Whenever Rebekah Campbell told people the story of how she met her husband, they would lean in and ask for more. That’s when she knew she had to write a book about her three-year search for love. But finding time to write seemed impossible for the busy entrepreneur and mum. So when she saw the Write Your Novel six-month program at the Australian Writers' Centre, she felt it was the push she needed to write the book she’d been putting off for years.
“I signed up because I thought it would give me a structure,” Rebekah says. “I would have to submit work to deadlines and get regular feedback. I imagined myself at the end of the six months with my finished manuscript. I had to do it.”
Doing the course paid off. Rebekah’s book 138 Dates has now been published by Allen & Unwin.
Commitment was the first step
Rebekah had spent most of her adult life devoted to her career and developing her businesses. When she decided it was time to focus on finding a partner, she used her same management skills and determination, setting out a plan, taking notes after each date, and iterating the process until she found The One. But despite her discipline, and writing regularly for her blog and a column in The New York Times, she found it difficult to commit to writing a book about her dating experiences.
“I’d had the idea for my book for a couple of years and I felt like I’d have a massive life regret if I didn’t write it. But I was so busy working, I’d sometimes write a few pages and then stop,” Rebekah says. “Every birthday and new year it would be my resolution – ‘I will write that book this year!’”
Birthdays came and went, but things only changed when she signed up for the Write Your Novel program.
“It was great to be in a community of writers who were at a similar stage to me. We all had parts of a first draft and we’d all committed to finishing our manuscript in the six months. This meant that we all took the program seriously,” Rebekah says. “We’d give feedback to other participants and get feedback on our own work. I found that giving feedback to others really helped me to clarify what I liked and didn’t like in stories which sharpened my own writing.”
Even after the course finished, a small group from the class met regularly to work on their manuscripts. As well as a helpful community of fellow writers, Rebekah particularly treasured the advice of her tutor, Pamela Freeman.
“The most valuable part of the course for me was Pamela’s feedback on my work. Every time I submitted work, we’d have a group discussion led by Pamela and her feedback always surprised me and was incredibly insightful. Out of everyone I worked with in the process of writing the book, I’d say Pamela had the biggest influence. I would have written something very different without her input.”
Here comes the published author!
Although she hadn’t always dreamed of being a writer, 138 Dates wasn’t Rebekah’s first attempt at a book. She’d previously started on a manuscript focused on women in business, based around her blog and newspaper columns. But she found it tough going. Realising that nobody would be interested in a book that she was bored writing, she turned instead to the biggest challenge she had faced in her life: finding a partner.
“I was single for 10 years and then set myself a goal of one date every week. It took three years and a huge amount of pain, effort and personal growth,” Rebekah says. “But as I look at my wonderful husband and two little children I feel so overwhelmed with love and gratitude. I wanted to share what I’d learnt.”
Rebekah already knew her story resonated with people, and as she worked on her second draft, she was confident it would have a wide appeal.
“At dinner parties I’d always tell the story of my 138 dates to find Rod. I noticed people would lean in and ask more questions. Then they’d say, ‘You have to meet my friend and tell her your story’ and I kept getting lined up to share my story with everyone’s single friends. That’s how I worked out that this story had to be told.”
After moving with her family to New Zealand in mid-2020, Rebekah wrote about the experience of managed isolation on popular news site Stuff in a blog post that went viral. The post caught the attention of Jenny Hellen, head of publishing at Allen & Unwin, who reached out to her.
“We spoke on the phone and I agreed to send her some of what I’d written,” Rebekah says. “I remember feeling so nervous to send out my synopsis and first few chapters. It was the first time I’d spoken to anyone in the industry about the story I was writing. Although I felt confident it would resonate with readers, I had no idea how a publisher would respond given they’d be expecting me to write primarily about business. I was literally shaking when I sent the email to Jenny.”
It took a lot fewer than 138 dates to score her publishing deal; in fact, it only took one.
“Jenny responded only a couple of hours later and said she loved it which was the biggest relief!”
Now that she’s had her first taste of publishing success, Rebekah is keen to keep going.
“I feel very nostalgic looking back at the time I spent writing,” Rebekah says. “Writing a book really is a blissful existence! At the moment I’m only writing op ed articles to help promote my book and I can’t wait to get stuck into another book.”
Although she has always been a self-starter, Rebekah credits her writing community and the courses she took as important drivers that helped her on the way to publication.
“For me, it was about surrounding myself with a community of writers, putting myself into a program that was structured with deadlines, learning all the technical stuff about storytelling that I didn’t even know existed and getting feedback from an expert tutor. I know I never would have written this book or even finished this book without it,” Rebekah says. “Life is short and if you want to write a book then this is going to give you the best chance.”