Last week I typed “The End” on the first draft of my literary fiction novel. I’ve mentioned before to my newsletter subscribers (Click here to join this amazing Fellowship!) how much I’ve been learning through this process, so I decided to share five lessons my first draft taught me. I think you may just find some real-life applications in these lessons as well.
1. Just Keep Going
The first step to produce a completed novel is sitting down and writing those first few lines. The next zillion steps are to JUST KEEP GOING!
A few times during this draft, I hit walls. I even wanted to quit. But I didn’t.
The sheer volume of writing and the insanity that is my life made me wonder numerous times if I could really do it all.
Midway through, the Beast of Self-Doubt reared up larger than life and did his best to knock me out of the battle. Who was I to think I could write about these topics? Who was I to think I could even be an author?
Writing books is a financial gamble. I’m putting a bunch of eggs in this book’s basket with the hope that we’ll have a fluffy omelet in the end. Of course, I have a mental picture of me with egg on my face instead if it’s a flop. I believe wholeheartedly in this story—if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing this—but I just have to keep reminding myself of that.
2. Know When to Move On
This follows closely with my first lesson. I have had a whole host of amazing individuals who have answered tons of questions to make my story as accurate as possible.
My main character, Jack, joins the Marine Corps, so that has required a lot of emails and phone calls with three of the Marines in my life already. On top of that, I watched hours worth of videos and read articles, forums, field and training manuals and so much more.
Anyway, I found myself stuck in the research quicksand as I worried about getting every detail perfect. I had to remind myself this is a first draft, but wouldn’t be a completed one if I didn’t MOVE ON!
You know what I discovered when I moved on? Some of those details didn’t actually factor into my story anymore. For others, I have a better understanding of what questions I need to ask next.
3. Be Patient
Some of my characters leap out of my imagination, perch on my shoulder and dictate their words. Others—not so much.
I have one secondary character, Rachael, who I thought I’d never see and hear, but I kept going. Suddenly it hit me—she needed to be a redhead, not a blond. I updated my character log, made a note to change all hair references pre-chapter 13 and got to be best buds with her.
Now when I hit my initial revisions, I’ll be able to refine and update her earlier voice and develop her more for my readers. I’ve even got a short story idea for her!
4. Ask for Help
Books these days rarely get written in a bubble. I have been blessed with so much help from so many people already. My acknowledgements page is FULL! (Yes, I’ve already started writing that!)
My family has allowed me the space and grace to spend a great deal of time over the past three months sitting in front of my computer. They’ve encouraged me in many ways, even in little ways, like my son giving me Snickers and Milky Ways from his Easter candy to give me energy for another late night or my daughter refilling my coffee mug for me after that same late night.
My friends haven’t heard much from me lately—but they understand and support me anyway. That’s true friendship right there!
Experts, like those three Marines I mentioned already and many others, have patiently answered so many questions already—and I have more to come. They have truly been incredible, and I am humbled and thankful to have them all in my life.
You guys, my readers and followers, have been a much larger encouragement than you may realize. When you click to follow a writer or sign up for their newsletters, you are showing them that there are readers out there for their stories and that they care. So, thank you!!
And then there are my fellow writers. Wow! Talk about inspirational, encouraging and understanding! I have been blessed with various writing communities, large and small. Each one has helped shape and mold me into the author I’m preparing to be. And they have each cheered me on along the way.
5. Be Ready to Share
Fairly early in this draft, I got hit head-on with a realization one late night while writing. I cannot wait to share this story with readers.
Before, readers were a much less real and visible concept. I worried a bit about reactions I may get. I fretted that my work would never be perfect enough.
As I wrote on, though, I began to fall more and more in love with my characters and their stories. What happens when we love something? We long to share it with others so they can love it as well.
That’s where I am now—anxious to put in all the hard work I can to polish this story until it’s ready for my readers.
Reflections on a First Draft
This is the second book draft I’ve completed, but the first fiction one and the first one that’s truly mine. I am proud of it and anxious to improve it. It has given me not only a sense of accomplishment but also confidence. I know now that I can do this, and I will do this.
Thank you for joining me on the journey!
What lessons have you learned lately? It doesn’t have to be writing- or reading-related. Share away, so I can learn with you!
Joy, first of all, congratulations! How many words did you first draft end of being? Secondly, I love your enthusiasm! Seriously, it’s contagious. I’m thinking a lot about just not being afraid. Not being afraid to step out into the unknown. I think I’ve lived by fear about so many things through my life. So, specifically, and in a small way, writing has started to help me take risks, be myself (because your true self WILL come out in your writing, if it’s any good), and like what I like! It’s realizing my value and place for me from God.
Anyway, thank you for sharing your journey with us and I can’t wait to follow you through the 2nd draft process.
Thank you so much, Amy!! This book came in just over 95,000 words. Completing this book, in particular, has been such a huge deal for me. I totally understand fear … seriously, lots of fear here! This time last year, I hadn’t completed a full book manuscript. Now, I’ve done two! And, it’s all because I finally decided I’d had enough of the fear that ruled me. So, you can do this! I can’t wait to see where you’ll be in a year! 😉