If the common minimum novel length is about 50,000 words (as accepted by the good folks in NanoWriMo.org), then I finally hit that magic number around this past midnight, as Coldplay was singing in the New Year on Austin City Limits, my four-year old son was deep in slumber, and my younger sister had just retired for bed. (Oh, yes — I live in a house filled with PARTY ANIMALS, even on New Year’s Eve.)
This was my third draft of the novel that I’ve titled Angel Agonistes. The first draft, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I wrote in longhand, using a regular ol’ #2 pencil with a nubby eraser, filling up a college-ruled spiral-bound notebook that had 70 sheets in it. I wrote front and back of each sheet, nearly filling up that entire notebook with my awful, tiny, spiky handwriting.
I was inspired to write fiction, after a very long hiatus, after watching Severus Snape’s death scene in Part 2 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Alan Rickman’s performance of JK Rowling’s words inspired me to 1) reread HP7 and 2) begin brainstorming and outlining this story that had been knocking about in my head for nearly twenty years.
I would never have been able to write anything longer than 30 pages (my usual limit) if I hadn’t learned how to outline a long work — that is, my dissertation, which I completed back in 2006.
A dissertation is as NOT A NOVEL as a written work can possibly be. But the process of planning, researching, and writing the damn thing was an excellent apprenticeship to planning out a novel. I knew what my main thesis was in my dissertation — that is, I knew what the ending was before I even started writing. So the whole dissertation planning was simply explaining how to get there.
Yes, I said “simply.” But “simple” didn’t make it “easy”!
Once I saw that I could write something that was unified and was longer than 30 pages — my dissertation ended up being 271 pages long, with 14 pages of Bibliography — I had actually broken through a psychological obstacle in my fiction-writer mind.
Up to that point, I actually believed I couldn’t write fiction any longer than the short story form.
I wrote my first story when I was about ten — again, written longhand, in scribbly handwriting, on notebook paper. I think it was two pages long. I actually wrote my first “book” — that is, filled out a spiral-bound notebook — when I was in sixth grade. I even remember the title of it — Dana Strikes Back — because I made the mistake of lending it to a middle school friend of mine at the time, and she moved away, taking my first “novel” with her. (Her name was Stephanie Myers — no, NOT Stephanie Meyer. And yes, I’m still a little bit sore about it, silly as that sounds.)
Of course, it really wasn’t a novel, being only 100 handwritten pages. I would try to write another novelette /novela /novel-ish thing through my high school and undergrad years, but I’d get blocked about 30-50 pages in, and my bedroom closet was soon filled with the aborted attempts of novel-writing, succumbed to the evil that was writer’s block.
I even had a female protagonist, stuck in an air vent, on page 50, for 16 years before I threw away the notebook.
The closest thing to a complete long fictional work was my Master’s Thesis, written in my early 20s. My Master’s degree is MA English, with a Creative Writing Specialty, so I could write either a collection of poems, short stories, or a novel.
I wrote a collection of short stories that was vaguely chronological and had the same main protagonist. So I guess you could call it an episodic “novela” — it was 110 pages long. It was okay for what it was — it helped me get my degree — but hardly publisher-ready.
I tried to write another novelette/novela/ novel, but my nemesis, Writer’s Block, got in the way again. Writer’ Block for me is due to these reasons: inexperience, ignorance, fear, or laziness. In my case, all four would rear their ugly heads and bite me on my creative ass.
(You can actually see that aborted attempt of a novel here, on one of the pages of this blog. Feel free to check it out. It has some good bits, but all in all is a mess.)
So how did I finally get to finishing Angel Agonistes when I had failed before? Simply put, I had the ending already in my head — the scene, the dialogue, the characters — and I actually cared enough to want to show my readers how I got to that ending.
I cared enough to outline 10 chapters, outlining each chapter’s major scenes. I cared enough to do research — including taking the commuter train and walk around downtown Dallas in the middle of 100+ degree summer.
I cared enough to think of these characters as actual people because — wonderfully, miraculously — they are actual people. They just live in my head, and they want their life stories written down and they want me to do it for them.
So — I began the first draft on July 29, and completed it December 8 (written between grading papers, lesson-planning, teaching, sitting on committees, and raising my kid). It ended up being 137 handwritten pages. I began the second draft (that is, I typed the first draft into Word and did some minor revisions here and there) on December 20, and completed it on December 27. It ended up being 164 pages, with 43,000 words.
In a marathon of GET IT DONE, I turned around and immediately outlined where logical places of expansion in the story would be, and I got to completing the third draft on 12:22am, today, where my novel sits at 187 pages, with 50,300 words.
I listened to lots of Beatles, Coldplay, but ESPECIALLY the Foo Fighters — I ought to give a HUGE Thank You note to the Foo Fighters, that’s how much I listened to their albums over and over again as I wrote — to get into that weird, hard-to-describe space where I don’t feel so much as an artist, but as a scribe of the characters telling and showing their stories in my head.
It is an AWESOME feeling, having this novel completed. What a wonderful way to begin the year 2012.
Happy New Year’s, everybody!