How I Wrote a Novel: Part 2 – First Draft

Despite the fact that drafting was the most time-consuming part of writing my first novel, it’s the part I have the least commentary on.

Mainly, I emphasize the importance of learning by trial and error. There were things that I did/didn’t do despite all the advice I read to the contrary, but I wouldn’t trade the experience of learning these things for myself.

It doesn’t really matter how your writing gets done, as long as you don’t let trying to be perfect, or even particularly competent, get in your way.

Here are the most important lessons I learned from my first draft.

Don’t edit as you go.

I found editing as I went, which I tried to keep to a minimum but did anyway, was distracting and made editing later on more difficult. As I’m writing the first draft of my second book, I fix glaring spelling/punctuation errors or go back in the draft to remember facts I had established, but I don’t read what I’ve written with the intent of editing it, and that helps. Editing is a mindset separate from writing, as long as I don’t allow myself to switch into that mindset, I’m good.

Disclaimer: I have heard of successful published authors who edit as they write. It doesn’t hurt to try it if it appeals to you.

Get it done.

In the amount of time it took me to finish Dark House, including the whole process, drafting and editing, I got too attached to it. I was terrified to release it because I couldn’t bear the thought of something I had worked on for so long failing (at this point, I don’t care. Moving on to the next project does wonders for sentimentality). The extra time I spent not working on it didn’t make it better.

The number one key to getting your draft done is to not be precious about writing. You know, writing without inspiration and all that.

I tried to make my first draft as good as I possibly could, but I learned that my best writing didn’t happen when I was trying to do my best, it snuck up on me in bits and pieces when I just focused on getting as much writing done as possible. In this case, quantity leads to quality.

Having a routine is also great, but I can’t speak to that because I had nothing resembling a routine in the process of writing this book.

Just use Word (or any ONE word processor of your choice).

I used four different word processing programs in the course of writing Dark House, which caused unnecessary problems in editing and formatting. In the end, I discovered Word was the best for me.

I bought Scrivener because I thought it seemed cool and would make my novel easier to organize. I then proceeded to use next to none of the cool features.

I mostly used Google Docs, which was not the best choice because it does not match Word in spelling and grammar correction or options for formatting.

I also used a writing app which caused a straight vs. curved quotation mark crisis in the late stages of editing. I started using this app as a easy way to write when I was away from my desktop computer. Not worth it. I would have been better off handwriting.

The final version of my book ended up in Word, and I would have saved myself a lot of heartache if I had kept the drafts there.

Final thoughts:

For most of the process I didn’t have a writing routine or word count goals. The book was always nagging at the back of my mind and I wrote whenever I could bring myself to. It took me approximately three years to complete my novel from start to finish. I can’t really estimate how long it took me to complete my first draft, specifically.

For the final installment in this series, I’ll be talking about editing and self-publishing. It’s a cautionary tale – lol.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash