I should preface this post with the fact that no, I’m not yet a published author but I have learned some stuff along the way and as I rocket through the first draft of my new book, I realise what a completely different experience it is to the first. So, here we go. Here’s the things you need to stop doing right now on your first novel:
Yes, easier said than done but press that release valve, breath out all that stress and tension you’ve been holding in between your shoulder blades. Truth is, it doesn’t matter if its rubbish. It’s your rubbish, your search for the truth and even if its not clear or apparent in the first draft, you will find it later. You have to write the unsophisticated words before you find the elegant ones (and often they’re the best anyway). So breathe deep and just get on with the business of the words. You’ll get to the end a lot quicker than you thought.
It’s endless. How will your brain remember it all? Not sure of court procedure for your legal thriller or just how many tablets would trigger an overdose for your troubled heroine? Save the Google search for draft number two. When I started my first draft, well before I even wrote a word, I read copiously for weeks. How was I going to write about life during the famine in 19th century Ireland without it? I drilled it into myself that even though it was fiction (and supernatural at that), it had to be authentic – on the first draft. I hadn’t the writing confidence to just dive headlong into the murky waters. I attached myself to the research, clung to it like a lifebuoy.
What I didn’t realise was that it was actually drowning me. When I started to write, my mind became bogged down in historical accuracy and I lost the soul initially of what I was trying to say. Research feels like a very writerly thing to do and was fun to begin with, a look into the past, but it has a way of making you second guess yourself that holds you back. As a result, when it proves difficult to produce the work you want to, when fact and fiction become a tug of war, you start doubting if you should be writing a period piece at all. You ask yourself if this is just too big an undertaking and you lose confidence. Your research and your intense grip on it, starts to gnaw away at you.
Write the facts as you think they are, they can be checked later. Or leave them out altogether to be carefully inserted in the second draft when you can look at your whole story and see what it needs to be brought to life. Your first draft should be a complete fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience. Fact check later. You’ll get to the essence of what you want to say an awful lot quicker.
Before I started my first book, I not only researched my subject matter but I also researched how to write a novel in the first place. What were the secrets? How to develop your plot and of tantamount importance, create good characters. Again advice is all well and good and while some of it was useful, (such as a thinly sketched plot outline which of course did change but got me started), I also clung to the idea of writing character profiles before I put pen to paper. I felt I had to know who they were. Everything. Right then. But that’s not how we discover people in real life. You don’t get handed a character resume for each new person that enters your life. Time discovers them and you will as you go along. The notes did help to open the doors to my imagination but in the finished first draft almost three years later (yes it took that long) those people were barely recognisable from the traits I’d bestowed on them when I barely knew them.
What you realise only after you get to the end of your first draft is that you need to trust yourself more and let them off the leash. Discover them as you write. I think I was so scared of them, intimidated by the pressure of making them – good – believable – relatable, that they were stuck rigid for the first draft. When I got to the end I realised that my heroine, was a passive spectator in her own story and immediately needed to get back in there and let her loose. Let her to the surface. So let them fly. They will surprise you and that’s half the fun.
So whether you’re stuck at the 30,000 word mark or were psyched out about what you didn’t know or how long the journey is to the end, learning to care less and just write whatever comes into your head will get you there quicker. Be impulsive. You don’t need all the answers, not yet. And most of all enjoy it. It can be a hard slog but its worth it, every bit, every draft.
Good luck! Now, go write!