Writing My First Novel: What I've Learned So Far

First, a brief timeline (I hope to keep updating this with completed drafts, submissions, and the inevitable rejections):

  • January 2010: I decided to finally put pen to paper and flesh out a story that had been banging around in my head for years. I began building the world of the Painted Isles.
  • July 2010: After more than six months of worldbuilding, I started outlining, laying out important plot points chapter by chapter for all three novels.
  • July 2011: I completed the outline and showed it to my wife. I asked her for feedback so I could revise it and share it with others. She told me I should just start writing. (That’s right. It was a year-and-a-half before I even STARTED writing. I’d probably still be outlining if it weren’t for her.)
  • January 2013: I finished the rough draft of my first novel, A RAVENING FIRE. 105,000 words.
  • February 2013: I took a week to organize my notes from the rough draft, then started in on the second draft (previously referred to as the shitty first draft—confusing, I know).
  • May 21, 2013 (date of initial post): I finished revising chapter 8 of 27. The story is already much stronger than it was just a few months ago, and I anticipate that as much as 25% of the original draft will be excised by the time I’m through.

Thoughts so far:

If I could do it over, I’d spend no more than a month worldbuilding and outlining. So much changed in the course of writing the book that in hindsight, most of that first year-and-a-half now feels like needless foot-dragging.

I originally hoped to finish the second draft in six months. This may have been optimistic (I try to revise a chapter a week, but some chapters need more love than others). I now hope to finish the second draft no later than October 2013 so I can hand it off to alpha readers before NaNoWriMo. I plan to use the month of November to kick-start the first draft of the second novel.

I probably won’t update this post again until the second draft is finished. [EDIT: Lies! See below.] But I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that even with no readable draft yet to show for all my hard work, the support from friends and family has already been overwhelming (especially from my parents, who seem to take everything in stride: “Oh…so he wants to be a writer now. Sure, why not?”).

As always, thank you for reading.

-Peter

UPDATES:

  • June 9, 2013: My super-supportive wife and I have decided to put off having kids so I can devote as much time as possible to writing before all hell breaks loose. I mustn’t squander this gift.
  • July 29, 2013: I’ve finished revising the first half of the second draft. I’ve already doubled my productivity (by writing to a daily goal - why wasn’t I doing this already?). At the current pace, it now looks like I’ll be three chapters shy of finishing this draft before NaNoWriMo.
  • January 23, 2014: The second draft of A RAVENING FIRE is finished at 93,000 words! I’ve printed out a copy for a final read-through, and then it’s off to the alpha readers.

Thoughts, now that the second draft is complete:

In the end, I discarded about 15% of what I originally wrote (I also added/expanded a few scenes). If the first draft was 50% of the way toward being the story I’m trying to tell, the second draft is closer to 75%. I’ll be relying heavily on my alpha readers to tell me where its weaknesses lie. I’m hoping it won’t need too much work (famous last words). I plan to use June through August/September for the third draft. We’ll see how that goes…

UPDATES:

  • October 21, 2014: This has easily been the the craziest year of my life. I’ve had to push back starting the third draft until January. On the plus side, I wrote three short stories, finished the first draft of the second novel, and outlined a novella I’ll be writing during NaNoWriMo.