That lyf so short,
the craft so long to learne,
Th’ assay so hard, so sharp the conquerynge.
The Parliament of Fowls 1. Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400).
Chaucer is paraphrasing Hippocrates, taken most likely from Seneca’s Latin rendering, “Ars longa, vita brevis,” in De Brevitate Vitae sect. 1. (Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, edited by Elizabeth Knowles. 5th edition, Oxford University Press, 2001).
One misunderstanding I hear many people voice is if one can get enough words on the page, one can write a novel. Often those same people point to Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants as a NaNo novel, as if it sprang in galley proof off her computer screen on November 30th. I do not know Sara Gruen, but I do not believe she e-mailed the draft to an agent on December 1st. However, I continue to meet far too many people who think their first draft is their last draft, although humans have known since the time of Hippocrates (circa 460-357 BCE) that art is difficult to master. Our own Beth Camp wrote this wonderfulpost about her multiple drafts this past winter, and Julie Rowe has this post on the focuses of the seven to eight separate drafts in her revision process. Yes, that is not a typo: seven to eight drafts. Therefore, I hate to disappoint, but writing 50,000 words in a month, or even a year, does not mean one has a ready-to-publish novel at the end of composition.
So, am I counseling giving up? Not at all. I do counsel being realistic, in that any piece of writing will take learning, rewriting, more learning, more rewriting, in what will come to feel like an endless cycle worthy of one of Dante’s circles.
My other piece of advice comes from another clause of the quotation: “That lyf so short.” Start now. Life is short, and each year picks up velocity for me in some manner explicable only by science fiction. I have also had far too many object lessons on the fragility of life in the past two years. There is hard work to do, and eternity stretches before no one on earth. My advice? Believe me, I am giving myself this advice as much as I am you, gentle reader. If you have a story to tell, start telling it, even if badly, even while learning to make it better, because time waits for no man, woman, or child.