The First Draft

Yesterday, Monday, July 29, 2019, is a day to remember.

It’s the day I completed the first draft of my first novel. Elements of this story have been in my head for a very long time. I began writing a version of it years ago, but the time wasn’t right; nor, as it turns out, did I have the necessary experiences, motivation, or state of mind to get it out onto the page. Things are different now, thank goodness.

I began formally outlining the plot and characters for this one in March, so this first draft has been almost five-months in the making. That’s quite a bit longer than my “30-Day Novel” resource book said it would take, but hey, done is done, right?

The draft stats on this one are as follows:

  • TITLE: (Redacted – You’ll Find Out Soon!)
  • GENRE: Young Adult, LGBTQ+
  • PAGES: 292
  • WORD COUNT: 83,021
  • CHAPTERS: 28

When I announced on Twitter that I had finished my draft, some of the responses I received asked for my advice/thoughts on the process, particularly about devising a plot. I don’t feel exactly qualified to answer those questions, considering this is only my second book, and first novel. That said, “devising a plot” is what had me stuck for a long time, too. When you sit in front of your notebook or computer screen with nothing but a vague idea of the story and a desire to write, things get intimidating and frustrating very quickly. “How do the words come?

All I can say about this is that I found a process that worked for me, but it might not work for everyone. That process went something like this:

  1. Allow general ideas for the story to develop in my head, writing them down as they come.
  2. Allow the main characters & their motivations to develop in my head, writing them down as they come.
  3. When a sufficient number of plot points (3 or 4) and a sufficient number of characters (2? 3?) come knocking on my brain, start an outline that begins to marry them together.

I also created a writing space for myself, a place I went regularly, at generally the same time, every day. This helped flipped the switch in my brain from “life mode” to “writing mode.” I don’t think this is insignificant. After that, it came down to writing consistently every day for months, in order to get those characters to develop toward, through, and beyond those plot points.

For example, in this 28-chapter draft, I began with 5 characters in mind (3 protagonists and 2 secondary characters). Other minor characters plus the antagonist developed only later. None of the characters remained exactly as I originally envisioned (even names changed.) But I just kept writing. I also had only the first 3 chapters, the final chapter, and 2 late chapters (somewhere around the two-thirds mark) in my head before beginning. The rest had to develop as the story and characters developed. They often led me as much as I wrote them, or so it seems now.

But now comes the hard part. I know I’ll need to go back and re-read the entire draft. I know I’ll be doing extensive revisions. Like writing the draft, revision ideas started to hit me as I went along, and I wrote those down so as not to forget them later. What started out as 3 items that would need reconsideration eventually turned into an entire, journal-page-length list of things I’ll need to do. Characters to flesh out. Plot points to change and plot lines to strengthen. Settings to pare down or edit out. Voices to clarify/articulate better. The list goes on.

I begin to understand what writers say when they claim that “writing it is the easy part.” If you keep at it, the story eventually comes, and you can get it down. But now the hard work of revision, of “killing my darlings,” and of tying-up loose-ends, begins. Eventually, I’ll need to find beta readers to send me feedback as well. I’ll need to process that feedback and revise again. And then, maybe, I’ll be ready to query agents and hope I can convince someone to believe in this book as much as I do. That someone would need to then convince a publisher to take a chance on it.

There’s a long road ahead, but I celebrate the fact that I got the story onto the page. Months of work has resulted in a draft manuscript, and that’s nothing to scoff at, even with a mountain of work ahead of me. For now, I’m going to read some poetry, write some poetry, and let the novel sit and settle for a bit before returning to it with a revisionist’s eye (and pen.)


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