Ok, I just finished writing the first draft of my first ever novel.
Did I learn anything in the process? Plenty. So, I thought I would share some of the more salient points of my experience with you. My first draft totaled approximately 150,000 words, about twice as long as I originally had planned to write. However, as I started writing the story, I realized it was becoming more complex by the day. My original high-level outline called for about 60-70 scenes. The final draft had 105 scenes, not including the epilogue.
I tend to be a bit wordy but I found that my writing tightened up as I went along. Scenes that went on for 3000+ words in the beginning, I could now write in only 1500-2000 words. I think when you are banging out scene after scene, like I was near the end, there is a fatigue element that is somewhat helpful in that a reader can also experience fatigue in reading a writer’s work. This becomes even more apparent during the editing stage when I read through my work end-to-end for the first time and you get a better sense of pacing within your novel.
I started at the beginning thinking I was going to be a strict outliner, but ended up discovering I was more of a “pantser” that I first imagined. Now, I was partially saved by the fact my novel is mainly character driven so that intricate plotting was less of a necessity than if I was writing a hyper-intense thriller. I discovered, at least for this novel, that I prefer using writing beats versus having a whole slew of scenes mapped out in detail. I would often tackle a scene with a vague notion of what I was trying to achieve in it then would let my inspiration guide me through the scene. Sometimes, I would get stuck and writing a scene took me longer than I originally planned, but I didn’t like moving onto the next scene until I had satisfactorily completed the current one. Of course, “satisfactorily” is a subjective term, but as I loathe the thought of major re-writes, I generally wanted to at least nail the tone and basic content of the scene as I envisioned it in my brain. If I could do 75% to 80% of the work, I could finish the remainder during the editing stage.
I wrote my scenes in order. I think it would be difficult for me to write certain scenes out of order, although there were numerous scenes I had in my head that I knew I wouldn’t write for awhile and that were seared into my brain, dying to come out onto the page. When I finally did get to writing them, it was a great relief to me to remove these contents from my brain and place them onto a page.
I tackled my novel by dividing it into four parts. Essentially, I used a high level plan where I employed a three act structure. In this three act structure, Act 2 can often be divided into Act 2a and Act 2b. Both serve the overall goals of what an Act 2 should serve (it’s the real meat of a story), but in my mind, each half presents different challenges that the main characters must face. Of course, Act 1 sets up the story and the problems needing solving, and Act 3 provides the final challenges and resolutions. By dividing the novel into four parts, I found it less daunting to write. I would start writing each section and then plan it out in more detail as I went along. Usually once I was half way done the section, I could map out the rest of it in my head. Sometimes, I would play around with it on paper just to make sure the section didn’t go off the rails.
My novel was highly theme driven also. I planned out the basic themes before even starting the novel. As my writing continued, I would revisit my notes to make sure my draft was following along with these themes and potentially addressing any new themes that may have popped into my head.
I often found that my subconscious brain did a lot of the heavy lifting for me. Many times, I dreaded a certain upcoming scene because I had no clue what was going to happen in it but I knew it was critical to the overall development of the novel. Often time, I would be thinking four to five scenes ahead of me and by the time I reached the scene I had previous dreaded, my subconscious had figured out what needed to happen in the scene, thus making writing it much easier than I expected. One of the neat byproducts of this was sometimes I would write about some quirky thing in one section of the novel, not understanding what it really meant, only to later have it make complete sense to me as I wrote a later scene.
Music also played a major role in the creation of this novel. I often found certain songs would serve as a muse for me in my writing. Depending on the song, I could visualize clearly in my head how certain scenes would play out. I could feel the emotions of the characters involved. I used this process to capture exactly what I saw and felt onto the page as best as I could.
Writing a novel was a dream of mine since childhood. Unfortunately, I spent a good portion of my life doing nothing to advance my writing skills, other than reading, of course. Despite the fact I had purchased books on writing novels, how to structure them, how to promote them, etc, I had committed next to no time investing in developing my actual writing skills. Luckily, I had a few inspirational persons along the way who encouraged me to write. I figured, if even one other person is interested in me writing a story, then there are perhaps others. Maybe even a dozen or so. 😉
I am busy editing now, which will comprise a future post. Suffice it to say, regardless of what happens with this book, I am happy to have plowed ahead with this process and am the better person for it.