When I first discovered my grandfather’s lost family in Colombia back in 2009, I had no idea I had stepped out of my life’s journey until that point and onto a new path. I knew I had stumbled upon something that was, at minimum, fascinating and potentially consequential, but there was no hint at that time I had somehow begun charting a new course.
My initial impulse—that desire to know one’s roots—turned almost immediately from an informal inquiry into into an obsession. I was determined to uncover the buried threads of my family’s story, to understand why my grandfather made the choices he did, when he did. Except there was no one left to answer.
My questions took on the force of a boulder hurtling downhill. It’s hard to believe it’s still rolling eight years later with yet to find a bottom. While I’ve been researching his life and the places he lived for nearly a decade, I decided only about six years ago to attempt to fictionalize his life story.
My son asked me recently, “How long does it take to write a book?” And though he was asking for himself (he was considering writing a short novel centered around video games, as young boys do), his question made me laugh. How long does it take? I’m still not sure.
Not long ago I ran across an essay by writer Viet Thanh Nguyen. In discussing his recent book, The Refugees, he said, “If I had known that it would take me 17 years to finish that collection, and three more years to publish it, perhaps I never would have even begun.”
Those words were at once disheartening and inspiring. I realized some time ago I was running a marathon and not a sprint. It helps to know that I’m not the first one to attempt this feat, and that I’m certainly not running alone.
I’m not quite sure authors write novels. Sometimes I think our novels are writing us. After all the time and effort I’ve put into this creation, I recently decided to scrap my entire first draft and begin from a new perspective. It would be too easy to become discouraged, but I’ve come too far for that. I’ve continued reseraching and writing in spite of personal and professional setbacks, in spite of being unable to find the time or sometimes even the inspiration.
It’s only recently that I discovered I’ve assumed the qualities of a marathon runner: strength, resilience, vision and focus. I didn’t necessarily have them at the outset, nor was I aware that I’d need them. Perhaps I was naïve, but isn’t that the best way to begin? Like Nguyen, I’m not sure I would I have started on this path had I known what was ahead or how long it would take. But now I’m committed. All of those necessary qualities are working in tandem, seeing me through to places unknown. I’m going to continue to trust the journey.