Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Most Important Book You'll Ever Write

Then, Now and Forever-
One Book Leads to Another

I'm not going to show you my most important book. You've never heard of it. There is one editor who has, and he's actually still around as an editor, but I'm not going to name him. I'm hoping, you see, that he doesn't remember he ever saw it.

It was called A TIGER PURRING (isn't that clever? I certainly thought so at the time.) The time was 1993 and this was the first full-length novel I actually finished. I'd always given up before. I was such a lousy typist, you see, and all I had was a portable typewriter with a broken "e" key. Imagine typing even a sentence without an "e". Unfortunately even the repair guy gave up trying to fix it. And I had another life as a working single parent making barely enough money to keep us in a roof and clothes. It took so long to get even a short story typed that didn't look like a chicken had used the page for its dirty work that I just couldn't justify it.

Then in 1993, my son built me a computer. We had them at work, but shared in groups of eight people, and two guys in our unit wouldn't get out of the chair long enough to let the rest of us learn. I was fascinated with them, yet kind of terrified too. My son responded to my gratitude by saying, "This is so you'll leave mine alone." Well, all right, I was sort of getting attached to his.

So I started plotting my story. Had a great plan. The first three chapters went very smoothly. Then the plot started drifting because there were, well, a few things I hadn't thought of in the beginning, and I could already tell I was going to have to go back and change some things. I had the sense to at least make notes of those and keep on going.

About halfway through, I was convinced my mind was dissolving. I had all kinds of threads going, and my story was not all that complex. I'd lose one thread while working on another. A different one would suddenly become impossible. The tangle grew and grew, and I was close to panicking. But I couldn't quit. I kept untangling knots, re-working, and even completely re-writing some parts. And the plot shifted in a completely different direction. I researched more, found a new angle, wrote, wrote, and wrote, and my hero and heroine grew. In the middle of it all, new story ideas started popping into my head, demanding to be written. Afraid to let go of the current story, I jotted down the ideas and rushed back to find out why a Tiger would be Purring. Never mind that no tiger was ever mentioned in the book.

Finally I reached The End. And I knew it wasn't the end after all, but I was sure a second draft would take care of that. Proudly, I revised, twice even, and hey, you know, it looked pretty good. I sent it off to the unnamed editor, who I'd had the audacity to tell in my first editor interview, "I'm Delle Jacobs and I've never done anything like this before in my entire life."

Well, I found out it wasn't pretty good. Not horrible, but certainly not publishable, and the editor kindly pointed out that although it was shot through with inconsistencies and inaccuracies, he did see some real talent emerging. I re-read. He was right. And even more, I could tell the story was not salvageable as commercial fiction. It's still on my hard drive because I had the sense to convert it from my primitive word processing program to Word Perfect.

(By the way, one scene, re-written, did find a home in one of my best loved Regency Historicals, HIS MAJESTY, THE PRINCE OF TOADS, and most recently all that research I'd done on the Skeleton Coast of Namibia worked its way into my historical romantic sea fantasy SIREN, which is about to go out for submission next week.)

But I told you, this, my worst, most inexperienced, most primitive piece of fiction, is the most important book I've ever written. You must be wondering if I keep my marbles in a bag with a hole in the bottom. Maybe, but I'm right about this assertion. Here's why.

To begin with, the process of putting together something as complex and inter-woven as a full length novel re-wired my brain. I'd always been a multi-tasker, but something about going through this process gave me a new dimension. I'd learned something I might call Threading, a sort of process in which multiple linear lines can weave in and out of each other, always contributing to the whole. This was the point at which I became an author. Because my mind had become different. I thought and organized my thoughts in a wholly new way for me.

What I didn't know until later is, this is exactly what happens physiologically with drug addiction. The neurons get re-routed in the brain. No doubt, yes, I had also become addicted to the entire process. It was also true that every time I wrote a book, I went through the same physiological process a reader experiences, but on a more intense, more complex level, over a much longer time span.

That rather awful book was even more important in other ways. From its roots and the knowledge gained in writing it sprang the next book, and the next, and next. The creative process spawned more creative thought, new ideas for new books. The first book showed me how to organize a novel. Because it was imperfect, I learned the things I needed to know to make the next book perfect (so I thought). I researched for more accuracy and better writing skills. Each new book presented a new challenge, something I had to learn or overcome, or something new I didn't know if I could do.

That's all still true. The chain of books goes on. And none since the first one could have been written if I hadn't done the first one. It may dwell forever in Dust Bunny Heaven, but it will always be the most important book I'll ever write.

You can't have a best seller without first writing a book. And all best sellers began when the author sat down to write his first book.


  1. Delle, What an inspiring post! Thank you.

  2. Gorgeous post! My first novel is a rambling awful creation, but I love it fiercely. In my mind, it is beautiful.

  3. Delle, what a wonderful post. And there's so much truth and encouragement in your words. There's nothing like that first time we type THE END -- such validation in those 2 little words and such education in the process.

  4. Great post Delle. I agree, that first one always holds a special spot in our hearts. It's always amazing to go back and read the first draft (which I still have) and marvel at what we thought was so brilliant! As Wendy said, nothing like typing "the end" for the first time.

  5. I read your post with a great deal of interest. I just finished my first full length novel and finally, finally feel like a writer. When I wrote "the end" I had to sit back and just stare at it for a minute or two to let it sink in. It is a feeling I will never forget.

  6. So true, Delle. Until we actually do it, we don't really know we can. Afterwards, we are never the same. My first novel will forever rest in "dust bunny heaven" (love that phrase) also, but I still love things about it.

  7. Excellent post, Delle. I wish I still had my first novel. It was one of many things stolen (and probably dumped) when a thief cleaned out my storage unit. On the other hand, without it to read again, my memory of my brilliance in that story will never be challenged. :) The most important part of that first novel experience was the amazing knowledge that I could do it. I could write an entire book from beginning to end. That knowledge serves me with every novel I write when I get to that horrible place in the muddy middle and begin to question my ability and my sanity.


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I write write write. Sometimes I travel. Then I write some more. And I have a great family who understand that I write write write.