Putting Off Your Trunk Novel

 Our critique group after-parties have been great fodder for blog posts lately. Hopefully my fellow writers don’t mind – all names will be withheld to protect the not-so-innocent.

The many accomplished and skilled writers at the table were trading stories about their trunk novels. You know, those books you write generally when you first get started (but not always). Books that at one time you felt were pure genius and when you go back and look, well, they’re all kinds of ugly. Like a smacked-with-the-Mjölnir-of-ugly-sticks-and-covered-in-open-sores-to-dissuade-princesses-from-kissing sort of ugly.

I then informed everyone I had managed to skip my trunk novel. And then looked hopefully at one of the guys who has read my entire novel front to back, praying for some level of agreement. In truth, the jury is still out – literally. I’ve got about 8 betas combing through my latest draft (one who tore through it at an amazing pace WITH line edits. He’s like the bare-footed Kenyan of beta readers.) If they love it, I just might be on to something good.

So, I figured I’d share my “Secrets” on how to skip or at least put off your Trunk novel. Nobody wants to write 100k+ words of garbage. It’s like you’re stuffing a year of your life in a trunk, securing it with chains and dumping it in the nearest body of water.  Ok, yeah, you can learn from it. Everyone learns from mistakes. But f- that. I don’t have time for that 🙂

1. Find a bad ass crit group. I know, I know. This is easier said than done. And no, I’m not giving you the address for mine. We’re freaking awesome but already a bit too crowded on some nights and I’m an evil, greedy person.  If you can’t find one, start one. I guarantee there are writers in your area looking for the exact same thing but writers are generally a quiet lot, so make the first move. Your local library is a great place to troll the waters – flyers, library calendars, etc.  Our local library even sponsors our group and provides meeting space.

2. Keep attending the bad ass crit group. You can’t help each other if you don’t show up. You can’t get critiqued if you don’t take your writing.

3. Listen to the bad ass crit group. Evaluating the critique you get is an art in itself. Some of it won’t apply, some of it might be off-base and some of it might be exactly what your story needs. In general, the more people that point at a problem, the more likely it is actually a problem. That and if somebody says something out loud that makes the whole table “ooooh” and “ahhhhh”, they may be on to something there, too. I’ve also found that if a bit of critique makes you uncomfortable or raises your hackles it may just be SO spot-on that it is exactly what needs to happen and you’ve been in denial about it for too long.

4. Be prepared to WRECK your story. Annihilate it. Gut it. Chances are the first time through (especially if it is your first book) you didn’t get it right. I’ve already talked about this before (I re-wrote close to 40k words of my novel), but to reinforce this, I listened to an interview on Writing Excuses where author E.J. Patten said he trashed his first draft down to the opening paragraph. You could argue, that first draft was his trunk novel. Nope. Uh uh. See my next point.

5. Be determined not to write a trunk novel. Step into the whole writing thing with a good deal of planning and forethought. Don’t simply say “I’m going to write a book” and think it will happen. Everyone says that, like it’s the easiest thing in the world. It isn’t. That’s how you write a trunk novel – blindly writing down your own personal fantasies without considering the broader audience, the market, the craft. Sure, sometimes people get rich off such writing, but 9.99999999999 times out of 10, it’s something no one will ever want to read. But you.

Take classes. Go to workshops. Conventions. Set aside some cash (’cause it may be a career but it ain’t a living). Read, write, submit – rinse and repeat. You can’t do this half-assed. Most writers have to work full time jobs, raise kids, you name it; writing plays second fiddle despite the fact it can be the most time-consuming, grueling thing you could do. Regardless, they do it.

While I may have dodged the trunk novel so far, hopefully it’s a trend that continues. I’ve got a feeling as long as I stick with my current crit crew, I’m set. They’ll let me know loud and clear (or soft and gentle) if I’m ever writing something that needs a pair of cement shoes. If they don’t? Well, I know where they meet every week and I may just have to find a way to regress the Za…

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4 replies

  1. Frank Conroy didn’t produce a lot of work, his memoir being the best known and much-acclaimed work. He did say that he had thrown away three complete novels. He also said that he couldn’t have written his good works without writing through the other crap. Frank’s writing was/is impeccable. A trunk novel is not necessarily a bad thing or even a waste of time.

    • Right and I don’t want to sound like I’m dogging on trunk novels entirely. Craft wise – sometimes it is absolutely necessary. From a business perspective – it’s a waste. Coming to all this late, putting aside some moderately profitable ventures and socking away money to do this, I’ve given myself less options in regards to spending time writing and not making some money at it. Sure, the fam is supportive, but I don’t expect that to be an infinite well if I’m trashing books every year.

  2. From the way my current WIP is going, I may have actually written TWO trunk novels, but sort of not, because they explained my own mythos to myself, so it’s not like they were totally useless. They also set the tone for the real weirdness I wanted to write, which really showed when I strayed from it.

    • See step 5.

      Another thing Lou reminded me of after we spoke was that “Brandon Sanderson wrote 12 novels before he got published.” It was an invitation almost for me to shelf my WIP. I briefly considered it and declined 🙂 I did do some research though. Five of these “books” Brandon completed in a two year period right after deciding he wanted to be a writer. I don’t count diarrhea of the fingertips as “trunk novels” *ahem* – if it hasn’t had time to be drafted, revised, edited, critiqued, beta, etc. how is it anything other than a rough draft? He went on to write seven more – in the time span it took for his 6th to get picked up by TOR. Frankly, his first “novel” got published.

      Now, I’ve got “trunk stories” or “trunk DnD campaign plot outlines” I suppose, any of which could total up to several novels in length. So I’m not saying you don’t have to write to learn to write. That’s a given. But a trunk novel, IMO becomes a trunk novel when you stop putting effort into it. Sure, sometimes it’s best to walk away and I may very well do that in the future. But as I told Dan, I’ll keep putting it off as LONG as I can! You should too.

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