For the first time, you’ve been caught up in a plot, or a character, or a world of your own making. You give in to it, give our heart to it, maybe you even start dreaming your next scenes. You find yourself dwelling on it when you should be thinking about other things. You work on it for maybe a year or more. You revise it, get friends and family to give you feedback, and revise it again. Then it’s finished, and it breaks your heart because it’s like saying goodbye to your characters.
And then you send your novel off to the professionals, either agents or editors. And learn that you should just put it in a drawer. I have had to gently break this news to clients from time to time. I feel like the police must feel when they tell someone that a loved one has died.
The problem is that novels are huge. They involve moving parts you may not even be aware of and require skills with language and tension building and insight into characters that take years to develop. You don’t just have to master these skills, you also have to develop a feel for how they all work together. And you can’t start doing any of that without investing a large chunk of your life and soul in a novel that is likely to wind up in a drawer.
I know how discouraging this sounds. I know how discouraging it actually is. A lot of writers, faced with the prospect of starting a second novel after shoving their first one in a drawer, simply can’t do it. So they give up writing and take up macramé or bowling or something. That is often a shame, because some of the practice novels I’ve seen show genuine promise. The novel itself may be so fundamentally flawed that it probably won’t ever see print, but there is clearly a real writer at work behind it, one who deserves encouragement. So take heart. The practice novel is almost always the first step that anyone takes in becoming a writer.
Remember, your writing life is about more than just this one novel, even though it’s easy to get the two confused. After all the work you’ve sunk into it, this one, massive project can become the only thing you see. But if you really intend to become a writer, you’re probably going to write a lot of different novels in your life. That will still be true, even if your first one goes into a drawer. Letting go of that practice novel is often the first step in becoming a writer. [Read more…]