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So I wrote this novel and it was long. I mean, like, totally, insanely long. So long that if I tried to precis it, I’d have to write another novel. A complete novel-length book. The whole thing came to nearly 800,000 words and that was after the rewrite and the edit and the re-edit. It wasn’t a rough draft anymore, anyway, and I didn’t know what to do with it.

I liked it. There was no word out of place. Every sentence was necessary. But it was insanely long. No one was going to read it. I didn’t even think I would read it again. So I left it on my laptop in a neat little folder named after the book’s title, sub-folders in it containing parts then chapters. It was easy to find. It was all very organised. It was just, like I’ve said a million times already, too long.

So I left it and tried to forget about it. I have a job. I went to work. But every time I came home and was on the internet, reading articles, watching videos, playing games, I’d eventually gravitate back to it.

I’d read an email from a friend which contained a link to an article he thought I’d find interesting, and I’d click on the link, read the article, see a picture about a movie adaptation of a fairly famous book, click on that, then get interested in the source material, look at the author page on Wikipedia or something then at one of their books and read the stats, 262p, and immediately think, how does mine compare?

And then I was there, going through my folders counting the number of pages, comparing the amount of words per line and lines per page I had with the novel on Amazon before coming to some roundabout figure.

It was staggering and off-putting and, in the end, depressing. I might as well have looked at some porn and had a wank instead. I would’ve felt no better, no worse. I’d have the same feeling of exhilaration when doing it and the same empty feeling afterwards, the pleasure at finding out how many pages I’d written immediately replaced by a feeling of worthlessness and guilt. And I didn’t want anyone else to feel that.

I thought about deleting it, but I couldn’t bear to think of all that time I’d spent on it going to waste. I could’ve sent it to someone, but then no one was going to read anything that long or a summary of it, not even a friend – especially a friend, knowing my friends.

So I thought maybe I could print it off and send it to a publisher, but I couldn’t justify it, the pages, the length, the swathes of trees that would be destroyed even if it was only a synopsis. Could I kill trees to print off a worthless book, or even a great book, a book that was accepted by a publisher, published, reviewed, praised, a book that topped the bestseller lists, a book the people read and loved, even though they knew half the Amazon had gone into printing it?

I could self-publish, put it online or a blog, but no one was going to read it and, anyway, think of the devastation my book would wreak, all that power wasted in generating electricity for all those people to read it on computers.

And by the time they’d finished, what would they have not done? What would they have lost, spending hours, days, months reading my words? And while they were reading them, what would’ve died, who would’ve been killed to get the power and the components for their computer? How much energy would’ve been wasted? How much ice melted? How many natural catastrophes? How much time not spent with family and friends?

So I went on my laptop, deleted all the files and took a hammer to the hard drive. No one was going to die so someone could read my perfect sentences. No one. No one at all. Especially if they were actually shit.

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32 thoughts on “Tome

  1. Holy crow man (or woman, whatever you are). Here are the options that are going through my head:

    A) this is fiction and you have told a very real-feeling account of frustration and verbosity

    B) this is a true story and you are being somewhat tongue-in-cheek about how you ended it all and why, but there remains a bit of truth in the madness of your overly-long book

    C) this is true and this is what you did. I think in that case, first, 800,000 words? Crike. When I was in grade 10, I wrote a 1,800 page book by hand. It sucked. But then I was in grade 10 and a kid and everything I did sucked. But if you took the time to write something so long and find that every word has a place in it, I think you should have the professional courtesy – nay, the sheer human decency – to let others decide if it is any good. That won’t be easy. I don’t have the patience to read my own name half the time, let alone two bazillion pages of text, but that is my decision, not yours. So at least play the game and splay your pieces across the board, my friend – you owe it to us. That’s right, you owe it to us.

    All in all, my curiosity is piqued. I write long things. Never short. Never quite as long as the places where you have gone. But I am not exactly a practitioner of finer haikus either, that is for sure.

    I was thinking of an option D, here it is:

    D) you are completely irreconcilably mad, and to be honest, that is totally fine with me.

  2. Agh. Working on a novel, I can relate to a couple aspects of this piece! (just not the 800k words part) But still! All the doubt that comes with writing something of that length. Well captured.

  3. Interesting. Your reply to Lewin is quite telling. However, would like to congratulate you if you really wrote it …… no body may have read it yet the experience of writing it would have enriched you in many ways.

    Further, it takes guts to destroy ones brain child. it reflects wonderfully on the honest and pragmatic streak in your character.

    I enjoyed reading this.

  4. It’s your skill to craft stories that sound and feel real, whether the narrator is talking about themselves or a friend or someone they met. While reading your stories, I find myself thinking, “Wait, did this happen? Nah. But wait again. Could it have happened?” You have damn fine skill, my friend.

  5. Yes, I was wondering the whole time I was reading if this was real or fiction. Mostly because if it was real I wanted to shout, serialize it online! But then again it didn’t really seem consistent with my impression of you to destroy your novel.
    I agree with zooky, you do have great skill in making your voices feel real.
    And that kind of self-doubt: is what I do worthy of the cost, how can it possibly justify deforestation and global warming and factory-worker suicides in China, that speaks to me. I don’t hear many other people agonizing over these questions, so I appreciate hearing it from you.
    Sometimes when I get sucked into that thinking, I get a visit from cardinal, which symbolically represents self-importance. Cardinal reminds me that there is only one me, and I am here for a reason, and what I have to say matters, in fact, it is asked of me to write/speak my truth and give it to the world.
    But that’s spiritual stuff, I don’t know if that is meaningful to you or not.
    Thanks, anyway, for your blog.

    • I’m glad you have something to give you confidence. It doesn’t matter if it’s spiritual or not. I also think a lot of energy and paper is wasted on stuff that’s very much not worth what it’s printed on. Sooner or later I think people are going to have to grapple with that. Literature has to justify itself and a lot of the time it doesn’t. I mean really justify itself, beyond things like oh he writes nice sentences or she tells a good story, though I can hardly talk can I?

      • I take it you are not fan of Andy Warhol. “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide whether it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”

      • Not really. I do just write but if you don’t think about these things…Sounds like a good work ethic though. You could probably replace ‘making art’ with ‘making money’ or ‘teaching’ or ‘studying’ and it still stands

  6. The difference is, that Marcel Proust didn’t destroy his own tome. Or toughing it out might be useful, as Joyce said of Finnegan’s Wake, “It took me 14 years to write this, and I expect readers to take 14 years to read it.” [quote may be apocryphal]

  7. Dude! I’m about 27,300 words into my first novel and its already been quite awhile in the making….I cannot imagine that many words/pages/chapters being tossed no matter how frustrated I may get/have gotten! Please, say it ain’t so! ….Would totally make me ill, just sayin’. I have scrapped paintings in the past for real and regretted every passing day when my thoughts came back to those individual paintings…. 😦 …Knowing the time and passion that went into them and then losing them by my own hand.

  8. It might already have been suggested, because it’s so obvious. Separate the first few hundred pages and turn that into its own book. Find a way of building a climax.
    See how that goes. Keep the rest for sequels.

  9. Did you really do that? That sounds awful – it’s like destroying your babies (your written babies!). If it’s good, it has its own value – maybe someone one day would have hailed it as a masterpiece, 800,000 words or no!

  10. Haha! Great finishing sentence!

    He could have cut it into volumes and had his future made if the first one was successful enough. This would also have limited the damage he did with his books.

    Perhaps he could have done what Salinger has and left the books to “destroy” parts of a world he is no longer a part of (and which by the time of his death he might wish ill upon).

    I’ve been catching up on all the posts I’ve missed since I started missing posts- it’s been good.

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