OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
This is a personal post!
I have stumbled through to the end of my story, and now I sit at the end of the first draft of the first novel. So how does it feel?
- I'm proud to have over 70,000 words of a coherent story in black and white. But it also feels like an anti-climax as I am nowhere near the end of the project yet!
- People keep asking “When can I read it?” and I have to tell them “Writing is rewriting” (Michael Crichton). People don't understand that a fully formed novel does not emerge in a first draft! This is interesting and takes me back to when I used to feel I could ‘never write fiction' because I couldn't write like the greats. But now I realise that doing multiple drafts is a reality of a writer's life, but most people don't get that!
- I feel like I need a rest before I start the edits and rewrites. It's been a hard slog writing in the evenings and weekends, like most people do I know. It is also winter here in Australia, tax time and I am still snowed under at the day job. I am tired of it all right now. After a little rest, I will feel ready to tackle it again.
- I need help in the rewrites so I have joined Holly Lisle's “How to Revise a Novel” program – it is excellent. First lesson, ignore spelling and grammar. That is the very last thing to edit. Start with what you were aiming for, what you have got and large story and character edits first.
- A while back I wrote about how writing is like Michelangelo creating David from a block of marble. The act of creation in turning a hulk of rock into a glorious sculpture. I was reminded of this at the Sydney Writer's Festival when one of the speakers mentioned that writing a first draft is actually creating the marble itself, creating something out of nothing first. Then the subsequent rewrites and edits turn it from a block of stone into a beautiful sculpture. So I have a block of marble – I need to get carving!
- My main character Morgan is becoming clearer and I can add more in as I go through rewrites. I don't feel as if I know her completely yet, she still has some mystery. Perhaps that is a good thing…
- The process feels more like laying down tracks, I've done the plot, now I need to go back and flesh it out, make it richer with detail and nuance, theme and interesting back story. I do like the story though and I already have ideas for at least 3 more in the series. It is a relief to find it somewhat resembles what I started with, and what I aimed to achieve, and the changes/surprises have been for the good.
- My plan is to do at least 2 edits before Oct/Nov when I shall engage a professional editor who specializes in thrillers (yes, I am looking , please leave a comment or email if you are one/know one!). I will then fix the issues, rewrite and submit to Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in Jan 2011 and see how that goes. I am going to investigate traditional publishing with this novel series and will go to Thrillerfest in July 2011 to see about agents and publishers. I am all about trying all kinds of experiences, and this by no means changes my opinion on self-publishing. I just want to see how far I get with the process, and of course I will share it with you here!
You can read all about my journey to this point here => My first novel journey
My first novel eventually became Stone of Fire, an ARKANE thriller #1
Way to go!
Firstly, you should be really proud to have got a first draft finished. So few people ever do that. Secondly, you absolutely must rest before editing/rewriting. You have to look at it with fresh eyes and surprise yourself – you’re still too close to it. Put it away and forget about it for at least a couple of weeks. Make notes if things occur to you in the meantime.
A great trick I learned and now use all the time: When you go back to edit, change the font size. You’d be amazed at how much your subconscious recognises the pattern of the words on the page. Changing the font and/or font size shakes everything up and you read it entirely differently and spot things you may never spot otherwise. Do this for every edit.
And motivation is easy – the book keeps getting better, so what better motivation is there than that?
As for when people can read it, my novels are on about 5 or 6 drafts minimum before anyone reads them – even my wife!
Congratulations again! Well done!
Thanks Alan, I appreciate your comments!
It’s so good to have understanding writer friends who get the need for multiple drafts. I shall go back to it with fresh eyes – good tip on changing the font as well.
Gretchen jones says
I too turned to Holly for help after I finished my first draft. Her program gave me the tools I needed to get the rewrite finished when I had no direction.
After my draft was done I knew it wasn’t what I’d set out to do but had lost the vision. I was proud but felt like now what? Seven months later I knew I had actually finished the rewrite and felt like the story was actually complete.
Sent off to an agent for critique (thanks to do the write thing for Nashville) and now I’m waiting patiently for the results while trying to figure out what’s next.
Good luck and keep the shooters in your crosshairs, enjoy your stay in the monastery (that is awesome) and success to all of us.
Thanks Gretchen, I’m so glad you found rewriting to be so worthwhile. I am looking forward to getting into the course.
Adventures in Children's Publishing says
Thanks fantastic. And so smart of you to jump in with Holly. I can’t tell you how much time I spent polishing sentences when what I needed was to sharpen motivation, set up scenes differently, and layer on the complications. You are going to sail through revisions, I can feel it!
Best of luck,
Karen Walker says
Congratulations. You have accomplished something not too many people do. It is huge. And yes, you are facing re-writes, but for me, that was the best part, because it is there that the craft of writing really kicks in. Wishing you much joy in the next phase. And, I agree with Alan. Give yourself a good rest before plunging back in.
Alexis Grant says
Nice work!! Love hearing this. I felt the same anti-climax when I finished my first draft… It was such an accomplishment, but then, what did I have to show for it? Not a completed product — I had so much more work to do. Now, as I revise, my feeling of anticipation keeps building, like I KNOW I’m getting closer. I doubt I’ll ever feel DONE until I have my published book in my hands. And even then, I’ll probably have started another!
Keep us posted. Would love to hear how you like the workshop.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks all. It is so good sharing this in a community of people who know what I am talking about. You turn all this energy into getting the first draft done, and the feeling of anticlimax is unexpected!
I’m glad to have a good chunk of writing to work with in the edits though – time to make Pentecost into a proper novel!
Mike Kirkeberg says
No novel, but am in the middle of what is turning out to be a book lenght non fiction on mastering anger. Here is what I am committing to now, though. I am going to get my thousands of words out in the November thing, which I cannot remember the name of at the moment – I want to say NANO.
Joanna Penn says
Great Mike! It’s Nanowrimo and that’s what got me started
Congrats Joanna! I think the best thing about finishing your first novel is the sigh of relief that you can actually do it! I’m in the middle of my second draft of my first novel (which can be pretty painful at times) so it’s refreshing to read about your goals! All the best with your rewrite.
Congrats! Like the others have said, that is a huge accomplishment. It also sounds like you’ve gotten some great advice too (rest, different font–all great tips). The only thing that I would add is beware of over editing.
My first novel wasn’t fabulous, but it did make sense as one piece. I had so many people giving me pieces of conflicting advice that my first novel now looks like chopped meat. Don’t get me wrong, editing has to be done, but keep the big picture in mind 🙂
Ian Paul Marshall says
Congrats Joanna! Take some time and celebrate. Step away from the work for awhile. Come back with fresh eyes. When you do, print out a draft and read it with a pen in hand. Read it out loud. See how it flows. Take a look at “The Writers Journey” by Christopher Vogler. I found it fantastic. Good for you again!
Joanna Penn says
Reading out loud will definitely be done – I will be podcasting the novel as well so it has to read well!
Congratulations Joanna. What a proud moment this must be. You are one of my favourite Twitter pals and I have learned much from your blogs. I wish you all the best with your rewrites and I hope that within the next couple of months I am able to join you in the ‘first draft novel’ club.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks so much Cheryl – I’m so glad to share what I learn here and on Twitter – we are lucky to have such a wonderful community of writers!
I just finished up my first round of revisions. Congrats to you on finishing the first draft of your novel!
Please write about how the course with Holly goes. I’ve heard about her before from Procrastinating Writers (http://procrastinatingwritersblog.com/resources-for-writers/) but I’ve been reluctant to shell out the money.
Joanna Penn says
I have definitely found Holly’s courses and material to be VERY worth the money. I have several of her ebooks, I did “How to think sideways” and now the revision course. It is very detailed and informative.
I’ll definitely be blogging about the editing journey and also the course.
Thanks also for the mention on your blog!
Not a problem!
Glad Holly’s courses are helping. I plan on signing up tonight for the revision course.
Dean Mayes says
Congratulations Joanna! I was so thrilled when I completed the 1st draft of my novel “The Hambledown Dream” and I did celebrate it w/ a bottle of wine. But I knew even then that this 1st draft was only the beginning. I estimated then that I would produce six further drafts/rewrites and I was bang on the money. All the effort was well worth it, b/c I knew and I believed that my story would gain a life.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Dean – I am looking forward to getting into rewrites and putting some flesh on the bones!
Mary Tod says
Hi Joanna – Congratulations. I remember that incredible feeling! Already great comments from others but since I live in Toronto I see your posts in a different time zone. I certainly agree with the notion of leaving it alone for a while (so many other tasks for us writers to do anyway) and returning with fresh eyes. In my own case, the first novel has more than twelve versions and it’s still not done. However, the good news – the second novel only has five versions and it is the one that friends and family are more enthusiastic about and I have very recently secured an agent for.
As you edit, focus on structure and characters first. Each chapter needs to leave the reader with questions, anxious for the next chapter like a slow reveal. Characters need to demonstrate change and moments of insight. Individual sentences are critical but if I worked at that level first, I lost the big picture. I found Noah Lukeman’s book The First Five Pages has excellent suggestions.
I can’t pretend to know very much and I’m not yet published but these are strategies that worked for me. Oh, and by the way, be prepared to be amazed at what you’ve written 🙂
Joanna Penn says
I am checking the end of each chapter and trying to have an open hook so they want to keep reading. I actually did a study of James Rollins’ books and checked each ending sentence. The top thrillers definitely do this, but it seems to involve going against the human need to complete each chapter (which I feel as a non-fiction writer!)
Joe Bruno says
I’ve finished 4 novels in the past 20 years, so I’m not a speed demon.
The first draft is maybe 1/4 through the process. The rewrites are the thing. But at least to got from point A to point B. You pretty much know the ending.
Take a few days off. Maybe a week. Then get cracking on the rewrites.
I like to take a few days off between rewites to help me approach the next rewrite with a fresh point of view. And also as a reward for work hard done.
Someone once told me, “You’re a writer because you write. Not because you’re published.”
This is a good point to keep in mind.
Joanna Penn says
That is a good point, and I am really feeling more like a writer these days, rather than someone posing as one! Writing regularly must facilitate this!
Way to go!! I remember how great I felt when I finished the first draft of my first novel. I just finished the first draft of my third novel today and I have to say it feels just as good the third time around.
Joanna Penn says
Congrats Lovelyn (and what a great name!)
Third novel is very impressive! I’m clearly a few years behind you, but hey, it’s not a competition! Happy editing!
Congrats! I completed my first novel yesterday. I agree that you definitely need to take some time off before the rewrites begin. I will be taking time off to celebrate and to think of ideas for my next novel. : )