Your first novel isn’t any good

Author and YouTuber Travis McBee said in a recent video that no one should publish their first book. At times like these, I’m reminded of those old Animaniacs skits:

Doing nothing with your novel — good idea or bad idea?

Travis argued that “if it’s your first book, it’s not good. It’s not nearly as good as your third or fourth book will be. Do not publish it — you will regret it.”

He says instead to do a rewrite and then set it aside — then repeat for at least one more book after that. His point is that your skills will grow dramatically from your first book to your second, and your second to your third. Publishing that rough, early work will turn off readers who may otherwise become loyal fans if only you had waited until your skills advanced.

I … totally agree with him. Rarely are debut published novels actually a writer’s first novel. More often, it’s their second or third — or twentieth.

The first novel I completed was crap. At the time, I didn’t realize that, but I can pretty much look back on that manuscript now and shrug my shoulders and nod my head. Yep. Terrible.

Why was it terrible? Because your first novel is often your “practice novel.” You’re going to make a lot of mistakes in it. And it’s not that those mistakes can’t be fixed — if you really wanted to, you could spend years performing major reconstructive surgery on them. But there’s only so much you can do for a body that’s badly broken.

For me, the clincher was that I no longer enjoyed my novel after writing it. I was bored by it, and I didn’t care about the characters. Not really. I didn’t believe in my story anymore.

It only took me a few years of procrastinating in revisions to figure that out for myself.

Travis’s advice is to move on — shelve that novel, at least for now, and write something new. There’s a big chance it’ll be much, much better. Your first novel isn’t the only novel you have in you — it’s not your “one and only” dream book. Trust me. Your imagination’s a lot bigger than that.

A valuable lesson Twitter can teach us about writing

Twitter Cat

Writing can be short and sweet or extraordinarily long. Either way, be concise and entertaining, and cram each sentence full of personality.

This lesson is exactly 140 characters long, the maximum for a standard tweet. The next time your sentence grows too wordy, practice making it shorter — that will force you to get your point across sooner. How many ways can you rewrite the lesson above without going over the limit? Use WordCounter.net as a guide.

Recipe for the perfect writer’s cocktail

The Kindle Daily Post recently published a guest blog by Kate White (So Pretty It Hurts), Cosmo editor-in-chief and six-time published author. According to the mystery/thriller writer, she didn’t successfully pen her first book until she was over 40-years-old.

Succeeding as a writer didn’t mean buying “a roll-top desk” or surrounding herself with “notecards, pencils, edible-looking pink erasers, and everything else [she] thought an author would need.” It meant finding an atmosphere that liberated her creativity, setting a schedule that worked best for her, and fooling herself into writing for longer stretches than she felt like.

The first component is the right desk. One day I realized that I actually I hated my roll top. It made me feel hemmed in both physically and mentally. So I bought two filling cabinets and a block of wood and began to write on that. The big surface was utterly liberating. Over time, with a little experimentation, I also discovered that though I’m a night owl, I write most easily early in the morning. And I came to see that I can’t be forced to write for big blocks of time. I need to play the trick of telling myself that I’ll write for an hour, not an entire afternoon—but then I always keep going. Oddly, it helps, too, if Carmina Burana is playing. (Perhaps that sometimes ominous-sounding music is good for creating whodunits).

The most important part may be not making excuses. Yes, you’re busy. Yes, you’d rather make time for the billion easier things in your life, like watching whole television seasons and redecorating your house and catching up on blogs every morning, afternoon, and night. But if you’re going to do that instead, be honest with yourself: You’re not writing that novel. At least not now.

If you’re going to write a book, write a book. If it needs revised, revise it. Remember that the many parts of the writing process are not always fun, and they’re definitely not glamorous. Stop procrastinating, sweat a little, and you’ll be rewarded with progress. Do whatever you need to do to get there, but don’t use the material world with its perfect pink erasers and notecards as roadblocks to actual writing. Your work doesn’t have to be pretty. It just has to happen. Each step you take is one step closer than you were yesterday.

Writer’s block is an excuse, not a reason

So this is something that was posted earlier in March, but I wanted to share it with all the struggling writers out there. Someone asked Neil Gaiman how to cope with the dreaded writer’s block, since this person wasn’t finishing any piece of writing because he/she was chronically unsatisfied with what was landing on the page. Gaiman’s answer? Writer’s block is a convenient scapegoat, but it’s more “a combination of laziness, perfectionism and Getting Stuck.”

Even if a story’s lousy, you’ll learn something from it that will be useful as a writer, even if it’s just “don’t do that again”.

You’re always going to be dissatisfied with what you write. That’s part of being human. In our heads, stories are perfect, flawless, glittering, magical. Then we start to put them down on paper, one unsatisfactory word at a time. And each time our inner critics tell us that it’s a rotten idea and we should abandon it.

If you’re going to write, ignore your inner critic, while you’re writing. Do whatever you can to finish. Know that anything can be fixed later.

Remember: you don’t have to be brilliant when you start out. You just have to write. Every story you finish puts you closer to being a writer, and makes you a better writer.

His advice echoes what I was saying a few days ago about dealing with a mediocre or downright awful blog post—or any other sort of writing: Learn something and move on. Don’t dwell, and don’t cover it up. Make the most of your writing, flaws and all.

Writers who write for a living don’t get to blame an unproductive day on a fanciful and elusive concept like “writer’s block.” We have to write despite whether we feel like it or if everything sounds wrong and ugly and miserably off-pitch. We have to type and delete and retype, planting ourselves in front of a blank screen until we finally coax words—not necessarily the right ones—out into the open. Writing is a tough gig. But when we are, as Gaiman says, lazy or nit-picky or just plain Stuck, we push through … even if it’s only for that paycheck that always arrives a month late.

Even if writing isn’t your day job, you should treat it like one. So what if the words aren’t perfect? They’re never going to be, and that’s what revisions are for, anyway. It’s more important to finish what you start than let it fester and die before its time. Finish, and you’ll learn something. Finish, and you’ll have new experience to draw from.