One of the most amazing moments I’ve ever had in my entire time as an author is the moment I finished my first first draft. When I put those final words to the page for The Legend of Buddy Hero, I quite literally couldn’t contain myself. I had done it. I had written the great American novel. I had succeeded in this thing I had spent so many months thinking was absolutely impossible. And I was pretty happy with how the story had wrapped up. And I was excited for people to start reading it. And I was ready to make all that book money and begin my new career as a writer, and never have to go back to my day job ever again.
So…yeah, I was obviously a little overly excited, and a whole lot of overly naive.
To my credit, I did do an immediate read-thru/edit of the book after I finished the first draft, but, well, I wasn’t that focused. In my mind, after finishing that first draft, I simply needed to fix up the grammar and look for any typos, and anything else that might be glaring. Surely when I get and agent/publisher, they would do all the work in helping me identify where the story was lacking.
It was less than a month after I finished that first draft that I started looking for agents. Because I had spent so much time working through that first draft thinking about how excited I was to make money as an author, I didn’t really ever think about what I needed to do to make money as an author.
And one of the biggest mistakes you can make as an author is to think that your first draft is good enough. We talked about this yesterday. For all of his bigotry and racism, Hemingway was right on one thing, first drafts are shit.
A part of me knew it then, but was unwilling to listen. I remember going through the first read thru of my first draft and cringing at certain details, but just thinking that it would be good enough. In my own defense, I had certainly read worse books which had somehow managed to be published, but, this was not a good book.
However, because of my lack of patience, and my lack of thinking about how I wanted to present myself to the literary world, I started looking for agents with what was basically a first draft. And, I actually received some positive responses. No one actually wanted to take me on as a client, but, well, amidst all of the rejections, there were a couple of people who actually had some interest in what I had written.
But they all ultimately rejected me.
And I took those few pieces of random praise, and decided that meant I should self-publish. And I did. I crapped together a cover and put my stuff up on CreateSpace (a self-publishing platform for print books that has now been swallowed up by the Amazon whale), and almost 11 years ago today, I received my first proof of my book, which I looked at, made some incredibly minor changes to, and then had a dozen copies printed for myself while also releasing the book for sale.
I had a couple of sales, mostly to family and friends (if not all), but nothing too spectacular. The cover was ugly, and I didn’t really spend much time on coming up with a blurb to use to sell the thing, and this book was ultimately just crapped out and put on the market without any real forethought.
And then, the following Thanksgiving, a few months after putting the book out, I gave out a few copies to some family members at the family Thanksgiving meal. And then I heard one of the family members reading a section of the book out loud.
And I was immediately mortified.
This was definitely one of the sections I had thought wasn’t the greatest during my read-thru edit. It was something I knew was a trouble spot. But I put the book out like that. And, I’ll be honest…while it was definitely the stupidest thing I’ve done in my career as an author, it was also the moment that I learned the most about myself as an author. It has stuck with me. It has caused me to be far more critical of my own writing and not want to simply rush something out.
And, it taught me an important point that I already knew, but at that moment in my life didn’t want to realize: There are no quick successes in writing.
I mean, sure, I’m guessing I could have used some shady tactics to get my book up into the top ranks and made all sorts of money off of something that was terrible. There are plenty of terrible authors who manage to make plenty of money. But, I wouldn’t have been proud of what I had written. And I guess that’s what I learned most at that moment in which I heard my book read out loud for the first time: I wasn’t proud of what I had written. I was proud that I HAD written something, but I didn’t actually care about the book I wrote at all.
And I went into another one of those despair spirals.
I didn’t know what to do. I knew I needed to give the book a full edit, but at this point, I was absolutely done with this book, and I couldn’t, in any way shape or form look at it ever again.
While I immediately removed the book from sale, I then spent months trying to figure out what to do with this thing I had spent so much time on. I was absolutely gutted that I realized I had something I thought was crap, and the very basic concept of having to sit through re-reading it and then actually fixing all of these problems, while also recognizing at this point that I wasn’t going be handed wads of cash as a reward for simply finishing a book, well, it broke me.
And then, out of the blue, I received an inspiration for a new story. And I absolutely needed to write this new book.
And…that’s the problem with actually being an author. Even in the midst of your despair spirals, you’ll find there’s yet another story to be told.