At 1:04am, on the 20th of August, after exactly 292 days or 41 weeks and 5 days of writing my first draft of my novel, I wrote those two long awaited words… ‘The End’.
I was in bed, in the dark, laptop on my knees, with my sleeping beauty of a wife next to me. I stared at the screen, the cursor still blinking… and the first word that came into my mind was, “oh.” I stared around our darkened room and my gaze fell upon my wife. I searched for signs she was stirring… I had just finished my novel, of course she would just wake up… wouldn’t she? This was a momentous occasion… But her light sleepy snuffles continued. I couldn’t wake her.
I turned back to the screen. The cursor was still blinking. I read the two words in the middle of my screen. My eyes widened, my mouth fell slack… I really did finish? I wasn’t hallucinating or delirious like I had been many a time during this process…?
Nope. I really did finish. So what did I learn?
ONE – However hard you think it’s going to be, it will be harder.
I knew before I started that writing a novel would be hard. If not for the quantity of words then for the shear monstrosity of content and information you have to manage and keep consistent. But knowing that and then actually writing a novel are two different things. It was so much harder than I expected. Especially when I was so invested in it. You are creating an entire world from scratch, the detail is insane.
TWO – However long you think it will take to write, it will take longer.
I don’t recall how long I thought it would take, less than a year, and ok, I hit that (just). But I remember frequently setting targets for this chapter or that section and missing them repeatedly. I fell short of goals and deadlines and never got anything done on time. Life has a habit of getting in the way particularly when you think it won’t. In fact, especially when you think it won’t.
THREE – First drafts are shit.
This was THE novel, the one I always wanted to write. It means the world to me. Which also means, I wanted perfection on draft one. That, is an impossibility. I put an awful lot of pressure on myself to have the perfect characters, the correct timeline, settings detail, all of it. I ended up blocking myself to the point I couldn’t write for a couple of months. Perfection comes through editing. Editing is a necessity not failure. The minute I accepted that the minute I unblocked myself and was able to free write, my pace picked up and I kept going.
FOUR – Routine is a necessary evil.
It’s one of those phrases used all the time. Writers need routine. But it wasn’t until I started trying to write this novel at pace that I really appreciated how necessary routine is. I write everyday or almost everyday. The simple act of doing that has improved my writing tenfold. Whether I write a blog post or a piece of flash fiction, it all helps. In this instance practice really does make perfect.
FIVE – Editing maps are gold dust.
I use an editing map, if you don’t know what that is you can read more in my post 8 steps to discover your perfect writing process. It’s a map of each chapter. I create it before I start (or in this case part way through) and as I write, in order not to stop or have to go back and edit to perfection (which would mean I never got to the end) I write notes in an editing map. I have pages of edits already listed under the correct chapter ready for me to take a red pen to my draft. I cannot tell you how helpful this is – makes me feel like I can hit the editing road at a run.
SIX – Chapter summaries should be written as you go.
My memories good. I can recall several digits of numbers that flash up in front of me, I can cram for exams and remember factual education things with ease. What I can’t do is remember 90,000 words of detail. I am really kicking myself for not having done this consistently, but what I should have done, and will do when I write book two, is write a summary of each chapter as I finish them. I now have to do this as I edit, which means I can’t write a blurb or a synopsis until I have read the darn manuscript.
SEVEN – Writing is hard on relationships
If you are single then this probably doesn’t apply. But if you have a partner or family or actually friends! then writing is hard on your relationships. I got very sucked into my novel. It took up a serious amount of brain space and time, which means there is less left for your partner. Novels don’t get written over night. This one took 292 days, that’s almost a year. Granted, I know more about my process and how to write now and therefore next time it would be quicker. But writing almost 100,000 words doesn’t happen quickly. And it’s all too easy to neglect those closest to you.
EIGHT – Change your mind – kill your babies.
I learnt I am pretty indecisive. There are a good few chapters in the middle where the storyline will need to be made consistent because I changed my mind repeatedly about everything. In the end I made a decision to cut two characters completely. It worked. I wrote on and got the storyline straight.
NINE – Just keep writing, no one else is going to write it for you.
Sounds ridiculous, but its true. I gave up twice on this novel. But I had to pick it back up because no one else was going to finish it for me. I got blocked, frustrated, irritated and deluded with it. But I kept putting one word after the other, and eventually they turned into sentences and paragraphs and apparently a novel! (Still in shock!). This is twofold – I didn’t just learn that I needed to keep going, but keep going in times of block too. If I got stuck on a part of a chapter, or an entire chapter, I just kept going. Skipped the bit I couldn’t do and wrote something else. I know this doesn’t work for everyone, but it did for me. It meant I carried on, got words on the page, and most of the time, I found my solution in writing something later in the story. Don’t let block stop your progress, just write something else.
Now I have to edit. So my question to you is:
What is the best advice you could give me for editing?What’s your top tip?
Let me know in the comments below.