The first novel I wrote that had a beginning, middle, and end was a dark fantasy romance novel. I rewrote it seven times. Each draft was about 100,000 words long. I designed a cover, wrote the back-jacket blurb (I can still recite it without missing a beat), and filled page after page with back-story and notes. I would not be surprised if I actually wrote over a million words on that one project.
I finally sent it out. The rejection form letter I received was kind and not discouraging. The absolutely pristine state of my manuscript was a wake-up call, though. From the look of it, no one read past the first page.
Instead of editing it and sending it right back out, I hit the pause button on my writing for a bit and started asking myself some really hard questions. What was I trying to accomplish with my writing? What did I really want to say? Did I actually have the tools to say it?
I decided I needed to educate myself, to build new skills and develop those I already had. I spent the next few years reading about the craft, doing exercises, joining a writing group, finding a book club, and writing, writing, writing. Flash fiction, novellas, rough drafts. I dabbled in different genres, looking for what fit, looking for my voice. As it started to emerge, I kept asking those hard questions. Was I just writing for myself? Or did I want to pursue writing as a career?
Every answer helped me figure out what to do next, what to read, what to write. But the very first thing I had to learn was to let go.
If I had kept writing that first book over and over again, I wouldn’t have found my genre, I wouldn’t have found my voice, and I doubt I would ever have found my readers. By letting go of that first book, by letting go of my original ideas and preconceptions about writing and what it meant to be a writer, I was able to grow. And that first skill, of knowing when to shelve a project, a scene, a character, serves me in every word I write today.