Is Writing Long a Sign of Senility?
Was James Joyce senile when he wrote Ulysses (at 265,000 words, one of the longest novels in English literature)? Was William Faulkner habitually drunk when he wrote his famously-fragrant
prose? Probably not.
But “rambling and long-winded anecdotes could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, according to research that suggests subtle changes in speech style occur years before the more serious mental decline takes hold.” Read the article here
“Sherman cites studies of the vocabulary in Iris Murdoch’s later works, which showed signs of Alzheimer’s years before her diagnosis, and the increasingly repetitive and vague phrasing in Agatha Christie’s final novels – although the crime writer was never diagnosed with dementia. Another study, based on White House press conference transcripts, found striking changes in Ronald Reagan’s speech over the course of his presidency, while George HW Bush, who was a similar age when president, showed no such decline.”
My fiction writing problem seems to be the opposite. More than thirty years of writing nonfiction — articles, news, even grants — has made me habitually spare. When I’m told, a few thousand times, to be as brief as possible (often more brief than possible) to meet 1800 to 2000-word magazine lengths or 250 to 500-word news reports, it’s hard to relate to writing a novel 70,000 words long.
So my stories’ rough drafts usually end up at about 50,000 to 60,000 words and must be 70,000 to meet the standard length for the type of mystery I write. It’s worse in fantasy where my final-draft 80,000-word stories fall well below the standard of 120,000.
This is not all bad, though. That 50,000-word rough draft gets better as I rewrite to add depth and color. And with each rewrite it gets longer. After ten or a dozen rewrites it’s no longer nonfiction-news telegraph style but a more rounded, colorful, pleasing story.
And I love rewriting. Someone once asked me who my favorite author was. “Me,” I said. The obvious danger is that I could rewrite and rewrite and end up ruining the story through overblown padding. I try not to do that, pad. I notice that later rewrites are less and less rearranging or adding verbiage and more and more focusing on grammar and punctuation.
This is as it should be. To continue to expand each sentence might be considered — senile.
*NOTE: WhenI wentto Wikiopedia COmmons to find a graphic to use, I typed in the search box “big books” and it asked me if I really meant “big boobs”. What have we come to?