I’ve learned a lot this year. About the world of publishing. About the craft of writing. About myself. I’ve also learned a whole new vocabulary—log lines, hash tags, elevator pitches. partials and fulls, R & R (not “rest and relaxation” but “revise and rewrite”). Becoming a writer involves a long and steep learning curve with lots of pitfalls and detours.
Recently I read a blog reposted by K.M. Weiland (Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors), “Why Second Novels Are So Different From the First,” by award-winning author Kim Wright (Love in Mid Air). It’s not that second books themselves are so different, Ms. Wright says, but that “first-time writers are different from second-time writers.” They’ve made it at least part way up that learning curve.
This gives me hope. Many authors admit to spending inordinate amounts of time on their first novel, only to realize that with contracts and deadlines looming, they no longer have that luxury—or burden. Some writers—Elizabeth George is a notable example—call their first novel “unpublishable” and go on the second, building on what they learned. Being able to write isn’t the same thing as being able to tell a story. And vice versa.
But there’s more involved than just learning how to write and how to tell a story. There’s the matter of ego. On her website Louise Penny says that she cut the first draft of her debut novel, Still Life, in half from a whopping 168,000 words. “Once my ego and pride was set aside,” she says, “I was able to ‘kill my young.’” So the learning curve involves not only what I know, but also how I think and what I feel.
Right now I’m in the painful process of killing my young. I’ve not reached the summit of the learning curve. In fact I can’t see the summit from my present location. Perhaps there is no summit—just another path to take from there. But it helps to know that I’m not alone on the journey. Others have marked the path before me. One of the most impressive things I’ve learned this year is the incredible generosity of writers in sharing their struggles—and even their failures—with those coming along behind. Thank you.