Ten years. That’s how long it takes to publish your first novel. At least that’s what I keep hearing from people who probably know what they’re talking about (read: every professor in my MFA).
Of course, the question then becomes: from what point do you count the ten years? Do I count from the point when I first began muddling through an attempt at fiction? If so, then I’ve got one year to go (counting from that week I spent writing in Romania).
Or do I start counting from the moment of that first flash of inspiration for this particular novel?
I was in Merida, Mexico with my parents. It was fall break my senior year of college. That summer I’d begun a romance with my co-worker, Andrew, and after I’d gone back to school we’d both come to the conclusion that we were in love. He came along to Merida and, despite my parents being there, it felt like a honeymoon.
I don’t remember when the actual idea came, but I remember the first time I said it out loud. We were all sitting at tippy tables in a tiny little café on a cobble stone street. We were having flan and coffee for breakfast and a perfectly temperate breeze was rustling the napkins on the table. I told everyone that I was going to write a novel about “a man who is a bear who is a man.”
“I don’t really know what it means yet,” I said when everyone looked blankly back at me.
If so, that means I’ve got four years to go.
Or do I count from when I seriously started putting words to the page? Seriously began assembling chapters?
Seven years to go.
I like reading physical books because I can see how I’m progressing. I hold a finger on my current page, flip the book up to look at the top edge, and come up with a fraction for how far along I am: 1/5, 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, and then I stop paying attention because I’m almost finished. This helps when I get stressed out by a book. For instance, when Prince Andre “dies” for the first time in War and Peace, I was devastated until I flipped my book up and realized that there was no way Tolstoy could rob us of Prince Andre in the first quarter of the book and not bring him back to us.
So where am I? What fraction of the way am I? I’m almost through my first draft. That’s where I am. And then I’ll write a second draft. And another. And probably another.
And then I’ll write the second book that’s currently lurking on edges of my mind.
In the last two years I’ve been telling people that I’m a writer. In this last year, when I finally, truly let go of any hope of a timeline for when my novel would be finished, I actually became one.
I do want to publish. I do want to hold my book in my hands and to be able to give it as a Christmas present to every single person I know. But, I’ve got to write the damn thing first.
So. How long? It doesn’t really matter.