Monday, February 23, 2009

Is a Debut Novel always the First Novel?

My guess would be—NO. Sure the fantasy of writing that first book and having it take off, sell to an amazing house, then top the NYT bestseller list has got to dog most of us writers at some time or another. Of course 8 years into my writing career, I've kind of figured a few things out. And yes, it is my career, even if my work hasn't rolled off a shiny press yet. 

Writing rarely just "happens" like that well-worn fantasy, even for those so-called overnight successes. It is an art and art requires inspiration, sacrifice, attention to craft, and a mountain of patience, not to mention an intense personal commitment and a small dose of luck.  If you look at the files of many of your favorite writers, you will most likely find a stash of manuscripts, some half-finished, some abandoned after a flurry of rejections, some no more than a scrap of paper with an idea scrawled across it. It's all part of the process. 

I teach my students that writing is a process.  The "final product" is just where we decide to stop working that process.  Every draft, every note scribbled in the margins, every hour of racing thoughts about plot and character that keep you awake at night, it's all part of the process.  Every draft of that first book was like vocal scales, stretching and developing my voice, getting it ready for that amazing aria. Okay, that might be a little over the top, but you get the picture. 

I've been thinking about that first book, the YA that is still awaiting judgement at a small house.  Even with it under consideration, the farther I get away from that first novel, the more I realize there is a lot I could do to make it better. To be honest, I'm not sure where I want it to go.  It's kind of like your mother showing those ridiculous baby pictures to your boyfriend.  I don't look like that anymore, but the same person is inside that goofy grin with the cat's eye glasses.  I love my first book, and I still think it's a good book that kids will enjoy, but not nearly as solid as my second, which is making the rounds to editors now.  

My current YA is sort of my coming of age in terms of writing and will soon be my debut novel (I hope).  I'm ready for the big "coming out" party and then on to my next, which will be even better.  What will happen to #1?  I don't know.  But it's all part of the process.  


  1. I think you're right, Mary Ann. The first novel or two you write - especially the first - is more of a learning exercise in plotting, pacing, characterization and so on than anything else. I'm still on my first and am toying around with a second idea now.

    I look forward to reading your "debut" novel - soon, I hope. :)

  2. I'm so with you! I keep telling myself that the editor and agent will make the first novel the best it can be, though. After all, it's not a first novel for either of them--it's one of many they want to make as good as it can be. But the process of the first novel--oy, the process. That I will be thrilled to let go of.

    So glad I read your post tonight--it related to exactly what I'm going through. Though finding the right opening for the 2nd novel is a bear, too. Maybe they're all bears!

  3. I love how you said it's your career even though you don't have anything rolling off the presses yet (but SOON, I know, VERY SOON)! That's the tough part about being a writer that non-writers don't understand. It can takes years to master the craft. Congratulations to you for having such passion and tenacity.


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