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is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date.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
Andrew Males says
Hi – I completed my first draft of my novel, 26 Miles to the Moon, yesterday! And it feels fantastic…if a little daunting on what happens next.
I found my way to your site and this post at random and was delighted to view your video of the day of your first draft finish – I feel exactly as you did then. Great to see you carried it through and made it to publication. I shall check out the rest of your website soon.
Good luck with your future writing!
Peanut Butter Jelly Time! says
Hi — first of all, congratulations on finishing that all-important first draft. I just finished mine last Friday, and am just now realizing the up-front costs involved in just printing the darn thing. 🙁 My printer won’t handle such a large document all at once, so I’m printing a couple chapters each day — much the same way I wrote it, 🙂
I would love to look into Holly’s course but it’s $250, far more than I have in my entire life savings as a young writer of just sixteen. I suppose I could see about bothering the ‘rents for the cash, since it’s not likely I’ll be wasting any money or time on a “legitimate” English degree… 😉 Why bother writing *about* someone else’s already written book when I could spend the same energy in a positive manner writing my own? 🙂
Joanna Penn says
This post was a while ago – you can check out the whole adventure of the first novel here for more information that might help:
All the best with your book.
I’m nearly done with my story. It has been a great journey this story I’ve been writing. I know some authors will think these are big No Nos, but I think authors shouldn’t think about how many word counts you can write everyday, how many chapters I want, when do i have to write and especially when tons of writers will say “I’ll finish the rewrites before this month or next month” or “I’ll finish my book in a year or two”. DON’T THINK any of these thoughts while you write. You’ll think about these sayings and less writing. Sure go ahead and take your 2 week break. But while you’re in your 1st rewrite. Just rewrite as much as possible until you finish your 1st rewrite. Then take a break and start up again. Almost done with my story pretty fast than any other writing I’ve written because I wasn’t thinking about how many word counts I want everyday. Just write until your mind is tired or even better, when your fingers are sore. You can say I’m free writing, but I feel so much better just letting the dialogues out of my head, the characters descriptions, the settings and so on. No matter how cheesy or stupid the dialogues are or if the scene is stupid, just keep on writing until you get to the last page and the story done. That’s more important than anything in writing a book, get the story down first. Also for some advice, listen to music or songs. They really help with moods when writing scenes. Such as a sad scene, listen to a sad song or music. That has helped me a lot.
Hey there, Joanna. Like you, I have just finished my first novel and I’m very happy to see that you share the same ideas about writing and rewriting, and it’s good to see someone who has been there, where I am now, this is, the ending of a chapter and the beggining of a new one: edition.
I finished my first draft in about two weeks. Seriously. I wanted to write prose for the first time. I’ve been writing poetry for about three years now and I felt like I needed to expand my horizons. So, that’s what I did: I started a novel.
My first draft was written in the third-person and I ended up with 23,000 words and something like 78 pages. It was barely a novella. But I was very happy. I never thought I could do it. So, how did I do it? How did I finished my first novella? I followed a great advice: write first all that comes to your mind, let it out and write on paper. Then worry about editing. It really works. I’ve tried, in the past, to start a novel, but I would always make the mistake of going back and edit everything. Moral of the story: I could not advance with the damn plot.
Afterwords, I imeddiately started my first revision, this is, the second version of the text. What I did, I changed the narrator’s perspective to the first-person. It worked much better for me. I liked a lot more of my writing after doing this. I ended up adding a lot more color and life to my characters and organizing better my chapters. I finished it with around 32,000 words and about 140 pages. I was getting close to a novel. It was awesome. I finished it in the end of december and I felt like getting a drink to celebrate.
Imeddiately, again, I started my last revision, the third draft. The last revision before I send it to my beta readers. I will also ask them to answer a couple of questions about the book in a way that I can know my low’s and high’s and improve before the final draft, which I hope will be the fourth.
Afterwords, I’ll get creative and find a way to interest a publisher. That, I think, will be another challenge. I’ve been refused for years because I presented nothing but poetry. Now I hope my story changes.
Anyways, congratulations on your doings! Nothing feels as good as finishing a first novel. I’ll drink to that.
Wish you the best in your future projects! Keep it up =)
Joanna Penn says
Hi Andre – congrats on your book! This post was actually written in July 2010 – and I now have 12 books, so things have moved on a little! You can find my non-fiction on this site – and my fiction at http://www.JFPenn.com
I wish you all the best with your writing!
I also just finished my first draft today (I’d actually call it draft 1.5 since the actual ending I originally wrote I did as a mere placeholder until I could come up with something better).
It’s a YA (young adult) fantasy (which I know, everyone and their mother is writing these days) but it was a labor of love and I wasn’t convinced I’d even finish it until this week.
I asked a published author friend of mine if 65k words sounded ok and she immediately told me I was a woefully short and should aim at getting another 20k at least. I’m not entirely sure my story would benefit from that but then again I could probably improve my descriptions. I fully expect to be editing this sucker for another year but I hope at some point to share it with someone besides my family.
When someone asked me what it felt like finishing my first novel, I told her “Like taking a giant sh@t.” I feel much relieved. lol.
Anyways thanks for sharing your thoughts, this gives me some guidance in the months ahead.
Oh my gosh ! I was looking for revising advices on your marvellous site because I finished the first draft of my very first novel in december, and this article is exactly what I’m thinking ! It feels so good to know you were once at the same stages as me… This gives me confidence to carry on !
Thank you as always, ans now I’ll carry on on your site to find more good tips
Batmansbest friend says
How did it feel? I felt like I was lying to call it the first draft. I edit as I go along so my “first draft” (when I reach the end…finally) is really the equivelant to a minimum of draft five. Depending on what I’m writing it could be draft ten or fifteen. Just depends on what revision is needed along the way. So, I don’t usually end up with four or five completed drafts as some weiters do (nothing wrong with doing so, I just don’t). I usually have one draft and it has been proofread to death along the way so anything a beta reader will find will amount to going back to that draft and correcting misspellings, changing punctuation (forgotten, otherwise missing, unnecessarily used, etc.) or maybe adding a sentence or two to a chapter to clarify an action. But never do I have to scrap a whole scene, rewrite an entire chapter, reorganize the events of anything into any other order. Little things here or there, sure, and sometimes there might be more than I’d like, but never anything major such a restructuring because if there was a restructuring to do I would have already done it by the time I reached the end.
I plot, I outline, I change the outline as I go if the details change along the way (everything for the sake of reaching the ending I want in the most interesting way possible…I’m staying true to the most interesting version of my vision)…but the ending is set and everything must point in that direction (as interestingly as possibly). So, by the time I reach said ending…I’ve thought, rethought, wrote, rewrote, deleted, re-deleted, stressed over, and lost sleep over all the details (while pulling my hair out) so many times that I might as well say I’ve written five drafts or more.
I refuse to do what some writers call a “vomit draft” (write anything and everything with no editing and fix it later), so I don’t end up with a first draft that looks nothing like the published book. I end up reaching the end on what could rightfully be calld draft five (or six, or seven, etc.) and it looks very similar to what will be published.
It still feels amazing to say I reached the end, but I feel like I’m lying when I say the end of “draft one.”
Wow, that’s a hard way to write a novel. Hard to get into a flow if you are constantly editing what you write.