First Draft: Complete

When I decided to buckle down and actually write a novel the idea was pretty overwhelming. I mean, sit down and produce something of at least 50,000 words? And who knows how many pages? Wow. Insane.

I've written quite a bit in my life, probably millions of words worth of things. I write for my second job, producing multiple pieces per week, but the longest thing I had ever before written was about 30 pages (my senior thesis at the University of Oregon - something about Japan-US relations, the details I can't remember now), and the longest piece of fiction I had written was something in the range of 15 pages, at most.

Armed with my idea, one I had marinated on for months, letting the details come together, and with the help of a couple writing classes, I sat down to write it. Obviously this was not an overnight endeavor.

One thing writing classes or experts will tell a young/fresh writer is to write every day. Set aside a chunk of time, a place to do it, and every day at that time for a specified length of time, you write. You don't let anything get in your way of that time, be it friends, family, life, or even writer's block. You just write. You don't worry about the quality, because the idea is to keep the words pouring onto the page.

To me, there is a time and place for that. While trying to write a novel is not the time nor the place. If I were to sit down every day after work, after hitting the gym, after doing whatever else I need to do, and write in my novel every single day for x amount of time regardless of how I felt, you know what I would have? A steaming pile of crap.

I need to be in the right frame of mind when I write. I can't have things I need to do. I can't feel hurried by an end time because I have do something else. People don't like to hear that (I have found) because (I believe) they don't think it's the right way to go about it, since that's not what all experts say you should do.

I would caution people to remember the number one rule of writing: do what works best for you. Setting up a specific time every day may work for you, but it doesn't for me.

I took a few things into account when deciding whether or not to write on a given day.

First, how tired am I? My day starts at 5:30am and usually ends close to midnight. Some days I will simply be more tired than others. On those days I didn't work on the novel, because I knew for a fact when I read through it again I'd have to do major rework (as I opposed to what I did write on days when I felt good, when there is only the strong possibility of major rework - slight difference). Why waste my time when I'll just have to completely re-do it later? Instead, I waited for the days when I felt I would produce good work, which ended up being 3-4 days a week (two of those days being Saturday and Sunday, when I could sleep in - big surprise). The days I did not work on the novel I still wrote - I caught up on the blog, Misaki's blog, emails, Facebook, Twitter - things that don't need nearly as much though and focus.

Second, do I have time to write an entire chapter? For this novel, for me, one chapter represented one complete thought or scene. Usually you are told to set word counts or time minimums. I like to spend some time thinking about the next chapter, planning how it will go and who will be involved, so when I sit down and write it the flow is there. My novel has each chapter being told from a different point of view from the previous, so the planning is completely different. There are six or seven points of view and just under 40 chapters, so this planning helped me keep each switch of scenes straight in my head. I hate stopping in the middle because I would lose my train of thought, lose the feel of the scene. Planning is key for me here. I mapped out all my chapters in the beginning so I knew who the POV would be and what the chapter would be trying to accomplish. I didn't detail it any deeper, because I wanted to allow for creativity without letting it get to off the rails. I also revised my spreadsheet about eight times while writing, deleting and adding prospective chapters, changing the goals. Creativity needs parameters if the goal is to get from point A to point Z, while hitting each point in between.

Third, does my list have at least three things? (You will get that joke if you watch 30 Rock.)

Fourth, what do I have to drink? All writers need to feel comfortable in the place they write. For me, I always need something to drink. It could be coffee, water, beer, wine, tea, anything - but I need something to drink. I have no idea why my throat seems to get parched typing, but it does. And hey, when said drink is beer/wine/bourbon/something like that, it really puts that little voice in your head that says "Are you sure that's what you want it to say?" to sleep. I think my voice is a lightweight. I'm sure not.

It took me about eight weeks to write the first draft. Every time I sat down and opened up the Word document with the manuscript in it I was amazed, watching the word and page count rise. Suddenly 50,000 words didn't seem too far away. Then it was in the rear view mirror.

All told it checked in at 37 chapters, six different points of view, 253 pages, and a tiny shade under 70,000 words. Wow.

To me, the best part of all of that is not only that I did it, but that I like what I did. I've seen many people talk about how they hated their first drafts, but I like mine. It's far from perfect, but I told the story how I wanted to be told, without getting too sidetracked and still with letting my characters develop and change the storyline due to their needs. I tried not to force anything.

And, perhaps most of all, I already know what I want to change. As I was writing I knew I wasn't paying as much attention to details of scenes and characters, the little things that help a reader recreate the picture in their own mind. I don't plan on being a writer who goes crazy with that, but I know I want to do more than I did. For the first draft I wanted to stay focused on the basic structure - I can add the paint on the second time through, and the furniture on the third. It's funny to me how I was conscious of this as I wrote the words, but I didn't want to slow down. I made mental notes and when I sit down with my red pen and a hard copy of the novel over the next couple weeks, I'll be adding those notes to the pages in preparation for the second draft.

I also know I need to write more as well. One character who I didn't intend to be a focal point of the novel became one, and because of that I felt about two-thirds of the way through I needed to add his point of view, his voice.Three or four chapters should do it, I think, so I'll be noting where best to insert those during the editing as well.

Another idea I had I'm not ready to tackle yet. I'm a big fan of how some authors - Jodi Piccoult is the best example I have off the top of my head - write their chapters from multiple points of view (like this book), but all in first-person. I like that and thought it would be fun to do this book that way, to get even closer to the characters, to know what they are really feeling in a given moment. That would, obviously, involve serious amounts of rewriting and I don't think it's necessary, at this point. I may change my mind in the future. Maybe for the second book.

So now it's time for the editing. Some people hate it, some love it - I'm cautiously excited for it, since I haven't read any of these things I've written since I saved them the first time. (That was one rule I made - finish it first. Read it through later. Don't get distracted with editing as you go.) Will the ending match the beginning? Probably not. Will the intros of the characters match what they became later? Probably not. Does it flow well and make sense? I hope so. I set out to write a page-turning thriller/mystery, did I keep the pages turning? I already know the answer here is not always, but I hope at least some.

One fun thing I want to do - that I can do because I set the book in Portland, Oregon - is I need to do some recon of the parts of the city I chose to use. I used settings familiar to me, but I need to read what I wrote and then go to that place, take some pictures, and make sure what I wrote matches a feasible reality. (Yes, perhaps this would have made sense to do beforehand, but it involves time and planning, and I wanted to write. Maybe this will become a lesson learned, or maybe it will work - that's all part of the fun!)

It all needs tweaking/re-writing/editing/cleaning/polishing/painting. Maybe I should get started. I haven't looked at it in two weeks...it's time to rein this puppy in and start ripping it apart.

Now where is my red pen...

Quick link to share: I read this post the other day from author John Rickards on his opinion of pricing for ebooks and I have to say, it was fantastic. Read it if you are into that kind of thing.

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