Monday, 29 September 2008

Don’t Polish For Ever

While blog-browsing I came across this rather wonderful comment here:

If your raw material is zirconia, no polishing in the world will make it a diamond.
Isn't that great?

I’ve heard of writers who have been reworking their first novels for eight or ten years in an attempt to get them published. They don’t seem able to move on to their next: instead they keep niggling at their first novel hoping to make it perfect, when they’ve got little or no hope of doing so.

The truth is that very few first novels get published, and that most published writers have at least one unpublished novel behind them. A writer learns so much with that first extended piece that subsequent works are almost always better.

Katie Fforde wrote eight novels then nearly gave up writing before getting a contract for her ninth, Living Dangerously. Her books are now everywhere.

Patricia Wood (who sometimes comments here: hello, Pat!) wrote three unpublished novels before Lottery was picked up: she ended up with the sort of advance that we all dream of, and a shortlisting for the Orange Prize for fiction.

Nicola Slade (who also comments here: I hope you’re waving, Nicky!) wrote six novels before her seventh, Scuba Dancing, was published: she's gone on to sell another, Murder Most Welcome, and has another deal looming.

By all means polish your work, but remember to keep writing new stuff too. Your writing will change and improve over the years, and there’s only so much you can do to improve an early, weak attempt.


Anonymous said...

And I'm another one - lots of unpublished novels under my bed, and there they'll stay. And though it was frustrating at the time, I'm very glad I have had that much experience. I can't imagine anything worse than getting a mega-deal for the first novel you ever write (whether it took ten weeks or ten years to do so) and not having a clue whether you're capable of writing another: maybe One is all that's in you. It's been quite difficult enough at times writing Two under contract when I did, at least, know I'm capable of doing it.

Lynn Price said...

Bless you, Jane. We Yanks tend to be a bit more coarse and say amongst ourselves, "You can't polish a turd." Most first novels are like unripened grapes, and they either need to sit in a desk and allowed to ferment a bit or abandoned.

However, I would go one step further and recommend authors back away from their desks and get their subsequent works critted, along with attending conferences. Writing, by its very nature, isolates us and if we don't get a reality check with the quality of our writing, we risk repeatedly creating the same mistakes.

Jane Smith said...

Or you could just live in a quiet, dark hole, like I do, and get really obsessive about your writing... could this be why I've not yet had a novel published?

Anonymous said...

Lynn beat me to it, but I have to say that I first heard the expression "You can't polish a turd" in a British film.

I have five completed novels lurking somewhere unpublished, and I think I've finally turned the corner to writing well. I'd hate to see myself still working on number one.

Jane Smith said...

Lynn and Paul, you should both be ashamed of yourselves. Such language. It makes me blush to my roots.

(Sadly, the phrase isn't mine: I found it on someone else's blog and rather liked it. I'd have probably used yours.)

Luc2 said...

Wow, I was quoted on such a distinguished blog while I was away... What a pleasant surprise. Too bad my happiness won't be visible to most blog readers. Thank you, Jane!

I moved away from my first zirconia, and am now chipping at a new piece of rock. Maybe one day, when I gained more experience and confidence in my writing, I will go back to that first one and see if I can salvage it.