I wrote a novel. Holy shit! I. WROTE. A NOVEL. Or more accurately, the first draft is finished!!
And it only took me four and a half years…
I started ‘writing a novel’ back in 2008 when I first participated in NaNoWriMo.And while technically I’ve been working on the same basic idea I had for that first book, nothing is the same in the finished draft as it was when I started.The character names are different, the character who’s point of view the story is written from has changed, even the scope and focus of the story shifted.Then there are my writing skills themselves. I trashed so much writing in the past four years to start all over when I learned another skill in the writing process and realized everything I’d written was now shit.
Let me tell all the aspiring writers out there some basic truths that I discovered along the way to my first completed rough draft of a novel-length work.
Just because you read a lot doesn’t mean you’ll have an inherent talent for writing. This was a hard one for me. I thought I could just sit down and write a novel. I’ve only thought about being a writer since I was in junior high. Sure it was going to be a lot of work and sure it was going to take some time. But surely I had what it took because I’ve been reading novels since I was in elementary school. Then I found all these things that I didn’t know – point of view, tense, showing vs. telling, plot structure, character development, voice, narrative voice… The list goes on and on. And all these things have rules that work and things that you can’t do and … and … and, yeah. It took me several of those first years stumbling around all that unknown territory realizing there was far more in the “things I don’t know I don’t know” column than there was in the “things I know” one. I still remember one of my very first chapters I ever wrote where the point of view shifted between two different characters as quickly as the dialogue they exchanged. There was a whole lot to learn that I understood subconsciously as a reader but that I had no real idea how to do as a writer.
Writing is hard work. I have a full time job, I’m a wife and I’m a mom to growing girls – one with a schedule all her own to keep up with. Part of me – not the overachiever part of course – wonders if it is even possible to write for a living on top of all that I’m already doing. This past year I’ve watched my friend and writing group partner sign with a publisher and embark on what comes next in the road to publishing. She doesn’t work outside the house and she thought some days it was more than a full time job commitment to keep up with the editing she had to do. Deadlines up until now have been of my own doing and could come and go with zero consequences if I happened to miss one. What happens if I do publish a book and I don’t have the luxury of writing at my own pace. If it has demands like a job will I still love it? And would my psyche rebel if someone told me I had to do something I didn’t want to do – because that is never a good thing for me. Plus, writing is not the quick way to fame and fortune – you have to sell many many many books in order to make enough to quit your day job. Frightening!
Writing is humbling work. You put immense effort and emotion into creating characters and worlds and this story and you shed blood, sweat and tears to make it the best you can. Then people want to read it. And you want people to read it and tell you how much they love it. And sometimes they do say that. But most often you hear more about the things that don’t work or that could be improved. And even when you trust and love these critique partners that you’ve asked to tell you these things it can hurt to hear them. If you can get past the initial sting and instinct to defend your work to the death, you can learn from what others see. But getting past those things can be very, very difficult. In the four plus years I’ve been writing *this* novel I think I’ve let my writer’s group see a total of six measly chapters and not even that much of this current draft. I’m both sorry for that and not. They are my biggest supporters and I owe it to them but somewhere deep inside where I don’t go very often, I am super scared no one will like what I wrote.
Writing a book isn’t the same as publishing a book. The first thing people want to know when they hear I’ve written a novel (my daughter included) is ‘when can I buy it and read it?’. Most published authors write countless novels before they are ever picked up by a publisher. Brandon Sanderson – who is such an amazing writer that Robert Jordan’s widow picked him to finish the Wheel of Time series – wrote close to ten novels before he ever got published. (I only know this because my other friend and writing partner is his biggest fan so I might have the facts wrong…) Regardless, there are probably hundreds of unpublished writers for every one that gets a break and gets to publish a book. Then there are even fewer published authors who sell a ton of books and whose names are nationally recognized. Those are staggering odds and I know there is still no guarantee on where I go from here.
Writing a first draft isn’t the end, it’s only the beginning. I didn’t even take two nights off from writing to celebrate before I was busy with revising. Key parts of the story morphed in the middle to make the ending work which then made the beginning inconsistent with the ending. And since I have a submission deadline for my writing group to read and critique the entire thing, I have to fix it right away. After they get a crack at it, there will be edits and revisions based on what they give me feedback on. At some point I need an editor to go over it and figure out all the things none of us have seen. Then beta readers for a look with fresh eyes, more revisions. And THEN I can hopefully find an agent who likes it enough and thinks he/she could sell it through the querying process which I haven’t even wanted to look at details of because it is like having a full time job, plus a writing job PLUS a querying job until you find an agent. In the meantime, I will move on to the next idea and write another first draft and start the complete process over from the beginning. I’ve heard of published authors who are editing two books at the same time they are writing a third. Another argument in the ‘writing is hard work’ area.
While I know this is one of the more important steps – finishing a story all the way to the end – I know I am still on a journey of discovery. I’m having a blast and learning new things all the time. For today, I’m trying not to be overwhelmed by everything there is still left to do and instead taking this time to revel in the fact that I have done what I set about to do all those years ago. Or the first step of it anyway.