What I learned while writing the first draft of my novel

Man.

Novels, huh? Crazy stuff. Am I right? Just full of all sorts of letters and words and chapters and sub-chapters and…appendices? Do novels have appendices?

Or do those get removed if they get too inflamed.

Bad dum tss.

But in all seriousness folks, I spent the last year writing the first draft of my novel. And after completing such a foolhardy venture, I’d thought you’d appreciate some advice – from one amateur to another.

So, here are some of the top things I learned:

  1. It takes a long time. Or at least, it took me a long time. Some authors can crank out a novel in a few months. For others, it can take a year. Or years, even. Due to career constraints, I ended up falling into that latter group. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, of course. We all go at our own paces. The most important thing is that you get stuff done. Which leads us to Number 2.
  2. Carve out time. As I alluded to above, I have a career – a career that doesn’t involve sitting around and writing novels. I work days. Full days. And sometimes, I work nights as well. Like everybody else, my schedule is limited. But that just means that it’s all the more important to carve out time to focus on writing. After a long day, I’d sit down and write for an hour. Instead of going out to the bar on Friday night, I’d go out to the coffee shop instead. Saturday and Sunday mornings? More coffee shops. More writing. And yes, in case you’re wondering…
  3. Yes. It can be a lonely life. There is a LOT of alone time built into this process. You’ll have to come to terms with that, especially if you’re an extrovert. That’s why I’d travel all the way to a coffee shop to write. Sometimes, being around other people just made me feel less lonely.
  4. Most of what I did wasn’t even writing. Or at least, not writing in the traditional sense. I didn’t just sit down on day one and crank out a novel. There were a lot of steps beforehand. Steps like…
  5. Research. Research. Research. Without giving too much away, my novel focuses on memory. What memories are. How memories are formed. How they can be changed. Now, in case you haven’t been able to deduce this through my writing, I’m not necessarily a brain surgeon. I don’t have a background in biology or chemistry or…memory-ology? Which meant that I had to do a lot of extensive research in order to know what the hell it was that I’d be writing about. Lots of research. Reading articles. Taking notes. Otherwise, there’d simply be no foundation for my story.
  6. …and some more research. I also did research on the backgrounds of my characters. I had a general idea of who they were and what they’ve faced in their pasts, but I wanted to ground that in a sense of reality to make them seem more real. So, I looked up accounts of people who have had similar life experiences as them. I familiarized myself with their jobs and how they operated. I also researched their settings as well – once again, all to ground things in reality.
  7. Seriously. I did a shit ton of research. This whole research process? This lasted at least five months, easily. But after that, I was able to jump straight into writing my novel..right? Nope. Because…
  8. Outlines and diagrams. Diagrams and outlines. To get a better feeling of the story I wanted to tell, I did a diagram of my novel’s plot. I mapped out my characters, what their problems were, where they were going, and what they encountered. And once I completed a map of that, I did it again on a chapter by chapter basis. And then once I finished that, I actually wrote a short outline of each chapter. This whole drafting process took me at least another four months. But then I was finally able to write.
  9. Keep on jabbing your way through that big block of writing ice. The steps I took before the actual writing process helped a lot, but don’t be fooled – it still wasn’t a  walk in the park. It takes a lot of boxing practice to get through it all. Seriously. Imagine that your novel is frozen in a block of ice, and all you’re armed with to save it are your firsts. So you just keep on jabbing away at that block. It’s going to take a long time, sure, and it’s going to hurt at some points. But you have to jab away, anyways. Jab, jab, jab, and you’ll eventually get to the end of it. And once you do, you’ll see that…
  10. The first draft is going to suck. I know that sounds cliche, but it’s the truth. The first draft is going to suck, but that’s because the first draft is supposed to suck. The first draft is just you getting all your ideas out there into one big ugly misshapen clump of clay. So go on. Get it all out. Experiment. Switch tenses around. Change character names if you have to. Throw some curveballs. Don’t worry about it. Just get it all out. You’ll be able to sculpt it into something more coherent during the next step.

So that’s basically it. I’ll be following the advice of some other writers by taking a step away from my draft for a few months, in order to grow a little bit more unfamiliar with and detached from it. And then the editing process will begin.

In the meantime, I’ll switch back to some short story writing. And hopefully, I’ll be able to update this blog more often!

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