As of last Tuesday, the first draft of my novel is complete – finished, wrapped up, doneskies. I’m absolutely intoxicated from the high of “wow, I just wrote my first novel.” Even more exciting: I spent just 22 days writing it – for some reason, I decided to do a solo NaNoWriMo in July, and went a little overboard.
But alas, I’m not done (don’t you dare tell me a story is finished after one draft). Mine clocked in at just over 57,000 words. There’s some connective tissue missing, and certain parts need more description, but overall I’m pleased with how it’s turned out so far.
However, there are several major things I know need to be fixed in the second draft. Why do I know this? I don’t edit as I write. Occasionally I look up a synonym for a word or two, but otherwise, it’s stream of consciousness. Word vomit, if you will.
I know certain parts need more explaining, and others will need to connect back to previous events. I want to work in more foreshadowing, and place equal suspicion on every single person so the reader has no idea who done it.
That, and as I was writing, a lot of ideas came into my head. Like that the killer will need his own first person, creepy-as-hell segments to fill out the novel more and add more oomph (or suspense, if you prefer).
This is the first novel I’ve ever written to (relative) completion. I’m not an expert, but I can tell you that I’m going to do it again (and again, and again), and each time I do, I’m going to learn more about the process – what works and what doesn’t – and I’ll use that info every single time I start a new first draft so I can improve every single time.
But for now, here’s what I learned writing my first draft.
It Doesn’t Have to Take a Long Time
As I mentioned before, I did my very own NaNoWriMo in July. For those of you who aren’t familiar, NaNoWriMo stands for “National Novel Writing Month,” and it’s grown into an annual competition where writers attempt to write 50,000 words in a month.
This may sound daunting, but let’s break that down. If you write every day of the month, you only have to write 1,666 words every single day. But, if you’re like me and get carried away, some days you may write 3,000 or even 5,000 words – on my last day of writing my rough draft, I wrote 7,000.
If you think about it, 1,666 words isn’t all that much. If you know where your novel is going – or you’re just slapped by inspiration – you’ll get down 1,666 words in no time.
You Don’t Necessarily Have to Plan Everything Out (Unless You Want To)
There’s a lot of conflicting info on the internet. Some people say you need to plan out every aspect of your novel before you write, some say plan nothing and wing it.
What I did was something in the middle. I wrote down a basic outline of events – major points I knew I wanted to have happen – and let the rest come to me. I’m one of those people who let the story drive itself. If a character all of a sudden wants to throw a party, have them throw a party. Just make sure the party is actually leading somewhere (ie. make sure it’s important to the chain of events, not just filler).
Really, there is no “right” way to do it. If you’re a planner, plan. If you’re not, don’t. Just do what feels natural to you – you can always switch it up part way through.
Lots of Things Will Change
Kind of like what I said above, let your story guide you, not the other way around. It’s great to have a plan, but if part way through you realize that a certain character needs to die to propel the story forward, or two characters need to have a fight, make it happen.
I’m an excellent example of this, because I changed who the murderer was when I had 5,000 words to go. I realized, as I was writing, that the current murderer was just too obvious. Plus, I needed him not to be the murderer so he could help with the catching of the real murderer.
Don’t be upset when your plan changes – go with the flow. Just make sure you go back through and double check that everything makes sense!
Again, this connects with the above point. As things change, previous events and scenes may need altering to fit with the new twist your story has taken. There’s nothing worse than reading a novel and getting part way through and going “huh?”
You don’t want your readers to go “huh.” Nobody likes it when a story goes “huh.” This is another point for second drafts. If you only do a first draft, throw up your hands and say “I’m finished!” your story will have holes. Trust me. You don’t want that.
Try Stream of Consciousness Writing
This is less something I learned from writing my first draft and more something I want everyone else to try.
In the last couple of years, I’ve gotten really good at what I call “stream of consciousness” writing. Instead of editing your words or going “this doesn’t sound good” and deleting sentences, just write. Don’t change words, don’t question whether it’s “good,” don’t think of anything beyond where you’re leading the story.
Writing and editing are two separate things, and, like any sort of multi-tasking, trying to do them at the same time is going to reduce the quality of your work. Just write – edit later.
A Final Note
As I’ve mentioned before, the hardest part about writing is getting started. You hem and you haw, you think about how you’re not a good writer and you’ll never be published (a post for another time) and maybe I just shouldn’t even try.
But that’s not a good way of looking at things. I think we all have the capacity to write something great. But you’ll never know how good you can be until you start.