In my Plotting in Fiction class at Hamline University this semester we’ve had a series of guest authors who have come in to discuss their books. Most are somehow affiliated with the University; all of them have had interesting things to say. One of our recent guests was mystery author Mary Logue. She asked everyone in class to say if they were working on a short story or novel—and to say a few words about their work. One of my fellow students (I’ll keep his identity confidential) had an awesome answer that went something like this:
“I have a novel. I wouldn’t say I’m working on it. There’s school, there’s work, there’s life. But my book is always on my mind. It’s always there.”
I feel that way about my novels. They are there, too, always with me. I think about them in odd moments, dream about them at times when I’m not just sitting down to write. I suspect most writers feel the same way. Novels aren’t written in a day, a month, or just several months. Often they take many months, many revisions, and maybe years’ worth of time. And they don’t just happen during your “writing time.”
Also, then there is life. I have writer friends who have gone through recent job transitions (new job/lost a job), writer friends with relationship changes (fell in love/got divorced. My own writing challenge has been my health—recovering from cancer. Some days when the pain is there, I’m exhausted, the last thing that’s going to happen is writing. Often life comes first before writing. Sometimes it insists.
My second novel Sunlight just turned three years old. How long will it be until it’s completed? I just don’t know. My intent is to get back to its second revision (I’m about ½ way there) and share it with my critique group for their awesome insights. My first novel Blackheart is over ten years old now, stuck somewhere between a third and fourth revision. I got out Chapter One recently and worked on it, got some feedback from some new readers who had positive things to say. It’s still my book. It also longs for completion. It will happen. I just don’t know exactly when. (I also know I don’t have forever.)
So what’s my point? Besides maybe I’m crazy spending all this time in front of a keyboard and monitor making up imaginary people, places and things, telling a story that for the time being is entertaining only to mostly just me.
No. That like most good things in life, good writing takes time, and it takes more than that. It takes tenacity.
Best-selling author Tom Clancy died in October of this year. He once said this of writing: “Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world.”
I feel that way about my writing. I’ve written two books. They’re not published yet. But I’ve succeeded in reaching my goal. I wanted to write a book (two) and I have. I’ve leaned a lot over the years from the process. Like many writers I stay tenacious. (I think of some of my favorite authors like Stephen King and Dean Koontz who’ve each written 50+ books! Talk about tenacity and dedication to craft!) I have put in my time and I keep fighting the good fight. I keep on keeping on. I keep on writing.
And don’t even get my started on rejection. I think about the author Robert Pirsig and his great book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Supposedly rejected 121 times before it became published and sold millions of copies. Tenacity again, in spades.
Most importantly I’m just reminded you (and me) to stay at it. Writing can be a lonely business, but when it comes to spending time to create your work of art, you’re not alone. You have lots of other good company out there in all the other writers who are taking their time, figuring out who their characters are, where the story is really going, trying to build stories and worlds worth reading about. Hang in there.
How old is your writing project? What keeps you writing?