First time novelists are in a tough place. Overwhelmingly before the book is even finished the questions are flying; do I need an agent yet? How do I get it to a publisher? Do I need to copyright it before an editor reads it?

These are understandable questions, but the biggest question facing the first time novelist is really: can I do it? Can I actually write a whole book? Until that question is answered, none of the others matter very much. And after that first vital question is answered, there’s another biggie that comes before the rest: is it publishable?

Nobody wants to sit down and write a whole novel that will never sell. This is understandable. I balked at the idea myself. Even knowing the percentage of first novels that never sell (it’s big), I wanted to believe that mine would be the exception. My first novel was not the first to sell, and before I sold it, I had to revise like crazy and fix a major structural defect. It was worth doing because it had some key things going for it: good writing overall, lively characters, and a story that grabbed me no matter how many times I put it aside. Oh, and it was finished. Without those four factors, it wouldn’t have been salvageable let alone publishable.

We live in a world of words and writing. We write resumes and cover letters and business letters and emails and invitations and lists. This leads to the belief that anybody can sit down and write a book. I believe anybody who really, really wants to can, but the barrage of words we live in and the daily writing we all do is a whole world apart from writing fiction. Writing fiction is like going from making pinch pots to using the pottery wheel.

Pottery is an incredibly difficult art form. Those pieces of clay, it looks so easy. Watch beginners using a wheel for the first time. Construct after construct begins to rise from the lump of clay, and then collapses. It’s messy. It’s frustrating. And it takes a lot of practice and patience before that first lopsided vase comes off the wheel.

But because we live in words and not clay, we think a novel should be easier. It isn’t. Be prepared to get messy and frustrated and to make mistakes and fail before getting it right. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Doesn’t mean your first novel won’t defy the odds and be publishable after you manage to get it to complete.

But worry about getting it to rise on the wheel and not collapse back into a lump of clay before worrying about copyright, how to get it read by an editor, how to get an agent or when you need an agent. And allow yourself to be a beginner. Don’t be too hard on yourself or your first attempt. Everybody starts somewhere. Plenty of first attempts make really great paperweights (or help get a fire going in the winter), but the next one is better and the one after that, wow.