Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Over at Shadow and Fang, Kait Nolan has a post on Why Do Pantsers Get So Riled Up About Planning? It got me thinking about new authors.

Not the writers who clutch their first published novel in palsied hands, but those just starting out.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an idea must be in want of a novel. A truth acknowledged by anyone who ever set pen to paper, or finger to keyboard.

There are other universal truths, but I shan't go into the argument of whether a writer is born or develops - both are true.

Do you remember the moment when that first shiny idea popped into your head and you had to write it down? Do you remember the moment you realised it wasn't working and set it aside? Do you remember the next brilliant idea and promising that this time you'll finish it? And setting it aside.

Do you recall thinking that maybe you need to do some research on how other, published authors worked and deciding that their way was the gold-paved road to success? That you went out and bought 'How To...' books that now fill your shelves? That once you'd read those book, it all became clear and you set about writing that great novel you dreamed about.

And then came that magical moment when you wrote... The End. Oh, the thrill, the glee, the happy dance and wonder. It's done! It's brilliant! My God, you're a genius! And visions of book contracts, adoring fans, awards and money start dancing in you head.

Oh, well. Lucky you. Me, I was tired, chuffed, but tired. Even had myself a celebratory drink.

I handed the piece around, received various comments and thought it good. And, as you can imagine, reality slammed my fingers in the door when I hunted up a professional comment. It was certainly as painful.

Well, that sucker now dwells in a bottom drawer, unread, unedited, but a reminder of how the gloss can quickly tarnish under real scrutiny - and that book was severely scrooted.

I wallowed in self-recrimination for some time until I realised the criticisms had nothing to do with me, but the work. It's a hard lesson to learn and it takes time and intestinal fortitude to move on to the next work. I mean, what if this one sucks, too? And the next one? How will the ego survive such hammer blows?

Answer: by learning from your mistakes, but understanding that writing is in a constant state of flux, by knowing that the more you read and write, the better you'll become.

It matters not whether you obsessive plan a novel, or think of an idea and run with it. New authors cannot afford to precious about their work, or their attitude.

Learn from the masters, but do not mistake their way of writing for the best way; there is only your way.

I like to think I've improved since that first piece of nonsense. Writing it taught me a lot, most importantly that I could finish writing a novel. I understood the good and the awful about it - and set it aside for new work. Not as bad as the first, but again, in the drawer to keep The Saracen's Apprentice company, and so on until I felt confident enough to release work out into the wild world.

How good is my work now? I leave that to the readers. I'm constantly working to update my skills, because unless I'm happy with the piece, it ain't goin' nowhere.

As Yoda said: Do, or do not, there is no try.

1 comment:

Pandababy said...

Ahh, yes, the "how-to" books. They take up a significant length on my bookshelves. Helpful but as you say, 'there is only your way'.