Okay, I finished my first draft yesterday – came in at around 46,000 words.
That’s pretty short for a novel. But what is important is that the bare bones of the story are in there, enough to build on in subsequent drafts. Above all, I don’t want to stretch out scenes that I may have to cut later.
Here are my reflections so far on the writing process:
1. I should have done a detailed outline.
So my outline was basically a sentence per chapter, or even less. I dove straight into writing the first draft from what was essentially half a page of notes. Whilst this meant that I could get going on my first draft full of enthusiasm, it did cause some problems.
(a) Because my chapters were not planned in great detail, I had to write my first draft, while imagining a lot of what was going on. This was really tiring work, sometimes taking 3-4 hours to churn out 2000 words, which I have a strong suspicion are not actually that good anyway. By doing a more detailed outline to begin with, you don’t have to do so much planning, and this helps you to write faster.
(b) Whilst I was writing, my plot kept changing. Because I hadn’t done a detailed outline, I found that when I suddenly had a better idea, it meant that it didn’t fit in with what I had already written. So a lot of stuff is going to have to get cut. If I’d put more energy into an outline, I wouldn’t be wasting a lot of scenes that no longer fit with the finished book.
(c) Some scenes need planning (see my earlier post about set pieces). I felt like an idiot trying to extemporise a battle sequence, as if I’d ever been in one. I should have realised this at planning stage.
2. It’s a good thing I didn’t outline.
(a) If I had done a really detailed outline, I’m not really sure, to be honest, that my book would ever make it to first draft. You see, there’s no such thing as a perfect book, and I think if i had stayed in planning stage for too long, I would have lost confidence in my idea when things weren’t working out. As it is, I at least have a first draft, which is a rough book. Now maybe for my second, or third book, I’ll do the planning bit, but for a first novel, I really think it’s important to jump in and start swimming, and not get lost in the perfectibility of your plan.
(b) I’m convinced that a lot of ideas came to me, in the middle of writing a scene, because of something one of my characters said, or because of some idea that I plucked out of the air just because i had to. In other words, I’m not sure that those ideas would have occurred to me whilst planning an outline. I guess this would happen whether I had written an outline or not, but I’m kind of glad that i didn’t plan too much and so my idea of what my book could be has expanded enormously.
(c) It’s really cool to have finished a first draft of anything. I am really glad that after a month’s writing, I don’t just have an elaborate pile of notes beside me, but the first draft of my first novel, actually written. The writing experience is completely different from the planning one, and now I have an idea of exactly how difficult it can be, and what some of the challenges facing me are. That’s a lot better than staring into the unknown, wondering whether I can actually put words to paper.
So there you go: two completely opposite perspectives on the writing experience: not much help to anyone, I guess. I suppose that the one piece of wisdom that I have garnered from all this is that it is definitely good, when writing your first draft, to give yourself a word count to reach each day. Mine was 2000 per day. Sometimes, when the story was flowing, then it was fun and easy, and fast to get there. Other times, it was like pulling your own teeth out with a pair of electrical pliers. Either way, if you do your quota, the words soon rack up, and your first draft is there.