So I just sent an email to my agent and editors containing [private] Dropbox links to the first draft of a vaguely trilogy-shaped thing. And I am exanimate. The trilogy-shaped thing, even in a rough first-draft form (which will expand as I stuff various left-over bits of plot up its arse, at my editors' prompting) is the longest first draft story I've ever written. In fact, I am thinking of changing my name to Mr Earbrass and emigrating to a land that has not yet discovered paper, never mind semiconductors.
I try to live my life by several simple rules, starting with "1: Don't Die". (If you violate rule 1, all the other rules become irrelevant.) Somewhere in the top 5 rules is "Never try to eat anything bigger than your own head", and I think I just broke a literary tooth on it. The longest first draft of a story I ever completed before this was the first draft of something called "A Family Trade", which ran to 156,000 words. It got edited, expanded, edited again, split into two books ("The Family Trade" and "The Clan Corporate"), published, then redrafted and recombined and republished as "The Bloodline Feud", in which form it runs to 195,896 words (I got down on my hands and knees and counted them). That was in 2002, before my arteries hardened and my memory softened.
This juggernaut weighs in at 303,397 words and can be expected to prolapse to around 330,000 before it's published (in not less than 12 months' time—it needs editing, redrafting, cursing at, ritually foreswearing, and then submitting to the production pipeline). And you should take it from me, it's quite challenging trying to hold the equivalent of an 800-900 page story in your head long enough to make sense of it and not randomly forget or confuse things like the main protagonist's age and gender, which of their relatives you killed off at the end of the previous series, and what time of year it's supposed to take place in. Or even what it's about. (I keep chanting "this is my big fat post-Edward Snowden near-future panopticon security state dystopia with parallel universes", but it isn't helping. I know: it's about badgers. Or the impossibility of badgers. Something to do with set theory, maybe.)
Part of what let me hold it together was Scrivener. I've praised Scrivener's virtues before; suffice to say, if you want a metaphor and you're used to writing software, if Microsoft Word is a text editor (probably some kind of cut-down crappy proprietary Emacs clone without the GNU functionality), then Scrivener is an Integrated Development Environment like Eclipse or XCode, only for books or other long compound documents. I've been slinging around a Scrivener project containing close to 930,000 words of prose—the current and new Merchant Princes series, in one handy cross-referenced hierarchical compound document with twiddly bits.
Another thing that helped me hold it together was Handeze orthopedic gloves, because near-fifty-year-old hands and this sort of word count do not make for pleasant bed-fellows.
Finally, I owe my sanity to having kept my attention focussed on the next-but-one novel in the pipeline. Because nothing gets you through the sucking swamp of despair that is the book you are writing right now like the bright, shining lure of the next-but-one book waiting just over the hill of optimism at the other side of this slough of despond.
But back to lessons learned: I humbly asked my agent to do me a favour. "Yes, what?" "Next time I express an interest in writing a manuscript more than 140,000 words long, would you mind hitting me in the face with a baseball bat until I return to sanity?"
She said yes! (My agent has my best interests at heart: letting my drive myself insane would be bad for her bottom line.) Anyway, just remember this, folks: it may be big, but it ain't clever.
PS: On another note: Now the Hugo voting is closed, I can let my arse-length hair down and vent, very diffidently, about my reviews. Specifically, reviews of Equoid (which is finally available in hardcover).
Yes, some of the reviewers spotted the odd pop-cultural reference in the novella. Many of them even realized it featured H. P. Lovecraft (gasp!) as a character. But honestly, does nobody read Cold Comfort Farm these days? Or grow up watching Trumpton, or reading about the adventures of the girls at St Trinians, or remember this sketch from Not The Nine O'Clock News? Critics! What is happening to your cultural literacy these days?