Friday, October 16, 2009

Great Books versus First Books: My Secret Weapon

This is a response to Kelly at Yannabe's How Great Books Destroy Me post:
I’m currently slogging away at my third attempt to rewrite last year’s NaNoWriMo first draft. Meanwhile, this year’s NaNoWriMo is reading the revisions over my shoulder, biding its time to kick my work in progress out of the way. So when I’m reading and a brilliant piece of writing makes me stop in awe, my very next thought is: “I’ll never be this good.”
Kelly compares her writing to Laurie Halse Anderson's and Suzanne Collins', bemoaning that she'll never be as good. As fans of these two titans of YA lit, I readily moan along with her. LHA's descriptions are enough to make me weep. Collins' plotting and world-building keeps my heart in my mouth. Reading their books is a humbling experience.

But both these women have many, many books under their belts. I'm interested to read the first book of the Gregor series by Collins to see if it's as fantastic and gripping as The Hunger Games. Because you know what? If it's her first book, I bet it isn't.

This is my secret weapon, for the moments when the green-eyed monster uncoils within me: I remember The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood.

Atwood is a speculative queen, a Booker prize winner and the winner of a host of other awards, as well as the author of one of my favourite novels, The Handmaid's Tale. Several years ago I came across her first novel, The Edible Woman, written when she was 23. I read it, and it gladdened by heart no end. You know why? It's exceedingly average. Compared to her later works, anyway. It's certainly a cut above a lot of other first novels. But her later brilliance was born of mediocre beginnings.

It might be petty, but remembering The Edible Woman quietens the green-eyed monster within me. The only way is up from here! If you're working on a first novel, I recommend you pick up a copy to read in those wretched moments when you're thinking of packing it in altogether. It's utterly soothing, and comparatively better for you than hitting the delete button, or finding solace in cartons of chocolate ice-cream.


  1. but cartons of chocolate icecream are just sooo good!

    I just did a review post on Joanne Harris' first book - such a removal from her latest works. Fantastic for a budding writer's ego, really. Where the hell was her editor??

  2. That's not a bad strategy! Although I do like finding solace in chocolate :)

  3. Actually, the first Gregor the Overlander book was pretty stellar. I remember reading it and being very impressed (this is 5ish years ago). Hmm... :)

  4. Thanks for the tip, I'm sure I'll have a *lot* of use for it. I don't remember The Edible Woman that well, which is how I know you're definitely right!

  5. I have this book sitting on my shelf and never knew she wrote it when she was so young. It's heartening to know that she didn't come out of the gates a writing genius. This is definitely going to the front of my TBR pile. Thanks!