10 Things I Learned Writing My First Draft

I think the hardest part of writing a novel is the middle part, where you don’t remember why you started and can’t imagine how you’re going to finish. – Sarah Rees Brennan

I don’t like referring to my first draft as my First Draft. I prefer Rough Draft like when you rough out a shape in a painting that you hope to fashion into a tree or a building or a face. A bit of shading, a line or two, maybe a single colour – red or blue or green. That’s where I’m at with my novel manuscript. Cluster. Even the title is a placeholder. And the middle? It’s rough alright.

I still can’t believe I finished the first draft of my manuscript. This is the furthest I’ve ever gone with a piece of long writing and I have to admit, I’m feeling pretty proud of myself for getting this far. Usually, I would have given up by now. So I thought I’d take the time to go over some of the things I’ve learned through this process – some things I already knew without knowing, some things that came as surprises, good and bad.

  1. After the initial heat cools off from the first writing sessions, writing is damned hard. There will be days when it seems easy again. Don’t be fooled.
  2. Keep going no matter what. You may feel like you’re walking on mush, slipping and sliding on what used to be solid ground until you were too far along to turn back. Keep going. Run if you have to.
  3. Don’t miss days. Write every day if you can, by a set schedule if you can’t. Whenever I miss a day, I inevitably miss another and another and another… Too many days away from the story and I start to forget – if not the story, then the feeling of the story. It’s hard to get the feeling back.
  4. If you do miss days, don’t quit altogether. So you didn’t make your daily word count yesterday. That was yesterday. I’m a perfectionist. If I miss a day in my diary or flub the dates in my agenda or make a mistake in my notebook, I want to throw the whole thing out and get a new one (which is why Discbound notebooks are saving my skin)
  5. Word count goals are merely something to shoot for. In your daily writing and in your manuscript word count, write the number of words you need to write to get the story told. If the story is told in fewer words, don’t add filler. It will only make editing a nightmare.
  6. Starting with some kind of outline is easier than starting with none. With an outline, I have an inkling of where I’m headed next. Since I started paying more attention to my prep work, I’ve had less of an issue with writer’s block.
  7. Outlines are made to be broken. Go where the story takes you even if it’s into the mush (see number 2). Outlines are not scripture. Rewrite it as many times as you need to. Yes. Outlines also have drafts.
  8. Somewhere in the middle, your story will become a many tentacled beast. There will be multiple story lines and alternate versions. POV and tense will flip and flop all over the place. This is normal. This is ok.
  9. The first draft (the Rough Draft) doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t have to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Scenes may be working against each other. Characters may sprout out of nowhere or disappear after the first chapter. That weird dream you had the other night? That was a Rough Draft.
  10. That said, try to get as close to a beginning, middle and end as you can so that you have less work later, both in your scenes and in your story as a whole. This is something I’m learning right now, the hard way, as I begin my first edits.
  11. BONUS: No matter where you are in the process and how long it takes to get there, be proud of yourself. You should be.

85k90 – Day 3

I’m starting to get into the swing of the story. It could be because I am entering a new scene that I’m writing to replace a scene from my previous draft. I love the exhilaration of writing something for the first time. Maybe I’ll finally get it right.

I don’t have a fear of blank pages. A blank page holds the universe. I could go in any direction and it would be the right direction. The further I go, the choices narrow until there’s only one way and it leads to nowhere.

I hate that.

I have so many lovely little notebooks that I’ve bought over the years, each with just a page or two filled in, sullied, tossed aside. Every once in a while I find one and read the first page:

December 15, 2015

I wish that I was simple so I would like simple things.

85k90 – Day 2

Reached my goal today through sleepy eyes. It’s so hard to stay awake in winter. I want to hibernate.

My favorite bit of writing today includes a husband observing his wife:

You’d never know that she was fifty. Never in a million years. Forty, tops. She’s wearing a blouse made of see through fabric that billows when the wind catches it, clings to her body, puffs out like a cloud and sucks into her again. Underneath the blouse is a lacy bra, the pink one with the matching panties. His eyes drop instinctively to her lap but she’s wearing pants. He’s glad he picked up the wine.

A Year With 85k90

2017 marked the third year I participated in NaNoWriMo which, for those who don’t know, is an international event encouraging writers to complete a 50,000 draft in just 30 days during the month of November. With many thousands of participants, it’s kind of a big deal.

I’ve managed to “win” all three years but, guess what? I still don’t have a completed manuscript. Why is that?

Well, for one thing, 50,000 words isn’t considered novel length. I found that I could accomplish little more than an outline and a few fleshed out scenes but nothing substantial. I simply needed more space.

Why didn’t I just carry on until I finished the thing, you ask? I’ve asked myself the same question every December for that past three years but the truth is, I need the structure of a program or I end up getting sucked back into day to day responsibilities and Netflix binges. I’ve given up thinking of this as a failing, something that I need to overcome. Instead, I am going to work with it and find structures that support my efforts.

I can’t afford more schooling and online workshops are too short and assignment focused to get the job done.

Enter 85k90. I can’t remember how I ran into this cryptic code but I do remember there was a link and I followed it, read the about page and immediately signed up.

The 85K Writing Challenge began as a small Facebook group, running our first 85K during the first 90 days of 2016. Our goal was simple. Write 85,000 words in 90 days – January through March.

Three whole months to write a story the size of an adult novel means no ridiculous cramming sessions, time to think about what I’m writing, research, change direction, but it’s so much more than that. 85k90 is a year long adventure, with a goal of going from first draft to published by the year’s end.

This is exactly what I need. Hold my hand, 85k90. I’m not proud.

I know, I know. Just because you wrote it, doesn’t mean the publishers will come. But, at least, now I have a structure to follow which will, hopefully, set me on a challenging, sustainable path to finishing what I started.

Yesterday was Day One of my adventure and I did little more than cut and paste the first scene from my NaNoWriMo draft into a new Scrivener document and fill out a little more detail and a bit of a flashback. But, it’s a 3,015 word beginning.

I’ve decided to blog about this experience here on bonybits and let my readers, if any, learn from my experience. Previously, I’ve been using this site as a repository for odd bits of text gleaned from years of secret notes and journal entries and, to be honest, I’ve been adrift.

Now that I have a goal and a structure, I’m sure things will pick up.