According to Wikipedia (which may be flawed information, but that’s all the research I’m doing today) Clarissa: The History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson is the longest novel written in English. Richardson’s novel had an estimated word count of 984,870.
I just finished my version of the world’s second longest novel in the English language with 89,950 words. My novel is the longest because it has taken me fricking forever (more than six years) to get it into some kind of shape that could get passed on to an editor before summer is over.
What happened to make this an epic journey? I try to write most days and have had twists and turns in the plot cooking on my mental back burner for years—really years!
Here is one explanation (spoiler alert – I don’t totally buy this as the reason). The story has something to do with HMOs (my flawed employment, waste of a graduate school, major source of apoplexy most days—even post Obamacare). Also has to do with my life. It has to do with starting out as close to a tell-all as possible without a murder of crows—sorry, I mean a team of lawyers—warming up in lawsuits.
Then it morphed into a memoir—same issues, different lawyers—including a few bosses who were lawyers! Then it became a novel, filling a giant binder! I thought I had it nailed and went to a Donald Maass intensive workshop for a week in Hood River, OR in 2013, came home and started over. Now I’m down to 89,950 words and ready to go chapter-by-chapter looking at scenes, arcs, dialogue, etc. until I can indeed pass it over to an editor and some game beta readers. Any volunteers?
The Real Reason
But here is the real reason I think it’s taken so tragically long—I was learning to write, write better, write more deeply, get out of my own way, let it NOT be about me exactly—without benefit of formal, aka MFA training. I’ve done workshops, classes, read a zillion how-to books, but missed that formal training.
And with some measure of grief in my chest, it is unlikely that I’ll go for an MFA and have to settle for more workshops, maybe some online classes. I’m not done looking around to see if there might be a more formal program that would have me and that I could afford—both very long shots. For now I’ll follow Anne Sexton’s advice, “When I am writing, I am doing the thing I was meant to do.”