Changing the world's opinion… as soon as we finish this math homework
All of us know the story: you’re ten, or twelve, or fifteen. You come up with the greatest idea for a novel and you just have to write it. You find yourself daydreaming about the story in class, writing plot outlines in the margins of your math notes, counting the hours until you have some free time to work on it. A couple of chapters in, you realize you’ve abandoned all the other stories you were working on . It has become The Novel. The Chosen One- the one you’re going to publish, the debut novel, the one that’s totally going to make you a famous teen writer.
But of course, it takes a long time to finish a novel. By the time you’re done writing it, it’s been maybe a year, and then you have to edit it, which takes forever, since this is probably your first time figuring out how to revise a novel. And so by the time you’re preparing this book for the dramatic publication you’ve been dreaming of, it’s been a couple of years, and you’ve become an infinitely better writer. When you were twelve, your main character was a self-insert, basically a Mary Sue. You thought she was so well-developed, and now you cringe every time you look at the scenes with her. Or when you were fifteen, you tended to add boring, pointless scenes just for the “metaphorical resonance.” Or when you were ten, you had literally no paragraph breaks in your story. The point is that you started working on what was supposed to be a masterpiece when you were still learning the essentials of how to write, and now that you have more experience, there is no way you can attach your name to this travesty of a novel. Finally, the long-dreaded decision has to be made. You put the novel away and start working on something better, something that’s really worthy of publishing.
It isn’t that easy, though, is it? For me, The Chosen Novel was a trilogy of books that I started when I was thirteen. I don’t want to subject you to my description of the entire mangled plotline, but it was essentially a really poorly researched fantasy spy thriller. I loved those books. I poured my heart and soul into them. Unfortunately, my heart and soul was really obnoxious and terrible at writing. And by the time I was fifteen, I already knew, subconsciously, that the books sucked. But I didn’t want to admit it. So, like a lot of new writers, I tried to salvage them. I came up with a series of editing schemes, none of which worked. I kept telling myself that if I worked hard enough, my newfound writing talent would magically transform this terrible mess into a shiny, publishing-ready book, just the way that all writers edit their bad first drafts. It was going to happen, I knew it.
The slow tearing-away happened over the course of a year. Gradually, I found I was never editing for the trilogy. I just couldn’t motivate myself to work on the books the way I had before. And I had started writing a new book, a much better one, which made me remember what it was like to work on something I was actually proud of. At last, I realized that I’d forgotten to back up my latest edits, because I just didn’t care about them anymore. It was time to accept that first novels, like first loves, rarely work out.
That doesn’t mean that I forgot about those terrible spy books, or that they had no value. It also doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t put the effort into writing a full-fledged novel right now, even if you’re not an experienced writer yet, and even if there’s a decent chance that a few years down the line you’re going to have to give up on it. That novel is going to teach you how to write, how to unstick yourself from bad scenes, how to slog through those middle-of-the-book blues, how to edit and revise. It’s going to teach you how to translate the messy creative ideas in your imagination into concrete words on paper. And when it comes time for you to write your actual publishing debut, you’re going to have the strength of that amateur first draft behind your pen.