Writerly Observation: So You’ve Written a Book…

writer

The other night, I pulled out the first book I ever wrote. The unpublished manuscript has been sitting in a drawer for about five years. An exile I imposed on the material when I finished it.

I immediately started my second book, one I already sensed had better developed characters. Two and a half years later, the second book was published by a small press. (The Hourglass, Etopia Press)

So was there a difference between book #1 and book #2?

Sure. I learned more about writing during that time by:

  • Taking on-line classes
  • Reading everything I could find on the craft of writing
  • Sitting at the computer every single day and pounding out new lines, chopping away at shitty ones, making them better and stronger.

“The only kind of writing is rewriting.” The words of Ernest Hemingway, who was simply telling it like it is.

Time passed and I completely forgot about the first book. I had a larger publisher pick up my next book, a series (Blue Moon Lake Romances, Kensington Publishing.) I even wrote a whole other book and it’s now with my agent. All this, while the first book collected dust in a drawer.

Every single day I had one goal; to produce the best quality work I possibly could. Not seeing my name in print. Not sales galore (although that would be nice).

So, back to that first manuscript. As I read through it the other night, my very first thought was “Thank God this never got published.”

Was it horrible? No. I’ll give myself credit for writing an entire book. Many writers don’t get that far. Plus, it told a cohesive story. But..

  •  It had weak dialogue. (almost embarrassing)
  • No clear goals.
  • Contrived conflict.
  • Scenes that did little to move the story forward.
  • Characters void of deeper motivation.
  • Too many POV characters (I now see they were tossed in to create forced conflict, but the characters had no real growth so they shouldn’t have been given center stage).
  • Oh, and it was too long… almost 95,000 words. Too many for the genre.

On the plus column, it has a decent plot and might serve as a good outline for another book. And it was an excellent tool to learn how to put together an entire novel.

BUT…

It sure wasn’t ready for publication.

The art of writing well isn’t easy. Putting words on paper is easy. If you finished writing a whole book, you should pat yourself on the back. Then put it down for a while.

Not just two days. Try weeks. Or months. Look what I found five years later.

And while you’re waiting, go read some books in that same genre from the NY Times best-seller list, or another highly recommended source. And yes, there are some crappy books on bestseller lists; it happens. But try several. Then go pick up your book and reread it with a cup of tea. How does it compare?

Is it ready for publication? Don’t be afraid to admit it isn’t. Simply work hard, write hard, and make it a book you can promote with pride.

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19 responses to “Writerly Observation: So You’ve Written a Book…

  1. Quite a feat if you managed to make your 2nd book something worth publishing, Sharon! I don’t have my 1st book ever, but I do still have the 2nd, and I read it over from time to time. Oh boy. Telling. POV errors, and a plot that didn’t make a lick of sense. lol I still love the characters, though. I tried revising the 3rd book, only to realize it would be far better to rewrite it from the beginning. lol Great post. 🙂

    • Funny you should say that, Joanne. I did love my characters, too. The great thing is that this is how we learn. So glad you stopped by and shared. We’ve come a long way from those early books, but it’s so great to know hard work can pay off!

  2. A friend had a first novel she was reluctant to rewrite, and we really arm-wrestled a bit over whether it was worth doing. She set it aside, unconvinced, then eventually reread it and was able to see what I’d been talking about. Part of it was simply distance, but also in the interim, she’d become a more demanding writer and wanted more from herself. So yes, writing is rewriting.

    • It’s great she kept going, Ellen. Distance can do remarkable things for a person’s writing. And God knows, we can always learn more about this craft. Even as we begin to write better. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Great post. My first completed manuscript is collecting cyberdust as I pursue getting my second one published. Similar to your story, I had a second one in mind, and knew it had a stronger plot and better developed characters. I’m planning to go back in and revise my first manuscript this summer. I’m almost afraid of what I’ll find!

  4. Terrific advice, Sharon!

  5. Like anything else in life, the more you do it, the better you get at it. I had similar thoughts when I read my 1st ms after a few years. I was all “sheesh, what was I thinking?” I still kinda love the story, but it’s never going to see the light of day without major, major revisions, and with all the other stories fighting to get out of my head, who knows if I’ll ever get back to it?

  6. Terri-Lynne DeFino

    Wise words, my dear. I’m pretty sure I told you about the series of books I consider my education. 18 completed novels (all over 200K!) in six years. Four generations. Three realities. I loved them. My small circle of playgroup friends loved them.
    Oh. My. Goodness.
    Like many above have said, the story and characters were fine, but the writing. Oy. I have toyed with the idea of going back and doing them justice, but I always come to the same conclusion–they are what they are. They’re my learning process. They got me to where I am now, and I’m very happy with that.
    I have cannibalized them, however. Bits. Pieces of plots, Names. Events. There is still one character–my favorite in the series–who has not yet been used. He might get his own, fresh story yet. We’ll see.

    • Wow, Terri! That’s a lot of writing. You obviously learned a ton! Lol,, yes, I can see cannibalizing what you loved from those work in future writing. Great way to put it.

  7. I have my old writings from when I was a kid/teenager – hidden and locked away. Although some of those stories I’d revisit now. Cliche, but a Egyptian mummy and a curse/reincarnation story – yes, I liked it even as a kid. You never know, just reading it over may give you ideas for a new story. I would never throw any of them away.

    • Haha, I’m not surprised about the mummy and curse/reincarnation story Debbie. It’s obviously your passion! It’s good you kept them. I love things that remind me of who I was in my childhood. Thank for sharing!

  8. I’m in the same boat as you, Sharon. My “technical” second book in a series became the one that landed in a pub house. My first book was one gargantuan mess, but I learned so much about the characters and world, which really helped with the second. The first will never see the light of day, but I still love it, even for all its flaws. 🙂

    • Exactly, Linda. A first book is a great learning tool. Heck, it can even be “the” breakout book. But it’s hard to write a book, even a bad book. So I’m glad I allowed myself one to figure out the path. The second book came more easily after the experiment with the first.

  9. Rereading what I wrote in the past is equal parts pride and cringe. Some of it I still love and some of it–well, it’s too late to fix.

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