DID YOUR FIRST NOVEL GET YOUR HEART AND SOUL?
This is a writerly post if looked at strictly, but could apply to many other things in Life if you think of it as a metaphor for anything you have loved – and maybe lost.
It is a truism that the first novel is often unpublishable, and that IF it gets a publisher (or you publish it yourself) it is often not your best work, because, as a writer, you lack the skills to do the best possible job on the material.
[A corollary is that getting it to the publishable stage takes a huge amount of time which you lack on subsequent books, leading to the dreaded ‘sophomore slump’ when the second book doesn’t materialize or fails to meet its deadline if on contract or simply isn’t good enough and gets rejected.]
A first completed book is like a first crush
There is something in that first attempt which takes you from someone who has never written a novel – THROUGH someone who has finished at least the first draft of that novel – to whatever fate it gets: trunk novel (never to be published or even seen again); published without sequel or following books; or published with great satisfaction (in which case you are extremely lucky, or talented, and will not be reading this post – mazel tov.
In any case, DONE!
So it has value regardless of outcome, disproportionate to its size.
But it has pulled something special out of you: the first story you can see as a whole, the first to get your full commitment, the one to let you try your wings on, the first you have hopes for.
The one that makes you want to improve your writing chops.
[And the one you hope will make you famous and rich, but that is rare, and you won’t be reading here if you were that lucky one.]
For the rest of us writers
IF you didn’t go self-publish that first one (for whatever reasons – in my case self-publishing wasn’t a thing yet in the 1990s), you may have the niggling feeling that some day you really should go back to it, because it pulled so many good things from your nascent writer self.
Many things which you simply couldn’t handle yet.
I had a severe case, when I took a very brief private writing class, of looking at my own writing, KNOWING what was in my head – and UNDERSTANDING that I had not taken that story and put it on a page.
The disconnect was huge. I couldn’t see my own story in my own words.
Self-awareness is exactly the right place to start
Another truism: if you can’t see what’s wrong, you can’t fix it!
So the ability to judge your own writing is a developmental milestone.
Many people outsource this to an editor – and, if they’re lucky to find the right editor, will have their flaws pointed out to them gently, and should proceed from there to correct those flaws in future works, possibly even in the current work-in-progress.
Others choose to essentially do their own first drafts from then on out, and to outsource the editing permanently (I’ve had one such author literally tell me ‘the editor will fix everything, while I go on to the next book’; he is quite successful and very energetic, and I still don’t like his writing – possibly envy?).
I don’t judge writers, but I do choose what to read (when I have time to), so ‘whatever floats your boat’ is fine with me – for others.
By the time I started writing
my life was in tatters: I had planned to write mysteries in retirement after a long and rich career as a working mother/physicist/normal citizen. Chronic illness at 40 scrapped those plans as cleanly as a good snowplow clears the road.
I kept writing; the trunk novel grew to ‘finished story’; the sequel in the planned series was half-finished, the third in the series planned in concept and title (Acapulco Deadlymoon)…
The point here being that I did NOT plan to be hijacked by a much better story, or rather, possibly, a story I really needed to write and to up my game for (the Pride’s Children trilogy).
So the old story got literally left in the dust cloud in the rearview mirror – while I went off to become an indie mainstream novelist, and to spend the next twenty-three so far years on an obsession.
Now I’m heading into the final (?) stretch for Pride’s Children
and the inevitable question arises: what’s next?
Is the answer, ‘Go back to that first love’?
In favor of the idea:
- In the style of Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton, I had envisioned a long series of novels with a single, first-person main character – and I had poured an enormous amount of my interests and background into her, a young Mexican mechanical engineer who had emigrated to the US with her family as a teen, become thoroughly Americanized on the one side while retaining a cultural Mexican side.
- The first novel in the series had Thea taking a job (she had MP experience) as a security officer on a college campus where her American husband was doing a PhD in physics because she thought he would be finishing and moving to a permanent job, and it didn’t make sense to her to start a Master’s in Engineering and have to switch locations halfway through.
- I could make a graduate school real from personal experience.
- I grew up in Mexico and had, first-hand, the disorientation being bi-cultural can bring.
- A series can end any time you choose to write the last book in it (or are forced to).
Against the idea:
- My experience there is a LONG time in my past now.
- Just because something was satisfying way back when may not carry over.
- There is a LOT to rewrite – with the more modern skillset.
- I am not well yet – may never be – and I’m not sure that is where I want to have a legacy, after mainstream fiction.
- Keeps me from thinking of something new.
- Is in a different genre I don’t have the chops in.
- Was set a long time ago – almost historical if I wrote it in that time frame, which I’d have to because I know nothing of a modern grad school or college experience.
I can’t quite explain the pull
Maybe I feel I failed Thea, after promising her so much.
Maybe I feel I have something to contribute that is relevant to the immigrant side of my own background – first TO Mexico at seven, and then BACK to the US at nineteen.
Maybe the second book, set in Mexico has legs.
I miss Acapulco! Hate what has happened to it, though my sisters do go back from time to time to the safe parts.
Maybe I miss my own youth and health. Okay, I do – don’t we all?
But I’ve never quite been able to consign this one to the permanent dark.
Do you have trunk novels – and have you considered resurrecting them?
We grow in many ways as we age, but we also experience much in the way of loss – is it even feasible to try to go back?
How much of yourself and your writing self did you leave behind?