Finding First: a Writer’s Reflections on His First Novel

My First Book

Hi all,

Over the past week, my wife and I have been in the process of moving into our new apartment. While doing so, I ran across a box with a few, large envelopes inside. Within each of them was a draft of the first novel I ever wrote, “Sight and Shadows,” completed in 2003 (my senior year of high school). Being very curious as to the quality of my skills back then, I opened up the envelope and began reading. To be honest, I’d give the novel a 5.5, possibly 6. It’s overwrought and overwritten, with too much energy spent on straining to create metaphors and seeming smart, an endeavor that takes away from the general movement of the story, which, in and of itself, is not bad.

The story revolves around a young, male drifter who is marooned on a foreign planet after fleeing from an interstellar dogfight. A pilot on the opposing side follows the drifter on the planet, and the first third of the novel follows a cat-and-mouse chase between the two parties. The second third moves into a political/action thriller, as the young man finds safe sanctuary with a group of oppressed locals and allies himself, out of self-preservation and vicarious loyalty, in their cause to overrun the tyrannical powers that be, on whose side the enemy pilot falls. During the final third of the novel the young man and his newfound friends capture the pilot and forge a truce between her and them. The truce turns to friendship, and the friendship to love, just in time for the final showdown between the locals and the tyrants. In the end, the pilot sides with the young man, and together they defeat their common enemy, and all live happily ever after.

Is this an original story? No. But it is a story nonetheless. And, at 185 pages, single-spaced, size 10 font (~400 pages in common format), it is definitely earns its “first book” status. What do I mean by this? Allow me to explain.

Every writer I have ever talked to begins with a similarly gargantuan work, and generally tends to trim down to smaller works as their mastery of the language improves and they find themselves needing less words to express the same thoughts. Does that mean that such big works should never be written? But no means! To the contrary, I would encourage every writer to write with such wild abandon in the beginning, to love words enough to want to use every one (and largely succeeding in this lofty endeavor). Still, at the same time, I would encourage writers, after purging that initial burst from their system, to work to hone that unbridled passion into a lean, mean artistic machine. Note: this is not a call to make Hemingways of us all. No! Indeed, I find great beauty (and even some financial gain) in Tolkien-style writing (case in point, “Game of Thrones”). However, even in novels of considerable length, there is a masterful economy of words. What needs to be said is said. What doesn’t need to be said, isn’t. Learning the difference is something that we, both writers and non-writers alike, will continue to work out and improve upon until the day we die. The longer and wiser to we strive to improve our skills, the more our collective works will improve along with them. As in most of life, knowledge comes through experience, and experience comes only through time. So, be patient and work hard, and you will grow. Not all are destined to be the next George R. R. Martin, but all are destined for greatness in their own way.

So, all that said, I implore you: if you are a new writer, do write that first epic, then move on. Continue to hone your craft, learn from those who have come before you, and be blessed on your artistic journey. Also, if you are a writer further along in years and skill, please do take the time to give a hand up to new writers. From personal experience, I will tell you that by doing this, you will improve your own writing as well as theirs. My prayers go out to all on your various journeys. Thank you for your time. Have a great week!

In Christ and with love,

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