As I mentioned last time, we writers have convinced ourselves of a lot of untruths, and, you know, it's fine to believe an untruth if that's what you want to believe. My kids, the two younger ones at any rate, still choose to believe in Santa Claus. At least, I'm fairly certain they know he's not really real, but they want to believe in him so they choose to do so. It's part of Christmas at our house so they choose to believe and that's totally okay.
Now, it would be a different story entirely if they were out telling their friends that their families were doing it wrong if they didn't have Santa as a part of their Christmas traditions.
However, if you ever sit it on a kindergarten class at Christmas time, those kids really believe in Santa -- I mean, really really believe in Santa with their whole hearts --and they will set out to tell anyone who might happen to say that Santa isn't real just how wrong he is. And that's where we writers are with this first lie (and I think it's the biggest, most damaging lie we tell): Your first novel sucks!!!
It sucks and you should, minimally, stick it in a drawer somewhere and forget it exists. Even better, pack it in the bottom of a box and bury it in your closet, but, to be really safe, you should dig a hole in your back yard, drop it in, and plant a tree on it.
[Now I'm going to take a little aside, so just follow along. Really, it applies.]
In science, there is a thing called a theory. People not in science have taken this word and warped it into something it doesn't mean, so follow the process:
Let's say there's a scientist taking a nap under a tree, a tree that happens to bear apples, and, while he's sleeping, one of those apples falls off of the tree and hits him on the head. This, of course, wakes the scientist up as he tries to figure out who's been throwing apples at him. But, A-HA!, he has an idea: "I think apples fall to the ground when they are dropped." This idea is called a hypothesis.
Now, the scientist wants to know if his idea is correct or not, so he devises a series of experiments to test it. He shakes the tree until apples fall off. He picks up the apples and drops them from his hands and, yes, sure enough, they all fall on the ground. He takes them up on the roof of his house and drops them from there. He gets other people to test whether when they drop the apples they also fall to the ground. He goes up on the highest building he can find, maybe that leaning tower place, and drops them from there. No matter what test he tries, the apples always fall to the ground.
Also, he finds that he no longer wants to eat any of the apples he's been dropping so he decides he should, next time, test his "drop idea" with something that won't become bruised and inedible.
At the end of all of the testing, IF the idea proves to be true, at least in so far as you can test it, you have what is called a theory. If, however, just one time, the guy drops the apple and it does not fall to the ground, you do NOT have a theory. At that point, you go back to your hypothesis and modify it and start testing all over again.
An idea that is just an idea is a hypothesis.
An idea that has been tested and tested and tested and has had NO (ZERO) failures is a theory.
See, the thing about a theory is that it is still conceivable that there could be some circumstances under which it would not hold to be true, but we don't have the means of testing those circumstances. A theory could still turn out to be WRONG.
And just so you know: The stage beyond Theory is Law. If we have shown, as with gravity, that you will get the same results EVERY TIME you do something, it's considered a Law, and we have shown mathematically that gravity does exist and that EVERY TIME anyone drops an apple it will fall to the ground.
And here is where we go back to this lie that writers tell: The people who state it, state it as a the First Law of Writing: Your first novel will suck. Throw it away and never think about it again.
So, right now, I'm going to punch a GIANT hole in that law. Going back to SCIENCE, any event which shows your hypothesis not to be true makes it not a theory. If it's not a theory, it can't be a Law, and, if it's not a theory, you, also, can't use it as a hypothesis. You have to go back to that hypothesis and modify it. So, if you take "Your first book will always suck" as your hypothesis, let's look at some first novels that show that that just isn't any good as a working hypothesis.
To put it another way, if these following authors had listened to the advice (the very common, spoken-everywhere-among-writers advice) that their first novels were no good and had junked them, here are some (just a few) of the novels we would not have in our world. [By the way, all three of the novels I think everyone should read are on this list. All three of what I would say are the most significant novels I have ever read were first novels by the author.]
Oh, and let me clarify: When I say "first novel," I don't mean "first published novel" (meaning they had a few practice ones that they did throw away); I mean "first written novel by the particular author." Sometimes, in fact, these were the ONLY novels the particular author EVER wrote.
Here's just a few:
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien -- Sure, you might say that he wrote a bunch of other stuff before he wrote the The Hobbit, but he had never written a novel before, and that's a very different kind of thing than other types of writing. Oh, and if he'd never published this, there would be no The Lord of the Rings or anything else by Tolkien.
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell -- This novel won a bunch of awards, too.
Watership Down by Richard Adams -- It also won a bunch of awards.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley -- I can't even summarize how influential this book has been. Imagine if she'd just tossed it.
The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens -- Probably nothing else needs to be said, BUT it was also the first book ever to become a "publishing phenomenon" (think Harry Potter except that didn't really hit it big until the third or fourth book), his first book.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte -- The only novel she ever wrote.
Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison -- His second novel took 40 years to write.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee -- She said she would never be able to write a book to top Mockingbird, so she never made an attempt at a second novel.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Neuromancer by William Gibson -- Gibson had written a few short stories prior to being commissioned to write a novel. The idea terrified him, but he wrote it. It changed the landscape of both science fiction and reality. It won both the Nebula and Hugo awards as best novel of the year when it came out.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling -- Because you can't keep her off a list like this. And, beyond that, I'm not going to say anything else about it.
And, really, I could go on. I could go on for a long time. I mean, I've only covered first novels that have gone on to become significant works of literature, but there are plenty out there that have been more than adequate first novels. This idea that "first novels" should be tossed in the trash is a myth. It's not even an adequate hypothesis.
Granted, some first novels will suck but, then, some of the authors even on this list never wrote anything to equal the greatness of their first work. Harper Lee wouldn't even try again. I'm not saying that your first work is literary genius puked on a page; I am saying don't listen to people that tell you to just put "that one" away and never let anyone see it. To me, that sounds more like, "My first novel sucked; therefore, all first novels must suck." Don't judge your work by someone else's failure.