I think most writers have that one novel they’ve written that they don’t want anyone to ever read, or even know about. Usually, it’s from early on in their career and for whatever reason, they don’t feel it’s up to par with the rest of their work. It isn’t good enough, it’s horrible, it needs a lot of work, whatever. I know I do. My first novel, started at 14 and finished at 16 years of age, has never been seen by eyes other than my own. It never will. Despite the constant begging of certain people, I’ve kept that sucker hidden, locked away where the pages will eventually turn brown and crumble to dust. Why? It isn’t good enough. Plus, I think on some level I like the fact that it’s mine. I remember every keystroke, every thought and idea, every late night spent hunched over the keyboard typing on a manual typewriter with keys that stuck. It was my experiment and my memory. To publish that would be to share it with the world. Which would be fine if it was good enough, but in my mind it isn’t. It would need a lot of work to be public-ready, and I don’t think I’ll ever do it. For some twisted reason, I like it the way it is.
In my mingling with other writers over the years, I’ve learned that I’m not the only one who keeps a bastard manuscript locked away. I’d venture to say we all do. And we all have our reasons for doing it.
That being said, I’m not sure how I’d feel if I was Harper Lee and they were publishing my second novel 60 years after I wrote it. Lee’s known for her novel To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s her only published novel, and until recently it was thought to be her only novel. Now another novel penned by Lee in the 1950s, Go Set a Watchman, is scheduled for publication. It will be released July 14th of this year.
Apparently, Lee is pleased with the book’s publication. But this story makes me ask myself this question: What if half a century from now someone were to publish my first novel, the one I keep hidden? How would I feel about that? I wouldn’t like it. Maybe if I polished and edited and made it print-ready, maybe then I wouldn’t mind as much. But as of now, I shudder in horror at the thought of anyone reading what my adolescent mind concocted. Who knows? Maybe in 60 years I’ll change my mind.
Read about the upcoming publication of Harper Lee’s second novel here.