It’s about time I gave an update on the book I wrote. In a nutshell, here’s what happened: I started writing my first novel towards the end of 2016. After numerous cups of tea, countless hours in front of my computer and piles of notes, scribbles, and doodles, my first readable draft was ready by March 2018. Some of my amazing friends read it and gave their invaluable feedback and suggestions, but after brooding over it for months, I finally decided to wave a bittersweet farewell to my first novel.
You might be wondering why, after so many months of hard work, I decided to abandon my project? The answer came as a surprise to me: I realised that I don’t have to ‘achieve’ anything. It’s okay for it to simply be a learning curve, one that will hopefully prepare me for my next writing project.
I won’t lie, it was a tough decision to make. After all, I invested so much time and energy into this book. I spent hours agonising over scenes and characters. I chased word counts until ridiculous hours of the night and more than just a few tears were shed in moments of frustration and self-doubt. But, in the end it was my first attempt at writing a book; my first try at something completely new. Not only did I realise my book’s not ready for the world, but as a novelist, I’m not ready just yet. This was probably the hardest thing to acknowledge, but I feel so much better about it now the decision’s been made. Not only did I learn a lot about writing, planning and plotting, but I’ve also learnt a few valuable life lessons along the way:
- It’s all about the journey
I tend to be very goal orientated. You do something to achieve something, right? In other words, you write a book to get it published and read… right? There’s nothing wrong with setting goals and working hard to achieve them, but I had to learn that sometimes it’s about learning and developing skills along the way. This is partly why it took me so long to reach the decision to leave this book in peace. I had to re-evaluate my goals and once I made the shift from ‘I have to achieve something concrete with this’ to ‘I’ve learnt so much in the process’, it was as if something clicked. Learning new skills by trying something new is actually a very worthy goal. I gave myself permission to fail and, in turn, it gave me the confidence to continue writing.
- Let go of sunk costs
Despite adopting the mindset that it’s all about the journey, it’s hard to let go once you’ve invested time, money and effort into something. This becomes especially hard once you’re emotionally invested, but holding on hinders you from moving forward. For months I kept fiddling with scenes, plot issues and dialogue, unable to make significant progress, but unwilling to give up. I had to reach a point where I realised I was going round in circles and it was distracting me from other projects. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to let go and to write off those sunk costs, but reminding myself that it’s about the process and not the result, made it much easier. I’ve found that when you let go, you open the door to new opportunities.
- Keep going until you reach the finish line
I have a quick confession to make – when it comes to creative projects, I jump into something with gusto and enthusiasm, but often my attention wanders when I spot another ‘new and shiny’ project brimming with potential. I’ve actively been working on overcoming this tendency and by completing this book I can officially say: I did it, I finished my first book. I wrote 77684 words with a beginning, middle and end; with characters, a storyline and lots of dialogue. Even though I haven’t ‘achieved’ anything with this project, I feel a huge sense of accomplishment because I overcame a personal mountain.
- Don’t give up just because you’re not ‘that good’ (yet!)
This one has been particularly hard for me. Like most writers, I dream of writing and publishing a book and this put unnecessary pressure on this first fragile attempt. Looking back, I can see how unrealistic my expectations were. After completing the novel, I initially felt deflated because the writing wasn’t up to the standard I wanted it to be. Writing is a craft. Some people have a natural flair for words and storytelling, but the rest of us have to practice, practice, and practice to get there (and I fall squarely in the second category). One of the most valuable things I got from writing this book is the hours of practice it gave me. Even though my first book wasn’t what I hoped it would be, it doesn’t mean I have to stop writing. It just means I need to keep putting in the work.
There you have it! The first book I wrote was bad, but it doesn’t matter, because it turned out to be valuable in other ways. I haven’t started with my next book, since I have a couple of other adventures lined up for the new year. In the meantime, I’m writing as much as I can, learning as I go.
If you’re feeling discouraged and overwhelmed with your first book, just know you’re not alone. I found this article by Anthony Ehlers for Writer’s Write very encouraging: Why you need to write (at least) one bad novel.
They say to write well you need to read a lot – have a look at my reading list for some inspiration. And keep on writing! Feel free to share this article with someone who needs a bit of encouragement to keep going.