Which was totally coincidence and not at all biological. I mean, there's no verifiable link between crackly kneecaps, elongated nose hairs, and understanding of story structure. It's not like I woke up one day, realized my kids were no longer climbing the furniture and watching Dora the Explorer and thought, "Today is the day I will finally write a book, because oh look I finally have scads of time!"
Nope. I'd been writing diligently since childhood, and doing it every day and producing a certain number of words and which-hunting and search-and-destroying the verb "to be" wasn't making me a better storyteller.
Between the ages of 5 and 40, I wrote dozens of [terrible] short stories and possibly hundreds of [even terribler] beginnings of books that never got finished. All that practice was not completely useless. It did yield mad sentence-crafting skills. Eventually I could even produce a fairly decent scene. But when it came to putting together a coherent narrative longer than 10k words, I was worse than incompetent. I was clueless, just a gal consumed by want-to, staring at a wall of thou-shalt-never.
Two things helped me over that wall:
1. I joined my local chapter of Romance Writers of America and attended all their talks and workshops and read the craft books my chapter mates recommended.
2. I found a private ecosystem of critique partners, beta readers, and cheerleaders.
The Austin RWA built out my resources, but my circle of CPs was the pixie dust. The magic. I have three critique partners, plus a handful of awesome beta readers who are almost CPish in that they know how to offer feedback that is both helpful and not soul-killing. We all write in different subgenres, sometimes in different genres entirely. We are all on a similar level of experience and commitment. We speak this weird story-structure nerd language. We respect each other and lean on each other and support each other. We do not compete. We build up.
At first all I could offer this community was the aforementioned mad sentence-making skills, but the more I learned the more comfortable I got with the process, both mine and theirs.
At this point, we have all completed novel-length books. Some of us have sold those books.
So if you were to come to me and say -- with some sincerity, mind, not just making idle chitchat -- that you've "always wanted to write a book," I would lead you to the head of this path:
1. Find your tribe.
2. Find your crit partners.
3. Read a shitload of craft books.
4. Forget the details of those craft books, but remember the essence of structure.
5. Find your process.
6. Do the magic.
And then I'd applaud like hell when you climbed the wall.