I don’t want my first book to suck

A few days ago, someone who wants to become a novelist approached me and asked for advice.

I was very glad that I had the opportunity to help an aspiring author. I stressed out the importance of showing up every day, trashing the bad stuff and working hard.

She came to the conclusion that writing a novel is hard work and that she isn’t sure whether she wants to write that badly.

None of us are.

Then, she said:

I really don’t want my first book to suck.

I recognized the fear and that kept me busy thinking for a couple of days.

Why can’t novelists see the inevitability of the fact that their first book is going to suck?

Even authors who had huge success with their debut novel had the first books that sucked badly but they kept them in their drawers.

Imagine someone who is trying to become a painter saying:

Gee, I don’t want my first painting to suck.

Here, the answer is obvious.

Of course, it’s going to suck. You have no previous experience, your technique is undeveloped, you can barely hold a brush, you can’t name more than 9 colors and not to mention mixing them with the right amount of oil, etc.

For some reason, novelists think their first book mustn’t suck and perhaps it’s because of the different tools used for writing and painting.

Not everybody uses paintbrushes, colors, easels, lines, shapes, shades and other elements of painting, and therefore it’s normal to suck as a beginner painter.

Writers use words, and non-writers use words as well, and therefore you might think that you have a necessary toolset for writing a novel simply by using words in everyday speaking, writing e-mails and text messages.

Unfortunately, words are only one of the tools in a huge toolbox which contains, ideas, images, emotions, voices, rhythm, grammar, language structure, social intelligence, emotional intelligence, story structure, style, psychology, history, philosophy, creativity etc, etc.

Writer’s toolbox is enormous and you must fully develop all your tools before expecting your book not to suck. It takes a whole career to accomplish something like that, and many develop only a few of the tools and never reach the level of mastery.

There is nothing wrong with developing only a handful of the tools. Many writers have built very successful careers on them, and their books are far from bad, but expecting your first manuscript not to suck is certainly overambitious.

Write that first draft, write that first book, let it suck and move on.