Back in the old days, before the Continental book tour, before Skater in a Strange Land, even before computers, I wrote a short story.
It was set in Anvoria, a neighbor nation of Borschland and Bearland and my next destination on the book tour.
I can hardly remember what it was about, but I'm pretty sure it involved musical instruments.
I was a sophomore in college at the time, and I showed it around to some people to see what they thought.
A couple of people liked it, but there was one who said it wasn't right and I had to rewrite it.
So I ignored the people who liked it, threw out the old draft and rewrote it, and I hated it. I showed it to the people who had liked it before, and they agreed with me that I had lost the spirit of the first draft. The reader who thought it wasn't right hadn't "gotten" it, and so I explained it, and in the explaining, I lost whatever there was of a story.
Problem was, I didn't have the first draft on disk. There were no disks then. The old draft was in a landfill.
I learned that day that you should never throw away your first drafts.
More recently, I learned from Dean Wesley Smith that your first draft should be your only draft.
In this post, he introduces the radical notion that you should think of your stories and novels not as "events"-- that is, a momentous, significance-laden work of art that needs to be labored over for years in tortured solitude-- but as entertaining tales to be told for an interested audience.
In other words, write the thing, publish it, and move on to the next story.
Smith is a genre writer with over 100 traditionally-published novels under his belt. He is currently on an ambitious campaign to write a magazine containing a full novel plus a bunch of stories every month. He's been blogging about writing a novel in 10 days, 15 days, crazy short periods of time.
I don't exactly know why he has decided to go this route, but he is very successful with his sales. People like his stuff. He doesn't have to write and rewrite.
What about the rest of us?
My second novel in the Borschland Hockey Chronicles, "The Skater and the Saint," is set to launch on November 16. I will have spent a little under a year writing and publishing it. That's very fast for me. But I like this book and I think if you liked Skater in a Strange Land, you'll be thrilled with this one.
Even a couple of years ago, I never would've thought such a thing possible. I was still in the write-and-rewrite-crowd. Heck, I was in the traditional-publishing-or-die crowd.
Now I'm leaning towards DWS's camp. I am big devotee of Malcolm Gladwell's axiom that once you've spent 10,000 hours on any one skill, you are a master regardless of your "talent" level. I've definitely reached 10,000, I feel I have finished my apprenticeship, and I am writing faster and better than ever before.
I don't know that DWS's advice holds for beginning writers. I've spent a good amount of time online this year checking out indie writers, and I don't see a whole lot of skill in storytelling. I see a whole lot of poor style as well, but that's not as important as telling a good story. I may be jaded-- and I may be thinking too much of my own storytelling skills-- but I think there are still a lot of writers out there who could use seasoning.
In other words, I still believe in apprenticeship.
DWS thinks that even beginning writers should at least self-publish, on the off-chance that they'll sell. Yes, probably true. Why not?
At the same time, I'm still enough of a devotee of the literary crowd to value a gorgeous sentence for its own sake. DWS doesn't think your novel is a work of art. I think it can be. English, written well, is a beautiful thing. And good storytelling is a learned skill.
So what would my advice be for beginning writers? Don't throw away your first draft. It may be your best. But spend some time on learning how to tell a story in a way that doesn't make us English afficionados cringe.
And yes, you may need to completely rewrite your story. You may need to rewrite it from another point of view. You may need to completely recast your opening. You may realize that you don't have a story at all, just a bunch of people talking. You may have enormous plot-holes that emerge only when careful readers show them to you.
When do you know that something's good enough to publish? That's the beauty of it. If you keep apprenticing, you will learn. In the meantime, get the opinion of someone who's spent 10,000 hours writing.
And if you can't tell, go ahead and publish it as DWS suggests. He's right: the worst you'll get is ignored.
If you do go the apprenticeship route, I think you'll look back on what you published with a lot more pride and sense of accomplishment-- even if you sell millions of that first draft.