Ear­li­er this week, Ramona Aus­bel talked about what she is, a moth­er, and what she isn’t, an actress. She has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing. Join JBC on May 22nd for a Twit­ter Book Club con­ver­sa­tion with Ramona. Fol­low #JBC­Books to participate.

Sev­er­al years ago at a writ­ing con­fer­ence, I was lis­ten­ing to a pan­el of agents and edi­tors talk about how to get pub­lished. They had advice about query let­ters and first chap­ters and whether or not to com­pare your­self to Nobel Prize win­ning authors. A man stood up and said, How long should a nov­el be? I don’t want to have to write this thing again and again, so I’d appre­ci­ate it if you just told me what you want­ed right up front.” I could feel every­one in the room sigh for this man, but of course, we all knew what he meant. Why is this so hard, I’ve thought a mil­lion times. You read a great book and it feels effort­less, like the writer just knew how to tell that sto­ry. All of us in that room want­ed to know how to tell our sto­ries, too.

My first nov­el took eight years and sev­en­teen drafts. I want­ed to believe that it would be eas­i­er the sec­ond time around, but I was wrong. It might even be hard­er, because I know exact­ly how long the road is. But I am not com­plain­ing. No one is forc­ing me to write — if I hat­ed this (OK, some­times I do hate it. A lot. But then I love it again lat­er) I could stop. I under­stand that start­ing is hard. It doesn’t mat­ter if it’s your first your fourth book, you are always in the dark. Also — a reminder to my future self — it’s not just the begin­ning that’s dif­fi­cult. The mid­dle, oh the mid­dle is a test. And fin­ish­ing? Dear God!

These days I am work­ing on some­thing new. I did the math again, tried to make a deal with myself to write a cer­tain num­ber of pages a day. I dreamed of hav­ing a draft by the time my son was born in Novem­ber. I had a lot of pages, but I did not, by any stretch, have a draft. When peo­ple ask me what I’m work­ing on I tell them I don’t know yet since it is still in the pri­mor­dial slush phase and has not yet sprout­ed legs and crawled up onto land. I have been say­ing that for a year. Still no legs. And that has to be OK, because that is what’s true. I still hope that in a mat­ter of years, and I do real­ize that it will be years and not months around, I will be able to walk back out of this room hav­ing show­ered and put on respectable cloth­ing with a read­able man­u­script in my hands. But that time is not now. Now, I need to close the door and kneel down in the mud. I have to have faith that some­thing is grow­ing here, even if it is just a sin­gle-celled organ­ism, slip­pery and legless.

Ramona Ausubel grew up in San­ta Fe, New Mex­i­co. She is the author of the nov­el No One is Here Except All of Us with the col­lec­tion of short sto­ries A Guide to Being Born to fol­low. Her work has appeared in The New York­er,One Sto­ry, the Green Moun­tains Review, pax amer­i­cana, The Orange Coast Review, Slice and col­lect­ed in The Best Amer­i­can Fan­ta­sy and online in The Paris Review.

Ramona Ausubel has been pub­lished in The New York­er and One Sto­ry, and has received spe­cial men­tions in Best Amer­i­can Short Sto­ries, Best Amer­i­can Non­re­quired Read­ing, and the Push­cart Prize Anthol­o­gy. She is a recip­i­ent of the Glenn Scha­ef­fer Award in Fic­tion and a grad­u­ate of the MFA pro­gram and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia Irvine.