Advantages of Having Written One Novel, However Lousy and Unpublishable

One of my mom friends (Ms. Connect-the-Dots) and I are going to see New Moon tomorrow morning. And I am not ashamed. I know Stephenie Meyer has her share of detractors, but I think it’s an amazing accomplishment on her part to have tapped into a fantasy that so many people can participate in. What’s not to love about years-long emotional foreplay?  Plus, I think that the pacing in the last three books of the series is superb.

Pacing is not something I ever used to think about when reading a novel, but since I finished writing a novel of my own this past August, it’s become something I pay a lot of attention to. A couple of literary agent blogs I read regularly, Pub Rants and Nathan Bransford, both have had some great posts about what pacing is and why aspiring writers should be obsessed with it.

Writing a novel changed the way I read in a lot of other ways besides the fact that I’m now hyperattuned to pacing. I used to love to just let myself get lost in a story, and I only noticed the writing when it was either phenomenally beautiful (e.g. Cormac McCarthy) or bad enough to distract me from getting lost in it (e.g. Robert Ludlum). Now I find myself paying attention to things like how much the author uses dialogue as opposed to paraphrasing, how much description she includes of the settings and the characters’ looks, and how much “showing” versus “telling” he does.

So, for everyone out there who’s doing NaNoWriMo this month, take heart. Even if your novel turns out lousy and unpublishable, you will still benefit from finishing it. If your experience is anything like mine, it will help you become not just a better writer, but a more sophisticated reader as well. (I didn’t do the official NaNoWriMo myself, but did my own personal NaNoWriMo in the month of August. Thank you, Chris Baty, you are a national treasure.)

Everyone seems to say that you don’t get good at novel-writing until your third one. I read an interesting book called 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might, by a guy who had worked for an independent publisher for years. His press focused on discovering new fiction writers, and one year, if I recall correctly, they had something like 30 first-time novelists. Interestingly, in the case of every single one of those novelists on the roster, the book they were getting published was the third one they had written. So there’s another advantage of having written one novel right there: it gets you closer to that third one which might actually turn out to be decent.

Stephenie Meyer is an example that supports this third-novel theory. It sounds as though she started on a novel once before writing Twilight, so that Twilight was actually her second book, depending on how you look at it. And from a purely technical standpoint it’s clear to me, thanks to my new amazing magical technicolor writer-vision, that Twilight was not all that well-executed, and the pacing in particular was only eh. But from New Moon on, she really gets it. She has mastered pacing, and she has the whole novel-writing thing down pat.

Right now I’m about 20,000 words into my second novel, and I feel a bit resigned and fatalistic about it, given that the odds are so clearly stacked against its being any good. All the same, it’s another step closer to that magical Novel #3. Plus, it’s something I’ve had in mind for a long time and it’ll be nice to get it out of my system and then move on to something else.

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