A long time ago I wrote a novel I loved. Loved. It was a flawed novel, as many beginning efforts are, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t love it. I still love that novel, even though I’m perfectly well aware of its imperfections. I may in fact love it because of its imperfections. It is at the same time the worst book I’ve ever written and also the best, and if you are a writer you know exactly what I mean.
I spent countless hours on that manuscript, trying to get it perfect even though no amount of effort could save it from being the work of a beginner. Countless. More hours than I have ever spent on anything else in the universe, with the possible exception of my daughter.
That book meant everything in the world to me, and the smartest thing I have ever done is shove it in a trunk and lock the trunk.
Wait! you say (I can hear the dismay in your voice). Didn’t you just spend the last two blog posts talking about resolve and getting through the tough slog and shouting Never give up! Never surrender! ?
Why, yes. Yes, I did. But I mean that in terms of your ultimate goal, which I’m assuming is to be a happily published writer (though we could debate all day about what that means). Lesser goals work in the service of larger goals. Writing a book is a lesser goal to being a happily published writer, although obviously you need the one to get the other. But you can be a happily published writer even if you set aside a particular book to work on one that will be better. In fact, I can almost guarantee that you will have to.
Here’s a thing I’ve noticed among all the writers I’ve dealt with over the years. The professional ones – multi-published, making a living at it – always understand that you have to keep moving or you drown. You finish one project and start another. You realize that your first novel is never going to be published so you start your second. The unpublished writers are the ones who keep clinging to that first project, never quite willing to leave go of it to move on to the better one.
None of those unpublished writers have ever listened to me when I said they need to write their next book, and why should you be any different? But please, I’m begging you. That book you’ve been working on for ten years? Find a trunk for it. You’ll thank me later.