Monday, December 5, 2011

A Look Back on Novel #1

My first foray into writing novel length fiction was more than a decade ago.  In terms of my knowledge of the craft at the time, I was young, dumb, and wildly naive.  I approached the challenge of writing that first novel like a successful middle aged businessman taking up the challenge of running a first marathon.  This newbie runner just buys a pair of running shoes and asks, how many miles must I jog each week to finish 26.2 on race day?  I took half my signing bonus I received from the San Diego Padres, bought a $500 Toshiba laptop, and asked, how many words must I type to fill 300 pages in a mass market paperback?

I had heard some whispers about how difficult it was to compose a novel.  The movies were full of would-be writers struggling into their 30s and 40s to finish their future best-sellers.   English grad students all had a Chapter One saved and tucked away just waiting for that long summer in front of the keyboard when chapters 2-99 would materialize.    I knew many had come before and failed, but that fact alone made the task that much more enticing.  My hubris surely heightened at the time by my envied profession of pro athlete (‘poor’ purposely removed from this title to fuel popular misperception), and by the testosterone that my regular workouts had pumping through my veins.

Three months after I began my first novel, it was complete.  I had saved in My Documents a 100,000-word thriller about a college kid turned vigilante that just needed to be spell-checked.   I bought a book soon after that explained the process of querying literary agents and how to seek their representation (this was 1999 and everything was not yet online).   Eight of the twelve agents I sent my synopsis to actually wanted to see the first few chapters!  At the time I had no idea how rare this was.  A decade later I would send 50 queries out for The Ball Player and only have 3 agents ask to read a sample.

If you are not a writer, I will now break the bad the news… A spell-checked rough draft from a young scribe with little experience writing or reading the kind of novel he is attempting to complete is bound to be fraught with literary missteps.   The sample chapters I sent were quickly rejected, as well they should have been, after what I assume was a quick scan of the novel’s first few paragraphs.  

I actually believed I was sending out good work all those years ago.  I have written several more novels since, and hope to finish another very soon.  I will be contacting agents and publishers with this new work, feeling as confident now as I did back then.  The realization that, my work, while better, is still not worthy of a distinguished agent or publisher’s representation but I’m blind to that fact, can be a bit scary.  All I can really do is get better and keep writing.  And…

I can do that.

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