It takes at least a year to write a decent first draft of a novel. Sometimes more, much more. Then there’s the editing, revising and rewriting. Tack on another year, or two, or three. Sometimes the manuscript is put away for long periods, as almost everything in life takes precedence over writing a novel: earning a living, family responsibilities, personal crises, professional engagements.
Then begins the long process of knocking on doors. Agents: There’s no guarantee anyone will want to represent it (for a small percentage of what will probably be next to nothing). Publishers: There’s no guarantee anyone will want to publish it, whether large corporation or micro press. If I’m lucky enough to get it published, there’s no guarantee anyone will want to read it. If I’m fortunate enough to have readers, there’s no guarantee they won’t yawn and put it away after a few pages.
So why bother?
I’m sure there was a time when I asked myself that question, and I’m sure the answer was not satisfactory. I was discouraged. I could not see to the end of the dark road that was my unfinished manuscript. The days and months and years I trudged down that road seemed endless, and fruitless. But somehow I got to ‘The End.’ I wrote a novel. And then I wrote another one. And another. And another.
Because it’s what I want to do. Some people build houses. Some create technology breakthroughs. Some cut hair. Some grow businesses. Some fly airplanes. All of them serve as apprentices, as did I, and get better as they do more, as have I. There comes a time when they can say, with pride, ‘I am a contractor.’ ‘I am a developer.’ ‘I am a stylist.’ ‘I am an entrepreneur.’ ‘I am a pilot.’ There came a time when I could say, ‘I am a novelist.’
Because I am fulfilled by it. Whatever I do, with pride, must contain a strong element of fulfillment. It must give me great pleasure, even when I’m frustrated. It must make every day in which I practice my craft a worthwhile day, a day in which I’m grateful to be alive, to be doing what I’m meant to do, to be honing a novel out of the imperfect clay of language.
Because I am driven by it. Our gifts and talents drive us, but they often come from a dark place. Happy people are not driven. Their existence is in itself a creative act. They don’t set out to prove themselves. The rest of us push ahead, needing to create some tangible evidence of our existence, some record of our achievement, some justification for the years and the decades that we have been allowed to walk the earth.
As long as I’m alive, I hope to be working on a novel: writing, rewriting, promoting, defending, thinking about and inspired by this wonderful long-form storytelling genre. Grateful for the days allotted to me to work within the form. Knowing there will never be enough days to write about, to bring to life, even a fraction of the characters and situations continually dancing in my head.