That box of old writing in the garage

I have a box in my garage filled with the stuff I used to write when I was a kid. It’s got the story that started it all – the story I wrote for a contest that won me a prize of 50 books (some of which I still have). There are the pencilled stories (with pictures) in an exercise book that I scribbled when I was eight.

One of my bookshelves…

There are reams of typed manuscript I wrote as a teenager, all science-fiction, all of them terrible. And not one is going to see the light of day. None. Nada. Zip.

All of them, you see, are learning-curve stuff. Part of the million-word practise all writers have to do before they master the art and craft of it.

And back then, when I wrote it, there wasn’t an Amazon people could publish their hot-off-the-typewriter manuscript to. There was no National Novel Writing Month – the 50,000 word contest to show you can write that much in a month.

Hey, there was no internet.

So there was no temptation to try and publish stuff that, really, wasn’t up to par. It was stuff that was written not to produce a great novel, but to learn how to produce one eventually. It was still written to learn how to write, generally.

That’s why all those manuscripts are going to stay in that box. Trust me.

The problem today, of course, is that a lot of ‘learning curve’ manuscripts don’t. As I say, they’re blasted out into Kindle as soon as ‘The End’ trips off the writers’ fingers on Draft 1. Publishers dread 1 December because they know their inboxes will fill with enquiry letters from hopeful NaNo winners, wanting to get the novel they’ve just dashed off into print. Some, no doubt, have the manuscript attached.

And yes, this happens.

All of it is produced by people who’re still at the first stage of competence – the one where they don’t know enough about the field to know what they don’t know.

The web, in many ways, has democratised publishing; but the result has been a flood of material that should have been left in the author’s metaphorical box in the garage. And it’s drowning the good stuff. A few years back, US author Chuck Wendig called it a ‘shit volcano’. Too right.

Click to buy

My advice? Don’t publish the first thing you write. Or the second. Or the third. Keep at it – do that million-word practise run. Make sure you learn along the way.

I’ve explained how in my book Get Writing Fast. Check it out if you want.

But don’t just go with my advice – check out all that’s out there.

You’ll know when you’ve got to that third and fourth step of competence – the one where the ability to write is part of your soul. It bursts on you, gloriously, when you least expect it.

But only after a million words or so.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2018

7 thoughts on “That box of old writing in the garage

  1. In my study I have a manila envelope. In it is the third draft of my first novel, written when I was 16. Unfortunately, most of the other years of practice were lost in a move. But that’s OK. As for The Starfighters D3, well, it was sealed in that envelope forty years ago, and that’s where it stays.

    Thing is I can remember it almost word for word, along with all the different writers that inspired me and stood over my shoulder, at least metaphorically, giving encouragement and guidance from that time on.

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    1. It’s the encouragement and guidance that counts – often, indirectly, from those authors we read (in my case, as a kid, Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke among others…). These days, despite over 30 years in the profession, I am still learning – the day I stop that is the day I also stop writing; for the more I write, the more I realise there is to learn and try to understand about it. But ain’t that always the way about everything?


  2. Over the course of my high school years I wrote what I thought at the time were three novels, but probably two of them would only qualify as novellas. They’re awful, of course, but showed promise. Since then I’ve written 11 novels, some of them only ever intended as experiments. In fact, the one I worked on last July went off the rails. I finished it, but that’s as far as it’s going. Oh well.

    So, yes, I know what you mean. My favorite example was after NaNo 2015, my second. At the time I was frequenting a site and was acquainted with several people who were also participating. A few days into December one writer posted that he’d barely finished in time on the 30th. I asked if he was setting it aside before revising and he responded that it was already edited and up on Amazon (and then badgered me to buy it). Curious, I read a preview I’ll never be able to forget. He also had at least one other book for sale.

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  3. I have a similar box in my garage. Mostly short stories from high school and college. I’m working on piece right now and reaching the climax. I admit to be nervous because I wante the finish to be good. But then I keep telling myself, “You know the end…is not the end, right?” My terrible typing skills alone demand several passes of edits. My constantly shifting ideas demand several more editing passes.

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    1. My stuff evolves constantly too – back when I started it was the Typewriter Age and that involved a lot of double-spaced typing and multiple pen and ink revisions of the original version, which then got typed out clean by hand (with modifications) and the process started again. Weirdly, despite now being in the Word Processor Age, I actually do more pen-and-ink planning now than I ever did back when it was a ridiculous labour to re-key everything (although that also forced a certain amount of careful thought before committing to words, which isn’t needed now…)

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  4. Well, I’ve been steadily working on my novel over the last 7 years with numerous delays, rewrites, proofreadings etc. I just gave it a final re-write. Does this count? I hope so. I think it’s good, I’m pestering literary agents at the moment.

    I remember reading somewhere “your first book probably won’t be good enough to be published” but, dammit, I’d like to buck the trend.

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