This morning I printed out The Swan Harp, all 130,000 words, three hundred pages of it.
That’s something of an accomplishment. In 2005 I’d never written anything longer than about 10,000 words. I’d certainly never rewritten anything that long. In September 2005 I took part in the Three-Day Novel Contest, an international contest in which participants have seventy-two hours to write the first draft of a novel, and to do anything else that needs done, like eating and sleeping. Although my novel didn’t even make the top ten, I felt an incredible sense of triumph, because I’d completed a first draft of a complete novel.
Sure, it was only 27,000 words, and it needed a lot of work – an incredible amount of work – to make it approach anything like publishable, or even novel-length. But I’d written a plot, developed characters, tied up loose ends, and although I woke up three days after I’d sent my entry and realized I had a plot hole you could drive a freight train through, I was still elated. I stayed high on that accomplishment for weeks.
I rewrote the novel once, then let it lie because The Swan Harp beckoned. I’d been thinking about that story for almost twenty years. I wrote the first and second drafts of that in six months. I’ve kept at it for most of the last two years, doing things I never believed I’d do.
Now I have the fifth – I think – draft almost done. I need to look at a printout and decide what still needs to be written, and if anything needs rearranging. Believe it or not, I’m still trying to figure out where to start this story. But I’ll get that sorted, too.
When I brought the printout down this morning, David said, “Wow!” That’s pretty much how I feel, too. I’m not done yet, not by quite a few weeks, but I’m getting there, and that wad of printed-out paper is definite proof.
In 2005, if you’d asked me if I could write something this long, and rewrite and rewrite and re-rewrite it, I’d have said “Definitely not.” Actually, I probably wouldn’t have said that – I’d be rolling on the floor laughing. I was Queen of the Short Form, the woman who wrote fifty-five-word flashes, a dyed-in-the-wool miniaturist. Me, write a novel? I’m sorry, you must have mistaken me for someone with a longer attention span.
Yet here I am, preparing to red-pencil my way through this sheaf of paper before I rewrite it yet again. It’s a heady feeling. I’m already looking ahead to the next one. I have four or five ideas to write, including re-doing that first novel as a young-adult one.
Excuse me, I need to go get out my red pencil and start reading.