Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Your First Novel Will Suck

2606380637_51aaf290f8_zImagine a budding writer sitting down to write her first novel. Put yourself in her shoes, or put me in her place, if that’s too painful (Universe knows I hate envisioning myself this way). Now imagine that freezing terror, that sinking gut, that unshakable certainty that whatever you write will, without-a-doubt, suck. 

After all, pretty much everyone in the writing community has been telling you this for years – either online, through interviews about their own career, or in person. It is a fact among writers: the first novel will be bad.

But, hey, Kid, it’s okay. We all go through it. It’s a (w)rite of passage. Just get that steaming pile of crap out on the page and get onto to your second novel. When you’re a best-seller and the interviewer asks you about that first book, just laugh and say, “Oh I was young, I was inexperienced, I had no clue what I was doing!” It’ll be fine.

Now go back to that image of me, sitting down to plot a story. I have a list of novel ideas in front of me, all in different stages of creative development, and all I can think is…which one do I sacrifice to the alter of sucky-ness?

It’s like the writers’ version of Sophie’s Choice: all of these novel ideas, these characters, are like my children. Each contains a piece of me, a tribute to a loved-one, a gripping social statement. Which one can I afford to let suck? Which ones should I save for when I’m a better, more-experienced writer? What if I choose the wrong one, only to realize 10 years from now that I could write it so much better then?

These concerns have been at the forefront of my mind lately for two reasons. One: “The First One Sucks” guarantee was recently reiterated on my favorite podcast, The Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast, which usually dismantles unfortunate writing “rules.” Two: When my wedding is finished, I plan to write my first novel. I’ve got about three weeks until it’s my time. Yikes!

So, I did what I normally do. I shared my concerns with my fiance during what he would call one of my “Kate spirals.” Daniel sat me down, and in true testament to why I am marrying him, fixed everything. He helped me re-frame my perspective in a positive way, and quite frankly, I think we (yes, this involves you!), should change the “The First Novel Guarantee.”

Instead of “Your First Novel Will Suck,” I am proposing the following creed:

8387187808_7823babc7a_zYour First Novel Will Be Good (It Just May Not Be Your Best)

First and foremost, know that your first novel will be good. It may not be literary genius, but it will be good. If it helps, do a downward social comparison. Your first novel may not be the best novel ever written, but it will not be the worst novel ever written. There will always be someone better, and there will always be someone worse. I believe this wholeheartedly, not only because the odds are in your favor, but because literature is subjective. Someone, somewhere, will always be perceived by someone, somewhere, as better or worse than you.

Second, let’s face it: we’re not all Harper Lee and S.E. Hinton. More than likely, your first novel will not be immortalized in the literary world, and you won’t be a one-hit-wonder. You’ll write more and more and more. And, maybe, your first novel will be your best work. Then again, maybe it won’t be your best work. In fact, wouldn’t the true definition of sucking be if your first novel were your best work, and the only way you could go was down, not up? (If you feel that is your situation, see the subjectivity clause above).

I can’t say if this new creed will help cure your fear, if you worry about your first novel being garbage. Hell, I don’t even know if it will work for me. But, you know what? It doesn’t matter. That first mountain must be tackled so we can traverse the range. I’m doing it, whether the first one sucks or not. Now who’s with me?

Have you heard “The First One Sucks” rule? Does it make you apprehensive about your first novel? If you were to amend this “rule,” what would your new rule be?

24 thoughts on “Your First Novel Will Suck”

    1. I’ll probably post a few short excerpts, maybe a few paragrahs here and there, but you’ll essentially have to wait for it to be finished. Since I plan to self-publish, you shouldn’t have to wait too long after the manuscript is finished! (And, of course, I’m open to special deals for family ;-))


  1. Hmm as someone who is writing their first novel I appreciate this is a huge learning curve and I will have an awful lot of rewriting to do. However, and maybe I’m just being naive, but I hope to have something publishable at the end. I will come back in a year and let you know!


    1. I think a year is plenty of time to write and create a publishable manuscript. I just think that writers are too hard on themselves and shouldn’t beat themselves up over their first book. Best of luck on your writing!


  2. I’ve heard the “first one sucks” rule many times. As an aspiring writer, it is a discouraging thing to hear. You don’t want to feel like your wasting time writing crap, but the only way to learn and get better is to get that first novel out of your head and onto paper.

    I’m with you. Whether the first one sucks or not, I’m giving it a shot.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Had to comment, because I was so glad to see somebody saying this.

    I’ve seen that whole ‘first novel=massive blowhole” thing around, and I’ve always thought it was the most fruitless, self-defeating piece of ‘advice’ a ‘successful’ author can offer an up-and-coming. Sure, your first novel might not be the best thing you produce in your long and no doubt illustrious career, but if it’s going to be so awful, then why bother to write it in the first place?

    Obviously, this advice says to me, you should just quit before you embarrass yourself. And any time writing advice even gently implies this, it’s poison. Because a new author isn’t self-conscious and nervous enough already.

    Reading published authors (especially authors with a multi-book series going on) I’ve found that, conversely, the first book is often the most enjoyable to me. Not sure why–maybe because the most time was spent on it? Possibly the author’s ideals were being set to paper without the diluting influence of critical acclaim/its inverse. Or maybe it’s just because it’s my first experience with the author and his or her world. Any way, I like your credo much better.

    Except, of course, for that one person whose first novel actually *is* the worst book in the world. Though I suppose that person theoretically has nowhere to go but up, eh?


    1. I agree with everything you’ve said. You’ve reiterated my thoughts perfectly. This mentality is toxic, and all it is doing is harming the writing community. This is a tough, emotional, and highly personal business, and we’ve got to nurture our creativity and grow our business sensibility, not squash our product before it even exists.


  4. I know which story to leave on the alter of suckdom *narrows eyes and shakes fist in my manuscript’s direction*. We will have to see if Harper Lee’s next book is as iconic (those are some big shoes). I always keep in mind, too, that there are many books and writers who in their day were considered bad only to now be considered amazing. Of course we may not be around to see it. As soon as they perfect cyro-technology that will bring me slightly more comfort.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, yes, those scientists need to hurry up with that. I read that Lee actually wrote this book before To Kill A Mockingbird, but was advised by her agent to change the story to be about Scout’s childhood. If that’s true, it may just follow the “first one sucks” rule. We’ll see!


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