A friend suggested I read Beth Hill’s The Magic of Fiction: Crafting Word into Story, a comprehensive guide to writing and editing. Hill is an editor, and she dives deeply into the editing necessary to produce a good novel. The book includes numerous checklists for every stage of writing and editing, and serves as a good guide to writing fiction.
However, I have to question one piece of Hill’s advice: “I am suggesting that project number three or four or five should become your first published book. As a first draft isn’t ready to be published, a first novel isn’t ready to be published. Unfortunately for the first novel, it’s likely never going to be ready, not unless you scrap most of what you’ve done and rewrite with only the basics in common with the first version” (569).
I’m sure Hill, as an editor of the best-selling as well as of the novice writer, has seen a number of bad first novels. Since the advent of self-publishing and internet publishing, I’m sure that number has grown astronomically. The world might be better with more revision and less publishing.
Does Hill’s admonishment against publishing the first novel squash the drive of the novice writer? Maybe the novice should just give up on revising the first, even second novel, and devote one’s time to the third, which can be published, according to Hill. I’m joking about skipping to the third since the learning experience that comes out of writing the first novel should be relished at every step of the journey. I do realize that the writer of the third novel is probably a much better writer, but that writer could then revise the first novel and publish it.
And, what about those successful first novels? I googled famous first novels, and was reminded of many literary masterpieces, including Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Well’s The Time Machine, and Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. And, the list goes on and on.
I will take much of Hill’s advice seriously. But I do plan to finish a first novel and try to get it published. After years of writing my core idea, the current form is nothing like the first draft, and even as you read this, the current draft is morphing into something new. In the years to come, I expect it to grow into something worthy of publication. Otherwise, what’s the purpose of writing? I know it ultimately is to feed what calls us to write. However, at some level, most of us want to publish our creations, even the first one.