I set myself the goal of writing and completing the first draft of my novel in just 12 weeks. On May 13th, 2019 I accomplished that goal.
Over those course of those 12 weeks, I learnt many lessons. Now that this stage of my novel writing journey is over, I’ve had some time to reflect on the lessons that I learnt from completing a first draft. Today, I’d like to take this opportunity to throw my two cents into the writing wisdom well. I hope that some of these lessons will reassure others battling their way through their first draft.
Word Count Does NOT Matter
The obsession with word count needs to stop! I understand that many people are proud of how many words they have managed to get on the page — I mean, writing a first draft is difficult, so any accomplishment should be celebrated. I just wish the success of our writing day/week/month/project wasn’t so dependent on that number.
I spent too much time worrying that I wasn’t writing enough, that my story wasn’t long enough, that the scene I was writing was already longer than it needed to be, time that would have better off been spent working to make my story better.
So, if you are stressing about your word count: Stop. Your story isn’t in the digits. It’s in the words.
You Will Enjoy Writing Some Chapters Way More Than Others…And That’s Okay!
“If you’re bored writing your story, your reader will be bored reading it.”
This is a piece of writing advice that has caused me more stress than I care to admit. I mean, on the surface it makes sense, right? If you’re bored writing your story, it would only be logical to assume that what you are writing is boring as a result.
So, while I understand the premise of this statement, it’s not something I whole-heartedly agree with. Here’s why:
Have you ever re-read a book and skipped over a chapter to get to your favourite part? No?
Perhaps you have fast-forwarded to a particular scene in your favourite movie?
Just because we do this doesn’t necessarily mean we think the other parts of the book/movie are boring. Sometimes we are just too impatient to get to the really good bits.
The same thing will happen when you are writing. You know a really good part is coming up. It’s only natural to feel like some scenes are an obstacle you must overcome in order to get to writing that shocking plot twist, unexpected death or heated kiss.
It doesn’t mean what you are writing is boring. It just means that you may not feel like writing that particular scene right now…and that’s okay.
Your Character’s Will Not Always Play Ball
I lost count how many times one of my characters went somewhere I didn’t even know existed or did something I hadn’t anticipated. Each time they decided to make their own path, I had to go back to my outline and move some bits around.
It was a time consuming and infuriating process but it’s one of my favourite things about writing. When you feel your characters taking over, don’t fear. It means you’re doing something right.
Your Frist Draft Will Be S**t
I’ve read this statement everywhere. I knew it would be true. Yet I still had this sinking feeling that what I was writing was so much worse than everyone else’s. That no matter how hard I tried, I was simply lacked the talent to make this story everything I have envisioned it to be.
This fear still creeps up on me sometimes — but I’m not alone. I am not special. My writing is not spectacularly worse than every other writer’s on the planet. It would be unrealistic, and somewhat self-absorbed, to think so.
Accept that your first draft will be devastatingly rubbish and move on. You can and WILL fix everything in the edits.
A Writer Always Forgets
I’d seen some of my favourite writers talk about book/series bibles. If you don’t know what a book bible is, it’s a book or folder where you note down details about your characters, world and the events that take place in your story.
Essentially, its a big book of notes that you can refer to if you forget something like a character’s eye colour.
“How can I forget what my characters look like? That’s ridiculous. They are living and breathing within my head.” I had smugly thought to myself. Well, it turns out I was wrong. I forget a lot. Particularly the names of many background characters.
Make a book bible. It will save you many hours when writing your first draft. Many, many precious hours.