When I struck out to write a novel I had no idea it would take me over seven years. I say seven years because I can’t bear to tell you an exact number, plus it’s nobody’s business, so I’ll leave it at that.*
Graffiti on St. Paul’s Ct & Park Ave, Brooklyn
Three times over these seven plus years, I thought I’d completed the manuscript, only to discover it needed more work. This last year, I completely overhauled it, slashing and burning at least one hundred and fifty pages, which I then systematically rewrote with one lead character in mind, not three.
I was able to do this rather efficiently because I worked with a very special person I call my writing doula. She calls herself a writing coach. Throughout the course of the year she was a sounding board, a hand holder, a swift kick in the butt artist, and a reality check maven.
Here are the facts—writing is hard, grueling work. The act itself is not pretty. It messes with your mind, threatens your sanity, and in general lessens your social skills. That is, unless you consider drinking alone in the back of a dusty bar on a Wednesday afternoon a social skill. The thing that has to be done is to stay with the work, so you can finish the work.
This may sound a little like psycho mumbo jumbo—a silly platitude—stay with the work. Don’t give up! It may be corny, but I assure you it’s true.
Years ago I read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. It changed my understanding of what it means to be a writer. In it, Ms. Lamott talks about the shitty first draft, and the importance of telling the unvarnished truth. She goes on say the actual act of writing turns out to be the best part.
Presently, my novel is in the hands of an agent, and with a two others reading an excerpted chapter. It has been a month, and every day I check my email several times, hoping I’ll win the writer’s version of the lotto—hearing back from an agent or publisher.
I’ve written a shitty first draft of my second novel, but I haven’t been able to concentrate on editing it. I have to get cracking. I really don’t think it will take me seven plus years. It’s important for me to remember that being mired in the muck of the work is the best part. Anne Lamott said so, and I believe her.
(* You only tell the real number of years after there is success. As in, folks are buying your novel and NPR calls.)