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"7 Lessons Learned from Writing My First Novel"

Disclaimer: These are my experiences, all writing journeys are different.


1. You will make many mistakes

It is time to throw your perfectionism away. If you want to write your first book, expect to fail! Writing a book is like balancing on a sharp edge between self-doubt and narcissism. You are going to hate it. You are going to love it so much you know everyone will love it too. It's original it's fresh. It sucks. And that's how you will feel from beginning to end. If you are ready to swallow the bitter pill that writing isn't pretty, then let's get started.

No matter how much you study and prep, you will either repeat other's mistakes or make your own. That is okay and perfectly normal. So what if your sentence structure is horrible, your prose is off, and you don't know where your story will end. Write! Some of your mistakes will set you back years. It might even make you start an entirely new book. Write anyway. Writing is the first skill to becoming an author (Actually I would argue that anybody who is writing is an author).

This leads us to the next point.


2. You won't learn without writing

Studying is well and good. We can learn about Save The Cat (highly recommended), genres, the three-act structure, writing style, character arcs, and yet, it won't make you an author. Many people learn everything they need about writing about a book. They get degrees in writing. But then, they never write the book. Why do you think that is?

It's because they have a million excuses not to start. What if my writing is bad? What if my story isn't the next Shakespear or the new Hunger Games? I have to wait for the perfect story to come to me. What if it sucks and all I have to show for it is a mediocre book. Yes. And? If you want to be an author. You will most likely have to write that mediocre book first. In fact, plenty of mediocre books, with bad prose and horrible storytelling make it to the bestselling lists. Let's not make the general example of Twilight. Okay, I did. and I ate those books up.

Just write! That way you can look at it later and go "Well, that's awful." But then, do you know what will happen? You will learn how to write. It is a skill, not an attribute. It is something we learn by doing. It takes hard work and showing up. Also, you don't have to publish the first book you write, just saying.


3. Fixing is harder than prepping

Now this is the part I tell you to ignore everything I said in the previous point. One of my personal big lessons: "Maybe plotting isn't so bad." Now, I preface this by saying, that if plotting stops you from writing, for months, or years, then it's just an excuse. Go write now!

I did the opposite. I wrote before I knew the ending of my novel. Before I knew of Save The Cat and other writing tools. I just dove in and found out that the first point in my so-called plot became an entire novel. I wrote on the seat of my pants, and I loved most of it, until. Duh duh duh. I had written myself into a hole.

You see, if you don't have a map of where you are going, you will eventually fall into a pit and drown. It is harder to pull yourself out than to spend more time building a bridge. At least the risks are less deadly. Okay, to end the metaphor. You can always get yourself out of that hole. Take a step back and revisit the threads of your story. You can do it. I believe in you. But it might take you years.

I might be haunted by IT by saying this. But based on Stephen King's book On Writing (also highly recommended) he is a pantser. He has an idea, and then he sits down and lets it form as he writes. Now you can come for me. But I believe this is only successful because he knows everything he needs about storytelling, of pacing, etc. What once was practiced is now intuitive. I hope to one day get there, but as of now, I have learned that spending some more time with Save The Cat and my plot will save me literal years off my writing time. Writing blindly is as effective as cutting grass with a nail clipper.

On the other hand, writing with too much knowledge is like running with bricks tied to one's feet. You have to start somewhere. I will never regret how I started no matter how reckless, because, at least I did and I have learned so much from it. I published a book I am proud of. But, I hope the next one, with more prep and planning, will take less than three years to finish.


4. Grammar is a Trap

You finished your first draft. Congratulations. you have done what most writers never do. Now for the next steps of the process.

I don't know how many hours, weeks, or months I spent editing the grammar of my novel. I will never get those months back. Do yourself a favor. Don't do what I did. For me grammar fixing became an addiction. Just one more. just one more. It became the obsession that stopped me from editing what was actually necessary. Like plot, character development, etc.

After you finish that first draft, it should look like a barely readable shit show. I get it, you want it to look nice. But before you check your grammar. These are things I suggest to do first: Look at the skeleton of your story. Are there high enough stakes? Does the character change, and if not, does it change other characters for the better? Are there unnecessary scenes? Does the timeline work? Should you change it to first-person or third-person POV? Does it need more characters? Does the plot need to change? Do a deep scrub. This is your time to change major elements. Not to go through grammar.

If this feels overwhelming or that you are stuck. Take a month away from your draft. Don't fix the grammar during that time. Hands off. Put it down. Come back, and edit your content, not your writing.


5. Delete that chapter

You did it. You polished your draft. You feel excited. Happy. relieved. stressed. Doubtful. But you know that every scene is magnificent. The main characters have faced rivers of blood and mountains of silver. They have climbed an impossible wall, and their love is stronger than ever. It is exactly as you imagined. But something feels off. Delete it!

Not the whole book. But maybe half of it. Now if you plotted and did that beforehand I commend you. This will probably be less of an issue. But when we write our masterpieces we tend to have imagined certain epic scenes. Especially first-time writers of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Let's be honest, some of us do it to stage that impossible battle in an upside-down world, or to make people wear scissors for hands.

It's fun. it's imaginative. It doesn't always work. You know when your alfa reader feedback tells you things like. I loved it but... it was slow. It was too fast. I didn't connect with the main character. Red alert. Replace the battery in the keyboard. Refill your coffee. It's time to adjust the way you look at your story.

This happened to me. I was so engrossed in the idea of an underground world that I ignored some major things. In the first draft, I introduced a huge amount of characters to the readers in the first three chapters that I would never visit again, I described the technical workings of a gear that would only apply to one scene, and the way stalactites built up in the caves the main character would never visit. I info dumped and I info dumped hard. So what did I do? I deleted the first ten chapters of my novel and rewrote them five times. What was ten chapters, became 5 and I believe my novel became better from it.

Sometimes that beloved scene we built our entire book off of, doesn't work anymore. It hurts. It really hurts, but take that scalpel and cut it out. If you find it worse after, put it back in. But from my experience, we never put a scene back once deleted because our guts are usually right.

PS: if you have a gut feeling but you can't pinpoint it and your draft is finished. Everything is there but... get that developmental editor. Its time.


6. Merch is a Fools Game

I warn you here, as many before me warned me. DON'T MAKE MERCH before you are ready to publish your book. Cause guess what? The title and plot of your story might change. Merch is a money pit. Don't do it unless people ask you for it. After your book is published. Although, bookmarks can be smart. Just don't make them or order them before your book is sent to the printers. A bookmark with the wrong title is just a hole in your wallet.


7. No one cares

You have spent months, probably years, writing your masterpiece. The new bestseller and nobody cares. It is horrible but true. Friends and family will support you, but most likely not even read the first chapter (On this note, unless your family are editors, don't ask them to alfa or beta read. They won't finish it by the due date.) This is your passion, not theirs.

It is even harder to get strangers invested. They don't know you, your story, or why they should spend their time on it. This is why marketing is your best friend, nemesis, and brick wall. You have to market yourself. To an agent, publisher, or reader (as a self-published author).

This is why, even though it makes you want to jump into a pool of vanilla ice cream and eat it all, you have to work on your pitch line. (Read Save The Cat on how to do it). Once you know what your story is about, it is easier to tell others.

I personally found this to be the hardest part of becoming an author. It is not easy to make that whole world and character fit into one line, a line that will sell. This is when publishers talk about marketability, trends, and genres. Love stories will always sell more while hard sci-fi has a very strong but small community. Want to sell many books, regardless of genre? Learn to pitch first, then write the book. If you, like me, write because you want to tell a particular story or design a particular world regardless of marketability, then you will have to accept that it will be harder to market.

Just cause your book doesn't fly off the shelves, doesn't mean it's a bad book. Keep on writing, learn to pitch, and eventually, you will get there. Bestseller or not. Be consistent and write, and suddenly you are a published author.


Side Note: I hope this little rant on writing and the process and what I have learned from it helps you in any small way. Keep also in mind, everyone will and should approach writing their first book in different ways. Your journey is different than mine. But as long as you show up, you will get there, one too many commas at a time.


Please ask in the comments if you have any questions. I would love to dig deeper and help anyone who wants to write.



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