Ava Jae has an interesting post on her blog Writability this morning about first novels. The question she was answering is, how do you pick the story to write for your fist novel when 95% of first novels never see the light of day? We refer to these as trunk novels (because they stay in the trunk).
Her answer is right on the money, you have to commit to whatever story you choose. We can’t possibly commit the time and energy it takes to write a novel to real completion without the belief that we are going to put it out there for sale or distribution (if that was our original goal, not everyone writes to be published). By complete I mean first draft finished and then several passes to revise and refine; this just to send it to a publisher or agent. If you are self-publishing you need to add another step. Send it to a real editor for that professional polish.
Novelists don’t do practice novels. That is not to say we don’t do writing exercises. Writers write for practice and it can be in the form of writing challenges or blogs or short stories. But even short stories require work. Challenges are easy and don’t take up a lot of time. Novels are a completely different animal altogether. They are layered with multiple plots and many characters, that done correctly, have more than two dimensions. The novel should have theme and soul and requires foreshadowing and planning. The planning can happen after the draft is done actually and may require you to move things around as the plot elements are often very malleable, but it requires time and energy.
If I really believed that my novel wouldn’t be published it would just be another abandoned orphan of a book. Any writer that has made a serious effort at writing a novel can tell you that once you start, the ideas for other stories don’t stop coming. There comes a time in the process of trying to finish the novel where you are kind of sick of it, you just want to be done with it and move on. You have been birthing it for a long time and other ideas start to look more attractive. This may sound strange, you certainly don’t want your readers to feel that way when they read it, but I think they must all pass through this phase for the author. The book is like one of our children. Sometimes you just want to get away from the screaming and the arguing and bad tempers and the constant requirement for care and feeding. But if we are to finish we have to have confidence that the novel will grow up to be something we can be proud of. I know there are a lot of writers that have dozens of unfinished novels in their trunk, but when they started they went in believing they were going to finish them.
This year alone I have read five great debut novels. Now, I have no idea if they were actually their first novel or just the first one published. One that stands out in particular for me is The Fortunate Fall by Raphael Carter. He published this book in 1996 to great acclaim and has never published anything since. I very much enjoyed the story. It was very well crafted and imaginative and he was heralded as the next great thing in SF at the time. I have no idea why he hasn’t published anything else. Maybe he just had a goal to write a novel and checked that off his bucket list. We all have our own motivations.
But for me, I’m committed to getting it right. I’m spending the time grooming it for show. I have aspirations of a career writing. I am already plotting four more novels, and have ideas for several others. Who knows which one will actually get published first, but my plan is for all of them to be published. Speaking of which, I need to get back to it…