March 7, 2013 by kristin
I read somewhere years ago that every writer has to purge at least the first 100,000 words before she can get to the good writing of which she’s capable. That every good novelist has at least one really bad novel tucked away in a drawer or hard drive somewhere.
(Maybe it was Sol Stein in Stein on Writing who said that? If it wasn’t, he said plenty of other smart things, and I highly recommend his book.)
My really-bad-novel was a thinly disguised coming-of-age memoir, and a rambling mess with no proper plot. I tried again and again to retool it into something cohesive because I believed there were nuggets of good stuff in there, but eventually I accepted the truth of its overall really-badness and moved on.
Every now and then, I brace myself and read some of it again. I’m usually not as horrified as I expect to be. There ARE good parts, but it just wasn’t meant to be as a whole. And I don’t feel sad about the countless hours I labored on it, because they helped me get rid of those 100,000 words of awful and propel me toward the 100,000 words of maybe-just-decent I’ve written with my new novel. They also helped me see the importance of plot and outlining, and prove to myself I could actually sit down at a computer and see something through to the end.
Maybe one day I’ll go back to my really-bad-novel and mine some of the good parts for short stories, or create from them the seed of a new, totally different novel. But even if I don’t, that’s okay. I’m glad I wrote those 100,000 words … and the next 100,000.
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