Alright, all those writers who have finished their first novel. Yay!
But, today we need to talk about a terrifying idea: shelving your baby.
That’s right. We need to talk about it because NaNoWriMo is over but fifty thousand words does not a novel make.
You may have heard a million stories on the interweb about writers who were discovered after writing their first MS and your thinking, *maybe* *just maybe* it's your destiny to be discovered that way, as well. Before you get lost in months and months of cuddling with your first-born novel baby let’s examine three common myths about shelving your WIP:
Myth 1: This is the book of your heart and therefore MUST be published:
I’m going to rip this Band-Aid off. No mercy: Nothing MUST be published. Nothing. And just because this book is close to your heart doesn’t mean you are entitled to anything. That’s right, I said entitled because chances are you believe that you are almost there. You’ve finished the damn book (which may, or may not, have nearly killed you) and now you are part of a small percentage of people who can say “I’ve written a book.” But there is still a business to publishing and finishing the book is only the first step in publishing.
Why you should stick that crying, goo-covered book-baby on the shelf:
Finishing the book was the first step. Next you’ll need to revise the heck out of that book. In order to revise you will need fresh eyes. When I say fresh I mean can’t-finish-this-sentence-without-reading-it fresh. You need to be so far removed from your MS that the smallest mistakes are glaring. Things spell check can’t catch should jump out at you. In order to get this perspective you need space. I know, I know, you’re thinking ‘but I’m a new book-mom. I can’t leave my baby alone for weeks. What will people say about my book parenting skills?’
Actually, no one will say that but that doesn’t stop you from thinking it because you’re scared. Here’s the thing, everyone steps back from their work. It’s the best way to get fresh eyes. I take 4-8 weeks off between books. That’s not to say you have to stop writing at all. No, keep writing. Write everyday. Just don’t write/revise/edit anything to do with your completed MS for a few weeks. Stick on the shelf and change gears.
Myth 2: This is the only book idea you have and anything else you write will be forced:
I hear you. I really do. Five years ago I finished my first MS and I panicked. I thought ‘This is it. This is the only idea I’ve ever had. Nothing else will come to me.’ So I spent years (yeah, I said years) revising that baby thinking ‘If I could get this right I know I could get published.’ And maybe, someday, it will be published. But I spent all my creative energy on that book-baby out of fear (not love). Think about that. I was afraid nothing else would come to me. I was afraid this was my one shot.
*hugs* *pats back* I know it can be scary but you are a creative, hardworking, artist. You are a writer, the real thing. Repeat after me: You are not a one-book-wonder.
Why you should punch fear in the face and shelve that book:
When I finally took the leap, and shoved that bratty book-baby into time out, I was free to imagine wonderful new worlds. I was flooded with ‘what-if’s’ that turned into great outlines. I’ve written more. Dreamed more. Learned more. All because I allowed myself to move on. It’s scary. I get that. But believe in yourself. Believe that this is not the end for you and see what dreams may come.
Myth 3: A few famous authors were discovered with their first MS. I am going to be one of the few who get discovered that way, too:
*crosses arms* *taps foot* Look. I know you want to be the exception to the ‘no one ever gets discovered on their first novel’ rule (remember above when I said I held onto my first MS for YEARS!?!). But here’s the hard truth (no mercy!): You are not the exception – probably. It’s a very rare few who are discovered with their first MS. It does happen, but it’s so freaking rare. Chances are good that your first attempt will not be good enough to snag an agent or editor’s interest. Sucks, I know. You love your book-baby and you want it to succeed.
Why you should knee your ego in the balls and shelve that book:
Confidence is great. It’s what sent you down the novel writing path to begin with (because, let’s face it, this takes some serious balls). But when your ego is getting in the way of your evolution as an artist then there’s a problem. When your ego tells you ‘you are the best writer in the world’ kick it in the nuts and say ‘settle down, ego. I’ve got some work to do.’
I’m not saying you should ball up your newborn book-baby and throw it away. I’m saying shelve it. Step away. Write something new. Write something outside your genre. Force yourself to learn and grow as a writer.
Fear is the enemy. It creeps into your life in small, insidious ways. As writers we must be ever vigilant in our battle against fear.
Where you afraid to shelve your MS? How did you overcome that fear?