This year for NaNoWriMo, I’m rewriting the first novel I ever wrote. It’s awful.
Back at the end of the 20th century, I worked on my book for over two years, writing when inspiration struck. I rewrote chapters, added in elements, cleaned up sentences and changed the ending. I asked friends for their opinion and got very politely worded feedback. I had what I thought was a complete manuscript and eagerly sent it out to publishers, thinking it was just as good as what was out there. I thought I had read enough books on writing, taken a college course, I was ready. My friend cheered me on, even going so far as to get a copy printed at a vanity publisher (that’s the version I’m working from, with map endpapers and parchment-style paper.) After a series of rejections, my enthusiasm waned. She meant well, but I realized that was probably the only way I was going to be published, and was secretly crushed. I put the gift away on a shelf and went back to writing short stories.
A quote from the tv show Supergirl that I just watched last night really resonated with me. “You can’t walk into a company and expect to become the CEO.”
Unless you are some kind of genius, you must learn by doing. I’m going through the book now, trying to rescue it from itself. I gave my main character, living in a medieval society, a crushing fear of fire (think Frankenstein’s monster level). I made her perfect in every way other than that. I wavered my point of view between her and her love interest, whose main motivation was to follow around his unrequited love and mope. The villain’s main motivation was to be evil. I created horrendous monsters that wandered through the countryside, allowed to do whatever they wanted since the people were not at war with them at the moment. I threw in random characters, some who were there just to have one conversation with the main character. I created a group of twenty characters and had them travel together. Twelve of those characters had names starting with “Z” because of a plot point. Don’t even get me started on the fake medieval dialect, for I know not what I will do on that.
That was fifteen years ago. Now I have done eight novels (five polished and three first drafts) and I better understand the craft. Just like a musician that practices and learns pieces, I know what is supposed to be produced, even when I don’t have the skill to produce it yet.
At Dragon Con, I went to a panel on writing and getting published. One of the authors, Jenna Black, said she wrote 18 novels before she got published. I tweeted that was discouraging, and she replied:
@JanesFolly That’s supposed to be encouraging! It means just because you haven’t sold yet doesn’t mean you’re not going to!
— Jenna Black (@jennablack) September 14, 2015
So I am encouraged, looking at my first fumbling attempts, because now I see what I did wrong and why it didn’t work. So hopefully by my 18th novel, I’ll have work that is being read by others, characters that are loved and talked about like friends, and perhaps some compensation for my efforts.