1. dave_c
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    dave_c Active Member

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    you first five novels are rubbish???

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by dave_c, Mar 10, 2013.

    I've been watching a load of authors talk on youtube and 90% of them seem to be of the opinion that the first five novels a writer writes should go unpublished and should be treated as a learning experience. I can understand learning from past novels but i really don't think i have it in me to write five novels with no hope of ever getting them published.

    I'm just wondering what others thought of the subject. The authors i have been viewing are reliable Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan for example. so it isn't even as if the advice is coming from novice wannabes (like me :D)
     
  2. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Some authors are prolific, and can churn out novels at the rate of two or more per year. This kind of writer can easily afford to write 5 novels of 'rubbish' before anything gets published.

    Other authors produce only one novel in their lifetime. One who comes immediately to mind is the Canadian author Alistair MacLeod, who published the award-winning "No Great Mischief" back in 1999, and has written no other novel since. He's an elderly man now, and I wonder if he's got another novel in him. Maybe, maybe not.

    Some authors write, edit briefly, then move on to the next big thing. They may be good writers, or they may be sloppy, shallow ones. Other authors work and re-work the same piece until they think it's perfect. They may eventually achieve perfection and great depth, or just spend years stirring the mess around. An author's rate of production has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WHATEVER to do with quality.

    How many times do we encounter the problem that an author's first novel is his/her best, and subsequent ones seem churned-out and not as noteworthy? That can happen, too.

    Apparently it's nearly impossible to make a living as a writer anyway, so just go ahead and write the story you want to write. Get as much feedback as you can, don't be afraid to polish your book to perfection, and do be proud of yourself. You are an author, if you have written a book. Who knows, someday the goalposts may be moved again, and a greater variety of authors will be given a chance to show their work to the world.
     
  3. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think they are just being snobby, possibly trying to cut the competition - how many of them do you think shelved their first five books? Maybe they are just peeved a the amount of crap that get's published these days..E

    I really doubt that ANYONE would write, or have written 5 books, happily put them in the bin and announced their apprenticeship over then churn out masterpiece after masterpiece...

    Regardless if you think you're first effort is great, if a publisher comes in for it - let him have it!
     
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  4. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I do think it would be very difficult to write a novel of any worth without having done quite a bit of writing beforehand. Caveat: what kind of writing and exactly how much depends on the person, their natural talent, and their willingness to work at and learn the craft. Five novels seems an arbitrary number and I doubt very much it has any scientific validity.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I think it's recognition that there is a long learning curve to being a good writer. Even if you can become an adequate writer on your first novel, sufficient to achieve publication, by the time you write the fifth novel after that, even you will look back on your first one with a harsh regard.
     
  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I've heard it said that the first million words you write are practice. I was chagrined when I first heard this because the first draft of my first novel was over 400,000 words and I was afraid I was using my allotment too quickly.

    I've written four complete novels, plus one I stopped part way through and another that I will call partially conceived (I like the idea and I've sketched out enough that I can one day go back to it). I also have a major project under way. I consider everything that has gone before to be preparatory for my current project, and my approach to it is radically different from how I approached all the others. My experience has been that it isn't just the writing that matures as you go along, it's your method of approaching and organizing your writing that matures. For me, that has been extremely important and is the difference between writing as a hobby and writing for publication.

    I'll let you know if I get there.
     
  7. Phoenix Hikari
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    Phoenix Hikari Contributing Member

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    I wonder what more ideas would be left in my brain after writing five novels and binning them. Seriously, no one can have so many 'great' ideas after that.
    It was easy in the past for people to write 10 novels and get them published and classified as classics, Shakespeare's ideas were unique at his time, they aren't unique anymore apart from them being his. But what more awesome ideas can I come up with after five plots? For me, probably I'll be drained.
     
  8. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm trying to decide if you're serious or not. I'd like to think this was tongue in cheek. There are a great number of contemporary authors who have written more than five novels, and who have consistently been on the reputable bestseller lists. I'm not sure why you think it was easier in the past, or that ideas were somehow unique - even Shakespeare re-used ideas. It's not like he was the first author EVAH.
     
  9. Phoenix Hikari
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    Phoenix Hikari Contributing Member

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    I was being serious and if it wasn't clear from my post then, I was speaking about myself.

    In my Opinion, I don't think the label 'Bestseller' means that the book is good, the story is unique and is written well. I have read many bestsellers and felt bored by them. This doesn't mean they are bad but just because the were 'bestsellers' doesn't mean they are so 'great' of a write. I know Shakespeare wasn't the first author but people nowadays look at literature very differently, they were thought of as special, people who have imagination so unique they stood out from the crowd. Now, it feels like anyone can write and publish. I know you'd disagree with me in that and say publishing is very hard. It's only hard because the publisher wants to make his money worth not because the stories are bad.

    Maybe many people can write 100 novels in their life and make them all unique and bestsellers, but for me it's not possible. You might think I am just a nob and I might be, but when I write something I'd like to make it stand out, be special and i can't do that many times in my life.

    Sorry if i sound offensive, but that's not my intention.
     
  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I hope to prove you wrong.


    Five novels or two, the whole claim is arbitrary and depends entirely on caveats, including at least one you didn't include, maturity.

    Very few writers start in their 5th decade so there aren't many examples one can judge from. But there are numerous examples of people who change careers mid-life and become just as skilled at their new career as they were at the old. It's a matter of investing the time, and being able to learn.

    For some of us, getting older makes us more skilled at learning. That may sound contrary to the old adage, you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but I'm not a dog. And I love learning, always have.

    I admire the creativity I see in writers around me. If that skill is learnable, it'll take me a while longer. But I have created the story I want to tell and I can already see that the skill to write it is learnable. And I'm old enough to know the difference between a pipe dream and a reachable goal.


    One should look at all the variables with these assessments. Is the variable more writing practice? It can be. But what other variables are contributing to a writer's growth that shouldn't be overlooked?
     
  11. jwideman
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    jwideman Senior Member

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    Hemmingway said that for every word he wrote that was good, 100 were crap.
     
  12. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Exactly. Can we really say what it takes to become a successful writer when the writer starts with that mature methodology and ability to see what lies beneath?


    Two variables haven't played out yet, and they're changing the basics of what it takes to be successful:
    • the ease of self publishing and
    • changes in marketing tactics.
    The future of the writing universe is yet to be seen.
     
  13. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    This brings to mind the other side of the problem, authors that crank out commercially successful, but not necessarily very good work. I can name a dozen off the top of my head that have one or two good novels and a whole slew of others that weren't as well done.
     
  14. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This idea that your first five novels are rubbish is pure BS. It's like that 10,000 hour rule - also BS. I agree with Cogito that it takes a lot of time, dedication, and sheer work to get really good at writing (or anything else), but five novels is a purely arbitrary measure.

    Talent is important. Maybe this sounds undemocratic, but some people are brilliant and will be writing better after one thousand hours of practice than some dullard will after a hundred thousand hours. I have a niece who's fourteen years old now, and when she was only eight she wrote a poem about her cat that is unbelievably good. I was stunned by it. She has no desire to be a writer, but even at her age she's at least as good as I am and I've been working at it for three times as long as she's been alive. I know when I'm beaten. I'm sure if my niece wanted to write seriously, she could produce a novel better than most of those published these days, and do so without five novels' worth of practice.

    Some writers produce classics on the first try. F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise was a bestseller, written in his early twenties. Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead was his first novel, published when he was only twenty-six, and some critics still consider it his best. Thomas Mann's first novel, Buddenbrooks, was published when he was also twenty-six, and was the main reason Mann won the Nobel Prize for literature. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic, and is her only finished novel. I could go on and on.

    Don't let anyone tell you you're lousy until you've written x number of novels or spent y number of hours writing. Are they saying, "You've only written four novels? You suck." Are they saying, "You've only spent 9,999 hours writing? You suck. Write for another hour, and then you'll be great."

    All this is absurd.
     
  15. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    There are very few absolutes in writing. Saying every writer's first five novels are rubbish--it may be true for many. It might be the first ten for some, and the first novel may be high enough in quality to find a publisher for others.
     
  16. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    First, son bragging. My son wrote great stuff as a kid. He's an avid reader and chooses particularly complex lit. to read now.

    He's not writing yet, but I'm working on him. ;)

    Second, can talent be a learned skill? It can, I know, I've seen it. That doesn't mean some people aren't naturally talented. It doesn't mean anyone can learn to match the skill of a Michael Jordan. What you are born with does indeed matter.

    However, the things that distinguish writing talent can be teased out and learned. The simplest example is the 'show don't tell' mantra. I can look at a sentence now and see when I'm doing which. A year ago, I had no idea what I was seeing that made writing better or worse, I just knew I was seeing a difference.

    I see two kinds of creativity, writers who can turn out a creative sentence or paragraph at the drop of a prompt, and writers who have a creative story idea. The best writers can do both, of course. But I'm not discouraged that I only have the latter at the moment.
     
  17. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you'll check back, I also said it depends on the person - which would include maturity. I do believe that most writers need to have done a sizable amount of writing before they can come up with a good or even decent novel. There will always be exceptions - and as I said, any statement delineating exactly how much writing needs to be done is arbitrary and worthless.
     
  18. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Talent isn't a learned skill. Talent is where one starts - then it's honed and crafted and worked to make sure it isn't wasted. Someone with a little talent who works the heck out of it can end up much better than the one who skates by on the talent alone. The other side - if they both put the same amount of effort in, the one with more talent to start will end up better at it.
     
  19. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I wasn't saying you included all the caveats you knew of. I just wanted to discuss one you didn't mention.

    We are on the same page here. :)
     
  20. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Except here we don't agree.

    Nature vs nurture, talent has components of both.


    Perhaps this is just a semantics argument defining the word, talent.
     
  21. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    well I guess it also depends on how thoroughly you rewrite and how many times. What if you rewrite the same novel 10 times? You don't have 10 novels technically, but if you've written the same novel 10 times, isn't it the same thing? That idea of practice and honing your craft?

    I don't think it matters - you write something, there's no way you won't try to get it published. During this time, there's nothing stopping you from writing a second novel, and a third, a fourth etc. And if your first gets published, that horray. If it doesn't and your 6th one gets published instead, well, horray for that too - and now maybe the publisher would be interested in your older stuff too :p

    Talks and theories like this won't stop anyone from trying, and it shouldn't either.

    However, there's certainly a vast difference in your writing quality the more you write. I look at my rough draft and I cringe and I am embarrassed to think I ever thought it was good enough to show anyone. I was looking at Cormac McCarthy's books yesterday on amazon and his voice is evidently a lot more mature now than in his debut - when you compare them, you can tell the amateurish voice in the debut even though it is very good and that the newer stuff is a lot stronger, more sure of himself. I imagine it'll be the same for every writer :)
     
  22. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I once worked with an actuary who was fond of saying, "there's a difference between ten years of experience and one year of experience repeated ten times."

    Willie Nelson once said that if you keep playing, keep working, you should get better. But that's the heart of it. There isn't a magic number of words or a magic number of works. Do you read as you write? Are you open to criticism? Do you begin with an appreciation for what constitutes quality writing and try to do exactly that? Does great writing jump off the page and grab you? Are you militant about rejecting dreck? And, can you see something right in front of your nose that makes a compelling story, and then go write one? Are you willing to get it wrong, see what's wrong, and then try again to get it right? Because all of that is "talent". No one has it in equal amounts, either in the aggregate or by specific quality.
     
  23. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There's nothing magic about the number five. So to that extent, the remark is rubbish. However, if you don't nitpick over such trivial details, I believe there is truth in the assertion.

    Look at it this way. If you haven't improved sufficiently by your third or fourth novel that your first novel looks like dripping crap by comparison, you're a failure. You simply don't have the drive to learn and develop as a writer.
     
  24. lettuce head
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    lettuce head Active Member

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    It takes what it takes. Point is as we apply ourselves to something we get better at it. And it isn't always about writing skill. A person can write like the wind and be terrible at organizing to the point of letting a great idea fail. Finding your flow can take a few attempts. I don't see how that can be a bad thing in the big picture of it. We write because we must and when we have no other choice in the matter we write some more. Each piece we write stands on top of the last piece written. At least, that's how I see it.
     
  25. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    My first three are rubbish, but number 4 has potential.
     

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