That's how many days it took to uncover my story. Three hundred and fifty five. Last year on vacation, I wanted something to work on - a little story I could tell myself. I've always loved 19th century books, especially ones thick in atmosphere: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, The Woman in White, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Rebecca. Something about being in the mountains with the storms that come almost daily and the clouds that hang down in shrouds and the constant wind makes me want to tell ghost stories.
I already had the idea. An old manor, a mother who falls suddenly and mysteriously ill, a creepy grave digger and a painting that speaks. All of it intrigued me. I decided I'd write 3 pages a day on the story. Whatever I could think of. Images that haunted me, snippets of dialogue, notes to myself.
Early on, a little grey girl stepped out of the shadows, out of nowhere, and said to my main character: "Your mother's going to die and you'll be left a little orphan girl. The grave digger is already digging her grave." And that's when I knew I'd found something.
I worked on it for Nanowrimo in a fever. I finished a draft in 22 days - I'd already done a month's worth of free-writing: auditioning scenes and characters, working out problems and talking to myself. The draft had a beginning, a middle and an end, but it didn't tell a story. It was still just a series of auditions.
I didn't know how to make it go anywhere.
I kept saying to myself and to anyone who would listen, "How do you know what you don't know?"
I brainstormed. I set it aside. I brainstormed more. I read books on craft. I read books similar to what I wanted to write. I talked to friends. I talked out the plot. I made lists of where I felt it pulling - a place that felt cliche - and where I didn't want to let it go. It has to be better than easy, I kept thinking.
I started listening to that voice, the one that says: give up, not good enough, and can't. I started to wonder if I really couldn't write. I wrote a blog post about keeping a daily notebook even when I didn't trust my own process anymore.
I went back over the first 30 pages of my story and underlined every line that seemed to portend something.
I scribbled notes to myself in the margin. Is this where the story wants to go? I took pen to paper and in something that felt very near to desperation I wrote, "What if..." and suddenly I answered that question. I found where the story could go. The entire plot fell together in a couple of days - all the elements that seemed to be two or three different books clicked together into one. The grave digger, the grey girl, and the painting of the woman in red on the wall. Everything was answered.
The funny thing about it all is that I'd had the idea of how to fix it for a while. A tiny little what if had whispered to me for months. I kept shoving it aside. "No," I told it, "that could never work." It makes me wonder how often we squelch that little whisper that's giving us the answer. The thing that seems the most impossible to do - the scariest, the hardest, the most insane - what if it were really the easiest thing in the world but we refuse to even consider it?
Anyway. There are people who would scoff at this, who would say, It shouldn't be that hard. Or Why not just give up? Or What's the point?
I'm not writing this for them.
I'm writing it for you, who might be close to despair. Who has started to believe that little mosquito buzzing in your ear that says, I can't. I'm writing it for my future self who will undoubtedly be here again, staring at something and saying, It's just too hard.
This past week I felt a small humming in my chest - a tiny happiness that I haven't felt in a while. I feel like a kid on a playground.
Sometimes things take a long, long time to finish. We don't like that. We want to download a book in under a minute. We want to stream a video. We can't be bothered to seek something out; we want it delivered to us. We want to know now, see now, do now, be now.
But sometimes it takes a long time. Sometimes it takes 355 days. Sometimes longer.
I'm willing to wait.