Monday, February 6, 2012

My Mistakes as a First Time Novelist

A year ago, I finished my first novel complete with first time mistakes.

photo credit: Matt Hampel {Flickr Creative Commons}

I didn't know my abcs about writing a good story. I simply knew writing coursed through my veins--I enjoyed stringing words together, thought in blog posts, and filled journals. Plus, daddy always told me to write a book one day, and my English professor liked my essays. And then there is the picture of me in diapers, scribbling.

So that makes me a novelist, right? Well, sort of.

Three years ago, I pulled out my notes and let my fingers fly. Without the slightest clue about market or genre, I picked an international setting with a foreign character, wrote in first person, and spanned a lifetime of events. Not to mention, I utilized every adverb and clich├ęd phrase known to humankind.

And aren't writers supposed to tell a story? And yes, my novel reads like soggy oatmeal about half way through. Oh, is that what you call a sagging middle? And it isn't wise to introduce too many characters or backstory at once, you say?

Clueless. You could say that.

Yet, despite my blunders, I completed the project. And though I started with the noble purpose to create a polished--somewhat perfect--piece of art, I realized, after my story grew a mind of it's own {and thew a temper tantrum}, I had a choice to make.

In her book, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott says, "if you want to write, you get to, but you probably won't be able to get very far if you don't start trying to get over your perfectionism."

In order to finish, I had to resist my urge to cross my T's and dot my I's. I could either complete what I had started, or tuck my work away.

I opted for the former.

Oh, I wish I could tell you my first novel is Einstein genius, that it glimmers like the Taj Mahal, that publishing houses are sitting on pins and needles waiting for me to query. However, as I slog through edits, I realize the rational side of my brain is right--my story needs work {okay, it needs plastic surgery}. I may now call myself a novelist, but just as marathon runners run and singers sing, I must write. And I must not worry about getting it right the first time.

So, I must make mistakes.

It's the only way to write a better story.


Melanie's formula for success:
Practice. Read. Write. Fail. Cry. Pray. Practice. Laugh-out-loud at first manuscript. Say, what in the world was I thinking? Practice again. Receive rejection {with grace}. Cry. Pray. Practice...

"Your dedication to writing is a marching step forward from where you were before, when you didn't care about reaching out to the world, when you weren't hoping to contribute, when you were just standing there doing some job into which you had fallen." --Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Check out Alicia Rasley's article "Top Ten Plotting Problems". This is a very useful editing tool {and yes, some of these problems have sneaked into my story}.

What blunders have you made in your writing journey? What lessons have you learned?

Melanie N. Brasher is a full time mama of two boys and wife to an incredible husband who understands her bicultural background. She moonlights as a fiction and freelance writer, crafting stories and articles toward justice and change. She's a member of American Christian Fiction writers and a contributing blogger for Ungrind & Hoosier Ink. Though she's an aspiring author, she'll never quit her day job.


  1. Great advice, Melanie! I too was convinced that my first novel was a work of genius.:-) What I ended up learning was that writing is work. Worth it in the end, but hard work. My characters were flat, story line dull, and no publisher cared about reading past the first page. So I had to write, study, write, learn the craft, and. . .write. Happy writing!

  2. Welcome to the trenches, Melanie. Write, learn, craft, practice, cry -- yes but never lose your excitement in creating a story. Publishers and readers want heart more than head.

  3. We have all been there. I hope I never stop learning and growing. Love your formula for success.

  4. Lisa, yes writing is hard work, but it IS so worth it. It's great to know I'm not alone in my experiences. :)

    Alice, You're absolutely right about writing from your heart and not only your head. I never want to lose my excitement for my story.

    LeAnne, yes it's a life long learning process, isn't it? Thanks for visiting today. :)

  5. Hello Melanie. Excellent advice. Sadly, many writers will never get to realise it. I just did a lecture today on 'The Rewrite' for my writing for theatre students. They'd just received feedback on their first drafts and many of them looked ready to quit. I told them if they realise sooner rather than later that a first draft is simply an exploration then they will be better equipped to accept criticism. Easier said than done though. Thanks for posting.


  6. Fiona,

    I think you're absolutely right about the first draft being an exploration, and it's helpful to learn this early on. :) Thanks for sharing!

  7. Melanie, great post! And 'exploration' is a good definition for my first drafts :) Congrats on finishing your book! This is an achievement in itself because many people want to write a book or start writing a book, but not so many hang in there to the end.

  8. Thanks for the encouragement, Narelle!