It took me two years, but I wrote something I was truly proud of. Not only that, I had ideas for MORE! I might have queried a few agencies, but I knew, delusional as I was, that it wasn't ready. I wasn't ready. I wrote the second book. Then started on book three.
Around that time, a friend asked if she could read the first one. Scared as I was, I handed it over. She raved! And wanted the second. She handed the first off to another friend. This continued until I had nine women (keep in mind, none of them writers!) who were handing off book after book, pushing me to finish the third, the fourth, the fifth. (Does this story sound familiar to anyone yet?? Friends! They mean well; but they keep our delusions fed and contented.)
The series took 18 books. Four generations. Three separate realities. Book 18 never got finished. Why? Think about having to bring all the threads of ONE novel together to make a satisfying end to the story. I had 18 novels to do that for. It was a huge eye-opener for me.
I learned a lot about writing over the five years it took to write those 18 books. Most of it was learned by critiquing others' work. A lot of it was trial and error. There was much handwavery at work--but those reading and pressing me for more were hooked on the story. Handwavery was overlooked. But now I was SEEING it--because I had no choice. The handwavery in book 7 was coming back to haunt me in book 18.
It was time to set my beloved series and characters aside. I had to learn again. I attended a workshop on Bald Head Island. I learned more. Not enough. I critiqued more work from other writers--some more educated than I was, some less. I learn by doing. It takes longer, but it sticks.
I wrote four more books. I'd learned a lot. Not enough.
I started a fifth. All I learned in the nine years prior came out in this book. I wasn't finished with it when I applied to Viable Paradise 9. I got in, but it was not going to happen that year. My son took a terrible fall the day before I was supposed to leave for Martha's Vineyard. It took him years to recover, but he was well enough for me to attend VPX the following year.
The book was better for the wait. I had learned more. I thought I was READY! Note the thought part. I was ready for VP, not for publication. And while I was very pleased with what my instructors and peers had to say about my book, they had only read the first 50 very polished pages. With what I learned at VP (oh! SO MUCH!) I came home prepared to finish the book. One of the instructors expressed interest in seeing it when it was done. I wanted to jump on that as quickly as possible.
The book exploded on me. Why? The same problem I had waaaay back with book 18 of the series. No matter how much I had learned, I still hadn't learned that too many cool details made it nearly impossible to pull it all together in the end. I had two separate stories going. Much as I loved all my cool details, they just wouldn't mesh.
I set it aside--I'd only done that once before. And for the same reason! But now I was determined to learn this lesson for once and for all.
I started Beyond The Gate. I had my cool details, my intricate plot. I love this story. I love the characters. I think it's good! But--it's 180K words long. And while I shopped it around, it became very clear, quite quickly that 180K is absolutely, positively too long for anyone to consider. Ok, save that for another time. I'm cool with that.
I started Finder. I applied all I have learned since 1996 and this time, I did so without really thinking about it. I am really pleased with this book. Ecstatically pleased. Maybe my husband, my betas and perhaps my sister will be the only others besides myself who will ever read it, but it is an accomplishment that fills me with joy. I pulled it off. I know I did. For me, that is the primary goal--to write something I am proud of.
Now that Finder is finished, while I await my betas and the one venue I chose to query (for now), I decided to go back to book one of that old series. It was rewritten after each major stride I took in my writing education. I love this book--these books. The first stands on its own. I will polish it up and shop it around--see what happens before I dig into the rest. The story is pretty awesome, if I do say so myself. It's a standard Quest/Lost Heir sort of thing at the outset. There are only so many story frames to go around, after all. I've been told finding a different way to spin an old yarn is the key. I believe that innocent, clueless writer who first told these stories accomplished that, at least.
So, how many years does it take to get to the center of a writing conundrum? In my case? 13.