Write a Bad Book

Earlier this year, I finished my third novel. After feedback from different beta readers, I’ve decided I need to start over from scratch, keeping the same premise and main characters, but making a lot of major changes. Am I discouraged? Hell, yeah. Do I want to just be done with it and be published already? Oh goodness, yes. Does the thought of writing a whole new novel make me want to vomit? Absolutely, but I’m going to do it. Here’s why.

While at World Fantasy this year I interviewed Dan Wells, author of the Serial Killer novels, as well as two new books coming out next year, Partials, a YA book and The Hollow City.* His advice to aspiring writers is to “write a bad book. Give yourself the freedom to write a bad book.”

A bad book? Who wants to write a bad book? No one! But Dan has more to say on it. “Writing is for some reason the only art form in which we expect our very first effort to be successful. No painter expects his first painting to end up in a museum, no sculptor expects his first pot to sell for thousands of dollars, and yet writers, we always think here’s my first novel, I’m done, give me a contract and make me famous.”

It’s hard for new writers to accept the idea of producing something that could only be for practice. All those hours, all that blood, sweat and tears that goes into writing a comprehensive novel, just to put it aside? Dan puts it into perspective for us. “Of course it’s not going to be good, it’s your first one. Write a bad book, and then write another bad book and write another bad book and eventually they’ll be really good because you’ll be getting lots and lots of practice.”

This has taught me that as writers we need to be patient with ourselves. We have to write the first bad book to get past it and get better. We need to give ourselves time to learn, grow and improve without piling on the pressure of getting published as soon as possible. It will happen when we’re ready and we will get ready by putting in the time to write bad books.

I’m now up to three bad books written. I’m going to write a fourth and see how that goes. How many bad books have you written?


*you can listen to the episode with Dan Wells here: www.adventuresinscifipublishing.com

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  1. E.D. Lindquist
    20/12/2011 at 9:46 am Permalink

    Three novels and three short story collections. And they all still suck. I’m coming up on my ten-year anniversary of writing and I still don’t have it down. It’s discouraging.

  2. Traci Kenworth
    29/12/2011 at 6:21 am Permalink

    Don’t be discourage, E.D. You’ll get the hang of it. Besides, they say we’re not a good writer till we think everything we write sucks.

  3. E.D. Lindquist
    20/12/2011 at 9:50 am Permalink

    That posted too soon! Curse you, Disqus! Anywho, it’s discouraging, but I agree with Mr. Wells. Those first few novels and short stories are bound to suck. It’s a bitter pill, but in what profession do you get it perfect the first time?

  4. Sandra Wickham
    20/12/2011 at 3:47 pm Permalink

    It is discouraging, isn’t it? But then I hear stories of published authors who have gone through the same things we’re going through and it makes me feel a tiny bit better. 😉

  5. Eeleen Lee
    21/12/2011 at 6:24 am Permalink

    Great post!
    I’ve met writers who believe that being published validates their writing. “It’s published so it MUST be good!”These types don’t really go far…they also choke and splutter when I tell them I’ve written 2 novels for practice.

  6. Traci Kenworth
    27/12/2011 at 4:04 am Permalink

    I’m on my eighth believe it or not. Lol. But, yes, I have improved SO much from where I was, the key is to never STOP learning.

  7. ÆMarling
    28/12/2011 at 1:49 pm Permalink

    I just finished the first draft of my sixth novel, and one of the main characters has to be rewritten, along with several other significant changes. Not ideal, but as they say, they are no good writers, only good rewriters.

  8. asrai
    31/12/2011 at 10:47 pm Permalink

    On the flip side to that, Dean Wesley Smith writes that just becuase it’s the first draft doesn’t mean it’s going to be bad. 

  9. Marc Vun Kannon
    02/01/2012 at 5:59 am Permalink

    I have to disagree a bit. Writers are and should also be readers. We can learn to write well if we learn to read well, by which I mean pay attention to the story as you read it and figure out what works and what doesn’t. I took no classes, attended no seminars, just wrote the story that occurred to me and figured a way to write it that came out the way I wanted to read it. That novel, and every other story I have ever written except one (which I never submitted), has been published. Do I think my later stories get better as I learn more from doing it myself? Hell yes.

  10. Fleur Ferris
    16/01/2012 at 7:49 pm Permalink

    Writing my fifth now, submitted my fourth (still waiting for news), never submitted my first three.


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