The Writing Life: Letting Go of Your First Love

The first love you wrote, I mean. Of course, many authors successfully publish their first loves, and do astoundingly well. For others there is another story, of a first, or first and second and more novels written and discarded, before a book is released to the reading world. I’m guessing that one of those discarded novels was The One, and setting it aside was tough for those writers to do.

I had a few stabs at writing longer tales before I wrote my own first true storytelling love. The story of Lyn, lost in the mists of memory. It involved stone circles, maybe, but no time travel. The chronicle of a resurrected evil wizard that was not exactly a complete rewrite of the story of Kalarr cu Ruruc from Peter Morwood’s The Horse Lord, except with Kalarr as the hero. (He was such a great villain! He shouldn’t have died so soon! For the second time!) Then there were the two actual novels I wrote as a teen, but only after all of those attempts came The Crystal Fruit, my first true writing love.

I’ve read that passion projects, the story you have always wanted to write, should not be your first novel, and I can understand that advice: you often need to learn your craft before being able to do your passion project justice. I spent fifteen intermittent years on The Crystal Fruit before putting it into mothballs. I hope someday to retrieve it. So, as you can see, I’m still not entirely over it.

Just like a first love, I think that in writing nothing is ever quite the same as that first novel you pour your heart and soul into, even if you never publish it. It remains, shining in your memory as a dream of what might have been, or as a nightmarish reminder of what can go horribly wrong.

As a novel, The Thief and The Demon is like a relationship where you get it right, work at it, and see it through. The unanticipated rush of first love isn’t there, but the passion ignites just the same, the thrill and excitement, but this time the lasting joy of a real love gets forged. This time the book can stand alone when you’ve finished it, not collapse under its own weight like a badly built card house.

But how did I let go of my first literary love? I submitted it to agents. In my heart I knew I was done with it, it had occupied my mind for too long and had grown stale, but I couldn’t quit it. So I needed others to reject it for me, external voices I could not persuade to give me six more months to make it right. A variety of agents very politely did that for me. The tricky part would have been if someone had been interested! I’d have had to show them my high-concept/what the hell? ending! That would have been an interesting day!

So maybe some of you are struggling to let go of a project you know in your heart isn’t working. Maybe your writing group has analyzed it to death and you still can’t settle on a final form. Or maybe you are too close to it and have lost perspective. You know what? Research query letters, polish the opening’s basic grammar and submit it! Either way you win – if it gets rejected, you can move on with a clean slate. If someone is interested – then you know you were being too hard on yourself and have the external validation to press on and make it happen. Score.

So thank you agents: there is another role you perhaps accidentally fulfill in the writing world, helping tired authors like me put their first loves behind them!

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