I Finished My First Draft!
After nearly 17 years of lost manuscripts, and another full year of dedicated writing, I can finally say that I have a finished first draft of my novel! I ended at 97,363 words, and typing “The End” left my body literally shaking! I had no idea the weight that would lift off my shoulders when I got to the end of the draft! (For now, I’m pretending I don’t see the weight of editing from the corner of my eye!)
So What Did I Learn?
1. My first draft journey took me almost 18 years, and it started in my childhood, so I’ve grown a lot. My understanding of the craft has evolved, and I finally found a community of people who chose to self publish and are willing to share their experiences. When I first started writing, I knew I wanted to self publish but there was no online writing community for self published authors. None so obvious anyway. Social media opened up a lot of doors to people who wanted to go the Indie route, and now it’s so much easier to find resources and helpful information.
2. Having writer friends goes a long way to keeping one’s morale high. I had a decent idea of how to outline and write a book, but staying on task is a lot harder when you don’t have enough support. People to talk to when you feel stuck or need advice. That’s not to say that I don’t/didn’t have supportive people in my life, but it’s still difficult when non-writer friends can’t help, don’t understand the writing process, or get impatient when you can’t hang out due to the amount of work that goes into publishing a book. Finding a good community of like-minded people is important in keeping you moving forward.
3. Procrastination is super easy when you focus on how hard the job is rather than your motivation to write in the first place. You have to know WHY you’re doing it if you want to keep going during the rough times. Whatever that reason is, it has to be important enough to be worth picking yourself up over and over again when you feel like you’re never going to get the thing finished. There are going to be days when you don’t FEEL like writing, so remembering the bigger picture helps you stay on track.
4. Quiet is a necessity for me to focus. I mean, I can listen to familiar music or movies, but I need to avoid new noises to get things done. It’s hard to give my book my full focus when I’m trying to determine if that crashing noise is an emergency or if the cats just ran into a wall while chasing each other. And I can’t put a new movie on in the background because I’ll be too interested in the plot. That means I write when I’m home alone, or at night after everyone has gone to sleep, and I only choose background noise I can ignore. If I’m on a deadline, and have to write through the household sounds, I use noise cancelling headphones to block out as much as possible.
5. Getting the words down is (usually) more important than finding the “right” words. The saying “a crappy first draft is better than no draft” is so true. I discovered that fast drafting through writing sprints is an exceptionally effective way to make progress. I set a timer, usually for something between 5 and 20 minutes, and try to write as many words as possible. If I get stuck trying to describe something, I use brackets with a basic summary of what I’m trying to convey inside and then I move on. I can always come back to it later.
6. Finally, I wish that I’d believed in myself more right from the beginning. I always knew I was meant to be a writer, but I let outside voices and problems overshadow what I knew about myself. I should have believed in me. My experiences over the last year have helped me grow in confidence and have faith in myself. The amount of knowledge that I now have, and the number of skills I’ve worked to develop, would not have been possible if I’d given up. Now, I look back and wonder how much further along I would be had I trusted myself more.
What Will I Do Differently Next Time?
1. The first thing is to avoid imposter syndrome by reminding myself that I’ve finished a full first draft at nearly 100k words and 2/3 of a different draft at 50k words, winning two NaNoWriMo events in the process, all in the space of a year. I can handle writing a lot of words. The next time that I feel a project is too big, I’ll be able to tell myself that if I can write 50k words in a month, I can finish another first draft.
2. Keep going! Aside from illness or emergencies, I need to stick to my scheduled writing time. Even if I don’t feel like it.
3. Do as much research as is reasonably possible before writing! I can’t tell you how many times I had to put something in brackets because I realized I needed to go look up statistics or learn something new. Part of it comes with the territory, but I know I could have prevented several detours if I’d been better prepared.
For now, I’m happy to be able to take a step back from writing, and not feel guilty about it, but I know I’ll be glad to dive back in with edits once I’ve done my read-through in a couple of weeks. Hopefully, with fresh eyes, I’ll come out of Draft #2 with something readable to pass on to beta readers.