Why Scrapping my 1st novel was the best thing for my writing

I doubt any writer wants to think of junking their first novel, but it happens. Sometimes a story works and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s just the truth. Every tale we spin becomes a part of us, and when one fails it’s heartbreaking.

I spent days, weeks, hours, months, a couple of years really working on my first novel. As I grew and learned more, I came to the realization that what I’d poured myself into didn’t work. The entire novel just doesn’t cut it. No matter how long I let it sit and came back for editing, or sent it to someone for help, it just didn’t work.

Luckily I’m one of those writers who always has multiple projects going. I have to. Sometimes you’re inspired to delve into something short that offers more instant gratification. Novels are like abusive boyfriends, (something I unfortunately have a little knowledge of from way back in my young and dumb days). They knock you around, beat you down, make you question your worth.

My first mistake was that I jumped into novel writing to take on a fairy tale retelling. It’s been done before, and if you’re going to retell an old story it better have one hell of a twist or people get bored.

My second mistake lied in the fact that I had little knowledge of the publishing industry, and just wanted to get my story out there for readers. I jumped the gun, not realizing that it held nothing new. Everyone’s a writer, so if you’re going to stand out you really have to shine.

Third, I feared sharing my work with other writers. It took me a long time to be okay with beta reads and writing circles, because I feared someone might steal my idea. So it took longer for me to find out that my story was a dud. In reality, most ideas aren’t that original, and everything’s already been done. Share, work with other writers, they will help you.

So a couple of months ago, I tried to salvage my 1st novel. After much hair pulling, and a lot of wine, I couldn’t avoid the fact that it was beyond my editing skills, and those of everyone else. I realized I’d have to go back and start from scratch or let it go.

It hurt.

I mean I cried like a baby. And it takes a lot to break me down.

There didn’t seem to be much point in rewriting the entire thing, because somehow I knew that the problem was the story itself. You can fix writing errors, flow, plot holes, but when a story is mundane and useless, there’s nothing you can do.

I contemplated adding in more tension, conflict, all that. Whatever I tried brought me to a dead end. So I accepted what my writing was telling me. The story seemed to kill itself. (I know that may sound weird, but a writer can only control so much of what they create)

I felt like I was burying a child. I’m a mom and that may sound extreme, but I mourned, heavily.

Time has given me perspective, and I have a novella, another novel, and multiple short stories that offer much more promise. I can’t go so far as to say that I’m glad my 1st novel died. But there is life after the death of a novel.

4 thoughts on “Why Scrapping my 1st novel was the best thing for my writing

  1. Allen says:

    I think it’s Stephen King that says to “kill your darlings” when a passage, a chapter, or even a whole book just isn’t working out. As someone with three half-written novels that didn’t pan out, I can definitely relate. Sometimes you learn the story you’re writing isn’t the one you want to tell. It’s frustrating, and it feels like you wasted a lot of time, but I guess it’s all a learning experience. It’s great that you have multiple projects in the works, and like you said, there’s life after the death of a novel! 🙂

  2. Dave S. Koster says:

    I can relate to this, and I’m super glad to hear I’m not the only one who is reduced to tears over a little pile of make-believe. About ten years ago, or perhaps a little more, I walked away from my first novel attempt. At first, I walked away because I needed more skill to pull off what I was trying to. So, I some effort into a few short stories and other novel ideas with the thought that I would someday have learned enough to come back to it. In that time, I’d say I’ve learned a lot. One thing I learned though was that the whole concept of my first novel was just stupid. The other, and much more important, thing I learned was that I have to do just what you said: Enlist other writers and take their advice.

    1. jessmbaum says:

      It’s so painful, but necessary I think. If you keep going after that kind of a failure, your resilience will pay off. At least that’s my hope. 🙂

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