At first I figured it would take four years. When I blew through those, I revised my deadline to six. But when “progress” on my project passed the 12-year mark, I changed my goal from getting my first novel published by a certain year to getting it published at all.
When the book finally came out, I was 67. It had taken me 20 years to finish. If I had done it in four, that would have saved me a lot of angst, but it would be a very different book. More than that, I wouldn't be the person I've become.
When one of my old professors suggested I write a novel about Nurbanu, an influential and largely unknown woman in the 16th-century Ottoman Empire, I had some major qualms. For one, I'd never written fiction. But the outline of her story — of being abducted at age 12 and put into the sultan's harem and, against all odds, becoming an intellectual and political powerhouse as wife of the sultan — really captivated me, and I decided to take the challenge on.
When we're young, we have the advantage of thinking we're going to live forever. When we're older, we have the advantage of knowing we won't.
After reading for a year and visiting all the places Nurbanu had lived, I took two more years to write a first draft and fine-tune it into something ready to show a publisher. When a good one thought it had potential, I was thrilled. And when the editors gave me “suggestions” — aka instructions — for rewriting the draft, I followed them. So I was shocked when they passed on the revised version. That process — of submitting a draft, rewriting it according to the publisher's advice and having it turned down — repeated itself six times. By then, I was on Medicare.