13 Things I Learnt From Completing Draft Two of My Novel

draft twoWhen I wrote THE END on my second draft of Keepers, I cried. Just two tears mind, I am dead inside after all.

I cried because it was the end of more than just a marathon of RSI, obscenely late nights and incessant tapping that drove my wife to distraction. It felt like I had achieved my first real step towards freedom and the life I really want because a) I’d completed something real and tangible, all 72108 words were staring back at me like tiny dancing stick men.

And b) because I knew, this time, unlike my first draft, it wasn’t a total pile of turd.

After my two lonely tears rapidly dried up, I glanced at the clock on my laptop. The time blinked back at me, it read 1:04am. I’d sat and written 4025 words in the last 3.5 hours without moving. I was gobsmacked, that was four days worth of writing. In. One. Go.

Something told me to check the date. So I did. August 20th. I frowned. That rang a bell. I checked the post I wrote after completing my first draft. To my utter bewilderment, I completed my first draft the previous year on August 20th at 1:04am. If you don’t believe me, check the post.

It’s a beautiful thing, synchronicity. Perhaps I should publish it at 1:04am on the 20th August next year!

Here’s 13 things I learnt writing this draft.

THING ONE – EVERYTHING TAKES LONGER THAN YOU THINK 

To say I was surprise I’d taken a year to finish another draft was an understatement. Fucking gutted is more like it.

I mean, if we’re going to get all motherboards and microchips technical about it, it took 5 months. I started the re-write in April, and I’ve written 48k since 1st July. But it took so long because I was doing an awful lot of other important stuff  faffing, starting other books, scratching my head, blogging, beasting myself in the gym, drinking wine, potty training and a bunch of other shit that wasn’t bum in chair smashing words out.

What did this teach me? It taught me that anything that isn’t progress towards your goal is a distraction. A year per draft is not satisfactory (for me), and I won’t let it happen again.

image from wiki

Image from wiki

THING TWO – SUPPORT NETWORKS ARE EVERYTHING & NOTHING 

There are four penrat writer monkeys who without which I couldn’t have got through the book. They listen to me drone on worst than moaning myrtle. They put up with my bullshit yo-yo’ing self-doubt and trust me I’m worse than an alcoholic rollercoaster.

I need them. Daily. Not always because I am down or fed up, sometimes to share in my literary orgasms as I kill another darling or add another twist.

BUT… That is where the support stops.

My actual keyboard!

My actual keyboard!

While we can prance around the virtual May Pole, braid each others hair and put wordy face masks on… they cannot write my book. They cannot put my pudgy fingerprints, on my superhero keys and make the sentences flow and they cannot force my butt in the chair.

If at the end of the year I haven’t finished my book, they are not to blame. I am.

Support is everything. It’s oxygen. Caffeine. Wine.

And it is nothing.

You are responsible for shaving fifteen minutes off housework, for asking hubby or wife to help so you can write. It is your choice to watch TV or socialise on lunch breaks, or go to the pub instead of work late into the night.

We all have 24 hours each day.

Image from Amazon. Buy the book here.

Image from Amazon. Buy the book here.

THING THREE – PUNCH RESISTANCE IN THE TIT AND WALK OFF

Which leads me to resistance. Everything that isn’t you making progress towards your goal is a distraction. It’s waste and according to Steven Pressfield, it’s resistance. If you haven’t read the War on Art, you should. It’s insightful and thought provoking. I read it in an hour or two the day after I finished the draft and it was enlightening to say the least.

Resistance is in essence, anything (including self doubt, procrastination, etc etc) that stops you working towards your goal.

His book is truth. It’s scary. And it’s frighteningly accurate.

“The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight. At this point, Resistance knows we’re about to beat it. It hits the panic button. It marshals one last assault and slams us with everything it’s got.” Steven Pressfield, War on Art p.18

Never a truer word spoke – the two weeks leading up to finishing this draft, I suffered extreme self-doubt. I was excruciatingly tired, I had back aches, neck aches and agonising pain in my knuckles from the typing. The day I finished, (with the exception of the tiredness), it all went away.

Resistance taught me who I am. I am grateful to Resistance because without it, I wouldn’t have realised that I am a fucking force. I am real. I am a writer. I will not be defeated. Resistance can do what it wants to me. It can hold a blood smeared knife to my throat, or poison my Sunday roast. I will never give up. I will kick Resistance in the testicles while I write one handed and throw up over the bog if necessary.

“The working artist will not tolerate trouble in her life because she’s knows trouble prevents her from doing her work. The working artist banishes from her world all sources of trouble. She harness the urge for trouble and transforms it in her work.” Steven Pressfield, War on Art p.24

Image found through creative commons

Image found through creative commons

THING FOUR – TARGETS, ACCOUNTABILITY & TRACKING 

My accountability partner is my hero.  I’ve written about her and how having someone hold you to account, as well as setting targets is essential. You can read that here.

I set a date. Two in fact. One to finish this draft, one to finish the edits. Once I did that I worked backwards, setting daily and weekly targets. I know this doesn’t work for everyone. But for me, it is as essential as coffee, and coffee is life.

I track my word count and since having an accountability partner my daily word count has doubled.

The result? I finished my draft 5 days early.

THING FIVE – FUTURE ME IS AWESOME

We don’t all want to be held to account by someone else. Sometimes, all you need is a prod from yourself.

Futureme is an email system that you can use to email yourself at a specific time and date (of your choosing) in the future.

I set one up to email me during this draft and then forgot all about it. When it arrived, I had to smile. I’d said exactly what I needed to say to encourage me on.

SIX – DON’T SKIP PAST THE MAJOR EDITS 

One of the major fuckups I made in the first draft was not to stop and go back and correct something when I realised I needed to make a SIGNIFICANT change.

ERROR, of the jumping out a plane and forgetting the parachute level of catastrophe.

Don’t be me. Don’t do that. Skipping past the chapters you need to rewrite because you change the male lead, or removed three characters entirely from the book is a fucking monstrous mistake.

I know when your all up in your computer screen and in the middle of an epic word-gush it’s more painful to stop than a syphilis ladened chilli in the eye. But seriously. You need to stop. It hurt me bad when I came back to edit. I won’t make that mistake again.

THING SEVEN – DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL WORDS – COMPLETING IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN PERFECTION 

Image credit - Flickr Andrew Hurley

Image credit – Flickr Andrew Hurley

Buuuuuut you also don’t want to sweat the small shit. Can’t think of a word? Highlight it and move the fuck on. It will come to you. My novel is littered with highlights. Things where I know I have repeated a descriptive word because I couldn’t think of something else at the time.

Doesn’t matter. Just move on. You can fix it in the next edit. Completing a draft end to end is far more important than trying to get perfection in one draft. You can always read it again, or go through another round of edits.

“Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It’s one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it…” Michael Crichton

THING EIGHT – TRUST EMERGENCE

cognitionAnd because I didn’t sweat the small stuff, I learnt to trust emergence. Sometimes, no matter what I did, I couldn’t figure out a twist, or the next scene. Instead of stressing, I just moved on to the following scene, or something else and worked on what I did know.

When I was changing a dirty nappy, shovelling crumb covered plates in the dishwasher or yawning at work, the answer would emerge from some crusty corner of my mind like the lost fiver you randomly find in an old pair of jeans.

You always find the answer, just not when you want it. Be patient.

THING NINE – NEVER TOO EARLY TO MARKET 

It’s never too early to market. It’s never too early to read marketing books, to make plans, build an audience, establish connections, create a media kit or create an email list. I’ve written a lot about marketing recently. If you’re an indie a writer, you will have to get comfy with marketing. If you put a book out there and ‘hope’ for the best, you ain’t guna sell shit. #truth.

Study marketing. Study hard. Try stuff. If it doesn’t work, analyse, tweak and try again. But don’t give up. 

THING TEN – I CAN WRITE FASTER & STILL RETAIN QUALITY. 

I was averaging 500 words a day, but after initiating my tracking sheet and being able to see my word count or lack of it, it pushed me to write faster and I started averaging a count  of 1000 words a day. Some weeks I’d average 1500 or more a day and then I had a few random occasions, like the night I finished the book where I either had some kind of divine karmic intervention, or I’d taken writerly crack and wrote 4025 words in 3.5 hours. Not once did I lose quality.

Lesson? I need to make this a permanent change.

THING ELEVEN – NEVER STOP BEING A STUDENT

reader-310398_1280I made an arrogant mistake on my first draft. I thought I shouldn’t read in my genre while I was writing because I might sound like them. I know. I know, I know, lower your bloody eyebrow, I was a newbie. I knew shit.

This time I’ve continued to read in my genre and my writing is better for it. I made a conscious effort to deconstruct books in my genre to study what made them brilliant. Then I tried to apply those lessons to my own work. Surprise, surprise, I got better.

This post is longer than the one I wrote after completing my first draft, because I know more. No doubt that the post I write after the next draft will be longer still.

Actively study. Seek out knowledge like an addict searches for their smack. Make the time to study. Always. And you will always grow and develop.

My current unused notebook collection!

My current unused notebook collection!

THING TWELVE – NOTES NOTES NOTES

Thankfully, I have an obsession with notebooks. I collect them like a hoarder stores junk. Can’t help myself, whenever I see a nice one I HAVE to buy it!

That’s handy for me. One of the best things I did this time was write further editing notes as I went. Marking down (in chapter) any changes that need to be made, or continuity checks I need to do. This is vital, I still haven’t worked out a good method for tracking things like when key information is told or the times of day, but I will. I even wrote down words or metaphors I wanted to change it will help immeasurably as I start the next round of edits.

THING THIRTEEN – WIVES NEED ATTENTION

I said it last time, I’ll say it again. My wife needs love. I’m a bad spouse. I’ll do better next time!


What’s the best lesson you have learnt while working on drafts? Let me know in the comments.

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funny 5-july

83 comments

  1. You have written such true points here. Just some that I can relate to immediately:it definitely last longer than you think; don’t get lost in details: complete it; a writer is always inspired and when working on a book whatever you see you get inspired which means: you drop everything (that’s possible) and continue writing; … ! Oh, and I love your keyboard, That is so cool!

  2. I love that you finally finished your draft, despite all the other ‘stuff’ you were up to!
    Oh to get to the stage of finishing a first draft…. *goes off into dreamland*….

    1. It was brutal getting through it but every draft is easier! I’m going to have the next draft complete by 30th sept and then it gets sent off to beta readers! ? now that’s scary. YOU CAN DO IT RITU. Just keep typing EVERY DAY!

      1. I had planned a month of pure writing this summer holiday… You know, a couple of thousand words every day… It didn’t quite happen as we got side tracked by the HUGE project that was the kids rooms!
        But I will try… It’s tough especially once I’m back at school ?
        And you’ll do great Hun, I have every faith in you ??

          1. Lo,thanks Hun!
            You know, I started the main one, Wedded Stress, over 15 years ago… As we were wedding planning… Then I wrote a bit more pre babies…. I read it and tweak it, but I just need the time to continue if lol!!!
            It will happen, I’m sure… Just not sure when!!!

          2. Haha, I started writing my story when I was 9 years old. Up to 6 months ago, it still had the same book name would you believe! One day, I’ll tell the story!

          3. I’m so glad I’m. Not the only one with literary gold languishing, unfinished…. but you, my dear, are far closer to that goal, than I!

  3. Lots of great advice in here, Sacha. I agree with every bit!
    Congratulations on completing your second edit. How amazing to finish it at the same date and same time as your first edit, just one year later. How cool is that. Must be something of the science fiction in there. It really is your genre.I definitely agree with you when you say that ideas pop up when you least expect them, and rarely when you try to force them. They like to formulate themselves and then jump out “surprise”. Those words that elude us and that we highlight do the same thing. When we reread they flow off the fingertips like magic.
    Enjoy the next edit. I look forward to publication next 20 August! Best wishes.

  4. #8 – so true. The amount of time I’ve wasted on not moving on. Now, I move on and I’ve found that the word, ending, twist, words… come to me when I least think they will. I’ve rewritten (and then produced a big smile and a fist pumps) so many times because of this. You have to pat yourself on the back sometimes.

  5. You have hit so many great points, but the one that stands out the most is “Completing a draft end to end is far more important than trying to get perfection in one draft.” Writing the first draft of ANYTHING is not the time for perfectionism. It is a first draft, after all.

    1. Thank you Michelle, and I couldn’t agree more – that one took me a long time to accept. But it is true, and I now know I can always go back and correct something. 😀

  6. I seem to have bitten my tongue while reading this and drinking my coffee as there is no other reason for my eyes to have misted up while reading this.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I am so very proud of you. Congratulations.

  7. #8 is the absolute godsend of writers!! It’s sooooo cool – and a little bit creepy too. Stephen King talks about having ‘the boys in the basement’ (Freud would’ve called it the unconscious) and if you give them stuff to do, they work on the plot holes and whatnot while you’re busy doing something else, and serve it up when you least expect it. It’s like mental alchemy, because they ALWAYS figure something out. Like total unconscious multi-tasking.

    *hi five*

    1. ISN’T IT THOUGH????? Like is our subconscious really big brother, and just inserts ideas at the complete wrong time to see what happens?! Usually when I am driving with no way to write it down! haha

          1. Does repeating it out loud work? I mean, ish. If I say it enough times yes. But only if I write it down as soon as I stop. If I get distracted I’m screwed! lol

  8. An awesome list, Sacha. I agree with everything, but I especially like # 3 – Punch resistance in the tit. Ha ha. There are times when pure determination and discipline are needed to move forward. I don’t think all new writers realize how hard that is. We have to just plow through it. Congrats on completing the second draft! It gets a lot easier from here on out 😀

    1. Agree – one of the things that Steven pressfield said was that writing isn’t the hardest bit. sitting down to write is. I think that’s true.

      Some nights when I was bleary eyed and exhausted and full of self doubt that id never make enough money to quit work I really had to punch hard to keep on keeping on.

      It’s funny – even though the second draft was gruelling it was gruelling in a different way. Looking back it was easier for sure. I think the first draft of your first book is always the hardest because you don’t know if you can do it! Your working on some mythical hope that you’ll make it, despite having to wade through sludge and mist.

      Next draft due for completion 30th sept. HURRAH! Hopefully I’ll have some covers to share soon too 🙂

      1. I agree that the first draft is the hardest. It’s like putting together a puzzle in the head with blurry pieces. Not all the puzzle pieces even work in the puzzle. Then there are all those that fell on the floor and you have to hunt around for them when you finally realize their missing. It’s work! So excited for you, Sacha. Can’t wait to read it.

  9. YAY! Congrats on completing draft two! And I love how you completed it a whole year later, too. You certainly learned a lot and taught me a new trick or two in the process. Good luck with the future steps you’ll take to get this book in the real world. 🙂

    1. Thanks Rachel, can’t believe I finally did it. Felt like a real marathon, the next draft is already SO much quicker 😀 Thanks for being on the journey with me 😀

  10. What synchronicity! Better yet, great lessons learned and shared. Aw, I’m thwarted by trouble. My motto is write it anyhow. War, yes. Congratulations on a big mile marker. And hey, what’s up with that keyboard? 🙂

    1. haha I LOVE my keyboard! it’s just stickers, you can get loads of different things to put on them, I just happen to be a big kid and wanted superhero stickers! lol :p

  11. Congrats! Theres no finer feeling than finishing your first book… except holding your first print copy of it in your hands, and youre edging closer to that every day. ? Well done!

  12. I loved every word! I love how you don’t hold back on sharing it all, guts and glory. Yes, I can relate to almost all of it. And let me offer you a huge congrats on completing your journey thus far. It’s true, with every consequent book we write, we learn more. You’re well ahead of the game my friend. 🙂 <3

    1. Thanks my lovely, I really do believe that, I can’t wait to see who I am after 3 more books!! Thank you for being on the journey with me. It means more than you know.

  13. Deconstruction is everything. But not just books in your own genre. It’s important to look at books outside your genre because they can inspire you to do new things with yours. In fact, my wife and I now deconstruct every movie, TV show and book. She does it simply because she’s lived with me for thirty years and can’t help it anymore. It doesn’t ruin her enjoyment it enhances it. It’s like we’ve created our own Kama Sutra of entertainment. And my writing is all the better for it.

    1. Could not agree more – it’s how I have taught myself to write. Oh I agree on not just your own genre, but I had actively avoided my genre, so I just meant that I had gone back to it. I’ve done movies too. I love deconstructing films. Hahahaha a film deconstructing Karma Sutra – I spat my coffee everywhere reading that, hilarious! 🙂

  14. Punch resistance in the tit… I’m going to add that to my list of things to remember in my morning mantras. Congrats on finishing your book – so proud of you as I know how much bloody hard work you’ve put into it.

  15. Awesome list, Sacha – and a great achievement as well! I especially like point three about resistance – very interesting…

    Huge congratulations! Looking forward to reading it 🙂

  16. Big bunch of self awareness, self lecturing, advice to others and encouragement for all in this post.
    No win if one foot in front of the other stops – all the way to the last 3 steps to finish. (And I love that “books aren’t rewritten, they are rewritten…”)

    1. hehe, I do like to shout at myself at regular intervals! :p

      It’s an amazing quote isn’t it? SO true too. When I first read that, it changed my perspective completely.

      1. They shout at huskies too in order to keep those independent free thinkers moving in the same direction. Writers are mushers trying to harness an assortment of determined to be noticed wild flying ideas? Always enjoy your posts – always much to consider and use there. Thanks

  17. I’m printing this and tacking it above my desk. Thanks, again and again, for the writer fuel. You’re good peeps, Sis.

  18. i learned that you have to stop at some point doing editing or else if you are like me you will end up changing things too much. Also I am delighted to see there is someone like me with my obsession about notebooks. I love them and have to have new ones when I see them. Big high five for notebooks. I don`t know if I said good luck with the book so I`ll say it again, all the luck in the world for this book, hope it`s a mega success, you deserve it.

    1. Amen to that, you really do have to stop. I think that’s why I was so insistent on setting a date to hand to beta readers. haha, got to love a notebook. It really is an obsession of mine! ahh thank you so much. I hope yours is too 😀

  19. What a great list! For some reason #5 really grabbed me: “Future me is awesome.” Cracks me up and inspires me at the same time. Think that will be my mantra today as I reassess my writing goals for the rest of the year.
    ~Tui Snider dropping by via TuiSnider.com through #MondayBlogs

    1. Thank you so much 😀 glad you liked it. Future me really IS awesome, I hope you use it!! Try to post them far enough in advance that you forget what you wrote, that way it’s always a great surprise.

  20. Feels like it always takes longer – like twice as long-er! Found this via #MondayBlogs. Thankful for it. Serendipity! I like the idea of working backwards. That might actually work for me since I’m such a visual learner. Great tips/advice! Thank you.

  21. All of those things. And also -don’t fall too in love with your sentences. You may have to kill some of your precious babies. When you love your words too much, it’s difficult to be as ruthless as you may need to be.

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