking away.


Peace, Love, & Persistence,



Writing my first book in New Mexico. Even in the confusion & uncertainty, it feels good to stretch my gifts & feel more alive. xx
Writing my first book in New Mexico. Even in the confusion & uncertainty, it feels good to stretch my gifts & feel more alive. xx

7 thoughts on “Chile Peppers, Trust, and Cutting Through: On Writing my First Book

  1. I love your analogy. I wonder what other tools help people clear away those wildly overgrown lots… vision, support, habit, breaks, self-care, language, action, energy, decisiveness, certainly breaking it into small chunks, and lemonade… You’ve got this, Kelsey! The process reminds me of when you started the beautiful farmers’ market at Loyola. I met with Christopher Peterson yesterday and he was telling me all about what IES is up to, and he started telling the story of this freshman girl who had a vision and passion… and I said.. Kelsey Horton! He was surprised and just smiled. He seemed very proud of you, as am I. 🙂 <3 <3 <3

  2. Keep stretching those gifts! I am confident you will find yourself, while maybe not in a clear open field, one from which you will see your path. Too clear and it gets boring. Hack away my writing sister. And thank you for the inspiration.

  3. I think this is a good post! I love the hacking away analogy and I love the phrase ‘and you stand still for at moment and you want to cry hot tears of exhaustion but instead you take a deep breath’… Good luck and thx 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words! Let me know if you are still looking for guest bloggers — I couldn’t figure out how exactly to e-mail you from your page, but my e-mail is in case you were still looking for writers 🙂 wishing you lots of joy and abundance in 2015!

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