Wow. It feels really weird to write that. It feels weird, because "Write a novel" has been one of my New Year's Resolutions every single year since I was about 13. And 2018 is the year that I can finally cross it off my list. That's a really, really good feeling.
|Messy hair, bad lighting, but a very happy writer!|
1. I'm a slow writer, and that's okay. This draft took me two and a half years to write. That's a long time, and not exactly ideal, especially since published authors usually produce work on much tighter deadlines and I want to be one of those someday. What you don't see in those two and half years are the looong stretches between writing sessions. The waffling. The dragging of feet. The distraction. To give you a sense of my pace, I reached the "halfway point" (40,000 words) on January 15th of this year. It took me 9 months to write what some people write every November. I don't say this to disparage myself, but to remind myself that even the slowest writers can still finish. I would love to write faster. I think, with more discipline and less procrastination, I can write faster. But I will never be one of those people who writes several thousand words a day. I will never "win" Nanowrimo, because a prolonged effort of 1,600 words a day just isn't doable for me. What writing this book taught me was how to work within my own sporadic productivity, and that writing at my own pace, especially for a first attempt, is perfectly okay. So if you're feeling overwhelmed by Nano this month, just remember that every writer writes differently - and if we didn't, what a boring world it would be.
2. Planning is Key. I said in my "halfway point" blog post that I thought I'd found my ideal planning method. Well, let's just say, it wasn't enough. I wrote this book with a loose outline that was really just a list of scenes I thought should be in the book somewhere. That's a good start, but it was not nearly enough momentum to keep the story moving forward. It wasn't so much the dreaded middle that tripped me up, but the last third. I'd left most of my ending scenes blank, thinking that I would figure it out as I went along. Bad idea. It's really hard to write the somewhat compelling, halfway-decent ending you're hoping for in your first draft, when you realize the whole book has been building up to....something?? That's a lot of pressure and a lot of stuff to figure out at the last minute. For my next novel I'm planning to do way more outlining. My characters need clearer motivations. They need the escalation of problems. They need (or rather, I need) an end in sight.
3. Reading More = Writing More. Let it be known, this doesn't always work, but when it does, it works wonders! If I'm reading a good book, I'm almost always more likely to want to write. Sometimes I find myself picking up a book, reading a couple pages, and then immediately feeling the urge to write. (Or, well, think about writing and then work up the motivation to actually open the document. I'm being real here, guys.) I always tend to write more when I am actively reading something, especially if I'm enjoying it. When the delicate ecosystem of inspiration and creative output is in balance, the writing feels almost effortless.
4. Commit, commit, commit. Honestly, most of what got me though this process was commitment. Commitment to telling this particular story. Commitment to seeing this draft through to completion. On a smaller scale, commitment to getting to the next word count milestone, whatever that might be. Writing a novel is an endurance sport for your brain, so it's vital that you have little markers along the way. I'd always write more on the days when I could see the next milestone ahead of me, just out of reach. I'd sit down with the specific intention of finally hitting 10K or 20K or 30K and I'd actually follow though. I was at 78,000 words last Sunday when I decided that that I was going to finish this thing no matter what. I ended up writing 6,000 more words (the most I've written in one day, ever), just so I could type "The End." But this doesn't just apply to the final stretch. There were plenty of times when I could have stopped for the day at 9,000 or 59,000 or whatever, but I wanted to make it the next 10K milestone, so I pushed through the resistance. I wrote 2,000 words on an airplane once just so the person next to me would ask me if I was writing a novel! (They did, by the way.) (Is that embarrassing to admit? I don't know.) Getting through a first draft is not just about committing to the whole, gargantuan undertaking. It's also about finding those smaller moments where you can commit to just getting to the next level, and then pushing through the resistance to get there.
5. Trust the process, and trust yourself. There's not a writer on the planet who doesn't feel self-doubt. There were times when I felt like everything I was writing was crap. Sometimes a whole month would slip by, and I hadn't written a word. It was in these moments that I'd feel bad about myself and my work, and it felt impossible to face another blank page. "Trust the process" is not new advice, but it's so important. The more you write, the easier it gets. I slowed down considerably towards the end of my draft, partly because I was still clutching at vague ideas for my ending, but also because my self doubt kicked into high gear. I thought that if I couldn't do the novel justice in the last section, all that hard work would have been somehow wasted on a story with a disappointing ending. I inched forward at a snails pace, until finally, I decided to just go all in, and trust that things would work out. I figured out the ending as I went, and it was such an adrenaline rush, writing those last few thousand words. So when you're feeling full of self doubt, remember that the only way to get through the fog is to keep writing, because every word you write is proof that you are worthy of the task. That's you trusting the process. When it feels like the story is rebelling, and you don't know if you can fix the problems you've created for yourself, you have to trust that future you will know how to fix them. That's you trusting yourself.
Writing is the process of muddying a perfectly crisp blank page, and then working to turn the smear into something beautiful. It will never be as perfect as the original clean slate, but who wants it to be? Writing this draft taught me that perfection isn't the goal: completion is.
So. There you have it. I hope this little list was helpful to those of you trying to get through a first draft. It's hard, y'all. But it's doable. This book still needs a ton of work (I predict a full re-write and a lot more research), but I'm proud of myself for doing the work. Now, whenever I feel the self doubt monster creeping in I can tell myself: I've done it once. I can do it again.
I've done it once. And I will do it again.