First Isn’t Always Best

Today I’d like to talk to those writers out there who’ve just finished their very first manuscript. You’ve spent hours and hours, days and days, months and months and sometimes years and years, on this book. You’ve sacrificed quality time with family, friends and spouses. Your fingers ache from endless typing. Your brain is exhausted from late nights of reading ‘How to,’ books on getting published. Yet somehow you did it. You wrote a book. First, take a moment to bask in the glory. You should be very proud of yourself. That is quite an accomplishment.

Now let me share with you a tough-love lesson. I remember I got my first lesson standing in a charming little antique store. I was chatting with its proprietor, a nice lady who loved to talk as much as I did. Of course in our conversation of everything, she asked me what I did. I stuck my chest out proudly and told her I was a writer. She quickly gave me that, Wow stair. You know the one. Then the list of questions swiftly followed.  What do you write? Are you published?  Is this your only book? I answered all of her questions as she asked them, then she said something that I will never forget as long as I live.

“You realize this is probably your desk drawer book?” I stared at her blankly. I had no idea what a desk drawer book was and she could obviously tell that by my expression, so she explained. “You know the first book you write that is usually crap and you end up stuffing it into a desk drawer to never be heard from again.”

I stood there frozen, staring at her as if she’d just lost her mind. How dare she call my baby, the love of my life, a desk drawer book? My soul went into writing that book. I loved my characters with everything I possessed. Who was she to tell me to stuff them into a desk drawer to be lost with the dust bunnies forever? My heart was broken.

Reality check-She was right. My first manuscript, even though it will always be near and dear to my heart, was not publishable. It pains me to say this, but it was a desk drawer book. It seems that desk drawer books exist for many writers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard other writer’s say, “I can’t believe I sent that partial to an agent thinking it was good,” or “I’m so embarrassed. I submitted a book that clearly had head-hoping on every page,” or, “I submitted a historical without doing any research, that editor must have thought I was insane.” But in our defense, we didn’t know any better. We naively believed that we had a great story and some publisher would see this and make the appropriate changes. Isn’t that what editors are for?

We hadn’t met other writers, or gone to workshops, or had someone critique our work before submitting. We didn’t realize at the time, that these were vital steps we needed to take in order to get published.  This writing thing is a process. There is so much to learn. Take the time to learn the rules.

I hope I haven’t broken anyone’s heart like that lady broke mine that day in the antique shop. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that you give up on your first book. Just don’t submit that book before its ready. Take that first novel and give it a fighting chance. If I would have done all these things before I submitted, maybe my first manuscript wouldn’t be sitting in my drawer right now collecting dust.

I haven’t completely given up on my desk drawer book. One day I’ll go back and put the time into getting it publishable, but not today. Today I’m working on my fourth book. With each book I write, I see my work growing stronger from the things I’ve learned along the way. Like I said, it’s a process.

Here’s hoping that your first book may never see the inside of a drawer, but if it does or has, feel free to share your story with me. You’re not alone, I will truly understand.

Remember to Dream Big!

Lori Waters

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