Ugly Stepchildren and Other Beginnings


People occasionally ask me how many books I have written, and my usual response is, “Written? Or published?” Because there really is a difference. Every writer has ugly stepchildren: those stories, articles, books and other projects that started off as grand ideas but never saw the light of day, and in the end, the writer is usually grateful they didn’t.

I tell people today that 52 Things to Do on Sabbath, published in 1982 was my first book. I don’t talk about my second book. It was a nightmare named Star Bounty, a space opera about a six-foot-eight bounty hunter and his four-foot sidekick alien weapons maker. It was an accumulation of rip offs from every science fiction movie I had ever seen, took me two years to write, and was promptly labeled “horrible” by every one who read it. Looking back, I am tremendously grateful that I never got it published.

But I’m not sorry I wrote it. Like I tell my writing students, it’s never a waste when you write something, even if it’s never published. Because every word, sentence, paragraph and page you write teaches you more about writing. And the more you write, the better a writer you become. The rule of thumb is that it takes a million words or 10,000 hours of writing before you have paid your dues. And Star Bounty, with all its warts, helped me pay those dues.

I just got finished reading The Gunslinger by Stephen King, the first book in his Dark Tower series, which is supposed to come out as a movie in February. He originally wrote it in college, and even though he went back with some rewrites recently to help fix it, the college years are still pretty evident in the book. It is lacking his usual polish. But it was a start for him, and 50 books later, he’s pretty much a household name.

If he can do it with The Gunslinger, what’s to stop me from benefiting from my ugly stepchildren?

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