It’s been a long time since I’ve update this blog – two years to be exact. A lot of wonderful things happened in those two years years: I married the love of my life (a year into marriage and I still grin when I wake up and see him), and we bought a house and moved to Garden City, Long Island. Oh, and another significant milestone: I finished my first novel.
Well… sort of.
A while back, the excellent YA fantasy author, Laini Taylor, posted this, upon finishing her book manuscript: I’m DONE!!!!!!!!
So, yes, in the spirit of Inigo Montoya, I’m “done” with my novel.
It did not turn out how I thought.
“I think you have grad student syndrome,” a dear friend of mine, who was in the final throes of finishing her PhD thesis, told me. She’s right. I’ve been working on this same project off and on for almost four years. I hate it. I’d kind of like to tack the manuscript up to the wall and shoot at it. Why? Because the words on the paper don’t match up to the vision in my head. Because even after rounds of revisions, the story still has serious issues I haven’t been able to fix. Because as I read the manuscript I think… it’s really not very good.
It’s also my first try.
We ecstatically praise a baby’s first wobbly attempts at walking. (In fact, wouldn’t it be kind of disappointing if they just got up one day and walked, without all that adorable flopping over and falling down and unsteady little prancing?) And yet I seem to have no compassion for my first wobbly attempt at novel writing.
The fact is, most writers’ “first novels” aren’t really their first novels. It’s a dirty little secret of publishing. Those writers who win “first book” awards, whose authorial “debuts” are praised in the press – it usually isn’t their first book. It’s their first book that got published. I was recently reading an interview with Simone St. James, whose historical fantasy, The Haunting of Maddy Clare, won a RITA award for “Best First Book.” (It’s excellent, y’all – check it out!) But it was actually her third book. She had completed two manuscripts already, learning a lot about writing in the process and receiving rounds of rejections, before finally finding her voice.
It’s a common story. I’m not sure what comes next for my manuscript. When I started this novel, I didn’t know then what I know now about story-structure, GMC (goal, motivation, conflict,) etc… – and it shows. I’m not sure I can reverse-engineer these things in my manuscript, not without ditching about 250 of my 300 pages, and I’m not sure if I want to spend the time doing that – or just move on to my next book idea – yes, there is another novel idea percolating in my brain – which I think will go much better. I’m also just burnt out with this story, and the new story, well, it’s new and shiny and I’d much rather work on it.
But I’m glad I went ahead and finished the first novel to the point of being a complete manuscript, as good or bad as it may be. Most people who say “I’d like to write a book someday,” don’t write any books at all, not even a wobbly one. Now I know I’m cable of completing a 300 page project. You have to know you can keep the promises you make to yourself, to earn self-trust. As an old writing professor of mine from college used to say, “the only difference between a professional writer and an amateur is professionals finish what they start.”