I laughed, cried, and spilled tea over it. I spent days in its company, entire nights at its mercy. And when it was done I felt a kind of soul satisfaction because I had created it. It was my first novel. Actually, technically it was my second completed novel, but this was the first I wrote as an adult and the first one I really poured my heart and soul into. I’d written a substantial piece with mature prose, credible characters and a solid plot. Deep was my pride.
Shortly after completing the final edit (there were two all up) for this momentus piece I packed up all the notes, references and electronic files and set the whole thing aside, deep at the bottom of a filing cabinet and got on with a new project – so confident was I in my ability to produce prose that I couldn’t wait to test my skill on the next project. I’d never really intended to publish this first piece, it was an exercise in indulgence. And so my masterpiece slept in the bottom of my filing cabinet while I laughed, cried and spilled tea over new adventures. My first novel was hidden, but not forgotten. I carted the folders and disks from house to house, city to city, aware of its presence, but never with the urge to open it. The words in those files were sacred and I felt sure that one day, when the time was right, I would reopen them and enjoy the novel as if from the perspective of a new reader. Many years passed. One day about three years ago, in what I can only explain as a narcisitic fit, I unpacked those electronic documents and notes to glare into the world of my younger self. When I did I was surprised – the kind of surprise one gets when you realise you’ve just stepped in dog poo. I managed to read the first two chapters before closing the document and burying it again. If I’d have had it in codex form it surely would have met with fire.
What followed was a perennial meltdown. I didn’t understand. How could something that felt so good and so right be so bad? What I thought was meaningful and mature prose was trite dribble. My treasured characters were one dimensional and the plot was lost long before the story really started. What had been a year of meaningful hard work was reduced to 400 pages of embarrassing nonsense. I’m over it now, but I learned a few valuable lessons from this experience that I’d like to share:
- Edit, edit, edit and edit again, but most especially allow time between each edit to give yourself space and perspective
- Ask for feedback from other writers and avid readers
- Every word you write is practice, so keep writing even if you discover your masterpiece isn’t so masterly
- Understand that all writers improve with age
- I’ve said this before: writing is one part skill, two parts determination
I’m quite sure I’m a better writer today than I was 15 years ago, but I also know now that every word I write brings me one step closer to improvement.