I know a number of writers that drafted and sold their first manuscripts -- often with the help of insightful critique partners, lots of revision and a great willingness to work hard at marketing their novel to the right agent/editor in the right genre at the right time.
Sadly, I wasn't one of those writers.
I didn't know what the hell I was doing twelve summers ago when I began my first manuscript. Really. I hadn't even read a how-to book on novel writing until after I'd drafted my first (embarrassingly dreadful) 627-page manuscript -- written by hand, by the way, on lined yellow paper because I didn't own a computer then. And, of course, I hadn't yet joined a helpful writers' organization like RWA or begun working with a critique partner or six, like I do now. My first manuscript has so many unresolved issues, it needs therapy. And it's not sitting alone with its problems on my hard drive. I wrote four full-length books before beginning my fifth one, According to Jane, which became my debut novel. (And I wrote two more novels after I finished 'Jane' but before it sold.)
So, not everyone's process is the same...and this roundabout, meandering, trying-to-get-the-big-picture-before-you-learn-the-details approach to storytelling just happened to be mine. Which is to say, when it comes to "trunk novels," I have a few.
Here's what I've learned about them in the past decade or so, though: They were not entirely awful manuscripts. Not even my first one. But they were different than what I write now. Different in a way that, when I'm being honest, is certainly less skilled and sure than my current writing, but not always poorer by comparison.
It reminds me in a way of when I first started teaching. What I lacked in experience, I made up for in enthusiasm. The kinds of projects I was willing to try with my classes early on were sometimes ambitious activities that I was years away from having the skill to pull off without a hitch. But I didn't know that then, so I did them anyway. And some of the students from my first few years later told me how much they loved those goofy plays or weird radio shows or huge murals that we did. Imperfect as they might have been, they were memorable and, in their own strange way, maybe better than if I'd known how to avoid every potential glitch -- at least in light of what my goals had been at the time.
However, thanks to the recent digital revolution, I was able to test out releasing two of them online last year -- editing them with the more professional eye that I now have, but striving to retain most of the youthful writer exuberance that had been woven naturally into the storytelling.
And it's been so fun!
Such a delight to discover that these shorter, romantic comedies have an audience and have brought joy to a group of readers. I can't tell you how appreciative I am. Are these books as complicated or as thoughtfully structured as my traditionally published women's fiction? Oh, heavens, no. But they are, in their own way, exactly what they should be, and there's something extremely satisfying about that. On Any Given Sundae was a top 100 "Bestseller in Humor" on Kindle last year, and Double Dipping just finaled in the contemporary novel category of the 2012 International Digital Awards, both of which pleased me as much as my Golden Heart® win for According to Jane because there's nothing like the right story finding its right readers at long last.
Not every manuscript I ever wrote should be foisted upon the world (trust me, you should be very grateful I'm keeping that first one to myself), but I do believe it's true that nothing we write is wasted. Sometimes, it's put away but becomes the springboard for a later, better idea. Sometimes, it can be heavily revised and substantially improved. But, sometimes, sometimes...it just needs a little polishing, the right timing and a receptive audience to find its proper home. In those cases, patience is indeed a virtue and persistence will one day be rewarded.
Moral of the story? You just gotta keep writing and revising...revising and writing...and keeping hope alive as you press onward. A happily ever after is possible for us all. :)
I've posted chapters from both of these novels on my website:
On Any Given Sundae is excerpted here.
And Double Dipping is excerpted here.
I hope you'll enjoy them. And, because you've probably guessed from the titles that I'm a big ice cream fan, I'd love to know, what are your favorite flavors?!