Imagine a budding writer sitting down to write her first novel. Put yourself in her shoes, or put me in her place, if that’s too painful (Universe knows I hate envisioning myself this way). Now imagine that freezing terror, that sinking gut, that unshakable certainty that whatever you write will, without-a-doubt, suck.
After all, pretty much everyone in the writing community has been telling you this for years – either online, through interviews about their own career, or in person. It is a fact among writers: the first novel will be bad.
But, hey, Kid, it’s okay. We all go through it. It’s a (w)rite of passage. Just get that steaming pile of crap out on the page and get onto to your second novel. When you’re a best-seller and the interviewer asks you about that first book, just laugh and say, “Oh I was young, I was inexperienced, I had no clue what I was doing!” It’ll be fine.
Now go back to that image of me, sitting down to plot a story. I have a list of novel ideas in front of me, all in different stages of creative development, and all I can think is…which one do I sacrifice to the alter of sucky-ness?
It’s like the writers’ version of Sophie’s Choice: all of these novel ideas, these characters, are like my children. Each contains a piece of me, a tribute to a loved-one, a gripping social statement. Which one can I afford to let suck? Which ones should I save for when I’m a better, more-experienced writer? What if I choose the wrong one, only to realize 10 years from now that I could write it so much better then?
These concerns have been at the forefront of my mind lately for two reasons. One: “The First One Sucks” guarantee was recently reiterated on my favorite podcast, The Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast, which usually dismantles unfortunate writing “rules.” Two: When my wedding is finished, I plan to write my first novel. I’ve got about three weeks until it’s my time. Yikes!
So, I did what I normally do. I shared my concerns with my fiance during what he would call one of my “Kate spirals.” Daniel sat me down, and in true testament to why I am marrying him, fixed everything. He helped me re-frame my perspective in a positive way, and quite frankly, I think we (yes, this involves you!), should change the “The First Novel Guarantee.”
Instead of “Your First Novel Will Suck,” I am proposing the following creed:
First and foremost, know that your first novel will be good. It may not be literary genius, but it will be good. If it helps, do a downward social comparison. Your first novel may not be the best novel ever written, but it will not be the worst novel ever written. There will always be someone better, and there will always be someone worse. I believe this wholeheartedly, not only because the odds are in your favor, but because literature is subjective. Someone, somewhere, will always be perceived by someone, somewhere, as better or worse than you.
Second, let’s face it: we’re not all Harper Lee and S.E. Hinton. More than likely, your first novel will not be immortalized in the literary world, and you won’t be a one-hit-wonder. You’ll write more and more and more. And, maybe, your first novel will be your best work. Then again, maybe it won’t be your best work. In fact, wouldn’t the true definition of sucking be if your first novel were your best work, and the only way you could go was down, not up? (If you feel that is your situation, see the subjectivity clause above).
I can’t say if this new creed will help cure your fear, if you worry about your first novel being garbage. Hell, I don’t even know if it will work for me. But, you know what? It doesn’t matter. That first mountain must be tackled so we can traverse the range. I’m doing it, whether the first one sucks or not. Now who’s with me?
Have you heard “The First One Sucks” rule? Does it make you apprehensive about your first novel? If you were to amend this “rule,” what would your new rule be?