Do You Have a Novel In a Drawer? I Do, and So Do These Writers
One of the most gut-wrenching decisions a writer can make is putting a novel in a drawer. After years of working on something, after putting her everything into a project, sometimes there comes a point where she finally needs to pull the plug on her manuscript, whether prompted by her own instinct or by the directive of someone else in the industry. And it is the worst. My "drawer" is a rattan basket that sits on the shelf under my living room coffee table; that's where old drafts of manuscripts go that have been red-penned to death, tossed aside, and, ultimately, killed. There lies all the evidence that I ever had a first manuscript, save for a few published excerpts in online journals here and there. In total, I spent six years working on what I hoped would be my first novel — but despite getting an agent, shopping to editors, and almost even getting published, my book now lies in a drawer. Deciding that it had outlived its worldly welcome was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do: it was admitting to myself that I hadn't accomplished what I'd set out for, and, in many ways, looking my own humanity in the face (which is always terribly, terribly fun).
Retrospectively, and especially as I work on my new project, I can see how much I learned from those six years — how much I needed to get that first, not-so-great book out of my system, and how lucky I am that that mess of prose I wrote when I was mostly 22 isn't out there as my debut novel — but, oh, how badly it stung when I finally acknowledged that it was time to stick it in that drawer.
This story is why I love Chloe Benjamin's piece over at The Millions, "The Book That Wasn’t: 5 Fiction Writers Talk About their Novels in Drawers." Benjamin — who has her own "novel in a drawer" — appropriately calls these projects "NIDs," which as far as I'm concerned should be common vernacular. She talked to five writers whom I respect immensely about their own NIDs — projects by Laura van den Berg, Karen Thomspon Walker, Karen Brown, Kiese Laymon, and Michelle Wildgen — who show there's a ton of light at the end of the tunnel, even if you end up with a million NIDs before something hits.
Point is, something will.