Magic happened on Sunday, November 5, 2017, in Metairie, La. The sun sent its blessings without scorching heat—a miracle in itself, believe me. Drew Brees led the Saints to a 30-10 victory over Tampa Bay. And Ashlee Stokes celebrated 25 years of life.
Almost a decade ago, Ashlee’s life was almost taken by a drunk driver; instead, she and her family have carried her story and message across Southeast Louisiana and as far away as California, wheelchair be darned! People from around the world kept up with her progress after the accident.
She has been a shining light and beacon of hope to countless people, and I’m blessed to have met her and her equally incredible family.
To add to my blessings, I have spent the last several months intensely writing a book—her book. This is Ashlee’s story, complete with her message, her hope, her dreams. I am simply her written word. What a humbling, exciting experience this has been! As promised, I share with you a little of this writing journey through its four tenses.
THE PAST: Where did we start?
Six years I ago I met the Stokes for the first time. I got to write an article about them for a local magazine. Ashlee had recently graduated with her friends from Northshore High School in Slidell, walking across the stage with her dad’s support and the audience’s deafening cheers. The article also highlighted her organization, Ashlee’s Angels, which offered free rides on the weekend to anyone who had been drinking, as well as her tireless commitment to speaking to area students and parents about the dangers of drunk and distracted driving.
Little did I know the incredible journey we would embark upon together.
As I shared with you guys when I set forth our first deadline, I battled the demon of fear along the way; but the Stokes have granted me more grace, support and encouragement than any writer could ever dream of.
THE PRESENT: Where are we now?
This past Sunday, my family and I took Ashlee the second draft of her book. What a feeling to be able to present them with something I know they’ve wanted and—I hope—will be everything they desire! This step is one more of many in the journey of releasing her book to the world. We have quite a few more to come before I can give you directions on where to purchase it! But, in the meantime, I have much to share with you about the process of writing a book that’s gotten us this far.
I made that commitment to write and present a first draft of her book to her on her 25th birthday and shared it publicly here on August 31. I finally started “real” writing on September 14; and, for a total of 16 days scattered from then to October 9, I completed her first draft. I decided it wasn’t enough to get through one draft in the time I’d promised. I decided to complete a second draft—complete with both gap-filling, editing and revising—by the deadline I’d set. So, after a lot of floundering over how to fill in gaps, I finally found my stride and dove in—word by word, line by line, chapter by chapter—on October 31. In five days I wrote 6,498 words and re-wrote countless more.
We have many steps still to take, of course. I know this is only a second draft. It rests with the family now while I continue work on the book proposal that, I hope, will catch just the right reader’s eyes at just the right time and make it to the right editor’s desk. I realize the odds are stacked against us. Memoir isn’t the easiest genre to crack. And, though I’ve been a professional writer for 18 years, I’m unpublished in the eyes of big publishing companies and currently unagented.
But, I believe in Ashlee’s story—and, for the first time in my life, I believe in me.
You see, something happened to me on Saturday night when I wrote the final words for this round—something hard to explain. I did my best to verbalize it, though; and, if you’re one of my faithful email followers, you received the rest of this story. If not, subscribe below by midnight CST on Saturday morning (November 11) and I’ll send it to you on Saturday morning! [If you miss out because you’re reading this next week or next year or a decade from now, subscribe and then send me an email to let me know you want … the rest of the story!]
THE FUTURE: Where are we going?
The family will take their time, reading and re-reading this draft. This is the first time they’ve seen any piece of it, so they have a lot to think through and many emotions to face as they do. Once they’re confident they’ve given it as much thought as they need, they will give me feedback on what to cut, what to add, what to change.
Finally, with those notes in hand, many more notes of details I overlooked or didn’t have before and interviews that I still needed to conduct (particularly with medical personnel), I will begin on draft 3 which will require 20,000-25,000 additional words to reach the standard 70,000-75,000 words for memoirs. That may sound like a lot, but it’s really not. I have at least that many words ready and waiting with the information I didn’t get in the first time and the details still to come.
After draft 3, the family will get another turn. Draft 4 will include their final edits and mine. I have critique partners and potential beta readers waiting in the wings for that point. Then … finally … we can begin pitching to publishers and tossing the proposal (which also will have gone through several drafts) into the wind. Writing a book is more about rewriting it than anything, despite what my son tells me. He claims he only needs one draft because he was born to be an author!
That all sounds like years’ worth of work; but, we could reach that final stage as early as spring 2018! That is an ambitious goal, but possible nonetheless.
THE DREAM: Where do we believe we can go?
We believe Ashlee’s story can and will affect tens, even hundreds of thousands … maybe more! … of people around the world. See, while what happened to Ashlee isn’t unique—unfortunately—her reactions to the events in her life and her drive to save others’ lives is. She is a beautiful girl who lights up the days of everyone around her with her kindness and her smile. And, she’s on a mission to save and change lives.
So, though I’m not at all naive to the realities of the publishing industry, I have to believe Ashlee’s story will not only become a beautiful reality, but it will simply soar—farther than we dare to dream. You see, one of my all-time favorite sayings comes from Esther 4:14b, “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” I’ve written and presented devotions on this book of the Bible for kids, teens and women and even translated some into Spanish! It’s definitely my favorite.
[For all my context-loving friends, shoot me an email if you want me to tell you all about this verse, what it means and the beautiful story behind it. I’d love to! It’s one of my favorite accounts, as you can tell. Of course, I am a little partial to the name Esther. And, I just solved the mystery of the “E.” for you … you’re welcome!]
I believe God assigned me that article back in 2011 for such a time as this. I believe he laid on my heart a conviction to ask the Stokes if they’d thought about a book for such a time as this. I believe he gave me opportunities, experiences and lessons throughout my entire life to equip me to write this book for such a time as this. And, I believe he led me through the valleys of fear and back to the mountaintops of confidence so I would complete this manuscript for such a time as this. And, yes, I believe he will enable me to complete it at just the right moment for that very perfect editor—for such a time as this!
Writing a book gives no guarantees, but I choose to believe this one will make dreams come true and change lives in the process! Keep following me, friends, as we work toward those future and dream tenses of Ashlee’s book.
I always ask you guys questions here, but how about you ask me some instead this time! Comment with any questions you have on Ashlee’s book, the writing process or anything else you’ve been dying to know! I’ll do my very best to answer them!