Months ago I wrote a post talking about why I deliberately stayed away from how-to-write advice, until I got the first draft of my novel written. It was an advantageous decision, as I was able to write without doubts, shoulds and too much technique being stuck in my head. Since then, I have been reading the advice which is available and it’s been a buzzkill.
It’s incredibly hard to finish the last edits on The Dragon Tree, with people yelling “first novels always stink, shelve them and forget it.” Isn’t it funny how you never notice advice like that, until you are in the position where it may apply to you? Then the words appear to be attacking you from all directions.
As much as I love these coaches, I am surprised that I am being told that I’ll be useless at mastering the craft of fiction, until I’ve written a million words, or a few more books. Of course our writing improves over time. Authors should not presume that they will be perfect on their first trip around the sun. However, there is no written rule that first time novelists are inevitably destined to be utter failures, or mediocre shelf-fillers. Leave us with some sense of hope!
I’ve conceived ten books, seven courses, many appalling pieces of poetry, a number of short stories and many articles. I’ve been published and plagiarised all over the globe. Does that count? Apparently not. They are non-fiction. This will be my first novel. The words are jammed in my head. #1 novel = garbage!
Being me, I decided to rebel and look at the other side of the argument. There are many successful first novels which are best sellers, Pulitzer Prize winners and have been made into movies. Here’s a short list:
- Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights
- Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason’s The Rule of Four.
- Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles
- Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man
- Janet Fitch’s White Oleander
- F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise
- Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe
- Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain
David Guterson’s Snow Fall on Cedars
- Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
- Melinda Hayes’s Mother of Pearl
- Marjorie Kellogg’s Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon
- Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees
- Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Interpreter of Maladies
- Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
- Jay McInernay’s Bright Lights, Big City
- Brad Meltzer’s The Tenth Justice
- Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind
- Laurie Notaro’s Idiot Girls Action Adventure Club
- Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago
- Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar
- Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things
- Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones
- Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty
- Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep
- Nicholas Sparks’s The Notebook
- John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces
- Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada
- Rebecca Well’s Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
- Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray
- To Kill A Mockingbird
- Catcher in the Rye
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
- Gone with the Wind
- Sense and Sensibility
- Doctor Zhivago
- Wuthering Heights
- The Help
- The Devil Wears Prada
So what’s your stand on the issue? What success did you have with your first novel? I’d like to hear your answers.
The book lists in this post come from several sources, including Book Market.com and Stylist Magazine.
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