Get It Written

I stumbled upon my first completed manuscript the other day. I scanned the first couple of lines, laughed, and put it away again. It will never become a published book, and I’m really quite happy with that. I remember the story well, and I wince at the many beginner’s mistakes I made. The first paragraph–the first sentence, even–alert the reader that here is an author who doesn’t yet know how to tell a story.

Did I write it knowing it would never be published? That it would, indeed, become nothing more than a steaming pile of unreadable crap? Of course not. If I had, I would have given up before I’d gotten started.

I wrote that novel with such assuredness, with such energy… I immersed myself in it, determined to finish and rush it off to the nearest publisher who would most certainly stumble over themselves to get it in print as soon as humanly possible.

Instead, what that first publisher did was send me the world’s fastest rejection letter. This was before the age of email rejections, but truly, this was an astonishingly fast rejection, arriving in my mailbox a mere week after I’d mailed off the manuscript. (This happened to be one of those rare publishers who still accepted unsolicited complete manuscripts.)

Do I believe someone read the entire manuscript? No, she didn’t need to. All she had to do was read the first line or two in order to be confident in slapping a rejection letter on that puppy and sending it back to me.

I was crushed, of course. But I’d already gone to the library during that week after mailing my manuscript, picked up some books on writing craft, and read them with the sinking feeling that I’d done everything they warned beginning writers not to do. So I wasn’t exactly surprised at the rejection. At the speed, yes, but at the outcome, no.

What that first completed manuscript did for me though was to show me that I could, indeed, write an entire novel. Next my task was to figure out how to write an entire novel someone else might want to read. It took 5 years and 6 manuscripts to make my first sale. I eventually sold novel # 5 as well, but those first 4? All learning books that don’t deserve to be in print.

If you are struggling to finish a first manuscript, there is nothing more important you can do than to get it written. Prove to yourself that you can do it. You might have better skills than I had and actually write something sell-able the first time around, but even if you don’t, there is great value in the process.

Are you working on your first novel? If so, how is it going? And if you’ve finished your first novel, what became of it? What was the lesson it had to teach you?


  1. One week was fast then, and it’s still lightning fast today. I wrote four novels before my first was accepted. They’re all valuable as part of my learning curve. I keep thinking I’ll go back to the first one someday, use the characters, and write the book all over again from scratch. Who knows?

    Something else I didn’t know…we’re fellow chapter mates at SVR. In fact we sat together Saturday at Allison’s presentation! I was going to look up your blog today, and I didn’t have to go far, since you’re already following mine. What a funny coincidence. 🙂

  2. I hope one day all of my drafts get printed. I love the ideas that created them too much to leave them as nothing more than practice. I may just commit myself to revise extensively or even re-write, but i won’t let those stories go.

    • You are a more steadfast man than I, Joe! Some of the ideas that spawned my earliest stories were not necessarily worthy of book-length fiction, but I like to think that I can capture the essence of what was worthwhile in them in other works.

      • right in your own back yard, so I’m assuming that these are St. Louis area phoots. So what is the building in phoots 29 and 30? And can a home town become that unrecognizable if you mostly don’t return for about 30 years? (Sadly, yes it can. We do go back but only to selected destinations — somewhere in the greater metropolitan ares — and usually by the most direct route. So there are new looks all over the area we have never seen).Sue

    • I understand the colmspuion. I haven’t even finished this novel yet and am already mentally working on my next project. When you have to write, you have to (even when you can’t always find the time, which is the problem I seem to be facing). Still, it is almost a sickness, the need to keep writing.

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