Okay, first thing’s first: This isn’t exactly a rule, per say.
However, there is a widely accepted truth that a writer’s path to publication is long. Exactly how long? Well, the number I seem to keep rubbing up against is somewhere around ten years.
(No wonder so many writers give up on this journey!)
A few months back, this notion stood out to me like a sore thumb as I was reading a wonderful book of writing prompts for research for my current novel (a character of mine lives and dies by them). Monica Wood, the author of The Pocket Muse, wrote:
“My friend Bill Roorbach, who writes both fiction and nonfiction beautifully, observes that a writer’s apprenticeship usually lasts ten years. That’s ten years between the first serious word and the first published word. This pronouncement seems to horrify twenty-year-olds, who have boatloads of time, more than it horrifies forty-year-olds. In any case, you’ll be ten years older at the end of ten years whether you do an apprenticeship or not, so why not begin?”
Isn’t that a beautiful truth? Admittedly, it can be disheartening to pour time and effort into novels I’m writing knowing none may get published, and yet, the goal with every work I finish is to keep doing what I’m doing better than the work before it.
The universe seems hell bent on imbuing this lesson of apprenticeship upon me. Lately, everywhere I turn, I’m confronted by another story of someone else’s dogged determination in pursuing the same dream. I’ll leave you with one more example:
I’ve been reading We All Looked Up, the young adult debut of a talented writer, Tommy Wallach. As I often do upon discovering a new author I admire, I spent some time stalking Tommy’s blog and came across a (great) post he wrote for Barnes & Noble about YA literature. In it, he mentions that before the publication of his first book (We All Looked Up), he completed FIVE OTHER BOOKS.
As he says in the piece: “I’m still proud of parts of these books, but none of them truly worked. They were all practice, as it turned out.“
As insanely proud I am of my first novel, it feels sort of like practice—the book that taught me how to write. While it’s impossible to say whether my current work in progress will be publication worthy (or the one after it or the one after that), I owe it to myself to keep my head down, keep working, and remain committed enough to find out.
POP QUIZ: Notice how many years Tommy says passed between the idea for his first book and his idea for WALU? That’s no coincidence, friends, that’s called an apprenticeship. Good for him for finding his path to publication!