Yesterday I realized it has been about ten years since I first finished a “novel.” It was nowhere near the word count necessary, but it was not a short story to me. I wrote it in a notebook, and then spent many laborious hours typing it into the family computer. I still have that first notebook draft, and the first computer file. That was ten years ago, I can hardly believe that. I learned how to type, when I wrote that story, and I learned to write for an audience; I learned a lot about editing, and about characters who would not do what I wanted them to do. I would still like to go back, someday, and turn that story into a real novel. I like the characters as much today as I did back then, and I think with ten years experience I can write it as those characters deserve their story to be written.
I would not have been able to write that story, at fourteen, if I had not ten years earlier composed my first story. I never wrote any of my stories down until I was in middle school, but I wrote them in my head, etching characters and plots and settings in my mind so that I can still recall many of them. I wrote them for myself, so there was never any judgment on it being a good or bad story; if it bored me, I knew it was a bad story. That was my only criteria. Those ten years of writing stories in my head meant that when I finally chose to set one down on paper, it was a good one. It was hard work, to sit with pencil and paper, labor over it day by day, when my thoughts went so much faster than my pencil.
Now, in the present, I am in the process of editing a novel of approximately 135,000 words. Everything I learned ten years before, twenty years before, makes an impact on what I write. I would not be able to labor through this story, if I had not already labored through the dozens of half finished novels, short stories, and novels I’ve worked on over the past ten years. That first short novel was the first of many, in notebooks, random pieces of paper, and my laptop. This is the longest work I have ever attempted, and I would not be able to make heads or tails of it if it were not for the past twenty years I thought I was spinning my wheels.
I wanted each of those stories, the ones in my head, the ones in notebooks, the ones that were never finished, to be this story. Some of them came very close, in different ways, and I don’t intend to abandon them forever. Yet this story, in setting and characters and plot, is very much related to my first real attempt to write a story for someone else to read. It’s not lost on me that my audience, my first reader, is the same person, either. It makes me wonder what kind of a story I will be able to write ten years from now. Because this story, as good as it is, could be even better.