I started writing my first novel in November of last year (2013) and I’m approaching the first 25,000 words of my first draft. Still a long way to go, and I’m desperate to get the first draft down but have the story in some kind of rough form on my computer (in brief points) and in my head. Writing a first novel is like writing blind-folded in some ways.
Although when I say ‘my first novel’, it’s not strictly true, as I had a stab at it 10 years ago. This embryonic idea still lays at the bottom of a cupboard some 100,000 words into the initial write, and not even printed in its entirety. They say that writers should never throw work away as ideas or scenes can be used for other stories – I however, use it as a source of inspiration in a more profound way (I hope) – that of not giving up on the story and not making the same mistakes as I did last time. I’ll come to that later, but first I’d like to talk about the process of writing a first draft, and some of my thoughts on it.
Having spent nearly six months on this project, I should probably be a lot further in, in terms of words and drafting but laziness and procrastination are the first refuge(s) of the would-be novelist. I’m sure somewhere on the internet there is some kind of graph that details the peaks and troughs of a writer’s motivation as they were through their novel. From my own experience, the first 5 – 7,000 words were easy as the initial rush to get the ideas down came thick and fast and I wanted to write down as much as possible to paint a decent outline to the thoughts in my head.
The next 10,000 words were much harder as the story seemed to be missing dimensions – depth and ‘believability’ of the story. Writing became a toil as I tried to work out how scenes were going to be used to convey and develop the story, but no matter how much I wrote the story still seemed to be plodding. Having new characters coming into the story breathed some new life into the story but the real culprit was me. I was sitting down and doing 300-500 word writing sessions and it wasn’t enough to take me into the story and enable me to envisage future events and possible scenarios for the plot.
I’ve since sat down and written my way out of the lethargy I had for it; I did 2000 words one day and since then I’ve regained the initial momentum and have a wider view of the narrative and where I want the story to go. Furthermore, I feel like the stuff I’m writing is much better and in tune with the characters and the story. The world that the characters inhabit is becoming far more believable. If I take a break from the writing process, or don’t give it enough time I lose rhythm and the sentences are stodgier and slower to write.
What has helped, and what was the major downfall in my initial attempt a decade or so again, was attention to planning – and staging and creating a plot timeline has allowed me to write my way to my next scene or chapter knowing what I have to write next (more or less). My first time writing attempt failed also because I had an idea but no fixed means of telling the story; the characters were strong but my write-and-hope approach made the story very weak. Also because I didn’t have a definitive ‘road map’ of how to get from A to B; I found myself writing too much padding in the writing, which makes it easy to get bogged down – and makes telling the story such a chore.
I still have a lot more to write before the first draft is complete and even then I have a lot of work to do – maybe two or three more re-writes before I can say it is done. I sometimes feel I should give myself a time-frame in which to have it finished, but I think it’s better to finish it when it’s actually completed. But that comes later and that’s a point I can’t consider just yet, for now I’ll be delighted just to have it written it’s first rough form.