On the 25th September, I did it. I completed my first ever first draft. I'm extremely proud of myself for meeting my goal (especially given it only took me three months!) and I wanted to celebrate on the blog in a way that sums up my whole, messy rollercoaster of an experience. So what better way than recording the Top 5 Things I learned in the process of meeting this monumental milestone?
Without further ado, these are the 5 Things I Learned Writing My FIRST First Draft...
1. I am capable of finishing
I'm not going to lie, I had my doubts. To use a cliché: this ain't my first rodeo. My whole life I have been starting novels (and, ya know, Harry Potter fanfics) and never finishing them. My head is full of ideas that I've never quite been able to manifest into more than a few chapters. I now realise this was because I was conceited enough to think that me, myself and my brain were going to be enough to get me through tens of thousands of words and millennia old storytelling traditions. It turns out that with a bit of preparation, a dash of humility and a sprinkle of confidence, I can do it. I can make it to the end of one imperfect first draft. And I'm hoping that knowledge will get me through various first drafts in my future...
2. Writing a novel is really bloody difficult
The process was not easy! Between distractions, crippling self-doubt and the amount of plates you're spinning when writing a novel, it's one of the most difficult things I've ever done in my whole life. Learning to drive suddenly seems like a walk in the proverbial park! I think one of the most difficult things about writing a novel is the fact that it's a delicate puzzle - you need to be logical in how you piece everything together, delicately weaving together all the fragile threads of plot, subplot, character arc and setting while also having the artistic flare to give your reader all the clues while obscuring the truth from them. Put it this way - I'm glad I didn't try and jump straight in with one of the various thriller ideas I have because my current skill level is nowhere close to that level of writing prowess!
I didn't necessarily think that writing would be easy. I've read enough books to realise that it's a subtle art form - plus I do have an English Literature degree haha. But I don't think I fully realised just quite what a mental slog it was going to be. Somehow acknowledging the difficulty makes the writing process easier. My brain could self-soothe me - 'yes, this is difficult, but you're doing it and that's amazing.' That is, on the days when I wasn't telling myself 'your writing is s**t and no one will ever want to read it.' Like I said before, crippling self-doubt!
3. You get by with a little help from your friends
I think I've mentioned this on the blog before, but in the past I was extremely secretive about my writing. I didn't talk to my friends and family about it and, with the exception of lurking on authortube and reddit, I did not actively participate in the writing community on the internet. Big mistake. Talking to people about writing - particularly other writers - is the main thing that got me through the drafting process. As I mentioned above, it's really bloody difficult to write a book! Why would anyone put themselves through that alone?
I would not have made it to that final chapter - or, let's be honest, the 10,000 words mark - without the support of the fabulous and accepting writing community on Twitter. Advice, inspiration and motivation were just a few clicks away. And, the more I participated in the community - and I mean properly participated and interacted with people, because no one is really interested in your unsolicited Amazon link - the more the community opened up around me. I am now a member of three writing groups on Discord, a fabulous Twitter NaNo support group and an equally fabulous NaNo writing group on nanowrimo.org! Having likeminded people to talk to means that I can get support whenever I need it but also let's me see that I am not alone. Everyone is going through it!
P.s. Honourable shout out to my mum who listens to me whine and reads my blog posts on top of all that! She is a hero!
4. Other people are wise - listen to them and learn
Participating in the community is one thing, but it's more important to listen and learn than to talk. I would not have been able to complete my draft without doing my research! This started with authortube, which is such a fantastic free resource for writers. Creators like Alexa Donne, Liselle Sambury, Lindsay Puckett and Laura Writes have fantastic videos where they discuss writer's craft in an approachable way but based on current , widely accepted resources. Reading widely in and out of your genre is, in my opinion, a total must and I will never understand why anyone would want to write a book if they don't enjoy reading them. But, if you're really serious about improving your writing, craft books are where it's at. I'm not saying you have to read Save the Cat! and agree with everything it says, but you should read craft books and think about them critically - decide what advice is treasure and what advice is trash and try to improve your own process, well, in the process!
Perhaps even more importantly, listen to the advice of your peers. If a lot of people are telling you they have the same problem with part of your scene or with your characterisation or whatever, then you should probably try to fix that. Writers who have spent time critiquing your work do not want to bash you - they are trying to help you. So separate yourself from your ego and listen. No one - literally not one single famous writer - got to where they are without listening and learning from other people.
5. I want to do the whole, damn thing again!
Over the course of drafting my last project, I learned so much about writing. I learned what things worked for me and what things did not (I'm looking at you, editing). I learned about plot and subplot and characterisation and made some big realisations about specific things I personally need to work on. I learned that I drastically underwrite and forget things all the time, which is going to be a right pain in the arse during the editing process. But most of all I learned that I am obsessed with writing and I want to do the whole, damn thing again. Like right now.
So that's what I'm going to do.