My First Novel: 7 Things I Wish I’d Known03/12/2019
I was happy writing poetry, but I had an epiphany in late 2016 and started writing my first novel. My work life stopped for Christmas, and I used my break between Boxing Day and the New Year to pen my first draft. Within the few days, I’d wrote a few thousand words and began piecing together what today has only become a near-complete manuscript.
To begin, I wrote many characters point of views and told the story from numerous perspectives. However, this stole a lot of suspense and included a lot of words which now equate to two chapters in the novels current form. Now, my book has one perspective, the protagonist who narrates the stories of the characters around him and how they fit into the main story; his story.
Many writers vilify the laborious task of writing a full-length novel. I understand why. It’s hard, and sometimes near on impossible to put the words onto the page. For a new writer, I found it difficult to continue when I read over last nights works. These reviews lead me to rewrite my first chapter before I had a chance to figure out the rest of the stories. Eventually, I learned to write the story and worry about editing afterwards.
Delaying the editing process until I’d finished a draft was one of the first lessons I’d learned and one I’m grateful to have learned from the beginning. Otherwise, I may never have had made it past chapter one. That said, there are numerous mistakes I made along the way, and many lessons I didn’t learn until it was too late. I was already committed. Nevertheless, writing my novel is one of my proudest memories, whether it gets published or not. I loved the process.
#1 First Draft Is the First of Many
Once I overcame the urge to rewrite my first chapter a thousand times, I began working on the next thirty or so and outlining my novel. I let my mistakes go and wrote with curiosity. If I struggled to describe a scene, I used basic language. I told more than was shown. All to finish the first draft. In time I could go back and edit these terrible scenes, and paint over pale language. The race was on, I needed to finish the book. My target; 80,000 words.
I told my friend I’d started writing a novel. He said I’d never finish it. He wasn’t trying to shoot my dreams down and explained that I quit everything I started. I had commitment issues. It was disheartening to hear my best friend doubt me like this, but it worked. The fact I’m still working on it, over two years later shows how wrong he was. But his words spurred me.
As soon as I entered the last full stop, I messaged him. I boasted about how wrong he was, and he congratulated me. He was proud to admit defeat. However, we laughed as we discussed my next steps. The painstaking task of working my terrible rushed first draft into a coherent piece of work that could maybe change the world (yes, we both believed it back then.)
#2 The Need to Edit Consumes Everything
My previous writing style included writing the first thought that sprung to mind and making the next line rhyme. I went from an aspiring rapper to a clueless poet with a passion for rhyme schemes. I only paid attention to the flow, rhythm, and rhyme scheme. I never classed the editing of it as editing. Instead, I referred to it as tightening the line. Now, I was undertaking a task I’d never imagined before, and editing was about to take over my life.
My grammar sucked. It never seemed relevant in a poem. My excuse was a little thing called a poetic license, but writing a novel needed a new set of rules. It needed a good reading score. I couldn’t just break the laws of the English Language. I needed to revise and understand the basic grammatical principals of a language I thought I knew.
Grammarly helped me a lot. The paid version even offered me a greater range of options to sure up my writing. However, I found myself trying to remove every error the algorithm picked up, which proved impossible while writing a fictional work. However, what I learned through editing was addictive, and I started rewriting and editing everything, including my poetry.
My novel became a different story rewrite after rewrite, and with every attempt at editing, I found another reason to rewrite my manuscript. No matter how many times I edit it to perfection, with every reread I’ll find something in need of correction. Eurgh.
#3 Nobody Gives A Shit About Your Writing, Not Really
At first, people will be in awe of your undertaking. It’s something most people want to do or wish they knew how to do, but eventually, they’ll forget to feign their impressed gazes. While you reside in the fictional world of your characters and their problems. Your friends and family are invested in you and their lives which are filled with very real issues and more important duties than finishing that troubling scene.
Friends won’t understand why you can’t make it to the pub because you’ve got a fictional speech to write, because you’ve always got something to write, and no matter how much you write, you never seem to get anywhere. They’re still supporting you, but sometimes life gets between you and your and story. Eventually, their support turns to humour as they forget that it isn’t as easy as it seems. A lesson you only learned by beginning your journey. But they never started, so to them, you should be finished by now.
#4 Finishing the First Novel Isn’t the End
The hardest part of writing is finishing the manuscript, right? Wrong. I wish someone would have told me early on that writing is easier compared to what comes next. I had fun acting out scenes in my head and developing my characters. The enjoyment consumed me and tore me from my life. I became addicted and woke up eager to write. When I wasn’t writing, I thought about it until it was time to work on my novel again.
Then, reality struck. I’d finished telling my story, but the journey hadn’t come to an end. I’d have to take the 80,000 words I’d spent over a year writing and perfecting and squeeze it down into a mere thousand words or less while making it sound enticing. I’d have to write a cover letter and send it off to a hundred different literary agencies and receive no response or worse, an email that I wasn’t ready for, even though I’d expected it the moment I hit send.
I spent a lot of time trying to perfect my first ten thousand words. Then, realising how much work I’d done, I decided to rewrite the novel again. I’m settled on my current story, but as I prepare to reread again, I know I’ll find something new that needs fixing. Then, it’s another agonising search for a literary agent again. Although this time, I think I finally have a half-decent 500-word synopsis ready. Although I probably haven’t.
#5 Rejection Hurts, No Matter How Braced for The for Fall You Are
One of the first pieces of advice I’d read when I began, informed that rejection was inevitable. I remembered reading about the number of times JK Rowling was rejected before going on to release one of the most successful series of all times. Every author has a story of rejection. So much so, it’s touted as standard, and if you’re going to start writing a novel, you need to come to terms with rejection. It’s a part of writing.
The first time I sent off my manuscript, I’d expected it to end in failure, but I expected to become the exception that proves the rule. I thought it was all overexaggerated in the way most things on the internet have become. A good story is a good story regardless who reads it, but that’s not the case. My first proposal found itself ignored. As did the next few attempts. In response, I did what I’ve always done. I rewrote my last draft.
The problem is, Literary agents aren’t looking for the next best writer or even the best story. They’re looking at a load of different factors. They want to know what market they can sell the book, which one of their contacts may find the book interesting, or if the author is someone they’d like to work with. I spent much of my time trying to write a great story. It was rejected. Now, I’m trying not to let my hard work go to waste.
#6 Rules Were Meant to Be Broken
The road to hell is paved with adverbs, apparently. That’s a piece of Stephan Kings writing advice. Words that end in -ly usually modify verbs, adjectives or nouns. I agree with this advice in principle, but I also believe they’re necessary at times. Adverbs can litter writing and weaken it, most notably, if writers use it to avoid stronger, more colourful descriptive prose.
King also notes that it often asks for more words than necessary when using an adverb. For example, ‘I’m here’ he said loudly, vs ‘I’m here,’ he yelled, shouted, exclaimed, screamed, cried, or bellowed, depending on the emotion you’d like to capture. But that’s another rule, never use two words when one will do.
Note, however, that the original King quote is in the passive voice. It hasn’t stopped the quote from spreading like wildfire around the internet and writers’ group. But it has pushed a common misconception that adverbs are an evil in need of elimination. The truth is, sometimes, rules are best left to those not trying to achieve anything remarkable. How can art conform without starting to appear the same? Everything evolves.
#7 I Might Never Stop – The Writer’s Loops
Everything revolves. It’s the writer’s circle of life. You discover a great idea and race to some form of writing implement. A pen and pad if you’re a traditionalist, and a laptop if you’re anybody else. You write it down and leave it to marinate as you sleep, work or enjoy non-writing related activities with pride because you’ve written something amazing.
Then, you sit down to edit the piece and wonder what on earth you were thinking to have written such drivel. But you’re a writer. You don’t quit. You rewrite, and rewrite, and rework and shape the document into a coherent piece of work until you’re ready for a final edit. But something isn’t right. Something’s missing, or out of place. There’s only one thing you can do, at least I haven’t found a way forward yet. The monotonous writer’s loop revolves without an end. And rewrite.
To this day, I can’t break from the cycle. I believe this will be my final edit, that I’m happy with the story, but I’ll read another book or finding inspiration somewhere. Or, I’ll simply succumb to insecurity. Although I’ll refuse to quit. I’ll keep rewriting, even if it means never seeing my book in print. I’m enjoying myself.
That’s it. There’s probably a few more lessons that I forgot too mention, but they’re some of the main points. I’m sure I’ll remember a few others as I hit publish, but by then it’ll be too late. But I’ll always need content for another post, so maybe I’ll write part two. But enough about me. Is there anything you wish you’d known before you started? Let me know with a comment.
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