The Benefits of Writing a Terrible First Novel


As some of you may know, I recently completed a novel for the first time. After two failed attempts to complete manuscripts before, just the fact that I wrote “The End” was an accomplishment to me. I took some time away from the book in attempt to return to it with a fresh perspective. What I saw upon my return, however, shocked and disappointed me. My finished book, the one I spent three months writing, was not worth reading. Many find it difficult to admit this about their own creations – believe me, it took me a while to accept the fact myself. In spite of how disappointed I was by the first draft of my book, there are invaluable lessons that I learned throughout the process.

Many might say that I shouldn’t put so much pressure on myself, a first draft is never as good, and it was only the first novel I ever completed. However, when I finished writing the manuscript, my writing substantially improved. Editing didn’t take as much effort as it used to – even though there were still times when I had to rewrite a piece seven to eight times before I became satisfied with it. Therefore, when I got back to my novel, I noticed that it was written below my own standards. What I noticed, hence, was the first advantage of writing a terrible first novel: it made me a better writer.

When I started writing my book in January 2014, I had a clear idea of how the story will begin and end, the genre, and the main conflict of the plot. However, other than that, I had not much more to build on. I started to discover my characters as I went along, and the plot changed as well depending on what I had written before. It wasn’t planned, and it looked like it. Therefore, my second lesson was to pay more attention to plotting and characterization.

Initially ,I only began writing the novel just to prove to myself that I was able to write one. I was eager to finish the book since I had already failed twice at that, so the most important part of the manuscript was the final chapter. When I started reading my first draft, I could tell that I had rushed through writing it. Even in the places where I thickened the plot felt uninspired to me. The third lesson I learned was to take my time.

Research is invaluable, I came to realize. Even though the subject I tackled was familiar to me, had I not had the knowledge about that subject, writing that novel – as modest as it turned out to be – would’ve been impossible and would’ve placed the novel at an even lower standard. In fact, the most appealing part of the manuscript, in my opinion, was my description of society and places.

However, in spite of my knowledge in the subject, I felt that it was of no more interest to me after a while. Many may tell you to write about what you know; however, I learned that I needed to find a subject that flares a lasting interest in me. Writing one novel could sometimes take years. If a writer’s interest in the subject he’s tackling fades, what’s the point of writing? Sure enough, the reader will lose interest just as well.

There’s not enough time in the world to learn every tip and trick to write a great novel. Everybody has to start somewhere. Armed by the lessons I learned and the experience I gained, I continue my writing adventure. All I can do is write, and learn as I go. I wonder what I am going to learn today.

What are some of the lessons you learned in your early experience as writers?

120 thoughts on “The Benefits of Writing a Terrible First Novel”

  1. I wrote my first novel starting in January of 2013. It took me about three months.

    The biggest problem with my first attempt was a lack of understanding of the medium. I’d mostly read really old pulps, the kind lasting about 180 pages, so I was like ‘that must be how long a novel needs to be’ 🙂 I’ve since come to an understanding of reality.

    I actually started out with scene by scene plotting, which worked for me quite well, so the plot still holds my interest and feels promising, having reread it recently, but the writing itself is absolutely terrible :b Not only that, but what had seemed like a plot that would barely fill 180 pages, now feels like a summary of a much longer work. I’m still thinking about going back, treating my ‘first draft’ like a plot outline, and rewriting the book from scratch.

    I completely agree on your point about editing getting easier. I think for me, it’s simply a matter of getting more words down on the page. For every bad sentence I write the following sentences seem to improve bit by bit.

    Congratulations on finishing your first. Writing, for me at least, is mostly about the labor and you’ve proven you’re able to do the hard part 🙂 The next should come easy; or so I tell myself.

  2. Getting the words on paper, editing and re-editing and improving. these are the skills we must learn as writers. It is a never ending learning curve, at times it is so frustrating but just hang in there. We all have our weaknesses – I know mine – but with practice I can only get better and become more accomplished writers and so can you.

  3. Very inspiring. I’m presently writing my first novel and sometimes I just feel like it’s dumb. But I’m not giving up. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Excellent blog, Margaret. “Research is invaluable” [in Bold] – so good to see someone else realise th importance of this. Currently working on a Post on how to create decent dialogue for SF if u’r interested. Thanks for Liking my Blogs,

  5. With everything we write we grow and learn. I have learned sales don’t equate with a good or bad novel. I have also learned sometimes we are far to critical of ourselves. There are many ways to write a story. Having written two novels that from readers have had great feedback but not necessarily the same acclaim from ‘Publishers’. Also rejection of your novel is not a sign of its merit. For me I will keep writing from my heart and hopefully tough the hearts of as many readers as possible.

    I hope you keep writing and with passion. It is truly what for me makes a great story.

  6. Writing a book was on my bucket list, now I have a big tick on that item. I did have to wait until I retired and am now published at 70!! Its never too late, just follow your dreams. Thanks for following my blog.

  7. I learnt after taking over 13 years to write my first novel that I should never give up… in fact I wrote my first discarded novel when about twenty. But I never gave up scribbling although first published novel came when I was 60 – after a great career as a journalist. So don’t you dare give up… please.

  8. I hope you are considering returning to that first terrible novel and fixing it. The passion that drove you to tap out the first and last words will allow you to develop it into the book you want it to be. I often feel like that – a headful of trashed pages.

  9. Though I’ve started one or two, I have yet to tackle a novel. At this point it seems too intimidating. I’m sticking to short stories at least for the next few months. Thanks for sharing the knowledge you learned.

  10. I started writing full stories in, I was either in grade 7 or 9. When I look at them now I realize that they’re absolutely terrible, but every writer has to start somewhere. They were little more than ripoffs of movies I had seen before writing them, with nonsense dialogue, physically impossible action scenes and non-existent characters.
    It’s encouraging to look at my older stuff and compare it to what I’m currently working on to see how much I’ve improved, even if I cringe at “The gunfire of the terrorist’s own machine gun was scary. Which kind of gun do you know about can shoot 35 bullets per/second, shatters wood like glass, and hardly shakes around at all? That’s what the terrorist’s gun was like.” And no, that’s not even dialogue or internal thoughts.
    That and no matter how good you are, your first draft will most likely be terrible.

  11. From my own experiences, I learned that I’m not patient, I can’t stand researching, and I don’t like too many rewrites. I know…but I’m not completely hopeless…I don’t think. I started writing shorter stories in hopes of conquering my laziness in writing the longer ones. Otherwise, I’d avoid writing altogether too often.

    Ultimately, I think I try to plan out everything a little too much or try to know every little detail about the story before I begin. It’s good to write an outline, a breakdown of what happens in general. But, after that, the story begins to write itself somehow. I just try to write out what it’s saying. Writing became a job, a chore, instead of a passion, a joy. I have to figure out how to turn it back into the latter. Any suggestions?

    I’m not brave enough to write a novel, but I would like to write more screenplays.


  12. Great post, and thanks for dropping by my blog earlier.

    If it’s any consolation I’ve got three complete manuscripts in my virtual drawer that will never see the light of day. I’m cautiously optimistic about my current WIP, but time will answer that.

    I once read that you need to write a million words before you write something worth publishing. At the time I thought that was nonsense, but nearly halfway there and I’m starting to think that might be right 🙂

  13. The first thing I learned when I started writing was to develop a thick skin. A professor in my Creative Writing program in college commented “Don’t make a career out of this” on an (admittedly awful) short story of mine. The ability to not take a rejection or negative comment so seriously has served me well in persevering through the highs and lows.

  14. You make so many good points. But the most valuable lesson is the one you started with: You finished your novel. That alone is such an amazing accomplishment. Getting those words out each and every day, creating something. For me, that was the most important part of my growth. And even though I consider my second novel to be weaker than my first, it got done! Great post!

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