I’ve often heard it said that the first couple novels a writer writes are throw aways. They’re learning experiences, written almost entirely to build up the chops of finishing a damned novel. Now, I know this is isn’t the case for everyone. A lot of writers can churn out a first novel and have it be pretty damned awesome, especially if they are already pretty decent writers.
But in my case, it is very very true. In fact, even when I thought I was past writing throw aways, I went on to produce another. So, because I’ve recently been going over old work, I thought it might help some people out to see a break down of my completed novels to date as an illustration of how helpful it was for me to write them and then shelf them.
Now, as a side note, I should tell you that these are just the completed ones, not the almost completed, and they are also the ones that reached novel length in a doc file and not just a notebook I scrawled in when I was 13.
Novel 1: Blackspell
I completed my first, typed novel when I was 17 for my senior class project, with alot of prodding from my mother. It came in at 103,000 words and was a completed LOTR rip off, with scenes stolen from many of my favorite fantasy novels and movies (also, more than a few Bible story parallels made their way into there). It was about an elf orphan who needed to destroy and evil overlord but it was no probs because she was super pretty, smart, powerful and everyone liked her.
To use it as my graduation project, I needed a mentor and a very sweet friend of a family friend who worked as a professional writer offered to edit it for me. That poor woman. Her notes started out strong but puttered out quickly when it became apparent that the story was just pure drivel. I think I got an A though, because none of my teachers wanted to spend their time actually reading the novel.
Novel 2: Never Titled Vampire Love story
Proving I was obviously ahead of the curve, this paranormal romance/thriller/horror was also completed around my senior year of high school. It featured the ultimate Mary Sue protagonist, Gallatha Albinish (yeah, I really liked making up names). She was so pretty, but didn’t know it, so talented, so nice, so brave and of course the Vampire King fell in love with her, but he was not all that good for her. It was an epic attempt to write out all my teenage angst.
I think I knew this when I wrote it because I never tried to do a thing with it.
Novel 3: Working title Beth Trudder
I must have written this some around my sophmore or junior year of college. There was a long period after high school where I did alot of experiments and false starts, but I recall this novel being relatively easy to write. It is a sorta psychological thriller/character study about a battered wife who has to stand on her own after her husband mysteriously disappears. The premise is sound. The characters are much more nuanced than my previous attempts. The writing is still lacking, as well as my understand of just how complex the subject matter was, but this was the first novel I wrote that could have been a contender.
Novel 4: The Fate of a Princess
This YA sword and sorcery novel flowed from me shortly before I graduated from college. I wrote it, my mom read it and then I forgot about it, preoccupied with college stuff like the enormous pressure of my entire future. It was my first attempt at a dynamic character, begining with an incredibly unlikable protagonist who is forced to grow through serious magical hardship and learning her own inner strength. The writing is juveline, but the novel possesses serious potential. I was well on my way with editing it two years ago when I started this blog with the intention of self publishing.
Life got in the way and it was placed on the back burner. It needs serious work, but it I ever find the motivation for it, I would love to see this book out in the world.
Novel 5: The Singing Cat
This was an very ambitious undertaking, a quirky epic urban fantasy, that I started shortly after I graduated from college. For a while the writing went very well, then I hit a very long writing funk. Working full time exhausted me, and my creative attention went almost entirely to my rock band. Social life, band practice, dating, working, getting engaged, keeping my first apartment, planning a wedding, basically being in my twenties held me back, not only from finishing the novel but from writing all together.
I came back to it when I was unemployed, filling my days with something to make me feel productive and fulfilled while I waited for endless job applications to yield some results. It didn’t always flow easily but I powered through, forcing myself to write out scenes that were dragging.
Finishing “The Singing Cat” was an accomplishment like no other. Truly a labor of love and for that reason I thought it was good enough to publish. I edited an queried and got no response. After a few years of sporadic querying, I found a great writing crit website and got a rude awakening. Some reviewers decided to err on the side of kindness. None of them were outright mean, but many were blunt and it crushed my little writing heart.
I had been living in a bubble that many writers find themselves in where I thought just because I had the chops and skill to write a novel, I obviously had something bankable. In truth it was wordy (sooooo wordy, 105,000 words wordy), convoluted, went off on tangents, a la “Hitchhikers Guide” but much less effectively, and was a little all over the place. Each of the of the 20 Chapters was 40 pages long.
When I realized the major scope of edits it would require, and that I couldn’t fake my way out of them, I shelved it. I had the writing chops but I lacked the editing chops. I also changed how I wrote.
This was a big moment for me.
Novel 6: The Silent Apocalypse
My method changed a lot between “The Singing Cat” and “The Silent Apocalypse”. I wrote in Chapters, instead of trying to cut the finished piece into them. I wrote with the critiques I’d received on the Singing Cat in mind. I started studying up on effective writing. I went hard and and fast on the novel until shortly after I got pregnant with my second child. Then my creativity puttered out.I tried but nothing came.
It’s a complex paranormal thriller, with four different plot lines that converge in the final scenes.
When my daughter was about 9 months old, it came screaming back, inspiring not only my attempt to revive Fate of a Princess, but also the blog, the twitter writing account and a sudden focus on the dream that had been quietly burning in my all along.
I wanted to be a published author.
Renewed in motivation didn’t mean renewed in inspiration though. I bounced between The Silent Apocalypse and another manuscript for a while before I buckled down and determined to focus on the piece I knew I could complete.
I outlined it.
When I got held up, I took a break and brainstormed until the solution came.
I finished the novel three months after I picked it up again and it was….
sloppy. It was really pretty sloppy. But the story wasn’t just sound, it was pretty freaking unique, and I loved it. Not because of the hard work. Truth was, writing the first draft was hardly any work at all. I made myself available and it flowed and it was awesome.
I loved it because I loved it. And I knew I had my first draft of my first publishable novel.
It took me almost a year to finish edits. Three rounds. Then I put it through writers critiques, beta readers and some more edits. It hasn’t landed me an agent yet, but I know it will be published some day, and I’m willing to take the critiques in the world if that’s what it takes to make it perfect.
Novel 7: Summer’s Circle
My newest baby didn’t just flow, it surged. 84,500 words. 1 Month. Done. Bam. It was amazing. And the cleanest first draft I have produced, to date. But all that crazy manic creating left me a little fatigued when it came to editing. I did some clean up and then I committed it to my writers workshop for review before I undertook hardcore edits.
This is a length process. Even though my group meets once a week, every needs a turn and submitting 2 chapters a time every month is a lengthy way to get feedback on your work. My group is about halfway through the novel now, and many members have left as new ones have come in, so some are picking it up in the middle.
BUT the feedback has been invaluable, and with it I am getting a clear idea where it’s strengths and weaknesses lie. Although the group isn’t done with it yet, I am getting ready to get out my red pen and start slashing.
I am really excited about this novel, probably as much so as “The Silent Apocalypse” and if I can’t find an agent with its predecessor, I think “Summer’s Circle” might have a little more luck because of the singular plot line.
Ultimately, I think they both will end up published at some point, not because I’m so great, but because I finally took the time to be critical of my work and learn how to edit effectively. Because I love them enough to do what it takes to make them happen. Because I know exactly what I want to do now.
So, the point? Write. What for yourself. Write for you friends. Writer for the joy of writing. When you’re ready to put your work out there, brace yourself for all ways you didn’t write for anyone else, and make adjustments so other people might like it too. But don’t write for them. Write for yourself. You’ll know when your work starts to sync up with what the world wants.