A friend of mine was discouraged recently about a story she’s been working on for ten years. Partly because of the amount of time (she’s on the fourth revision), but mainly because another writer laughed at her when she heard how long this story has taken.
So many things come to mind.
First, one writer laughing at another over someone’s process. No wonder my friend was discouraged (she said she can’t get that laugh out of her mind). It’s never okay to laugh at the expense of another, but especially when it’s around something that is an intimate part of who a person is. So it hurts.
Second, who cares how long it takes to write something? Some of us are fast, and some of us (myself included) are slow. My friend said she didn’t understand how authors could pump out a book a year. I explained how someone writes a book, then sends it off to an editor, and during the long editing and revising process, they work on something new. Granted, that doesn’t speed my writing up any, but for most it does. By the time book one comes back from editing, book two might be ready to go off to the editor, so there’s a cascade effect. Added to that, some people have a lot of time to write.
Third, and probably most important: we don’t write on our timeline. It comes down to how long that story needs to be inside. How long that story needs to take, to be told. Some need to be like that kettle of cold water on the back burner, slowly coming to a simmer. Some just boil away and pour out.
We write on the story’s time.
I’ve been working on my current one three years. Do I worry about that? Yes, from a marketing standpoint, where I realize I’m ‘away’ from readers too long. But I don’t worry about it from the writer’s standpoint, because this story is taking a lot of time. It’s something new for me so I’m learning as I go, which also adds time. Plus, like I said, I’m just a slow writer. I meander along the story’s path, enjoying the view.
Fourth, some stories die and we might take a long time to realize it. I asked my friend how close she was to the end of this revision. She said she only had a few pages to go. I asked her if other stories were teasing her, waiting to be told, and she said yes. She had several ideas, and when she talked about them, she lit up. You could see the excitement.
So we talked about those manuscripts all writers have, that live forever in a box somewhere. Ones that someday we might go back to and try to revive.
This is her first novel. We talked about how we learn from that first manuscript. How sometimes that first one might go on to become a book or it might not.
I think she left, encouraged to knock out those final few pages. I think about how free she will feel when she’s out from that burden of perceived pressure to finish something. I think about how excited she will be to jump in to something fresh and new. Maybe something not tainted by another’s laughter.
And I think how easily a single word, a single laugh, a single expression, can be so devastating. Because I know the person who laughed, and I know she did not do it to be mean. I know she would be upset with herself if she knew the impact that laugh had.
By the way, I’m so close to finishing my three-year project. I thought I’d written the last chapter but as I finished I knew it wasn’t right, that I’d gone in the wrong direction on that path. And that I’d forgotten to let some characters face their fears.
So I’ll be redoing those last few pages.
Hopefully it won’t take three years.
But if it does, hey, that’s okay.