How long did it take you to write that book?

Since I published my first crime novel a few months ago, the most common question, and usually the first one that people ask me when they hear about it, is “How long did that take you?”

My standard answer is “Too long.”

For the record, such as it is, I wrote the first several drafts on a manual typewriter. I’ll let you guess how far back in the day that might have been.

English: Montage of Des Moines.
English: Montage of Des Moines. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The next few drafts were in the digital age and stored on diskettes. (Remember diskettes, anyone?) I printed query letters on a dot matrix printer and mailed them out with a synopsis and some sample chapters.

An editor from one of the big traditional publishers took the bait and had me send the manuscript, which I did. An agent was interested at one point, too, but backed off when he learned about the rejections I’d already gotten by the time he contacted me. The editor who read the manuscript was gentle in declining, complimenting me on character development, but the plot of that version of the story was lacking a bit in suspense.

Fast forward to 2014, by which time the printed copies that I kept had sat on a shelf in my home office for far too long. By then I’d self-published a memoir, authored or co-authored two books for hire, and edited and published another book written by Jim McLaughlin, motivator and trainer par excellence. (More about some of that on Books.)

I came across my manuscript in the basement one day and realized why I had kept it through more moves than I care to remember. Without realizing it, I’d been waiting to be a better writer to make a better story.

Over the next few months, my wife and I retyped the original (Thanks once more, Sue!) and I rewrote and edited, rewrote and edited, added some new characters and a good bit more suspense, and rewrote and edited some more. Cousin Becky Swift helped me with some fact checking since I’d moved long ago from Des Moines, where most of the story takes place. I did an online tour of the Des Moines Register, which had moved in the intervening years but still had an integral role in the plot, and I visited some of my old haunts via Google and Bing to see how they’d changed. I saw them anew through the eyes of my characters, who said and did new and unexpected things.

One day it was ready.

That’s how long it took.