This week I wrapped up a draft of the sequel to The Midwife’s Tale, and have been doing a bit of reading. (I just finished The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death and I listened to The Janissary Tree during a long drive. I recommend both very highly.) This combination of reading and writing has gotten me thinking about the arc of my career, from first book to last, and among my realizations was a simple but odd little fact:
If all goes well, The Midwife’s Tale – my first born! – will be among the worst books I write.
Keep in mind, I’m not saying the book is bad (though it might be), and please don’t forward this to my editor for a blurb, but I nevertheless hope that this is true. Let me explain.
I’ve only been writing fiction for a couple of years, so – in theory at least – I should get better with each book I write. I’m gaining important experience, I have a better sense of how to craft a story, I recognize (and excise) useless characters earlier, etc. So far, so good, right. Who doesn’t want to get better? And if I get better, won’t that mean my first book is worse? It seems to.
If that weren’t enough to convince me that my first book ought to be my worst, I reminded myself that this is better than the other extreme: What if The Midwife’s Tale is as good as it gets and from here on out I will get worse as a writer? With all due respect to J.D. Salinger, peaking with your first book doesn’t seem like much fun.
So I made my peace with the fact that I will someday look back on The Midwife’s Tale and think, “I wish it were better.” It’s not quite the same as knowing that you won’t love your first child as much as your second, but it’s an odd feeling all the same.
Then I ran in to Laura Lippman. Not literally, of course, though I would love to do so, but I read a review of Laura Lippman’s I’d Know You Anywhere, and suddenly the question of getting better as a writer began to shape how I thought about my career trajectory. What do I want my sixth, seventh and eighth books to be like?
(And rather than bore you with that here, I’ll jump over to another blog, Bloody Good Read. If you’re interested, have a look!)