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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- BONUS: No matter where you are in the process and how long it takes to get there, be proud of yourself. You should be.