Few things in writing are definitive, and neither is this, but I do believe it’s true:
Your first book should be intensely personal.
My first novel was supposed to be a Dime-Store Novel, an imprint that published short stories as tiny novellas, somewhere around 6,000 words. It ended up being 150,000 words. It took three years, and while the concept was good, the novel wasn’t. It had powerful moments and is worth cleaning up someday, but it wasn’t a personal story. Sure, it was set partially in my old university, but that was about it.
My second novel, the published one, Do Angels Still Fall, I now consider my first novel. It was intensely personal because I wrote for my kids and what I want them to know about their creator.
Bonnie Manning Anderson’s book, Always Look for the Magic, was intensely personal–it tells the story of her dad, uncle, and mother. It was fiction, but it was based on her extended life story.
Debi Gray Walter’s first novel, Through the Eyes of Grace, was about her grandmother, also fictionalized, but the rugged story of her grandmother’s life is personal to her and her entire family.
Does a story have to be about your family? No, of course not, but what rich soil there is in your own history. My second novel, Me and the Maniac in Outer Space, ended up being more personal than I was aware–the main characters were based on my own odd BFF in school (I didn’t even know it until I was finished with the book).
That first novel is the hardest to get through; it helps to have a personal connection. I think all your stories should be personal, of course, but that first one needs the muscle a deep personal connection provides. Maybe it’s a family story, maybe it’s a hometown story, or maybe it’s something else that is unique to you.
Where do you find your inspiration?