The Ghosts of Novels Past

I have written three entire novels.

I thought I was unique until I joined Scribophile. There I discovered that I was not the only person on the planet to plan a Trilogy of Very Imaginative and Lengthy Fantasy Novels.

Mine weren’t a trilogy, however (though the first one tried). My ghosts came to me one at a time.
I have done some horrendous writing. I have even sent some of it out to publishers. A Box of Shame sits on my closet shelf, whispering to me, “Capable of Doing Better…”

Each attempt was better than the last, but none should have been sent out. I’m sure no one remembers my Space Opera, with a name I’m too embarrassed to tell you. (Okay, I have been, and always will be a Trekkie; but that is no excuse to be cliche.) When printed, it ran over 500 pages, which impressed me greatly at the time. But 500 pages of tripe is still tripe.

I resolved to boldly go beyond that sad effort.

My next novel was born out of a chaotic blend of Scandinavian folktales and Beowulf. This one wasn’t horrible, though it was vastly overwritten, with almost numbingly heroic diction and many more descriptions of Flora and Fauna than anyone would desire to read. I revised this one recently, hacking through the Flora, taming the Fauna, and am not unhappy with the result. However, ‘not unhappy’ does not mean ‘ready to send out.’

My first novel couldn’t be saved. I had fun writing it, but when the rejection letters came, it went on the Shelf of Shame. I never sent out my second novel; by that time I realized I wasn’t ready for the NYT Best Seller List. I added to the Shelf, preserved for posterity on about 30 floppy disks.

My third novel, about a group of immortals who secretly ran the world, took ten years to write. Using first person, present tense was a mistake. I soon grew weary of my narrator, and longed for him to die. Fortunately, he was not one of the immortals and would certainly die before the sequel.
I printed it out and added it to the shelf with the others, a tangible reminder that I was a writer, or at least trying to be.

I have written many of pieces-of-novels. (Fourteen, if I’m in the mood to count.) Some are more than half complete, others are just a couple chapters. All of them were loved intensely for at least a few months. A couple continue to haunt me – small shades of my imagination.

After each one of these writing affairs, I have sworn off writing forever, unable to imagine how I could ever come up with another idea that I would love enough to finish. But more ideas came, and each effort taught me things.

I observe that many beginning writers make the same mistakes I did:

  • I fell in love with each idea so deeply that I couldn’t see its flaws.
  • I had the notion that I would write, go back and re-read, fixing the spelling and adding a bit more description, and my novel would be done.
  • I used points of view that didn’t work.
  • Believing that more words was better, I described every scene and character in minute detail. Minimalism was unknown to me.
  • I wore out my thesaurus finding synonyms for common words — said, looked, walked.
  • I loved adverbs, archaic words, and dialog tags.

I have written approximately 876,000 words. If a published author’s typical gestation is a million words, I still have a lot of writing to do.

I am not yet born. But my due date is approaching.


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