Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Believe in Your Drawer Novel—Even the Book that’s Doomed to Sit in the Dark Can Help You Become an Author

By Aly Brown, @AlyConnerBrown

JH: Please join me in welcoming Aly Brown to the blog today, to chat with us about the dreaded drawer novel. We all have them, we all have big hopes for them, but how many will ever really find a home? Aly shares with us why we should have more faith in the stories we hide away--and how they can help up achieve our dreams.

Aly Brown is a newspaper editor and author represented by BookEnds LLC. She recently inked a deal with Feiwel & Friends / Macmillan for a nonfiction middle grade book on Alvin Submersible called The Last Unexplored Place on Earth. Release date 2023.

Take it away Aly...
Deciding to finally sit down and write a novel can spark a sense of excitement in any aspiring author. What most writers don't realize, or want to believe, is that their first novel is probably not going to become published. If you’re cringing right now because you’re on the fifth edit of your epically long first book, take heart—even if it ends up in a drawer, it will still help you become a seasoned, potentially publishable, writer.

The Importance of The End.

One of the best feelings in the world? Writing The End after the final words of a novel into which you’ve poured your heart, time, and tears. Maybe you’re not a fan of the more traditional storybook ending, but it’s there, nevertheless. The End—mighty words, however small or invisible. To the writer who has ever felt stuck and incapable, they represent a mountain conquered. If you can set out to complete a novel and succeed, you’re more likely to edit, make the manuscript shine, and carry on with the pursuit of self or traditional publishing.

Forget what I said before—your first novel WILL get published…

… Or at least work like you truly believe this statement. Avoid the creative mind pitfall of becoming distracted by shiny things. You’ll end up with seventeen first chapters for different books and, somehow, a sketching of a cat. Treat writing like your future business (which is, after all, what you want, right?) and less like a hobby. Finish your novel. I don’t care if it’s the most ridiculous hodgepodge array of faulty, inconsistent, characters farting around in a cliché plot. Finish your novel. When you’re done, you may have something fairly decent to edit. Or you may just have an adorable attempt that will make you laugh later. But no matter what: FINISH YOUR NOVEL.

Oh, so you’ve finished your first novel?

Very good. Now, edit. Okay, okay, first, go get a martini. Then, edit.

Line editing to make sentences crisp is an obvious priority, but don’t neglect your story’s plot and concepts. Editing your work is like a building puzzle. The task of figuring out how to put everything together can be challenging at first, but it gets easier with practice. Ask yourself questions your readers, who cannot read your mind, may ask. I like to make lists of these questions under the title Can of Worms while I’m working on any given story. No really. I have tons of pages in my journal with that heading. Basically, what have you opened and left undone—unanswered? Also be considerate of simple things like time. How many days, or months, have passed throughout the narrative of your plot? Is it still morning, or closer to the afternoon, in a particular passage? If your characters woke up at a decent hour, grabbed breakfast and coffee, stole a car and robbed a bank, it’s probably not morning anymore. Figuring out how to recognize and remedy these kinds of flaws will make you sharper. Once again, you will have another skill to pour into your next novel should this one prove drawer-worthy.

Calm down and focus on your writing, not your dream agent!

I’ve heard countless complaints from writers who have grown weary of rejection. Many aspiring authors are anxious to hurry-up-and-get-published-already. The idea that they may be years away from seeing their work in print can be daunting and depressing, really. However, it’s possible that the dejected writer is also the one spending more time reading about agents, and how they’re going to get published, than actually writing. Of course, you should research agencies before submitting manuscripts, but if you spend more evenings playing around on Twitter than honing your craft, it will reflect poorly in your work. If this is you, place a restriction on yourself. Allow half an hour of social media time to unwind. Then, disconnect everything but your word processor.

Bottom line:

Stick it out and write like a contract is waiting just around the corner. You will get there! When you look back, you’ll see how the journey, not one book, was what made you an author.

Are you worried that your current project may end up in a drawer? What have you learned about writing, character design, plots, or YOURSELF along the way?


  1. Won't lie, I'd be rather bummed if this project fizzles. BUT the biggest thing I've learned about writing is that, come failure or fortune, I will write. I will create for the joy of creating. Do we need more than that?

    ...besides coherent plots, low-level melodrama, funny lines, well-rounded characters, a grasp of grammar, a good critique group, coffee, espresso, chocolate....

  2. This post is like a lifeline--and perfect timing for me. I've gotten agent interest in my first manuscript, but was always afraid that it was doomed to the drawer--and after some rejections, I was wondering, "Why bother?" Now I know why it's important to finish all those edits. Thank you so, so, much.

  3. My first novel - the one I had almost given up on - was recently picked up by a small publisher and will be available next year. I have written 5 novels since then all of which I hope to see in print but I have to say I'm pretty happy that this first one is going to get its day in the sun.

    lesson to be learned? Don't give up. Keep writing. And believe.

  4. I suffer from 'too many ideas' syndrome...

  5. I know for sure my first novel will never be published. But that's ok. It definitely was not a waste, and helped me learn some skills.

  6. @Rachel6, I hope your project doesn't fizzle either! But I agree--no matter what, creating a story to share is most definitely worth your time. I also agree about coffee, espresso, and chocolate. Do all writers love the same food groups? Seriously!

    @The Writer Librarian, I just teared up a little reading your comment. I love, love, LOVE that you read this when you needed it and found encouragement! ALWAYS 'bother' and write on! :)

    @Mshatch, SO awesome! I've often thought about returning to my drawer novels and fixing things with a cold eye. (It's been years, after all!) Thanks for the inspiration to us all! When do/did you release? I'll make sure to give your book a tweet shout out!

    @Anne-Maree Gray, You and me both! Hence, my sketching of a cat comment. Haha! Jot all of those ideas down in your journal and don't forget them! Just try not to let them take over and distract you from your current work in progress if you know it will hinder you in the completion process.

    @Julie Musil, Not a waste at all. :) I cried when I realized I wasn't going to publish my first novel. Mainly because I wouldn't give up on it for years and couldn't accept that it was (for me, anyway) just a learning experience. Hopefully, you're already on to the next novel!

  7. @everyone, thanks so much for reading!!!