Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Unpublished Novel is Not Worth Reading

In the past week and a half, the following things happened: I got a raise, I almost got a four day weekend, I had to deal with a security breach on my day off, I had an anniversary dinner with my wife and I was instructed to revamp a process that involves nine sub-contractors and an annual throughput of several million dollars. I’m not sure that you care about any of this, but it’s the only explanation that I have for my absence.

I had an entire essay written out, but I decided not to share it with you. One of the things that I pointed out was that promoting your own work by denigrating the work of others usually reveals your own insecurities far better than it highlights the weaknesses of your target.

Taking my own advice was an easy decision to make. After all, it is not necessary to publish everything.

Nobody ever listens to that advice when it’s given: don’t publish everything. It’s an easy mistake to make and a lot of writers (especially young ones) take what they consider to be the path of least resistance. They don’t know that friction is a good thing because it forces them to figure out solutions to problems that they didn’t consider.

The lack of shame can be liberating, but we are the harshest critics towards ourselves – especially in retrospect. The rule of thumb is that the first novel is always terrible. There is simply no way around this, so it’s best to simply accept the fait accompli and move on. Write another one, and another. If you are dedicated to your writing, you will continue to learn from your mistakes and get good.

Eventually, you will go back to your early novels and you will cringe. This is a good thing. As soon as you are embarrassed by your first novel, you are ready to start thinking about publishing one of your better ones.

If you are skilled enough to create an audience for your work, you may actually get requests for your early work. This is unlikely, but it could happen. Only then should you think about publishing it. You don’t have to, though – part of the fun of being a writer lies in having an apocrypha.