What I learned from writing my first novel

What I learned from writing my first novel

Set a writing schedule.
To put words on paper I had to set the alarm for 4:30AM and write in the cold and dark. Some days I didn’t feel like it. Those empty pages stared at me. But like any job some days you don’t feel like going to that either. I got my best writing done on the days I forced myself to write.

Face my fear of dialogue and get over it.
Once I did that I realized dialogue is fun! It brings your characters to life and gives them their own flavor. This was especially fun with secondary characters as I could reveal things about my MC through their banter with them.

Stop editing as I write.
Once I overcame that urge, my writing really took off as I set my course to the end. Then I allowed myself to go back and edit. Fast draft is the way to go.

Hurry up to slow down.
While I should rush ahead and keep writing, when it’s finished I actually have to slow down. I couldn’t rush it out the door. I found myself spending 6 months to edit it, use a professional developmental editor on some sections, research agents, formulate a query letter and synopsis.  There is more work when you are done.

Get the hell outta here.
I found whenever I got stuck I only had to go for a walk to figure it out. In removing myself from my desk it de-cluttered my mind and the problem worked itself out. Every time. Stephen King does the exact same thing. He talks about it in his book On Writing.

Go where I never went before.
I discovered something I never knew about myself. I like writing about taboo things. I exalted in bringing my characters to a dark edge and then saving them, from themselves or someone else. I feasted on crossing the dark side; murder, gore, abuse, torture. It flowed from me like a river on fire. I know I am working out my own demons as my characters are too. And no harm came to anyone (real that is!).

Feeds into my need to be alone.
It occurred to me that writing is a very solitary place. As a only child who grew up on a mountain and roamed the woods for fun, I like to be alone. And so as a writer you write for weeks and months, every day. No one reads it. No one suffers along with you. It is a desperate, joyful, lonely, exuberant place to be. Alone with yourself. You have to push away those thoughts of “Will anyone ever read this? Love it as much as me? Want to publish it?”

Discover why I write.
I realized it’s not for money or fame (someday would be nice!). Not to follow any trends. Not to please anyone in particular. I was writing for ME. I was telling the stories that inspired ME, and no one else. It was the one thing I owned, and no one else (it’s perfect for an only child who doesn’t like to share). So first, write for yourself. Only then can your unique voice shine through.

Found a new addiction.
Once I got deep into my book I breathed my characters. I hurt for them. I championed for them. They became real to me. I heard songs that made me think of them and I would play them over and over to feel close to them. Near the end of my book, I slowed my writing down. I actually DIDN’T want it to end as then my characters would be gone. They would no longer live through me.

It’s not a one-time gig.
Lastly, I found when I wrote THE END on my first book that I could do it again. And again. And again. Nothing would stop me now from being a writer.

I am a writer.



Filed under Writing Techniques

10 responses to “What I learned from writing my first novel

  1. Great post. I agree wholeheartedly! With my first novel came the realization that I CAN write a book and now it’s just a matter of getting better each time. Lot’s of ups and downs along the way, but major reward at The End. Now if only I could get that reward in print…

  2. Danielle Zeissig

    Great post! I also need to stop editing as I write. I have a very bad habit of doing that and it inhibits my writing, every time. It makes me feel insecure about my writing because I realize as I go that the words don’t always sound good when they first come out. It makes me want to stop and then I don’t finish.

    • Thanks Danielle. Yes, this was the one thing that enabled me to finish my first book after years, and then another. Fast drafting – plow ahead to the end. Before, I would get stuck in editing and not finish. Once I made that mental switch – it was like zoom. I also create a 2nd doc with revision notes to work in as I write, so I can go back and edit with them after I write THE END. Good luck!

  3. Wonderful post, Donna. You inspired me to write even though I don’t feel like it. Thanks 😉

  4. Hi Donna! This is a great post. It’s so important to understand why we write. That was something I took a long time to understand. Once I realized that getting published wasn’t the most important thing, the writing became a lot easier.

  5. Stacy, you said it. Writing becomes easier when we forget the “getting published” thing and just write for ourselves.

  6. Great post, Donna. I really enjoy your tips that are both insightful and to the point. Thanks for the encouragement.

  7. Heard at my last writing retreat for women, after we were done sharing our pieces: “Kathryn, you write for completely different reasons than I do.” And not because I told her–because it was evident in the work. I love that comment–it affirms that there are readers out there who pick up a book for all sorts of different reasons as well.

    • Kathryn, that is very inspiring. We do all right for different reasons and our stories are different perhaps for our reasons we write. So this gives me hope that I must keep on writing the stories that inspire me..because some may not be moved by it or or drawn to it but some will!

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