Reflections on a First Draft

In case it wasn't clear from the title of this post, I FINISHED THE FIRST DRAFT OF MY NOVEL!! It wrapped up on Wednesday around 49,000 words. 

For those of you who aren't writers, this is a big deal. There aren't a lot of milestones in the writing journey. Most days, I think to myself, "Oh. I put my butt in my chair and I typed something. That's progress, right?" There aren't many 'big wins' until you hit the major checkpoints, and a finished initial draft is the first one of those checkpoints in my writing process. 

As if that weren't enough to celebrate, I finished the draft the day before International Women's Day! In hindsight, I sort of wish I'd dragged it out for another day, to land on the actual holiday. Think of the raw feminine satisfaction! Regardless, I'm proud to be a woman, a professional, and a writer, especially this week. (Side note -- I'm offering a discount on services for women in celebration of International Women's day. Check it out if you're interested.) 

My work-in-progress is the second novel for which I've completed a first draft. The first was a practice novel, something deeply personal and therapeutic that I will likely never edit, or at least will leave untouched for many years. So this current novel is extra special, because it's the first project that will advance to a second draft right away. 

There was definitely a not-so-great moment on Wednesday after I'd finished the draft, celebrated via text and social media, and consumed a perfectly justified number of self-congratulatory Oreos. (It was also National Oreo Day this week. Why wouldn't I?)

My not-so-great realization moment looked a little something like this:

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Yep--that was me realizing that editing is next.

The writing process is never-ending; this is something I had yet to learn until this week, because my first novel was tucked away in a drawer immediately after the first draft was completed. Check and done, yo! On to the next big idea.

To be completely honest, this reality about the writing and editing process makes finishing a first draft pretty darn anticlimactic. I've reached a milestone, but there's still a long road ahead before the project is truly done. I'm working to frame this as encouraging rather than depressing--I have ample opportunity to do work that I love: polishing and pruning. Over the next several months, I'll be working to embrace myself as an empowered, critical, nitpicking superhero. 

That said, this draft is still a tremendous victory for me, and the culmination of a process that was wildly different than writing my first novel. In true nerd form, I took this as an opportunity to reflect and see what I've learned from writing this draft over the last four months. Here's what I came up with.

1. Discovery writing is my jam.

When I wrote my first novel, I outlined and planned to my heart's content. I'm about as Type A as it gets, and I was absolutely certain that Brandon Sanderson and I were writing process soulmates. How could I be wrong?

But when I started writing an interim project that I ended up tabling, I realized a few things. First, the outline was evaporating my creative energy. I had zero sense of control over the creative process, and had almost no motivation to write. There were a number of other issues, including the fact that the project was just too complex for my skill level right now. So I set it aside, and moved on to something more doable. 

For this new project, I wanted to achieve two major goals: write an urban fantasy, so I don't have to worry about world building just yet, and give discovery writing a chance. For the non-writing readers out there, discovery writing is the end of the spectrum opposite outlining. Instead of planning out the details of the setting, plot, and character arcs for the story, discovery writers just dive in and let the story go where it goes. Outliners do more work upfront, and discovery writers do a lot of cleaning up after the draft is written.

I didn't expect this to work for me as well as it did, but holy crap, people! Discovery writing this novel was incredibly freeing. I felt creatively empowered, motivated, and pumped to sit down and write most days. That's a big deal, and I will absolutely be hanging on to that process moving forward.

2. Routine rules.

In the name of self-employed discipline and focus, my day is scheduled out in specific blocks of time. I have my morning routine, allow myself some time to run errands if needed, and tackle client work before doing any other writing or business work. My writing block starts at 1:30 PM, every day of the week.

And you know what? Something about that consistent daily start time really, really works. Occasionally, I tried to start writing earlier in the day, but 99% of the time my body was like, "WHOA! Not ready. Try me again at 1:30 PM." And when that time did come around each afternoon, my instincts naturally settled in to writing mode. It was glorious--imperfect, but definitely fruitful.

For the sake of getting words on the page and training my body to write consistently, I'll continue to maintain a daily writing routine moving forward.  

3. All writing is good progress.

Every day, my goal was to get words on the page. It didn't matter how many words I added to the draft, and it didn't matter how ridiculously bad the quality of the writing was. I knew if I chipped away at the story, eventually, it would turn into a completed first draft. And it did.

But I definitely struggle to believe that on some days. It's easy to try to get it right the first time, to agonize over the right word or phrasing. First drafts aren't meant to be polished, though. And having words on the page gave me momentum, even if they were the wrong words. It is much easier to work from something than from nothing, even if that something needs a lot of work later on.

4. I can actually do this!

This might seem silly, but this draft is the one that gives me the confidence to keep writing! My first novel was therapeutic in nature, and the focus wasn't intentional, solid storytelling. So I wasn't confident that I would jump into something totally different and be able to commit to the process. 

But I did it! I wrote 49,000 words, and I'm excited to mold that mound of clay into something identifiable and beautiful. Finishing this draft taught me that I can finish a book, and I can actually be a writer of speculative fiction. Huzzah! 

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It's been a crazy journey thus far, and I know it's only beginning. Thank you so much for reading -- thank you for caring about my work, and for listening to the thoughts that I throw out there into the digital universe. I can't tell you how much it means when you let me know you're following the blog, or tell me that you're genuinely excited to read my book some day. It's a lot easier to write when I know there are already willing readers out there, ready to give my book a chance. Thank you for your encouragement and support -- it means much more than I can effectively convey! 

To all the women out there, Happy International Women's Day! Rock your strengths with confidence, and keep moving toward your goals. You are worthy, talented, intelligent, and valuable, and I believe in your ability to succeed. Go conquer the world!