The Power of a First Novel (Completed)

I distinctly remember finishing my first novel. Still in my early 20s, I lived in a basement apartment with one small window and my desk facing a blank wall.

I mostly finished the novel elsewhere, over a long summer spread across three towns, during a time when I questioned the point of life (in the real world) and the purpose of love (as my parents divorced). The novel mined some personal and family heartaches through a story I felt effective at the time, but I struggled with finishing. I wanted a happy ending to an inherently sad book, which I knew required killing at least one character.

So, I sat in that basement room and focused on literary murder.

And it worked.

Through a series of marathon writing sessions soundtracked mostly by Big Head Todd & The Monsters (especially “Circle”), I pushed my characters to a final resolution through a blizzard, up a mountain, into a cave. I pushed them through a Razor’s Edge final exposition, where the soon-to-die character rants about the pointlessness of life before climbing onto a funeral pyre.

In that dim apartment, I closed an important chapter of my life. While I had been a writer for years, I now had 100,000-plus words to prove I wrote. I could do the work, not just wear the t-shirt. That mattered, especially to me.

Although I tried, the novel never got published. Maybe a half-dozen people have read it. I still have a printed version of it and a digital version, yes, the Macintosh Classic I used as my typewriter in the 1990s. I may revisit it someday, or I may leave it to the pile of memories. Either way, it doesn’t matter, because it will always remind me I can write.

I seldom write for myself these days, even if the itch still exists. I give too much weight to the editor in my head and the opinions of others. Instead of facing a blank wall, I stare out big windows. I worry about paying a mortgage instead of chasing characters through fictional worlds.

But I do still write, professionally, and find myself leaning on a few lessons from that first novel. Those I’ll share in the next post.

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