Monday, February 21, 2011

Sticking with your first book

A writer e-mailed me to ask, "When it comes to your first book, I'm not sure what kind of mindset to have. Do you take the approach that most first books aren't published, so it's a weak idea and it might suck, but at least I wrote it? Or hold out for something you are in love with and think is great?"

I think this is a great question. And a difficult one to answer.

The first thing I want to say is there's nothing wrong with not "being there" yet. Most writers I know have a perfectionist streak to them. We want to be our best, and we want to be our best now. Something I had to work to accept was that yes, I had some natural writing abilities, but this writing thing still involved work.

My husband is brilliant at math and science ... but he still needed his engineering classes in college. And even with four years of college under his belt, he really started learning how to be an engineer once he got a job and started engineering.

I say all that to make the point that training is a part of life and a part of writing. Is it possible your first book sucks and is destined to be hidden away in a filing cabinet? Yep. That's where mine is. But was it a waste? Absolutely not.

Every word you write matters, because with every word you grow. You develop.

There's that old saying, "Anything worth doing is worth doing well." Sometimes I don't agree. Sometimes all I can manage is a half-hearted attempt at dusting my house. But with writing, you'll reap much more if you sow your best. The writers who I see rapidly improve are the ones who throw themselves into writing their stories. Who study the craft, who work to improve. The problem with approaching your story like it probably sucks is it sets you up to write half-heartedly, and while you'll still improve as a writer and learn from the experience, it won't be as much as if you give it your all.

The other thing I want to say is that at some point during the process of every book I write, I'm convinced it sucks. And these are book ideas that I loved maybe just days before. Ideas I couldn't stop thinking about.

What I keep in the forefront of my mind is, "I can fix it." That's what the editing process is for. The steps we've talked about so far can help us detect big holes in our ideas before we get started, but there's still bound to be a few of those, "This idea is trash," kind of days. Remind yourself that you can fix it. Character too flat? Writing sounds weak and tired? Is your plot too predictable? All fixable.

Hopefully that helps.

This is the last day to get in your writing prompts so make sure those get to me by 11:59pm Kansas City time.

Have writing questions? E-mail me.


  1. Wow, Steph - thanks for this post. I was having one of those weekends, where my writing seemed just horrible and no matter how hard I stared at the computer I couldn't make my scene come alive. It's those days I just wanna throw in the towel and go read a book from an author who succeeded in writing a scene full of emotion. :-P Thanks for the encouragement!!

    ~ Katy

  2. It's true - if you can't write a first book, you can't write a better second one!

  3. Keep in mind, too, that there ARE those folks whose first books get published. There's no reason not to try to make yours good enough for that--and still know that if the first isn't "it," it's prepped you for the next, and the next.

  4. Really great post! It gives me soo many thoughts, I can't keep track of them all.
    I think for me a struggle is what you said in the first paragraph. I am a perfectionist & want this done correctly the first time! It really blocks creativity. 
    Maybe a good mindset it- I wrote a book- good or bad, published or in a drawer- the second will be better!
    Even prolific authors have some books that are better than others!

  5. Major kudos to Ellyn who said in 14 words what I did in like 200.

    Katy, I think even best-selling authors have those days. And sometimes a break solves everything.

    Ro, that's absolutely true. Stephenie Meyer comes to mind...

    Tonya, you're right, they do! Some of my favorite writers have disappointed me, then come back and wowed me with the next release.

  6. My first book was awful... the chapters were either a paragraph long or a page long. lol
    And the ones after that were better... but about the same.
    I gradually started to improve after a while of writing books =)
    (Mind you, when I first got into writing I was eight-years-old)
    And one of my favorite ideas and favorite books I finished has a lot of mistakes in it... storyline and grammer wise.
    I love it so much though that I wanna spend lots of time with it and get it to be the best book I can make it be. =]

    I'm a little scared of showing it off too people though...

  7. wow thanks for the advice, Steph! this helped me build up some more courage for my book!