My Hail Mary Pass

1 Dec

Wikipedia refers to a Hail Mary pass as “any forward pass made in desperation, with only a small chance of success.”

I love this.

Isn’t this the way we live our lives? I know it’s how I have lived mine, so often closing my eyes and throwing everything I have into some small distant spot in the future, hoping like hell that I make it.

When I moved to Flagstaff seventeen years ago I had no money, no job, no car, and no prospects of any kind except for conditional admission to Northern Arizona University. Because I had been kicked out of the U of A, had flunked out of community college (yes) and had spent the last two years working at one sucky job after another (telemarketing, bagging groceries, cleaning motel rooms…), I felt like I had nothing left to lose. So I packed up my belongings, jammed myself into the backseat of a car driven by the friend of a friend, and headed up to NAU. I had a very short period of time to get financial aid, get housing, get a job, and make decent enough grades that I was taken off of academic probation. I did all of those things.

Now I am a tenure-track professor at that same university and I live with my high school sweetheart and a magical little boy named Oscar. I have always felt like I scored the game-winning touch-down.

Except for one thing…

I haven’t achieved my dream of becoming a writer.

I always assumed that by this point in my life I would be writing novel after novel, selling each one for a high advance and being able to live off of my income as a full-time writer. I’m not even close to achieving that. I’ve tried writing three different novels over the course of the last ten years, and none of them has broken the one hundred page mark.

Then in November I made one last attempt, one last forward pass made in desperation, with only a small chance of success. I tried to write 50,000 words in thirty days. For the first time in a long time I was able to stay focused about my writing, and more importantly I was able to stay excited about my story. The characters I was writing about came to live in my heart.

I finished! My first draft is 53,630 words long. I got this certificate to print out and the nifty winner badge in my sidebar.

My novel is nowhere near finished. The whole draft is currently a huge, unruly mess. The first half is pretty complete and polished, as is the last chapter (I actually wrote the end first), but the middle needs a lot of fleshing out and revising. I’m guessing that the final novel will be at least 90,000 words. I still have a lot of work to do.