Writing the First Draft of My First Novel 01

In the spirit of finishing all the old stuff and not starting new stuff, I have been working on a fiction story I started and then abandoned previously. It’s a piece of contemporary urban fantasy that I started for NaNoWriMo last year and then put to the side after only a few thousand words.

I spent years thinking about and coming up with ideas for an epic fantasy, but realized that I just wasn’t ready skillwise to write it, so I decided to get back to this story tentatively titled Rattle and Thump🙂 I figured it would be short, and good for practice.

Patricia T. O'Conner on First Drafts
Patricia T. O’Conner on First Drafts

The reason for this blog post is so that I can talk to myself about what it is I’m doing. This is my first serious attempt at writing a whole novel. I’m having some trouble with it and honestly, this shit is hard. I’m about 20,000 words in and I’m shooting for about 100,000 which I can probably chop down to 80-90,000 once it’s done.

So, like I was saying, this is just me talking to myself about what’s going on with this story. I wanted to keep a record. Maybe it can also help new writers figure out how to get started with their own stuff.

First off, I’m something of a discovery writer. That means I tend to not plot and outline ahead of time. I just write and see where it goes. The downside of this is that there’s a good chance that a large chunk of what I’m writing is going to disappear when I start the next draft. That is to say, a big chunk of the discovery process is…discovering. So that’s a lot of fruitless writing. However, I also do outline a little. I just do it as I go, as things change in the story. Once I can see where I’m headed, then I can start outlining more and plotting ahead more.

To put this in perspective, when I started writing, I had a definite ending in my mind and a start. However, I had no idea how I would get from one to the other. So I just started writing. After a few thousand words, I have a bunch of new ideas, and I know the material slightly better. Now I have several little scenarios that I know must happen to bridge the gap between beginning to end. So the challenge becomes how do I get from A to B in order to eventually reach Z.

This creates a new set of issues. I don’t even fully know what’s going on yet, and my characters haven’t become human yet, that is to say, I barely know them. The fantasy elements are also a problem. I’m not sure of what type of magic system or what types of beings populate this world. I’m 20k words in and I’m still not absolutely sure if I’ll have the vampires and werewolves and shit like everybody else.

But to go back to the A to B thing. In trying to get to B. In making that attempt,  I learn a bunch of new things and the story moves much differently than I expected. Now that changes my pseudo outline and even my ending and also my beginning. I’m not sure, but I think this might be something that stops a lot of writers. Because now, the desire to go back and start over is really strong. You want to make the stuff you wrote previously match the stuff you’re writing now. However, all of the years of writing advice I ever heard tells me this one thing: Finish the rough/first draft!

That is the advice I’m following. I am going to finish this draft before I change anything at all. If I get caught up constantly going back and changing shit and rewriting things, then I’ll never finish. And I’ll also get bored with it, a problem that I am very, very prone to (hence the whole getting old stuff finished thing).

Ernest Hemingway on Writing the First Draft
Ernest Hemingway on Writing the First Draft

On a more nuts and bolts level, I’m noticing that it is very, very easy for me to fall into passive voice. I use it all the time. And as somebody that writes articles and copy for others, I realize this is the 666. But I can’t help it. That means that when I go back to do the second draft, I’m sure it’s going to be a super tedious, sentence by sentence rewrite…and that scares me.

One thing that I didn’t realize, and a lot of writing books and writing podcasts don’t talk about it, is that I’m supposed to be writing in scenes. It seems obvious, but it came to me as something of an epiphany. I always thought of chapters flowing from one to the other with each chapter technically being something of a scene. But then I realized that each chapter itself is made up of a series of scenes. I came to understand that was the missing element preventing me from seeing how to segue from one point to another. I didn’t have to write everything between A and B, I just needed to write a series of individual scenes that steer the narrative that way.

This record is my attempt to tell myself that I’m serious this time. I can’t get better unless I write and I have to finish one of these stories. Besides, I may be gone before 2012 lets out. I want to at least make an attempt at doing something I love. Let’s see how it goes and how far we can take it. Unfortunately, working on this story and thinking about it constantly has stalled my work on a bunch of other, non-related stuff…but we’ll figure it out.

If you have any questions about this process, or want me to get into more detail about something particular, feel free to leave a message here or drop me a line and I’ll answer. Maybe we can figure this craziness out together! 🙂

In the next post, I’ll add a bunch of links to people more accomplished and talented than me talking about writing first and rough drafts. I may even add some audio.

If you happen to be curious about what type of writing software I’m using for this project, check out this article I wrote about free (but good!) writing software: http://writinghood.com/writing/free-novel-and-fiction-writing-software/

8 comments

  1. Interesting, I just stumbled upon my "work in progress" that I started for the same reason, I think it was because of you I did. Occasionally I think about picking it up again too, then I pause and the overwhelming how? LOL I think you just gave me some inspiration ;-).

  2. I’ve proofread and revised a 400 pg. novel four times. A third way through book 2, I went back to it, thinking it was ready to send out and nearly went bald. Definitely will explore said writers software before I pull out all my hair! It use to be so thick and long, too. . .

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