One of the most common questions people ask an author is: How long did it take to write the book? Some writers churn out a book a year and others take 5 or 10 years. The answer for me with Breathing Water is more complicated and I’ll tell the story with this willow tree.
Why did I choose a willow tree?
My fascination with willows began at a botanical garden where I took a photo of a willow tree reflected in a goldfish pond. It hung in my office for years and I loved the form of the tree and the abstract quality of the image and reflections with the fish underwater. Many years later, I made up a story featuring a willow tree during a writing group I helped facilitate at the jail. It was about a girl whose loving memories of visiting her grandmother were intertwined with the big willow tree she would play and hide in. I was thrilled when my husband decided to plant one in our yard. Little did I know that I would have a granddaughter before my first book was published, and she has already enjoyed pulling on the fronds. Maybe this tree will have a magical place in her life as well.
Learning How to Write
Part of writing my first novel was learning how to be a writer. It’s different than writing scientific articles! Partly, you can only learn by doing, but it is a craft and it’s something you need to work at. I didn’t want to go to school again for an MFA, and I tend to be a do-it-yourself type, so I used multiple sources to help me learn.
Books about writing, some of my favorites were:
- Stein on Writing by Sol Stein
- On Writing by Stephen King
- Story Structure by William Bernhardt
- Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon
Writing groups and workshops:
- At my local library
- Writers in Progress manuscript group with Dori Ostermiller
- Especially workshops with Susanne Dunlap
Writer’s Digest magazine & conference
Lots of reading and of course always writing and getting feedback early on about what was working for people.
I started more seriously when I retired from my position as a research scientist in January of 2016. By October I felt like I was in writing mode enough that I asked my husband to take a photo of me by this young willow tree to mark the real start, even though I continue to learn by doing.
So How Long Did It Take to Write Breathing Water?
I had a lot of story to tell, over 3 generations of women from 1917 to 2017, so I finished a monster story 3 1/2 years later in May of 2020. The willow, since it’s planted on an ideal wet site in the open, grew rather quickly by then and we marked the occasion with more photos.
That’s Henry, my buddy, who loves to keep me company in the woods during my daily walk. The willow grew so much that a robin built a nest in it that year.
My story was too long for one book, but once I moved the story in my mind to my computer, I could decide how to divide it into two books, leaving some parts behind and writing fresh sections. The first book from this series is Breathing Water, which I completed on February 21, 2021 and sent out to beta readers over the next week. But it isn’t really done until it’s published and I’ll have more edits to do at different stages in the process. So how long did it take me to write the book? Something shy of 5 years, I guess you can say, or the time it took for a willow tree to mature. The second book will probably take ~ 1 year to trim into shape, so that would be 2 books at an average of 3 years-ish. Not too bad for a start, I guess, and I’ve got ideas for the next 2 books after. I wonder how long they will take?