Laura Heffernan talks about how elements in your own life can give you the push to write.

A few years ago, I got an email from the head of a club I’m part of, letting me know that a new reality show was casting in Boston for people my age who liked games. Well, I love games, but I had zero interest in being on TV, so I deleted the message. Minutes later, a Facebook message from my best friend popped up. “Did you get that email? We should totally try out for a reality show!”

At first, I was torn. Steph and I had a lot of fun together, trying new things and seeking out interesting experiences. Auditioning for a reality show would certainly be interesting. But my crippling fear of public speaking took hold, and I couldn’t do it. I didn’t submit the application; she did. Pangs of regret hit me for the next few months as she went to interviews (especially when she got a free trip to Los Angeles), and I even felt a bit jealous when she told me she’d made it onto the show! But then reality set in: I did not want to be on TV at all. I couldn’t even formulate sentences when more than about three people were looking at me at a time. Steph was comfortable in the spotlight, whereas I tend to thrive in a place that’s decidedly spotlight-adjacent. I didn’t want the attention she was getting.

The show had an element of viewer voting, so I stayed home, working behind the scenes to try to get people to vote for her. Two of my friends became the face of the campaign, while I hid in the background, working behind the scenes to get people to vote for her. But after a few weeks, something shifted in me. I realized that I couldn’t stay in my comfort zone forever. I started a blog, writing recaps of each episode of the show for people weren’t able to watch. I explored my voice and tone. I’d been writing for years, but never shared a word with anyone. This blog was different – I needed people to read it. I wanted people to watch the show and vote for my friend. It was the first time I’d intentionally written something for public consumption.

When I shared the blog with mutual friends, they raved about the writing style. Several said they appreciated my sense of humor. (This was new for me, honestly.) There was no need to hide from the spotlight. Suddenly, I realized I could put myself out there. For the first time, I started to realize that maybe I could write. So I pushed myself further. I drafted a novel. Although I’d been toying with the idea for years, I’d never written more than a couple of thousand words. But I finished my first draft in about six weeks. Then, I joined Twitter, made friends with other writers, and started learning all I could about editing, editing, editing, querying, editing, and getting published. And editing.

The show in America’s Next Reality Star is not the same show; the characters are people I made up. That blog is somewhere in the bowels of the internet. But that experience of watching my best friend be brave enough to try something new, combined with the response I received to my writing, is what ultimately gave me the courage I needed to say, “Yes, I can write a book. Yes, I can pursue publishing. I am good enough.”

Now, I have a three-book deal with a mid-sized publisher. I speak daily on Twitter to an audience of thousands (at least dozens of whom probably haven’t muted me yet). I host writing contests. The person who refused to even apply for a reality show would never believe where that experience took me. And all it took was a small step out of my comfort zone, followed by another, to lead me down a new and exciting path.

Twenty-four-year-old Jen Reid had her life in good shape: an okay job, a tiny-cute Seattle apartment, and a great boyfriend almost ready to get serious. In a flash it all came apart. Single, unemployed, and holding an eviction notice, who has time to remember trying out for a reality show? Then the call comes, and Jen sees her chance to start over — by spending her summer on national TV.

Luckily The Fishbowl is all about puzzles and games, the kind of thing Jen would love even if she wasn’t desperate. The cast checks all the boxes: cheerful, quirky Birdie speaks in hashtags; vicious Ariana knows just how to pout for the cameras; and corn-fed “J-dawg” plays the cartoon villain of the house. Then there’s Justin, the green-eyed law student who always seems a breath away from kissing her. Is their attraction real, or a trick to get him closer to the $250,000 grand prize? Romance or showmance, suddenly Jen has a lot more to lose than a summer . . .

Laura Heffernan is living proof that watching too much TV can pay off. When not watching total strangers participate in arranged marriages, drag racing queens, or cooking competitions, Laura enjoys travel, baking, board games, helping with writing contests, and seeking new experiences. She lives in the northeast with her amazing husband and two furry little beasts.


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