Killing It

Writing your first novel is like committing your first murder. You’re tentative. You hesitate. Your weak stabs don’t penetrate. You fumble, drop the thought, run away screaming. You peek around the door jamb to see if the body is still there where you left it, not breathing, or worse, moaning, “Come back, come back; finish the job.”

But if you’re really intent on doing this thing, you learn to make the cuts deeper, to twist the rope harder, to hang on longer until it’s done.

When the madness passes, you step back from the body and survey the scene. Did you really do that? Can you clean up that mess? Maybe you should just bury it, you think.

It’s possible that there are millions of first novels buried out there somewhere in writers’ closets, bottom drawers, chests in the attic, moldering away. Sometimes they come back, zombie novels stalking the earth twenty years later, after the writer is dead or famous. They have a whiff of moldering peat moss about them.

I tore apart my first novel, which took ten years to write. A small part of it was saved in a short story, probably the heart of it, the only part that mattered, still beating, waiting for a transplant in every reader who opens herself to it. My second novel, now in its third revision, might survive the knife. My third, FOLLY, is under someone else’s knife, an editor. I’m holding my breath, hoping she won’t kill it.


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