A Practice Novel

I started writing creatively again earlier this year, after a ten-year break (marriage, kids, a dissertation).

When I started, my sister (who’s been at this writing thing longer than I have) warned me not to get my hopes up too high for this first story. After all, lots of highly respected authors were unable to publish their first novel. Sometimes that first novel is really just a practice novel.

When she told me this, I was secretly sure that, while this might apply to other people, it surely didn’t apply to me. After all, this wasn’t my first novel (that honor belonged to the 70 page story I wrote by hand in middle school; or maybe the 100 page project in high school, or the 600 page monstrosity I finished in college). And I’d been writing consistently–it just wasn’t creative writing.

But the act of writing, I’m finding–of being a writer at all–is a constant lesson in humility. I’m confronted on a daily basis with my limitations, with what I don’t know. This is a good thing. If writing is only an exercise in what I already know how to do, it may be good, but it will never be great. I think it’s the constant challenge of writing what we don’t know how to write that can produce some of our best work. (And it’s nice to know I’m in good company here.)

All of this brings me to my current WIP. I’m almost done with my fourth (or fifth?) revision. And while I’d be thrilled if this was, indeed, the story to launch me as a published writer, I’m also starting to reconcile with the idea that maybe that grand vision won’t happen (at least not this time).

But if all this novel does is teach me what I need to know about writing, so that maybe the second (or even third or fourth) novel is the book that isn’t simply good, but great–then that’s okay.

Right now, I’m just trying to savor the journey.

What about you? How do you feel about your current WIP? Is this *the one*? Or is this WIP about the learning journey, not necessarily the destination?

12 thoughts on “A Practice Novel

  1. My biggest problem is that I picked a really complex and difficult story for the one I'm working on right now. I have no doubt I can nail it, but I do question if I have the ability right now to do so. So I guess it is both, just maybe not in the order I want it to be.

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  2. I've written several novels and it was actually my sixth novel that got the first publishing contract. Some of the earlier ones were shelved, others are being revised or are on submission. You just never know which one will be “the one”. Good luck!

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  3. I'm torn about this idea, just because my particular WIP felt like it was asking me to write it. It wouldn't leave me alone. So, I took that as a sign that someone out there needed it and therefore it would surely get published. But, I don't know that, obviously.

    And even though I am engaged by my idea, I also would love to work on some sci-fi dystopian story when I'm done with this one. In the end, it wouldn't matter, I suppose, which got published, but right now it does, and it feels like it matters to my characters, if that makes any sense.

    I realize there's nothing definitive about my response. I'll have to come to terms with my feelings on this!

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  4. I think all of my manuscripts have been part of the 'learning journey' and they'll continue to be, whether or not they get published or languish in a dark drawer. As a writer, I always hope to be learning about the process with an open mind. With each new WIP, I feel more confident of my skills, though. The rest is left up to persistence and luck!

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  5. I love this post! It's definitely got to be about the process and about the journey, because the destination will always be changing. (Land an agent, sell the book, publication, reviews, sales numbers…) The only thing that's within my control is the actual act of writing, and if I don't find joy in that, I'm setting myself up for a lot of heartache. Now that I've said that, I've just got to remember to believe it. 🙂

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  6. I'm still working on my first manuscript. I hope it will be something special, and I plan on beating away at it until it is, but since it's fan fiction (it's how I'm teaching myself to write) I guess it doesn't make all that much difference if it is “the one” or not. I'll worry about that more when I start working on my own story.

    BTW, glad to meet another chemist who likes to write.

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