It has been a long nine* years. I lost track of how many versions I have written---probably enough to impress even someone like Hemingway. Not to say that it is even comparable to Hemingway, but I do have to count The Sun Also Rises as an influence, and I have written at least as many drafts of mine as Hemingway did of A Farewell to Arms.
I began to write my first manuscript after I had been reading books like Fight Club, The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby. I started writing it, and, after about 35-40 pages, it sat for a few years, through another haphazard attempt at college, which ultimately ended up in failure---me dropping out, a two-time college dropout. I seriously began working on it again, on whim, but this time with more vigor than I had ever dreamed I would when I started it. It became more than just a thing---it became the thing.
Also around this time, I met my wife, and she only pushed me to continue working on it, to pursue this monster that had suddenly become a dream---a hope for something more than slinging burgers or managing others doing so. We moved to Chicago, on a whim, pursuing some kind of hope for a better future, neither of us with a bachelor's degree, or any real connections. We just picked up and left.
To get out there, I worked at a Chipotle and she as a nanny---and we tried to make it work, but Chicago is expensive. I started applying everywhere, sending out more and more creative versions of my resume until I finally landed a second job as a part-time recruiter's assistant at a staffing agency in downtown Chicago---suddenly, here I am, a two-time college dropout, working on the 19th floor, surrounded by skyscrapers, reaching out beyond my comfort zone and finding new ground. I also left Chipotle and began working at the FYE Superstore around the corner from the Chicago Theatre, as a supplement to my recruiter's assistant income.
We lived three blocks from Wrigley Field, on the northside, so I found myself riding the El every day to work. I commuted about a half hour each way---or more, if the train was late, which it often was. I found myself with about an hour to an hour and a half every day in need of something to do. I think I wrote my first four to seven drafts in the two years that we lived in Chicago, most while commuting back and forth between home and work. I even carried around a pocket-sized notebook and wrote during brief, free moments, while I was at work. Ideas that I would later incorporate into the draft. I would then take all my notes and handwritten chunks and transcribe it all to Word.
The Hemingway comes in after we move back to Northeast Ohio and end up in Akron. I applied for more loans (I mean, I'm already in the hole, far, far below the surface---what's a few thousand more dollars in debt) to go back to college---since I might as well at least have something to show for my effort (and the money I will have to pay back, regardless). This time, however, I did things differently. I changed my major to English, with a minor in creative writing, and took all the creative writing/fiction classes they offered. I wrote several more drafts during this time and found that I really excelled at English.
Finally, in December 2011, I graduated with my bachelor's degree from Kent State University, but it wasn't enough. Nine months later I was back in school as a graduate student at the University of Akron, which is where I still am, about two years later. We have moved to a nicer house in a nicer neighborhood, and I am four classes and my thesis short of getting my master's degree in Literature. I have self-published a short story collection, and I am on the verge of publishing this first novel, nine years in the making. It has become as familiar to me as the material world around me. When I close my eyes, I am there, with the characters, living their lives, experiencing everything they experience. The world is so visceral, so complete, I can't believe it came from my imagination---from abstract to manifestation. I only hope others will won't just read it, but will also have an experience.
It fills me with happiness that, not long from now, this book, this realization of an idea that came from my brain, will start a life of it's own, and, while I will be moving on to the next project and the next project---there is nothing like your first time.
*After thinking about it, I realized my first statement of seven years was wrong, since I actually started this book in 2005.