For roughly the last 18 months, I’ve been writing a novel, and trying not to tell anyone about it. I began out of frustration with the number of rejections I was receiving (well, and also the hard disk crash that cost me three months of work on short stories that probably wouldn’t have sold anyway). I kind of sensed that one problem with my work was that my protagonists were somewhat unlikeable. I found this annoying. I didn’t particularly dislike my protagonists. I thought they were people who were doing their thing, acting sensibly, reacting appropriately to extraordinary events. Anyway, I thought that if I wrote the same kind of story, with the same kind of protagonist, but made it 100,000 words long then the extended closeup would allow readers would be able to look at things from a different point of view.
I don’t really know if I succeeded in that goal. In the process of writing this (my first) novel, I discovered all kinds of difficulties inherent in the long form that don’t really come up in short stories. Probably the biggest were (unsurprisingly) the differences in pacing and structure. I wrote 30,000 words, and then restarted the novel, which helped immensely. Once I hit 60,000 I probably should have restarted again, but by then I was more focused on proving to myself that I could actually finish something this long (before I began this novel, my longest completed story was 7,100 words long. My longest fragment [a never-finished novel] was 18,000 words long)
The end result clocked in at roughly 95,000 words. I typed “The End” on it a few hours ago. I can’t really say that what I have is a “first draft”. It’s 95,000 words that starts with Chapter One and ends with the words “The End”. But it’s full of bracketed notes to myself like [add some words here].
But I am happy about having “finished” it. Writing a novel was always a very vague ambition for me. It was one of those things that I would have to do eventually if I wanted to have a career, but it didn’t seem terribly appealing to me. I liked short stories. I liked reading them, sure, but I also liked writing them. For a writer, short stories seem to carry more of the pure magic of invention than novels.
For me, the pleasures of writing are in beginnings and endings. Short stories are mostly an ending jammed onto a beginning…but novels are mostly just middle…tens of thousands of words of middle.
Still, a novel provides its own pleasures. Like…when you have a novel on the boiler, you never sit down and worry “What the hell am I going to write about”. You just write the next scene. Of course, then you wonder, “Why exactly is this the next scene? Why not some other scene?” But that’s a different kind of problem.
Also, it’s somewhat intoxicating to have the space to expand upon things. Short stories are always so very devoid of the stuffness of life. If you add in too many flourishes into a short story, people start to wonder what relevance all this stuff has to the plot. Novels are full of the stuffness. Even the most direct and action-based novel is about 1/3rd flourishes: descriptions, banter, digressions, walk-on characters, sideplots. All that stuff is kind of fun.
Anyway, I wrote a novel. Everything about it, including its title, is still totally under wraps. I kept silent about it in order to avoid killing the whole endeavor with too much chatter. But I figure that I deserve a little break in radio silence after completing such a major stage in the process. For a long time I wasn’t sure if I was going to revise it, or just abandon it and move onto the next thing…but now I think that I should probably revise it, even if it’s as nothing more than a lesson to myself. I’ll probably start doing that next year. If I finish the revision, there might be another post.