On Writing Practice Novels

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So I recently (as in last week) finished writing my twelfth manuscript. It’s fun and quirky with lots of nerdy references, but by the time I’d reached the end, I kind of had this sinking feeling.

The problem, you see, was that I wasn’t really excited about it. At all.

I’d noticed pretty early on that the first draft excitement that usually lasts me a pretty decent way into the first draft writing process, dissipated unusually fast. I liked the characters, but the more I wrote, the less confident I was about the manuscript. And it had nothing to do with the writing—I don’t expect much, writing-wise, from first drafts—but I was very quickly losing the desire to continue.

I finished it anyway. And I like the manuscript. But considering all the revision necessary to bring a manuscript from first to finished draft, I need to more than like it–I need to love it. Or at least, I need to love something about it, whether it’s the idea, or the potential behind the idea, or the characters or…something.

As of right now, unfortunately, I don’t. So this is going to most likely be an insta-trunk for me.

However! That doesn’t mean I’ll never go back to it. And it doesn’t mean it won’t ever get revised. And it also doesn’t mean it was a waste of time.

Practice novels, to me, are important. I’ve learned from the past, that especially after I’ve taken a first-draft writing hiatus (and considering the last first draft I finished before this one was last year’s NaNo novel, I’d done just that), I sometimes need to pound out a manuscript just to remind myself that I can. Just to prove that I haven’t forgotten how to first draft or I haven’t lost the ability to write something new.

Sometimes I need space to play around with new ideas or genres or whatever the case may be. And sometimes I need to write something that I don’t like as much as I’d hoped before I can dive in to something I adore.

That’s the value of practice novels—not in the manuscript itself that you inevitably put away, but in what you learn from writing it. And sometimes it takes me a little while to figure out what, exactly, I got from writing it, but it does, inevitably, click into place eventually.

In the meantime, I’m happy to be done with it so I can move onto something else. Something, I hope, that I’ll be excited about from start to finish.

Have you ever written a practice novel? What was your experience like? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Writer @Ava_Jae talks about the importance of writing practice novels. What do you think? (Click to tweet)  
Writers! Have you ever written a practice novel? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)


petebauerblog.com said...

I've recently had a similar experience. Not with an entire novel, but with a few chapters. I thought they were well written and fulfilled what I was trying to do, but I just didn't like it. Weird. So, I tossed them in the drawer and started over. it's an odd thing to create something that works but you're not excited about. :)

Ava Jae said...

It is a weird experience! You'd expect to be excited about it, but sometimes there needs to be something more than "it works."

Thanks for sharing, Pete!

David Fuller said...

Er, I never intentionally wrote a practice novel. :P The first novel I ever wrote I took through several complete drafts, even working with an editor on it, before realizing I just plain didn't care about the story and that I was just going to have to chalk it up to experience. I did learn a lot from the process of writing it, but that novel is never going to see the light of day.

Ava Jae said...

Ha, well, I've never intentionally written a practice novel, either. But I do sometimes realize it's going to be a practice novel before I've finished writing, as was the case with this latest one.

In the end, though, I think what's important is what you said—that we learn from the whole process. And I honestly think we do learn from every MS we write, regardless of whether or not anyone else ever sees it.

Paul Caudell said...

Working on my first (well my second if you count the one I almost finished) and I'm pretty convinced at the midway point this won't be one that gets further than a second draft. I have no problem with that though, I've learnt so much from it already.

Ava Jae said...

That's an absolutely fantastic attitude to have. I so times a million percent agree that you learn a great deal from everything you write, regardless of whether or not it progresses beyond a first draft.

Of course you learn tons from revising, too, but it's definitely not necessary to revise something in order to learn from it. (Just don't attempt to publish something unrevised, of course). :)

Chrissie M said...

Oh, it's great to know other people do this too! I'm a serial first-drafter (I think there's 8 complete and three most of the way there.) and they're pretty much all practice novels, just because I can. Each one teaches me something new, either about writing or about myself.
It's all good for you.

Ava Jae said...

Agree agree agree! I like that serial first-drafter status. I may very qualify for that too, even though I adore revising. :) But you're absolutely right, you definitely learn from each and every one. Thanks for sharing!

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