"Yer first book is gonna suuuuuuuck!"

You know, I keep reading variations of the above sentiment. Your first book is going to suck. New writers don't know a damned thing. Write your first novel, sweat blood over it, and then throw it away! For God's sake, don't expose anyone to your first book--think of the children! It's radioactive! The first novel ALWAYS SUCKS!!!

Le sigh.

This is one of those pieces of advice where I can totally see why the people giving it think they are being helpful. The problem with it is that it's not true and is basically meaningless to boot.

Now, you might look at me and say, Why would you think this? I mean, I wrote professionally for the better part of two decades before publishing Trang. I even ditched my first novel: I wrote the first draft in the summer of 1999, went back to it a few years later (I had to finish my degree and earn a living), tried to polish it up, read Of Human Bondage, and promptly trashed it. I mean, trashed it--I have no idea if I have a copy of it anywhere any more, and given that I've had two computers crash in the meantime, I probably don't. And I don't care: There was absolutely nothing I had to say in my novel that Of Human Bondage hadn't already said.

The problem is, I wrote a story in high school about a young lady who accidentally "falls" into a fairy dimension and has to, among other things, fight off a vampire, because it turns out that vampires are really a kind of fairy--all while dressed in only her underwear. It won a prestigious national award.

So...did that story suck?

Before I ever even attempted to finish that novel that was merely drafted in 1999, I wrote a Firefly fanfic novel. Now if you ask me, I think that story could have been made much better--I knew I was never going to get paid for it, so it's just a first draft, and my first drafts are never as good as my final drafts.

But because we Browncoats wanted to know if there were going to be official Firefly novels (and because a friend of mine was really nagging me about getting serious about this novel-writing thing--she is thanked in Trang), I submitted it to the publisher of the Buffy novels. I got back a truly lovely rejection letter praising my novel very generously but noting that, at that time, they hadn't gotten the right to the Firefly novels. (Later on they did, but no Firefly novels were forthcoming--what's up with that, Joss?) You know, come to think of it, that first letter set the tone for every rejection I ever got.

So...did that story suck?

Toss in the fact that many writers clearly degenerate over time. They get bored with their own books or they get sufficiently "prestigious" that no one is allowed to fix their horrible, horrible writing or they get super-lazy because they'll get paid no matter how awful their stuff is.

And even the most talented authors write stuff that sucks. Let's put it this way: The Bad Hemingway awards exist because, while there is nothing quite as good as good Hemingway, there is also nothing quite as bad as bad Hemingway. (I know this is true, because I've read it. Apparently Hemingway asked someone to be sure to destroy his bad, never-published crap after he died, but when that happened, the "friend" decided to publish it all instead. The moral of the story? Burn it yourself, or use computers that crash.) If it didn't bother William Faulkner to publish Sanctuary, I don't know why on Earth publishing something that might suck should bother you. Authors tend to be judged by their highs, not their lows.

We're not even getting into the question of, What sucks? I thought the Twilight series sucked (not just the first book, but because it really wimps out at the end, the whole series), but there's at least $160 million saying that I'm wrong. You shouldn't even get me started again on Ayn Rand or John Updike, but both are considered classics in some circles (you know, like RAPIST circles).

The "Your first novel SUCKS!!! Burn it NOW!!!!!" is not that different from the advice, "Put a poem in a drawer for 10 years before looking at it again" (which is cited on Rusch's blog as advice that shouldn't be taken literally, but you shouldn't attempt to access that blog right now): It's an attempt to force a writer to attain a goal that can be reached by other means.

What is that goal? You need to apply the same standards to your own writing that you would apply to someone else's.

In other words, your novel--be it the first or the hundredth--needs to be something you wouldn't mind reading if someone else wrote it. That's really all that matters.

As they say: You can't make everybody happy, so you might as well make yourself happy. The problem with the notion that your first novel MUST suck (which has got to be news to the kid who wrote Eragon--you know, I had no idea that book was self-published first. Awesome) is that it feeds into the belief system that you are a tiny, little, worthless, talentless piece of crap who should not dare to attempt to brave the big, bad system of publishing that is filled with people who know SO much more than you do. It feeds the Three Ps, and it encourages you to do: NOTHING.

And there is nothing so risky as doing nothing. Buying lottery tickets is better than doing nothing, and trust me, I have never bought a lottery ticket. Doing nothing, especially as a writer, will unequivocally result in failure--100% of the time.