I’m sure you will relate. You gather the courage to start working on a massive project like a book or film script. You may be building a house or launching a business. Whatever. The initial excitement wears down pretty quick, but you’re not one of those people who keep talking and never do anything. You’re a determined motherfucker. You spend every minute working on the thing. When you can’t work on it, you’re thinking about the thing. When you’re sleeping, you’re dreaming about it. It’s getting way out of hand.
Months later, you’re still going strong, but you can’t escape the fact that the long hours are wearing you down. You’re exhausted. Although you would never admit it, deep down you know that you won’t be able to grind like this forever.
The worst bit comes when you look at your todo list. Although you’re been working your ass off for months, it barely made a dent to the mountain of stuff still to do. There’s a shit ton. You can’t even see the end of it. How can you possibly get it all done?
You may have a 100,000-word novel planned – 50 chapters, 2,000 words each. You’re moving at a steady pace of two chapters a week. Three long months in, you’re about half-way there. But that’s just the first draft. The other day, you’ve heard a best-selling author talk about their latest book and how they discovered what the novel was truly about while working on the 17th draft. 17th draft? Are you out of your mind?
But that’s hardly all of it. Then you’ll have to query dozens, if not hundreds of literary agents. If you find one and they get you a publishing deal, there will be a round or two of revisions with the house editor. Besides, they will expect you to submit the sequel by the time your novel hits the shelves.
Solo projects such as writing a book can be particularly overwhelming. You will have to complete every single item on that damn list. There’s nobody else to pick it up for you. You’re on your own.
For me, this is the hardest part. Sticking with it through the hopelessness of the grind when it feels like I’m not making any progress at all, facing the uncertainty whether it will be any good. I have to remind myself that the only way this is ever going to end is if I keep going, keep picking stuff from the top of the list and getting it done. One step at a time.
Sometimes, it helps to not look at the list at all. Be oblivious to the full extent of what remains to be completed. Every now and then, I might copy a handful of items out and focus just on them instead of being constantly reminded of how hard things are still going to get.
It also helps to remind me that we’re all dealing with bottomless todo lists. Anyone who’s ever finished a substantial project had one. There’s no alternative.
As E. L. Doctorow famously said, ‘It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’
So how long does it really take to write a book? A lot longer than you can imagine. But it’s worth it.
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