“How long it take to write a book?” my dad asks.
“It depends,” I answer.
“How long does it have to be?”
“As long as it needs,” I reply.
“How long is the book you’re writing?”
“It was four hundred pages.” I say.
“Four hundred pages!” he says. “Wow!”
“But now it’s just two hundred,” I add.
“How long have you been writing it?” he asks.
It’s been in a box under my desk for almost a year.
This makes it sound as if I haven’t been working on this novel since last August, which is not entirely true.
* * *
I think about the book all the time, as if it were some best friend I keep in my prayers while it convalesces from a serious illness. In this time, I have imagined a solution to a major structural issue. I won’t know if it’s the elegant solution I want until I unbox the typescript and bend to the story, and that’s just not on the current schedule right now, because I’m currently obsessed with a piece of non-fiction that I’m hoping to shape into a book.
This new project is about being outdoors and civil discourse and belonging to the land – but I don’t quite know the story yet, so I’m writing around it. I’ve not just been thinking about these ideas for the past year, I’ve also been learning to fish, to shoot, and to read the landscape. And writing about it. As part of my research, I will be hiking the Long Trail, the oldest long-distance footpath in the country, at the end of the summer.
The Long Trail follows the spine of the Green Mountains from Massachusetts to Canada. Two-hundred and seventy-two miles in twenty-five days. Plenty of time to think about a story. Meanwhile, I hope to be able to send preliminary chapters to my agent before I leave.
* * *
“My book is just ten pages, and it’s still not done!” Dad says. “I keep starting over!”
“That’s sometimes the way it is,” I say.
Dad’s referring to the eighth or ninth installment of a collection he started over twenty years ago titled, Reflections of an Old Man. He’s now ninety-one.
The books include a family history, complete with photocopies of photographs of relatives who never came to America; important documents, like my father’s army induction, honorable discharge, and all the citations he received for his infantry service in World War II.
He also wrote A Love Story, which includes transcriptions of all his letters to his then sweetheart, my mother, whom he addressed as “Dear Blondie.” Her letters to him were lost when he was wounded. They wed after the war and were married for sixty-six years before my mom died.
The more recent installments of Reflections of an Old Man are more philosophical. The one that’s giving him trouble now is about religion.
“Writing is hard,” Dad says.
I agree, pleased by his validation.
“So how long does it take you to write a book?” he asks again.
“Each book takes a lifetime,” I tell him, “No matter how quickly you write down the words.”
Tell me, what are you working on? And for how long?
Deborah Lee Luskin is the award-winning author of Into the Wilderness, a love story, set in Vermont during the Goldwater – Johnson presidential campaign in 1964. She blogs Wednesdays at www.deborahleeluskin.com