Ok, I’m a newbie. I just finished my first draft of my time travel novel about two weeks ago. It’s clocking in at around 98,000 words. I’m guessing I’ll probably end up at around 110,000 words by the time I’m finished with the second draft. With the exception of a couple of plot holes I need to clear up in my second draft, and a general cleanup of the storytelling, I’m feeling pretty great about it. And now that I’m finished, I can honestly say that I feel like there’s an entire world in my head that I know in detail.
Beyond getting to know that world, and the people I put in it, here are a few other things I learned while writing my first draft of my first novel.
1. A daily commitment goes a long way.
It takes a lot of hours to write 100,000 words. Sometimes you sit for thirty minutes and write two sentences. Sometimes you bust out 1000 words in an hour. But writing every day keeps you moving forward. More importantly, it keeps you in the story. And when you’re in the story, your brain works things out.
2. You need to get to know all of your important characters in order to accurately write about them.
When I started writing my story, I had two characters I felt like I knew. For whatever reason, I felt I really knew those two characters before I ever wrote a word. But the rest of the characters, not so much. Halfway through the first draft, I realized that I needed to spend some time with all of my characters, not just the two I based the story on.
3. Writing more than two points of view in a story is hard.
I learned this lesson far too late into the process. But while it does add some flexibility to a story, having multiple points of view is tough. The ability to write multiple points of view is definitely a developed skill. I ultimately reworked part of the book to eliminate a point of view and settled with three. Two would have required more a re-write than I have a stomach for.
4. Reading is as important as writing.
This one is fairly easy for me. I love to read. While writing my first novel I joined a few critique websites. One in a particular had a “what are you reading?” section in the forum. I was a little taken aback by two things, the first being that some people actually boasted that they didn’t like to read while writing because they were worried about being influenced by another story while writing. This is like saying you don’t wear a seatbelt because you’re worried about running off the road, into a lake, and drowning. Secondly, I was surprised at what people read. Very few seemed to read anything similar to what they were trying to write. It actually seemed to me that they just didn’t read that much at all. And to be frank, it’s reflected in many of the stories I read on critique websites. Avid readers have an advantage in critiquing and correcting their own work.
5. I have to get away from it sometimes, but not for too long.
Writer’s block is real. But I think a lot of it is just natural. Sometimes you have to step back, take a break, and come back fresh sometimes. I found that taking a day or two off was healthy. But more than four or five days left me in danger of stepping away for even longer and risked turning writers block into procrastination.
6. The second draft is much harder than I expected it to be.
I’m positive this will get better with experience, but perhaps the most surprising part of writing this book so far is how much I’m struggling with the second draft. I think I can narrow the reason down to a couple of early chapters that just don’t work with the latter part of the book. I think it’s a true creative problem that can be solved, and once solved will make the book even better. But I’m definitely struggling more than I expected.
7. Grammarly is your friend. Maybe your best friend (especially if you own one of these stupid Apple butterfly keyboards).
I write in google docs. I don’t remember life before Grammarly. I just tend to be a sloppy typist. I know how to spell. I think I do ok with grammar in general. But it catches mistakes in a far superior manner to any simple spell checker. And it’s suggestions are legit. At a minimum, the free version is a must.
8. Adverbs are not your friend in fiction. Maybe your worst enemy.
I guess I’ve known this for years. But it’s been during this first draft where it truly stood out. It’s tempting to put “very” in front a lot of words, but it just about always reads better without the abuse of adverbs.
9. The story idea didn’t really matter that much.
This is going to sound counterproductive on a site dedicated to the idea. But my plot ended up having multiple significant changes along the way. While the concept of the first chapter mattered, as there would be no foundation for a book without it, the rest of the story is far more about the growth of the characters and where they are going.
10. I write more late at night, but I write better during the day.
I’m fairly productive late at night. I think it’s because a little fatigue makes me less apprehensive about whatever I’m doing. And I’m less distracted with day job-related stress and tasks. If I’m looking to meet a word count for the day, 10:00 – 12:00 pm is my time to shine. And I think that’s perfectly fine. Even late-night lazy writing is still practice and I’ve decided that there is no bad progress. However, I’m a cleaner and more thoughtful writer during the day. Morning and daytime are my time for edits and more complicated story/writing problems. But having something already down on the page still goes a long way to making everything easier.
11 (bonus answer!). I actually love writing.
I actually wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy writing something with 100k words. It’s my third attempt and I started it as a short story. My other attempts didn’t make it past about 40,000 words. But I made it to the end of this one, and that’s because I finally had enough of a story, characters I liked, and enough previous practice, to enjoy writing. It was far more fun than the first two attempts, and I chalk that up mostly to my improved ability to write.
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