33,043. That’s the word count on the novel I’m currently writing. It’s crazy how word counts have so much meaning for me now, and they meant absolutely nothing to me before I published my first book. On this side of the looking glass things are much different than they were from the other side. I’m proud of that number too, because it means I’ve written a novella already. It’s more than a short story, but less than a full-length novel at this point (unless I’m John Steinbeck or Ernest Hemingway), so it has a heft and a weight to it that is satisfying in many ways.
I’ve written several first drafts of several novels before. They are as complete as they are going to be right now because I’m no longer sketching them out anymore. Perhaps eventually I will come back to each one and give it the tender loving care that it deserves, but I’ll have to be in the mood for that, and so many new stories come into my mind all the time that need telling as well. But yes, as first drafts go, this one I’m writing right now is solid, perhaps even more solid than the first draft of my most recent published novel.
Maybe I’m finally getting the hang of this novel writing thing.
For years I considered myself a storyteller, but those stories were short fiction pieces. 20,000 words or fewer. Often times they were short shorts. 10,000 words or fewer. Sometimes they were only a page, but a highly detailed page with a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end. But that’s where they ended, and where I thought the line had been drawn, thick and uncrossable. I would generally tell my story, it would end, the word count would be slightly over 12,000, and I would file it away with the rest of my short stories, I thought never to see the light of day again. (More to come on that later.)
With Detours, my first novel, though, things just flowed, and as I hit and passed 20,000 words I knew I was in uncharted territory. But I didn’t look back. I just kept looking ahead, and I kept writing. Before I knew it I was past 30,000 words and I understood finally that I was looking at my first novel, that the time had come. When I finished the book, edited it, added more dialogue, and finally pronounced it ready to be published, I knew I had found a new way of writing that I would have forever.
I’ve written at least the first drafts of five novels since then. Two of those novels have since been published. But for me that invisible line of 30,000 words still speaks to me. It’s when I realized my first novel was indeed a novel, and it’s held true for every one since. By the time I got to 30,000 with Leaves in Fall, my most recent novel, I had already fallen in love with the town and the characters who populated it. It’s more than just a moment for me. It’s one I feel I have to observe now. It’s powerful.
When I’m done with this novel, which sits at 33,043 words and counting, I’ve decided I’m editing and compiling my short stories from way back to the present. I’m going to dig through my archives, I’m going to create a few more, and I’m going to put together a book of short stories, because they were my first love, and because it’s time. I know me, though. I’ll probably be writing my next novel in between the editing and compiling too. And I know I’ll still be counting the words.
Because while I’m still a storyteller, the longer stories have begun calling my name just as much as the shorter ones. Shhhh. Don’t tell the shorter ones. They’ll get jealous, and I can’t have that.