I keep promising Keith I’ll stop lurking and actually post something. This seems like a good place to start.
Fingers - one of Britain’s finest novelists, Anthony Burgess, didn’t publish a word until he was nearly fifty. He was diagnosed - incorrectly, as it turned out - with a terminal brain tumour and given twelve months. He used those “final” months to write a novel in order, posthumously, to support his wife.
(Or so he claimed. It’s a good story…)
Anyway, my point is - Burgess started late, but once he’d started he never stopped. And his novels just kept GETTING BETTER. His masterpiece (which I thoroughly recommend to everybody, my belated contribution to this excellent board) was EARTHLY POWERS. Burgess was born in 1917. Earthly Powers was published in 1980.
(And it has my favourite opening line of any novel…)
My first novel was published when I was 29, by when I was already (and absurdly) troubled by what I perceived as a younger generation - the pretty 25 year-olds who got larger advances, who got more publicity. Most of them are gone, now, faded away. I’m still here. Some of my books have been successful; at least one has been a full-on disaster. But I look at the anxiety of that 29 year-old and I think - oh, come on.
The book’s the thing. Keep writing the book. It took Joseph Heller seven years to write Catch-22. It was published when he was in his late thirties. His second novel, Something Happened, took him a full decade.
And back to Burgess. He accounted for his astonishing prolificness (is that a word?) simply by observing that he wrote 1,00 words a day, every day. That’s only three pages. But three pages a day equals 365,000 words a year - a novel about the length of Ulysses. Or a novel half that size, revised twice. Or half that size again, revised three times.
Graham Greene, however, wrote 500 words a day. Sometimes, if he was struggling, he’d stop halfway through a sentence. As long as he’d done his 500 words.
Keep going, mate. Don’t worry about anything, except the book.
And when it’s finished - admit it to yourself. That’s probably the scariest bit - because you owe it to yourself submit it to literary agents, in pursuit of a publisher. For what it’s worth, I had that problem with what became by first published novel. I wrote it quickly - 3 months. All except the final chapter, which I didn’t write for two and a half years - because I suspected this was “the one”: the absolute best I was capable of, at the time. If I submitted it, and it didn’t find a publisher, I’d have to think again…so I put it away and wrote nothing and got a proper job and…and…
There’s a possibility your slaved-over novel might not be “the one”. But if it’s not, the next one might be. Or the one after that. The book is the thing. Good luck, and keep going.