So last week's post on Writer Unboxed generated some interesting comments and good food for thought. Not least because I spent the holiday weekend pouring through a new book, the kind of book that you can't believe you've been reading for hours because it seems like time stood still while you were flipping each page and the kind of book that you stay up waaaaaay past your bedtime to "just read one more chapter." The book was Barefoot by Elin Hilderbrandt, and man, I just loved it. (FYI: I don't know Elin, nor do I know her agent, editor, publicist or anyone even remotely connected to her, so I'm not just saying this to pimp her book! I really and truly loved it.)
Anyway, for those of you who didn't read my post last week, the general summary is this: first stabs at novels often suck, even if you don't see this at the time, and as a writer, even a published one, you should always strive to boost your writing each and every time you step up to the plate. I sincerely feel like Time of My Life makes leaps and bounds over The Department, and well, I don't even want to think of how crappy my (unpublished) book was before that. And Suzanne, a blog reader, posted an interesting comment - or interesting to me at least - was how she rarely heard published authors saying that they could improve their work. I guess the assumption is that getting published is enough.
Maybe for some authors it is. I think we could all name a few authors who churn out books year in year out in which the names are changed and maybe the plot is slightly varied, but more or less, the author hasn't cracked his or her success code. Hey, it works for him or her, and I don't have any problem with this.
But for me, I mean, what's the point of writing - whether you're working on your still-unpublished novel or your follow-up to your bestseller - if you're not trying to one-up your skill set each time? I think that this is where we, as writers, ideally all stand on the same ground, regardless of where you are in your writing aspirations and success. Look, it sucks when your first (or second) novel doesn't land an agent or doesn't nab a publisher, but I have enormous respect for people who can dust themselves off and say, "The experience was part of this ride; this career isn't a horizontal line; next time at the plate, I might swing and actually get a hit."
All of which leads me back to Barefoot. I read it on the recommendation of someone (I can't remember who now, because I sent a friend a note thanking her for the suggestion and it turned out she hadn't suggested it...so...if whomever recommended it is out there, thank you!), and I'm now interested in going back and reading Hilderbrand's other books (she's written six). And I'm curious to see if I can tell the difference between the first one and the sixth...because I hope that if I'm ever able to eke out six novels, that readers will be able to note the difference in quality in mine. That, to me, is what marks a successful writing career, and that, to me, is a big part of what this is all about. (That said, if all of her books are as good as Barefoot, I seriously might show up on her doorstep, kneel at her feet and ask her for her secrets!)
So tell me, have you read debut novels and been blown away by future books by the same writer? Or is this whole learning curve that I subscribe to overblown? Maybe you're just born with the ability to be a good writer and if so, each and every time you knock it out of the park? (As you can tell, I have a lot of thoughts and questions on this subject!)