Not writing again...
A plea from the heart

Shitty first pancake

The question was, 'I've got an idea for a novel, but where do I start? I'm drawn to certain scenes from all over the middle and end of the story, but is that going to cause me terrible problems later? Should I make myself start on Page One?'

Well, everyone has to work out what suits them: has to get to know their writerly self. I'm a Page One girl myself, but when it comes to writing novels I know of as many processes as I know writers. It's an important part of learning to be a writer, learning how you, personally, work best. But what I did find myself saying is that it's important to realise that your first novel will, quite likely, be like the first pancake of Shrove Tuesday: a half-burnt, half-raw blob on the plate. The ingredients may be what make a pancake, the pan the right size, the cooking time as specified in the recipe and so on. But the pan is unseasoned, your judgement of heat and time is undeveloped because it hasn't absorbed the data of a thousand pancakes, and your wrist is unpractised at the exact flip of the far edge of the pan which will send the pancake a neat two feet in the air and bring it back down into the pan (not the floor) the other way up. In other words, not only do you have to embrace the concept of the Shitty First Draft (this is Rachael King's explanation of it: must read that Anne Lamott book) but you have to accept that your whole first novel may never entirely leave behind that first pancake state. In other words, it may never, really, work.

Why do we expect otherwise? I know I did: when I finished my first novel I thought it was... not the greatest novel on earth. But I knew that I'd done what I wanted to do, that I'd said what I wanted to say: it was finished, and it was my best. Therein lies the heartbreak (and it's not much less) of the rejected author. We really have, as Editorial Anonymous puts it, stapled our hearts to the page. This is (we think) the best of us.

It may well be the best of us, in that it's our best ideas, feelings, and stories, written to the best effect we're capable of. But until we've put in Richard Sennett's 10,000 hours, it's quite likely that what we're capable of really isn't good enough. So be it. No one expects a new apprentice cabinet-maker to pick up a saw and, in a week or three, turn out a beautiful wardrobe that will stand up, keep the moth out, look wonderful and still be doing all those things in a hundred years. Why do we expect our first novels to be a success? They were a thing worth doing, and as such they were worth doing badly. Only now, because of that badly-done novel, is the pan seasoned: now, anything is possible.

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