Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Way We Are: Your First Novel

You hear all the time "Your first novel is for practice," and "Don't expect to sell your first novel." But the funny thing is, once we decide we want to get published, we fully expect that first novel to do it. There's something inside of us that says But this one is different. The rules don't apply to it / me.

If you ask me, that kind of thinking is actually hugely important. It's what makes us work as hard as we can. And do you know what? A lot of people actually get their first novel published.

So that's my question for the day. What's the status your first novel?

Still writing it?
Haven't started it?
Revising it?
Querying it?
Saving it for posterity?
Shoved it in a drawer to revise sometime later?
Plan on it never seeing the light of day?
Published it?
Burned it?

I want to hear all about it in the comments!

As for me: My first novel had an intended audience of two. I wasn't even thinking writing for real at that point. The writing for real started two months later, and you can bet that publishing it was in the back of my mind the whole time! It was a story I wrote with my kids as the main characters, and I figured that I'd just change them a bit during revisions. I wrote it purely off instinct. Then came my REAL first book. The one with an intended audience of thousands and thousands. :) I jumped off the diving board very deep into the writing world. I took incredible writing classes, went to lots of conferences, read every blog and book on writing I could get my hands on, and worked on writing every spare moment.

The problem was... when I got to the end of the book, I realized I had improved SO MUCH from when I started the book. Revisions were daunting, to say the least. (I kind of felt like this guy here.) Plus, there was this fabulous NEW idea calling my name. Someday I might pilfer ideas from the story, because the concept was great, but I wouldn't revise it. I'd be so much easier to start from scratch.

So what about you?


Ruth Josse said...

My first story is hiding in a cupboard in my living room. But hopefully it will see the light of day again. Someday I hope to rework it into a YA story. When I wrote it I didn't really know about genres, let alone which one I wanted to write.

Cristina said...

well, I'm still working on my the first draft of my first novel... and although I'm pretty sure once I'm done with it.. it will go into a drawer to never see the light of day, I'm still giving it my all, making it the best I can make it... otherwise, what would be the point right? can't improve our skills unless we put ourselves completely into it... at least that's how I'm working..

you are so right, there's a part of my brain that has those thoughts... this novel is different, and it can be amazing.. and I want it published.... and yet... I *know* that this it won't be.. and I'm okay with that.

Carrie Butler said...

Well, my first works of novel-length crap are shelved, but my first "real" novel is being revised. *grins*

prerna pickett said...

I kind of jumped the gun and started a few different stories at once. My current finished manuscript is the one that I want to get published because I did improve during the course of writing it, and I was able to go back and edit the rest of it so it matched the better stuff, although it did take a long time to do so. But it was worth it. The other WIP that I'm absolutely in love with will probably never see the light of day, even though the characters are great and I had fun working on it, the appeal would be to a much smaller audience. Maybe some day we'll reunite again.

Shilpa Mudiganti said...

My first story is at the back of the trunk because I have started writing many more after that! When I get published, the first story I wrote is not going to be my first novel!

Leigh Ann said...

Wow. 0_o You are hard-core. Conferences? Classes? I bow to you.

I've only finished one novel, did the whole CP-and-revision thing, and am currently querying it. But every blog post I read about the first one not selling and every rejection I get makes me feel dumber and dumber about even bothering querying it.

Basically, I struggle with the question every day - how do I know if my novel sucks?

Anyway. Officially - Querying, convinced it will never see the light of day.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

My first novel made its way to the garbage bin a long time ago. Then followed the second and third also into the garbage bin. The fourth one was slightly better but I won't let that see the light of day. The fifth one is getting published and so is the sixth one. So it took me five tries before I felt comfy with what I'd written.

Stacy Henrie said...

Mine is gathering digital dust on my hard drive. :) I tried rewriting it some, but like you said, I've improved so much since I wrote it, I would probably have to take the intial idea and start completely over with a blank screen. Maybe some day, but I'm also okay with it just being for the few people who read it.

Jessie Humphries said...

Mine is buried under cement with the mobsters in the Las Vegas desert.

Iain said...

I didn't write a first novel. I just startd with my second one. It saved me the bother of all that hope, etc.
No, really! ;o)

Abby Fowers said...

Oh gosh, how to answer. I guess I've done about 5 half novels. LOL. I am currently writing #6. It's hard because once I get to a point where I know I could do better I stop and start the next project! IT'S COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS! I am working on it.

Jennie Bennett said...

I did nine uncompleted novels before I started Earth Song and well, that one is on the back burner. I consider that one my first novel, and I almost think it was just for practice, but I guess we'll wait and see how it really turns out.

Stephanie Black said...

My first novel got published--after I revised it about seven hundred million times and worked on it for, oh, well over a decade . . .

Marcy said...

If you can call it the first, it's somewhere on one of my flash drives (I think) or lost on the harddrive of a dead computer. It had a lot of holes, and I never did much with it. Right now I'm doing major revisions on a combination of numbers 2 & 3.

Tara Tyler said...

mine started as a whim, a fictionalized version of my twenties. i outlined and wrote a very rough draft and filed it away for 10 yrs. then i came across it and finished it. my neighbor liked it, but chick lit was old hat (and i had no idea how much i didnt know) i started several rewrites, but like you, it would prob be better to start over...

MS #2 shows promise!

E.D. said...

I thought my first novel was complete - until I started revising again. I am afraid it never stops!

Lan said...

My first novel is definitely shoved in a drawer to be revised sometime later. Which is funny because whilst I was writing it I was 100% sure that it would be my first published novel. Then I thought up another idea and now that's the one I want to be published first. I'm sensing a pattern :)

Peggy Eddleman said...

Ruth-- I think it'd be fun to rework a novel. Best of luck with it!

Cristina-- I'm impressed at your level-headedness about it. Part of me still wants to say Go ahead and believe it will be published! It makes it that much more fun to write. :)

Carrie-- Bahaha! Novel length crap is completely underrated. Even still, real novels ARE WHERE IT'S AT. Have fun revising! (That wasn't sarcastic. I hope you have a blast!)

Prerna-- Congrats on spending so much time to get all of the novel at the same skill level! That's a huge amount of work.

Shilpa-- MANY more? I'm impressed! I always am when people write so prolifically. Seriously impressed.

Leigh Ann-- What? You should never feel dumb about querying it! Some people have such a huge amount of innate talent that the first novel is really like a fifth novel. Plus, the odds don't apply, right? :) I've read a lot of your excerpts. Your hopes should not be down.

Michael-- Congrats on a) getting them published and b) writing a full six novels! Both are incredibly impressive.

Stacy-- Digital dust. :) I'm totally okay with just a few people reading mine, too. I think it can be so nice to be able to let go.

Jessie-- I snorted when I read your comment. It wasn't very lady-like, and I was in a crowd of people at the time. It was awesome.

Iain-- STARTING on your second novel. What a fabulous idea! I wish I would've thought of that.

Abby-- So that's like three full novels, right? Come on. This one is THE ONE.

J.A.-- Those nine count for a lot, though! You must be an expert at beginnings now! Best of luck with Earth Song.

Stephanie-- That is some serious perseverance! You should get an award for it. :)

Marcy-- It sounds like it did its job then. :) Best of luck with your revisions!

Tara-- I love your first novel story! That's awesome. And best of luck with #2! I love when you can just feel the promise of a great book.

E.D.-- I'm always afraid of that too!

Lan-- It's important to be consistent. ;) Seriously, though, best of luck with the one you're working on!

i'm erin. said...

You read my first novel. It was crap. Now it sits on the bottom of a pile of external hard drives. I doubt I'll ever touch it again.

Dr. Cheryl Carvajal said...

My first novel was crap. But 25 or so revisions later, it's AWESOME! I chunked off the second half of it, made it into a series, totally wrote the second 1/2 from scratch, and have shredded it in every way possible. It's almost unrecognizable now, and that is a very good thing.

I'm finishing my agent listing, and then I'm querying it, hopefully by mid-month.

Hannah Hounshell said...

My very first manuscript was written when I was twelve and will never see the light of day. You name it, and I did it horribly wrong in that book. I still have it though, cause at bottom the story was still good in my eyes. Some stuff happened as I was on the verge of finishing it and I set it aside, along with the notes for the intended sequel. About ten years later I found myself thinking of the characters again and so I dusted it off for another look. "New Beginnings" is the result, so while my very first manuscript is truly destined for an eternity in the shoe box, my first completed novel is now just about finished with final edits. Once they're done, I'll be setting it aside while I write the other two books in the trilogy. Then it'll be more edits before I start querying, but for now I'm almost happy with it.

Aaannd that turned out a lot longer then I meant it to. I hope it still makes sense. :D

Tasha Seegmiller said...

What qualifies as a first novel? The first idea that I played with or the first one I really started to write or the first one I really wanted to finish? I'm working right now on what could be number one, finding people who know more than me and I love your blog. Thanks.

Peggy Eddleman said...

I'm erin-- First off, your actual first novel was NEVER crap. Just some of your original ideas for it was. ;) I actually don't think it's possible for you to write crap.

Shakespeare-- That might just be the coolest thing I've ever heard! Good luck with the querying!

Hannah-- I love that your novel now was based on a novel you wrote at twelve! That's incredible! You must've been an AMAZING twelve year old!

Tasha-- Haha! I don't know which one you'd call your first. I guess whichever one YOU want to call the first. :) Good luck on finishing your number one!

Anonymous said...

My very first intented novel must be somewhere at my parents´house. I tried to write it when I was 16...I try to find it everytime I go visit as I still think the storyline was interesting ;-)
The one I am currently working on is my pride because I am not stopping. I am pulling it through. It can be hard but it is such a joy when the story is unveiling at my fingertips and I think that maybe...maybe...someday somebody will read looking forward to the next page :-)

Peggy Eddleman said...

Commutinggirl-- Yay for determination! I love that feeling when they story unveils right in front of you. Best of luck finding your old story!