Let me begin with this — I am no expert. So, if you are looking for expert advice you should quit reading this article right this second.
I am, in fact, only at the beginning of my journey as a writer, just like you. The only difference between us is that I have somehow managed to complete the first 50K+ draft of my ‘first ever novel’ and I assume you are struggling with that, because you chose to read this article.
How much of a beginner am I? Well, last week I received my first ever payment for writing. It was a whopping 0.03cts, but hey, we all start somewhere.
But really, I digress. This article is aimed to help you with tips and tricks that I have learnt on this journey of completing the first draft of my (hopefully) soon to be published ‘first ever novel’.
Below are five suggestions and/or ideas that I wish someone had shared with me when I set out on this treacherous but glorious expedition of writing a novel 2+ years ago.
Hopefully they will be as helpful to you as they have been for me.
So here we go…
1/ Write for a minimum of 30 minutes every day — and if you can, write more.
Writing everyday is paramount if you want to succeed in completing your first draft any time this century.
Journaling, poetry, rambling thoughts, affirmations, visualisations — it doesn’t matter what you write, only that you do, every single day. You will be amazed by how much of this unrelated content applies or inspires your novel eventually. Hell, it might even inspire the next three!
Although it might sound counter-intuitive, I mean, why would you waste time writing about other things instead of focusing on your novel?Time is finite, right?
But really, it doesn’t always need to be content for your novel that you write about. In fact in some cases it’s better if it isn’t.
Of course if it is, then great. Lucky you. Bonus!
But if it isn’t, that’s ok too.
Don’t get me wrong, of course you will need to create content for your book at some point, if you ever want to finish it — but that isn’t the point I’m trying to make here.
This is about ‘cultivating the habit’ of writing daily. This is about allowing your mind to run free in directions you haven’t previously entertained. It’s about exploring your thoughts, feelings and emotions. Finding your inner voice, and your written voice. Honing your craft, if you like.
Practising the ‘art’ of writing daily, not only betters your writing skills it also, opens your mind to new and different possibilities for your novel and perhaps even your life.
FYI — I would advise trying to spend at least 3 of the 7 days in a week actually writing content for your novel. After all that is the end game here!
2/ A draft is just that, a draft — don’t procrastinate on perfection.
Seeking perfection is the first step towards ‘writers block’ and ultimately a pile of unfinished manuscripts. They may all have a ‘perfect’ page or two but they are never finished because they just aren’t good enough. Well you will never know will you?
I’m a Virgo Rising (that’s another article) — perfectionist anyone? Therefore, my natural instinct is to go back and read, re-read, and read again, each time correcting, fixing, perfecting and hence, never leaving well alone enough to move on.
I found myself stuck, not only for days but weeks or even months on the same passages, pages and chapters — seeking to perfect them — but to no avail.
Let’s not forget that perfection is iterative as well as subjective.
How can you know if a piece of the puzzle is perfect? Until the puzzle is complete. And just because it’s perfect to you doesn’t make it a brilliant novel, so get over yourself.
Which is exactly how I overcome ‘perfectionist paralysis”. One day I decided to just ‘let it flow’, to get out of my own way, my own illusory limitations of perfection and just write. As soon as I did, the novel took on a life of it’s own. By not looking back, the pen and my mind, could not stop themselve’s from moving forward.
As the first draft came towards completion I realised that the beginning, the very thing that had held me up for so long would need to be re-written or at least revised anyway. Those early chapters weren’t perfect, far from it. My writing skills had improved, and my writing voice evolved, so much over 50+ thousand words that the same passages and pages I had agonised over for months, were not up to par with my newly improved skill-set.
Now that the puzzle was complete, I had a totally different picture in my head.
That’s not to say that you can’t go back and add ideas, thoughts, character developments etc. when they pop into your head, of course you can, and you should. Ideas should never be wasted. Just don’t let them pull you backwards.
FYI — Perhaps an even better suggestion is to keep a notebook or computer file of running notes, all of which can be applied to your first edit of the draft.
3/ Start with an outline.
There are a lot of books and articles out there telling you how to create the ideal outline for a book. But what’s ideal? Only you can determine how much structure you need, how much calm amid the chaos is necessary for you to be able to create.
Limitations can stifle creativity in some, and drive it in others.
Ironically for the fairly structured person that I am, remember the Virgo aspect? I prefer to write freely. At the beginning I focused on moments in time, events, memories — all independent of each other. It wasn’t until I had an outline that the story truly began to flow and to take on a life of it’s own.
This outline created the connectivity the story needed to take the reader from one event to the next. The story began to write itself.
This is the paradox of ‘freedom within framework’ (that’s a whole other article). Setting out the parameters of the story, the timeline and the characters gave me the structure that I needed whilst also giving me the space and freedom to be creative.
It might just work for you too!
4/ Begin with the end in mind.
Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t have to be written in stone. And it could, should and probably will, evolve through the process. That’s life! But knowing in which direction you are heading is important when developing your plot, story structure, timeline and character development, etc.
For me, once I had written the final two chapters, which was about half way through completion of my first draft, I found that I could begin to ensure the threads, the plot as it were, showed the right amount of inference and influence in the right places. It allowed me to culminate the characters voices and actions, towards the end game.
What it also did was give me the drive to finish the book. Once the end was written all I needed to do was go back and fill in the gaps.
Why would you quit when you’ve already finished?
5/ Join a writers group.
This was a pivotal moment for me. It happened by chance. Or perhaps it was divine intervention, at a coffee shop in Santa Monica, but whichever it was — I believe it is one, if not the only, reason that I finally finished the draft.
Being a part of a writer’s group brings with it, accountability and deadlines. You have made a commitment to others. Of course these groups are voluntary, you aren’t going to get fired if you don’t meet the requirements, but you might just get thrown out of the group! Believe me, when I say that people join and people leave writer’s groups all the time, for one reason or another. But if you stick with it, if you do complete the work/tasks each week or however often you meet, the benefits are boundless.
Not that I am obsessed by astrology or anything, LOL, but having a Virgo ascendant translates to liking targets, commitments, structure, it’s what drives me. Pair that with being an extrovert, and it is external or group targets that work better for me than personal goals. I know that about myself. I’ll never let my team down.
You may be better at self-discipline than I? But still, who doesn’t need a little support?
Being part of a writers group has been, and still is, motivating, inspiring and encouraging. It’s tough to go it alone.
From the group you can expect unbiased critique of your work.
Everything from story arcs, (I learnt this from the group) to character voice, spelling, and grammar and beyond. You can even ask for specific feedback on areas that you need help or have questions or doubts about. You will learn new writing techniques. You will hear suggestions on how or where to better your story development and you will develop a thick skin — or you will leave the group, I’ve seen this happen — which is needed for when you begin marketing your book (yet another article in the making).You will read other members content, experience new and varied genres, and hear different literary voices that will inspire and excite you.
And hopefully, as I have, you will make new friends.
I have grown so much as a writer, and a person, through being in a writers group that I would highly recommend it.
That’s all I have for now. I hope that this advice encourages you to start or complete the first draft of your first ever novel.
Good luck with everything.
I’ll be back with more tips on editing your first draft soon.
Oh! And articles on Virgo rising, Publishing your first Novel and ‘Freedom within Framework’ too. Watch this space.
Are you are interested in what my 0.03cts payment was for? It was from Medium, for my second article, published right here a month or so ago. Please feel free to check it out ‘Should you be scared of the Supermarket?’ If you do I might be lucky enough to get paid another 0.03cts next month!
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