It took my father 30 years to write a book. Thirty.
Even more if you count the year he spent planning. His book, an all-encompassing look at the British maritime campaign during World War II, is older than I am. It has 29 (ish) chapters, an introduction, footnotes, scores of research, and multiple trips to the United Kingdom’s National Archives in Kew to review original war documents.
This past Friday, he told me he submitted his book to two military publishers and received a letter from each. Both stated his book was under review by their editorial staff and they would get back to him in the next few months.
And so, he waits from afar as a stranger evaluates the value of his thirty-year pet-project.
I’m encouraged by my father. I, too, am taking the long route writing my book. My book spent eight years in pre-productions, and after nearly two years of writing, I have 100+ pages to show for it. What’s that they say about the tortoise and the hare? Cause I’m praying it’s true. For both our sakes.
Yet, I know my journey to publication will be much more challenging than my father’s. Sure, he still faces uncertainty. But his market is much smaller and the competition is effectively nonexistent.
This is not the case for us fiction writers.
Full disclosure: I have to actively stop my brain from going down the yellow-brick-road to publication because I am afraid of the arduous journey and the undetermined ending. I become discouraged at the odds. I begin to believe that my book is horrendous and no one will ever want it.
And I know I’m not on this island alone.
So many writers I admire had enough rejection letters to redecorate their apartments. Even J.K. Rowling received rejections on Harry Potter! And yet, Ms. Rowling persevered. She kept going.
By day, I’m actually a grant writer. And in the philanthropic world, there’s this fundraising philosophy built on the idea of getting a “no.” While the end game is raise funds for your respective program, the “no” is still an indicator that you’re doing your job as it means you asked, you took a risk, you received an answer. After all, you can’t make someone’s decision for him or her. You can ask. And if necessary, you can reform your question, strengthen your case, and learn from the experience. Then, you try again with someone else. You ask. You ask. And then you ask some more.
I think this is our job as writers. We ask. We take a leap of faith. We edit our novels. We seek advice of peers and professionals. We improve our characters’ voices and hone our themes. We remove paragraphs that no longer work (even if they have that one line in them that we LOVE), cut scenes without purpose (even if we think they’re hilarious), and we become stronger because of it. Our work becomes stronger because of it.
We learn even when we’re tired. We grow even when we’re frustrated. We dream even when it seems impossible.
I don’t know what will happen with my book. I don’t know what will happen with my father’s book. I have already invested ten years and hundreds of hours into this thing, this dream that I love. And as much as that yellow-brick-road scares me, I have to believe it can be something. That I will try and try and try until it becomes something.
So, I write, I believe, and one day I will start to ask.
As for my father, what will he do while he waits for the phone to ring? Why start his sequels, of course. (You read that right. Sequels. There are two.) So, Godspeed, Dad. We’re with you.