Five Things I Learned Writing My First Draft

Five Things I Learned

Photo courtesy of Death to Stock


If you’ve ever read Chuck Wendig’s blog Terrible Minds, you’ve probably seen his “Five Things I Learned while Writing…” series, where different authors list five things they learned while writing/ publishing their latest book. (If you haven’t read any, this is one of my favorites.)


I love those posts, and while my novel is nowhere near publication, I did finish the first draft, which is a HUGE deal considering how many novel fragments I have scattered in old notebooks. So I thought I’d write about the five things I learned writing my first draft:


    1) Writing a novel takes a lot of guts.


Not literal guts, obviously (unless you write horror). But it takes a lot of chutzpah to sit down and write a story one tiny piece at a time. I’m lucky to have a really supportive husband and a job that lets me write during my lunch break, but it can be so so easy to listen to the voice in your head that tells you folding laundry is a much better use of your time than writing. Anyone who’s seen my slightly-wrinkled clothes knows that I’ve been practicing politely ignoring that voice, and while I’m not always great about it, I am getting better! (It helps that folding laundry is my least favorite chore.)   


    2) You WILL be bored to tears while you’re writing — take that as a cue to shake things up.


Writing a novel takes a loooong time, so it’s really easy to get bored, especially if the plot isn’t deviating much from the outline. To avoid the bored, “I’ve already DONE this” feelings, I would try to do something totally unexpected, to keep myself from getting bored. It actually made my story a lot more exciting, so I’m interested to see how those elements fit the story when I read through it again.


    3) Do the “elephant” trick AND keep a list of things you’ll probably change during revisions.


I first heard about the elephant trick from Ashley’s blog post about research, and it has been a total lifesaver! The idea is, if you can’t think of the right word or need to do more research, you type “elephant” right in the middle of your manuscript. Then when you’re doing revisions, you can just hit “Control F” and find all of those problem areas instantly — without having to comb through your manuscript 5 times. I also kept a list of longer notes, and I have a feeling I’ll thank myself later during the revision process.


    4) Don’t focus too much on the numbers. (AKA, don’t compare your progress to someone else’s.)


Having a daily word count goal is awesome, but focusing on it too much really messed with my head sometimes. I’d catch myself feeling unmotivated after reaching a goal and having to start on the next 10 or 20,000 words, or feeling bad when a writer friend wrote more on a bad writing day than I do on a great day. Eventually I realized that everyone has their own process and their own pace, so comparing mine to someone else wasn’t doing me any favors.


Also, Teddy teased me for being disappointed that my final word count was 72,000 words instead of 80,000 — which was totally fair, because that’s ridiculous! Stressing about the total word count during the first draft is not going to make writing any easier.


    5) Don’t forget to maintain outside interests and REST… and no, novel planning doesn’t count.


So I’m just gonna go ahead and say that I was pretty terrible at this. A lot of the time when I was “resting” I was actually novel planning or watching Cupcake Wars reruns. Both are really fun, but they’re not necessarily very restful (for me), so sometimes I’d feel drained because I wasn’t giving myself a break. So this week I’m focusing on refilling my creative well. (that’s a thing, right?)


My five things don’t really include any grammar rules or writing mechanics, but I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is to find the process that works for me, and keep doing it. There are about a million and five people out there telling you how to write a novel, but eventually I just had to jump in and try a few different things and see what worked for me.


This might be super nerdy, but I’m excited to see what I learn during the revisions process — maybe I’ll have to write another five things post. What about you? What’s the most important thing you learned during a big project?

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