Like many authors, I have a “vanity shelf” in my home, with copies of all the books I’ve written (or contributed to). Well, at least it contains copies of all the printed books I’ve written—a lot of what I’ve done in recent years has been in the form of ebooks and magazine articles. Among the 11 titles currently on that shelf are several recent books about Mac software, a bound copy of my Master’s thesis, and even—no kidding—a copy of Arnold and Sam, the Two Dragons, which I wrote in October 1974 at age 7. This 12-page book was my first work of fiction, and it was as bad as you might imagine, but I was understandably proud of it at the time. My mother typed it up, my dad photocopied it, and my elementary school library even kept a copy on its shelves, with cover art hand-drawn by the author. By the time I left that school a few years later, it had been checked out nine times, only a few of which were by me.
In November 2005, I made my second attempt at writing fiction. I participated in National Novel Writing Month, which has been held annually since 1999. Along with more than 59,000 other aspiring novelists, I attempted to write 50,000 words of fiction between November 1 and November 30. I was one of almost 10,000 participants who reached that goal. However, what I wrote during that month is not sitting on my vanity shelf. I’ve declined requests to read it even by close friends and family members, who will love me regardless of how bad my writing is. In fact, I haven’t even looked at it myself since then. It’s so bad that it makes Arnold and Sam look like literary genius. And I don’t merely mean that it needs a few rewrites and a thorough going-over by a good editor. It is profoundly, utterly, and irredeemably awful. Humanity will be better off if no one ever sets eyes on that manuscript again. [Article Continues…]