Writer Milestones, or My Best Failure

AOY Clock 2

I’m not one for handing out writing advice. Mostly because there is so much out there, some from credentialed authors I admire, some from random folk on the interwebz incessantly posting homemade manifestos. But today, something came up that I think aspiring authors, frustrated writers, and other creative types might appreciate. To wit: I just put all this in the recycling bin.

2016-02-14 13.21.13

What the heck is it? Those two giant manuscript boxes (yes, two!) contain the earthly remains of the first novel I wrote as a grownup (as opposed to a kid or a teenager.) And yes, the book actually was that long, almost three times the length of a typical novel. Like many developing authors, my early works ran long. It’s hard to know what to cut and what to keep in the beginning. And in the beginning, it all seems so… well, good.

So around the year 2004, I was trying to sell this ginormous pile of, er, writing the old-fashioned way, by shopping it to agents in the hopes one would sell it to a publisher. And like Paul Giamatti’s character Miles in the excellent movie Sideways (also 2004), if someone asked me about my novel* I would haul out these big boxes and wait happily to be told how great it, and I, was.

You can guess the rest. The book was rejected by all the agents I queried (with good reason, though I truly didn’t know it then) and my heart was broken. Considering myself badly used, unappreciated in my own time, and born under a bad star, I quit writing altogether for about three years. During that time, I used my free time to read novels by better authors, listen to unabridged audios by better authors, and slowly–very slowly–recognize why they were better.

By the time I wrote another novel, Ice Blue, I was in a very different place. Writing that behemoth pictured above, trying to get it published, failing, and taking a long time to reflect were among the best things that ever happened to me and my writing career.

Today, as I gathered donations for Goodwill, I came across these old things and decided to let them go. The book as written cannot be salvaged, and the best parts are still vivid in my mind. One of these days I’ll resurrect the story. If only my poor, heartbroken earlier self could have glimpsed this blog post and realized that everything was working out as it should. I guess the next best thing is posting it here. So if you’re an aspiring or frustrated writer, I hope you’ll find something helpful in my story.

*I apologize unreservedly

6 thoughts on “Writer Milestones, or My Best Failure

  1. Bravo for your strength and perspective! Knowing nothing of this when I recently read all of your books that I could get my hands on, I say: it was worth it! (Easy for me to say, I know…) Can’t wait for the next!

  2. instead of pitching it, perhaps hang onto it and give to a celebrity auction at some point in the future, after you have mined the good parts. Fans would love to own something like that.

  3. Which author was it that said you haven’t even begun to be a writer until you’ve got a million words on paper? Those million words might not be good writing but they’re good lessons. You prove that!

  4. That was Orson Scott Card. Instead of tossing that manuscript, perhaps hold onto it until you have mined the good parts, then donate it to a charitable auction. Fans and collectors would kill for it. Hopefully not literally…

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