Writing your first novel

What my experience has been so far while writing my first book…

I think it goes with out saying, that writing a book isn’t easy. With more and more binge-worthy Netflix originals being released and TikTok supplying us endless hours of short videos, there are countless distractions to consume our creativity and keep us away from the blank page.

Now, if you can turn your phone off and focus on writing then you come to the next challenge. Getting a good idea. If you are going to write a novel the you will need a story that can hold strong, even when you’re 50,000 words into it. I probably have six attempted novels saved right now that all ended between the 12,000 and 30,000 words. I get to a point and then realize that my idea didn’t have strong enough legs to stand on its own.

So how do you know if an idea can go the distance and provide you a full novel? I think an idea has to come to you that is so good that you can’t not write the thing. I don’t think you can force a great story idea. I think it has to come naturally. The book I am working on now was the first story that kind of just came to me. It all started with an idea of a character that would be fun to write. Then a few days later some of the story came to me. I didn’t write anything down at that point but the idea stuck around in the back of my mind. Little by little, and day by day the story pieced itself together in my mind until I couldn’t contain it anymore and finally started writing it. It was over a month between the initial idea and when I finally put fingers to keyboard.

Now lets say a story came to you and you have let it marinade in your mind a bit, and you know it’s good, so you decide to sit down and start writing it. This is when the fun really starts. If this is your first novel then it’s going to be your baby and like new mothers, you are going to want your baby to be perfect. starting with the hook, the opener, the intro. The first words you put down will probably take you the longest. They did for me. I was so focused on creating that perfect first line. I probably spent two hours on the first paragraph.

Listen to me! Don’t spend two hours on your opening sentences. I guarantee you will rewrite them anyways during editing. So turn off the perfectionist in you and just start typing words. Force your fingers to move ahead past that beginning and start laying that foundation of your storyline. Don’t be like me, one year into my book and I had less than 25,000 words. Granted, I often stopped writing for weeks at a time and was very new to writing at that time.

Once you get started on your book, the only think you have to do is write. Many authors and writers will tell you that you have to create and outline first, define your characters and their arcs, structure your story, etc. If you want to do any or all of those then great, if not also great. The best part about writing a book is that no one can tell you what to do. Yes, the three act structure has proven to be pretty effective but don’t focus on following it so tightly that your story loses it’s unique qualities. As a writer, your style and process will come to you and you will get better. I clouded my head with so many things when I started my novel that I started to lose track of what was important, the story! So just keep writing and worry about completing the first draft.

That’s where I am at now, trying to complete my first draft. I started working on this specific novel back in late 2018 and at the time of writing this I have 57,000 words and I plan on getting to 90,000 within the next three months.

I know what you’re probably thinking. From late 2018 to March 2021, I have only written 57,000 words. Yes, that is an incredibly slow rate of writing, I know that. The reason it has taken me so long is for a multitude of reasons. Mainly life just getting in the way. I was in the Air Force when I started writing my book so I only wrote for a few hours each week. Then in late 2019, I separated from the Air Force and moved back to Minnesota to go to college. During that whole time I didn’t focus much on my book, I still didn’t even think of myself as a writer back then. I honesty just thought that I would slowly work on this current novel for years and eventually self-publish it, and that would be the only book I ever wrote.

It wasn’t until recently that I accepted that I am a writer and that it’s something that I will do forever. So now, I have been writing a faster rate and actually have plans to finish my book soon. I can see the finish line now and have a clear idea of the ending. All that is left is to write what’s in my mind.

I don’t feel like a bad writer or a slow writer for the amount I have written though. I feel like a learning writer. I can actually see my writing getting better as I look back at those first couple chapters I wrote. So I have just been allowing myself to enjoy the writing process and not overworking myself. I am a full time student right now too so it’s quite east to get burnt out while sitting at my computer.

Just the other week I wrote a 5 page paper for a film studies class I am taking so I didn’t write much towards my novel because I was already writing quite a bit.

I’m starting to linger off here. I’m sure no one cares about my film studies paper. Let me just wrap this post up with a closing statement.

Writing is an artform and everyone has their own styles and pace. When it comes to your first book, don’t let the troubles make you dislike writing. Keep working on your craft and write whatever you like at whatever pace you like. Deadlines and daily word counts can wait until you are an established author. Also, It’s okay to walk away from your book for a bit. Some of my favorite parts of my book so far came after a long break from my writing. Don’t make your book feel like homework or else you will avoid it like the plague.