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Time to burn that first novel? (re. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee) - Printable Version

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Time to burn that first novel? (re. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee) - Daphne - 13 Jul 2015 05:14 PM

So what about that first draft of that first novel you ever wrote? – is it carefully kept in a drawer although you have chosen not to publish? Or should it be destroyed altogether?

For anyone who hasn’t followed the story behind the publication (tomorrow) of Go Set a Watchman:  it was written by Harper Lee (of To Kill a Mockingbird fame) in the mid 1950s before her famous novel. Apparently the editor/publisher read GSaW and suggested that a book based on the flashbacks would be more interesting, and so To Kill a Mockingbird was written.

What is interesting is that Harper Lee had several decades in which to publish Go Set a Watchman, but chose not to. According to reports her lawyer “discovered” the draft to the book in 2014 and the very elderly Harper Lee was suddenly keen to publish. Of course, she could have destroyed the book had she really wanted to ensure it never made the light of day, but some have expressed doubt that she would really have changed her mind after so many years.

Although the very many fans of TKaMB will be fascinated to read the prequel, reviewers have called it “a very rough diamond in literary terms” and it would seem that the author never polished it up with the intention of publishing it. So is it fair for it to be presented to the public in its “rough draft” form?

Best go hide those first drafts whilst you still have the chance.


RE: Time to burn that first novel? (re. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee) - JMac - 13 Jul 2015 06:49 PM

I wrote my first novel many, many years ago and had it typed up. That's how long ago it was - I didn't have a computer! Actually it's only a novella when I think about it, but I may dig it out when I have finished my current work in progress. It's quite different to what I write now, but who knows? It may have some value. It was rejected by a number of publishers and agents, but I know I am in quite good company there!


RE: Time to burn that first novel? (re. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee) - MoleThrower - 13 Jul 2015 08:55 PM

That's a little bit scary, actually! I know some people can write decent first drafts, but I'm definitely not one of them. I guess most of us don't have to worry about our work being as eagerly sought after as Harper Lee's, but you never know...


RE: Time to burn that first novel? (re. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee) - George Hamilton - 13 Jul 2015 09:47 PM

Scary thought. Now if I could have a self-destruct button for some of my earlier stuff when I am about to expire, that would be useful. But whilst I'm still here, I may one day decided to rework them.


RE: Time to burn that first novel? (re. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee) - Daphne - 14 Jul 2015 07:09 AM

Judging by these replies it seems that authors do like to hold on to their earliest works with the intention of returning to them at some point. But is there not also an urge to only show the very best of one's work? I always recall the tale that the poet William Wordsworth discarded those poems he did not think were his finest - but his doting sister, Dorothy, pulled them out of the bin and preserved them. One wonders if she really did him a favour.

The Go Set a Watchman/To Kill a Mocking Bird reports also raise the question of how important an editor can be. How many authors have a rough draft that has tremendous potential which is realised with the help of an astute editor?


RE: Time to burn that first novel? (re. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee) - JMac - 14 Jul 2015 07:46 AM

I hadn't thought of returning to my earlier work until I read this thread. My reasons for hanging onto it were purely sentimental. Even if I do get round to reading it, it's quite likely it will return to its hiding place in a drawer as I suspect it won't stand the test of time.


RE: Time to burn that first novel? (re. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee) - Daphne - 14 Jul 2015 08:20 AM

(14 Jul 2015 07:46 AM)JMac Wrote: Wrote:  I hadn't thought of returning to my earlier work until I read this thread. My reasons for hanging onto it were purely sentimental. Even if I do get round to reading it, it's quite likely it will return to its hiding place in a drawer as I suspect it won't stand the test of time.
But it may actually have great potential. Sometimes our early work is fresh and energetic and we put our heart and soul into it. Always worth revisiting.


RE: Time to burn that first novel? (re. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee) - alexroddie - 14 Jul 2015 09:17 AM

My first novel was appalling. I started it when I was twelve years old and flogged that dead horse until I was seventeen.

It still lurks on my archival hard disk, but I'm never letting anyone read it!

It wasn't until about 2004 that I wrote a book with any potential whatsoever, and even that would require a total rewrite to be fit for public viewing...


RE: Time to burn that first novel? (re. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee) - Kath Middleton - 14 Jul 2015 09:51 AM

I have a book on my hard drive - well, most of it's there - which I wrote in my early 30s. And that's aeons ago! I haven't got the last chapter. I typed it from the typewritten document onto my first computer and it followed me around on various disks until it landed here - and I've no idea what happened to the last chapter but I can't be mithered writing that again!


RE: Time to burn that first novel? (re. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee) - JMac - 14 Jul 2015 10:27 AM

I predict a little flurry of revised and revisited first novels in the Autumn!