I read a blog post from Abby Franquemont titled “Go Ahead: Be a Beginner” a while back, and it really stuck with me. Abby’s blog subtitle is “Because One Way Or Another, It’s All About Yarn.” I don’t disagree (being something of a yarn person myself), but I also think this post translates wonderfully to writing.
One of the biggest things I like about Abby’s article is that beginner yarn is not art yarn.
Because I suspect a lot of you don’t know what art yarn is, here’s a Google image search for you. (I’m not going to post specific pictures because I don’t own them. I haven’t made art yarn.)
A lot of times, new spinners will hold up their first yarn, proud of it, but confused. It’s lumpy and weird looking. It doesn’t look like the other yarns people show off. But then, someone comes over and says, “Oh, it’s art yarn.” This is intended to make the beginner feel better about their first yarn.
Art yarn can look haphazard and sometimes sloppy, like beginner yarn. True art yarn is anything but. It’s structurally sound. It won’t break when you use it. It won’t fall apart after a few washes. Real honest-to-commas techniques were used while making it, and the spinner knows what (s)he did and can reproduce it. A beginner cannot do those things.
There’s nothing wrong with beginner yarn. It’s wonderful and special and there’s nothing like it ever again. But it’s not art yarn.
Now replace “art yarn” with “great writing.”
Like art yarn, great writing isn’t an accident.
I think it sells a beginner short to tell them their novice efforts are master-quality (and let’s not even get into what it sounds like it says about master work). It sells beginners short, because it’s a lie. People do it in an attempt to be supportive, I know, but I think it’s better to praise beginner work for what it is, rather than to liken it to the work of people who’ve spent time and energy studying and practicing. Why? Because as a beginner, I think you have a right to know there IS more; that you can do better, and you will, and that all it takes is wanting to and practicing.
I’ve said before that I’m really grateful for all my rejections. Sometimes I think about what would have happened if I’d been told my first or second or even fifth book was ready to go, ready to be put through the publishing machine and onto bookstore shelves.
I mean, as great as that would have been for my ego, it would have been detrimental to my writing. In response to being told no, try again, keep working, I did work. I worked hard for years, with people encouraging me to keep working, and it wasn’t until my seventeenth finished manuscript that publishing said yes.
My early books were special, but they certainly weren’t ready to be published. (I wasn’t ready to be published.) They weren’t art yarn.
But as Abby’s post says, there is something wonderful about being a beginner. There are so many possibilities. You can write whatever you want, and take however long you want to do it. You can learn all the “rules”—and then learn when to toss them. You can explore stories in a way you might not be able to again, once you’re on a publishing schedule and have a “brand” to mind.
If you’re just starting out, embrace that beginnerness. Try not to be in a rush, because this is a great time. Being told your book is ready to be published (and signing that first contract!) is a great goal, but don’t let it be the only goal. Work on your stories. Master your craft. Know that when you do get a book published, it’s not an accident.