Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
Should a fiction writer’s first manuscript come from the story that’s been rolling around in his mind for the last twenty years? Should that first novel be the tale that’s burning to be written, the one the writer is sure will be a bestseller?
I’ve wondered about this for a while, and my first response is no.
The first novel, in craft terms, will certainly never be a writer’s best work. Why take that story, that one that keeps you up at night, and subject it to a beginning writer? If the story’s that good, wouldn’t you rather see it in the hands of a craftsman instead of those of a novice? If it’s the Great American Novel or next NY Times chart topper or the top pick in the Book of the Month Club (nothing wrong with dreaming big), shouldn’t it get the best writer, or at least the best effort of any writer?
Yet . . .
It’s often that first story itself that drives a writer to write. Just knowing he can mold his idea into a compelling read might be what keeps him writing and learning and working into the night when he could be doing so many other activities instead. The dream of what he can create may be the impetus for writing in the first place. If the writer is discouraged away from one story and asked to work on another (to him) less compelling story, will he lose heart, lose interest?
My first manuscript was one of those burning to be written. And the story and the adventure of writing kept me on track to write. Yet I know that manuscript is far from a masterpiece; I could do much better today. But of course, you must begin somewhere. Now I’ve got another story that plays around in my mind, teasing me with glimpses of what it could be. Yet this time I know I’m not ready to write it. So I work on other projects and hold this one manuscript in front of me as a tease, a goad.
But do you tell a new writer that his pet project will most likely be his worst work? Do you share that reality before he’s even begun? At the best it’s an eye opener. At the worst it could put the brakes on a writing career before it’s begun.
So . . .
Is it fair to ask a writer to hold off working on the story that moves him until he’s good enough to do an outstanding job on it?
Is it fair to ask a beloved story to put up with a writer not up to the task?
I’m still pondering . . .