Lessons Learned.

Stuck in the closet in my work room, buried under copy paper and assorted office supplies lie two completed manuscripts. Two finished novels, written back in the 90's when I first thought  about writing BIG. I'd had some success in publishing short stories in literary magazines and magazines for kids such as CICADA, and CRICKET. But I'd always wanted to try and write a book-length story.

So write, I did. Both stories had a beginning, middle, and end. Both stories had an arc and characters who changed through the story. But, like many newbies to the art of novel writing, both stories went unpublished. It wasn't for lack of trying - I'd mailed out each manuscript several times, waiting for responses that came in the form of the dreaded DEAR AUTHOR. Why wasn't I making progress? Why wasn't my work at least getting personalized rejections?

It wasn't until I joined critique groups and began getting constructive feedback on my writing that I was able to answer those questions.

Here is what those manuscripts taught me:

1. It takes time to hone and develop a VOICE. That difficult-to-describe-unique-quality all writers have once they become better at the craft of writing. My VOICE in those initial manuscripts was all over the place - sometimes MG, sometimes YA, sometimes adult. No wonder those stories haven't seen the light of day.

2. You need more than one pair of eyes to read a manuscript and find the gems amid the mess that is a first, second, or umpteenth draft. Sharing work opens up so many paths for the story to grow and develop beyond initial expectations.

3. It takes much more than just a character "doing something" or "having a problem" to make a novel worth publishing. Reading the books of other authors gave me valuable insight in character development, conflict, emotional impact, figurative language, and many other aspects that make a successful story. Reading widely makes writing better.

4. Finally, just like the characters in our stories, we can measure our own growth as writers by recognizing how much we've learned since those first manuscripts. Our characters don't solve their problems without some kind of struggle and more than one attempt. Neither should we expect to pen a successful novel without a dud or two.

Those unpublished manuscripts proved that I could write and finish a book-length tome. That was enough encouragement to keep on writing. They are a reminder of how far I've come.


  1. So true, Darlene. Especially love #4.

  2. Yes, true indeed. Alas, sometimes I feel that my first drafts are still like those unpublishable first novels of yours. But now at least I have more of a clue about how to make them better.


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