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So It Sucks, Now What?

What to Do When Your First Book Is a Total Disaster?

By Reija SillanpaaPublished 8 months ago Updated 8 months ago 4 min read
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So It Sucks, Now What?
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

I had never intended to revisit my first real attempt at writing a book, and now I have done it twice in as many weeks. Thanks, Vocal, for prompting me to reflect on that disaster.

Because that’s what it was. A complete disaster. Unless you count the fact that I had actually finished a book, which I do. So it was also a success. After so many years of saying I would one day write a book, I had done it. At last, I could count myself among the people who had written a book. Even if it sucked. And suck it did. Hard.

There Were Some Positive Outcomes

As a teacher, I was trained to never say to a pupil that their work was a total disaster. Trust me, there were plenty of times I would have loved to. But you always had to find something positive to start with and then move on to the maybe-next-times.

So I’ll treat myself kindly and pick out the positives. That won’t take too long. But hey, isn’t the criticism always so much easier to take when it follows a few positive notes?

So what was good about my first book? Other than that I finished writing it. Which to be honest, was a major accomplishment after starting multiple times before that.

How did I finish it? I followed a 30-day writing plan.

Another positive was that the story had a beginning, middle, and ending. It had a plot. The end.

Of the positives, that is.

The rest is all going to be, shall we say, constructive criticism?

Why the Book Sucked

I mentioned the book had a plot. That much is true. But was the plot any good? Frankly, no.

It was predictable and full of cliches. A jealous, over-possessive boyfriend who turns aggressive, but gets what he deserves in the end. If someone was looking for an example book of the most obvious plot littered with literary cliches, my book might have done well. It could have been marketed as a guide to what not to do if you have any hopes of selling your book.

So the plot was obvious and full of holes. What about the characters? Forgettable. Even the jealous boyfriend, totally forgettable. Your reader needs to have an emotional response to your characters otherwise they couldn’t care less what happens to them. Even I didn’t care much for my characters and I was their creator.

What we have so far? Bad plot, bad characters. What next?

Tell Don't Show. What? It Should Be Other Way Round?

Probably one of the biggest sins: the book was full of telling not showing. Of course, some telling is often necessary but… a whole book it. I certainly had not mastered the art of showing rather than telling. I probably still haven’t. But I have definitely made progress since those early days. At least I think so. Or hope so. You can judge for yourself.

It wasn’t only the overuse of telling that was so wrong about the writing style. There were also the adverbs. So many of them. Angrily, anxiously, adoringly, and that is just some of the As.

Ironically, the UK writing curriculum for primary schools puts a lot of emphasis on adverbs and adverbial starters. Yes, you read that right. When some of those kids, and I have thought some talented little writers who hopefully will, think about becoming a writer, they will have to unlearn the excessive use of adverbials. Thank you British curriculum writers!

Add to the overuse of telling and adverbs the overuse of “said” and we truly have a masterpiece of terrible writing. The book was just over 50,000 words long and reading through it felt like about a fifth of the words were “said”. I know, I know. I am exaggerating, but it probably wasn’t far off.

There are many more negatives I could say about my first finished book, but I believe I have said enough. It sucked. And it was never going to end anywhere near a publisher’s desk.

So What Happened to the Book?

I kept it on my laptop for a while. I revisited it some months after I’d finished it to see if I could salvage it. Or at least a part of it. Nope. It was too much of a literary disaster. So I deleted it. The whole thing in the bin.

Even though the whole thing ended in the bin, I don’t consider writing the book a waste of time. I had proved to myself that I can write a book, and I learnt a lot from it. Especially what not to do.

I learnt to go easy on the adjectives and show more than tell. I learnt to avoid cliches and create more interesting characters. It even gave me a character I used in my next book. A book worthy of publishing because I took the lessons from the book that sucked.

What is my point here? I guess it is not to expect too much from your first creation, whether a book or something else, like a knitted jumper, it’s likely to be far from greatness. But that is fine.

Keep doing it, keep learning, and it will get better.

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About the Creator

Reija Sillanpaa

A wise person said, "Be your own audience". Therefore, I write fiction, poetry and about matters important and interesting to me. That said, I warmly welcome you into my audience.

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  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarran4 months ago

    I was going to suggest you post it chapter by chapter in the Chapters community here so that I can read it but then you said you deleted it 🥺 That's so sad 🥺

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